Several years ago members of the food media became fascinated with the idea that geography informs culinary technique. Specifically, they noted West Coast chefs pursued simple concepts on their plates, while East Coast chefs exercised a more complex manipulation of ingredients. Chefs themselves might have put it something like this: East Coast to West Coast chef, “Your food is so basic, it’s a joke. That’s just a salted turnip on a plate. Where’s the creativity?” West Coast to East Coast chef, “The reason you guys need a contrived concept and a bunch of little garnishes is to distract from the fact that your ingredients suck.” Even writers entrenched in the “high cuisine” of the East Coast had to acknowledge that the west coast climate, with its longer window of spring-summer-fall quality farm ingredients bore out the axiom that a better and longer growing climate yields better ingredients. If your ingredients are first-rate, they stand on their own.
This principal is no longer in dispute. The “vegetable forward” concepts that began at Chez Panisse decades ago are now the focus of East Coast innovators like Blue Hill in Manhattan, and Semilla in Brooklyn. Put simply, chefs demand higher ingredient quality.
And we think they should. Anson Mills heirloom ingredients from seed to table are handled as carefully as rare produce. We keep manipulation to a minimum by milling only viable new crop fresh from the field grain, oil seeds, and legumes and hand processing fresh-to-order. We ship ingredients the same day they are milled. The entire supply chain mirrors the way premium heirloom produce arrives in a great chef’s kitchen.
With this connection in mind we move back to the South for a series of recipes that focus on simple dishes from our colonial and early Antebellum eras. These recipes and our products demonstrate how fresh cold milled heirloom cereals and oil seeds elevate good common dishes to great ones.
A click on each image will take you to its recipe.
Chicken and Dumplings
Nothing could be simpler: a pot, a chicken, a couple of scoops of flour and a measure of fat. But in the South, Chicken and Dumplings is fraught with emotional interpretation, real or imagined legacies, and the hidden pressures of family righteousness. It can become a cultural challenge, too, because there is no agreement regarding even the name or form of this dish: chicken and dumplings, slicks, slippery dumplins, etc.
At the same time, nothing could be more sublime and comforting than chicken and dumplings in which the interplay of wheat flavor and light dumpling texture works with the flavor of slow cooked chicken and shimmers between “soup” and “gravy” on the tongue. Your great grandmother’s wheat had deep roots and tall straw that made fresh live flour and contributed its own unique tastes and layering effects in a dish. These old wheats depended on fresh milling while the crop was new and viable. We chose a combination of fresh cold-milled heirloom pastry and cake flours for our dumplings. Your great-grandmother would have used flours just like ours.
Wilted Chard with Benne and Pecan Streusel
This recipe is a subtle nod to the hidden gardens of the 18th century in our region where slaves secretly grew food and medicinal plants deep in the woods. Benne Greens was a verdant stew made from young leaves of the benne plant cooked slowly over low fire with foraged alliums and herbs. We make this dish for ourselves in the fall as the last fields of benne burst with young leaves. You won’t find fresh benne leaves at a farmers market—yet—but we offer in their stead young chard drizzled with a buttery streusel of toasted benne seeds and sweet chopped pecans, a lovely enhancement to a dish of garlic greens. The “streusel” would enhance any number of vegetables: all greens, roasted cauliflower, green beans, cooked beets.
Make this dish, taste it, and marvel at the fact that these flavors exist today.
Confession: We have a little love affair going with benne seeds and pecans. We also have a trace of Southern sweet tooth, and adore the classic shortbreads served in old Charleston with tea and madeira. Here we find magic in bennecake flour, milled from dried benne hulls expressed for oil, and fresh ground pecans in a classic shortbread formula. We didn’t anticipate the stunning effects of this combination: bright and toasted nuttiness shining through light caramel richness. And chew! The bennecake creates chewiness that departs from the dependable shortbread form—with wisps of super fine melting beach sand texture on the finish. Here’s to a chewy-crisp tribute to fall!
In line with our exploration of fresh ingredient impact on long lost classics, here’s a throwback: chess pie. Our take is a marriage of meso-American and Old World food concepts: eggs, dairy, toasted maize, and some Atlantic world sweetness baked in a pie shell replete with the flavor of whole butter and new crop wheat. The baked filling texture rests somewhere between spoonbread and mush set off by a lovely, rolling and nearly indistinct beading on the tongue. We haven’t, strictly speaking “improved” chess pie in this recipe, but we do honor its heritage with new vigor.
Essential All Butter Pastry
While working on chess pie we had to acknowledge at one point that the pie’s filling was considerably superior to the pastry we were baking it in. That recipe was our very own Pastry for Cream and Custard Pie. Sad. One would have thought the aforementioned would be perfect—it was, after all, developed for just this type of pie. But the baked chess filling, lush and lovely as it was, deserved a truly tender, flaky, buttery crust. The egg in the recipe we thought was essential, wasn’t doing anyone any favors—even a custard pie. So we killed the egg, upped the butter and reduced the ice water. The result is this outstanding all butter pastry. We like it so much we said goodbye to the other crust altogether!
We would like to extend deepest condolences to our editor and dear friend,
Dawn Yanagihara, on the death of her mother.