Spring at Anson Mills
I just finished planting rice in the ACE Basin, a large wilderness area about 20 miles south of Charleston that spans the confluence of the Ashepoo, Cumbahee, and Edisto, three of the seven great rice rivers of colonial Carolina. Walking the perimeter the field, I might have said I was alone, though “alone” is illusory in the ACE Basin. The truth is, I have friends here—ospreys, bobcats, wild pigs, turtles, deer, snakes, alligators—the usual suspects in my rice-country zoo.
During the Depression, my mother, then a teenager, lived on nearby Edisto Island and attended church right up the road from this field. She surely cooked the rice grown here. My mother was “Geechee,” a Gullah term for Sea Island families who cook rice and eat rice every day—morning, noon, and night. A “Geechee spring” meant you still had fresh rice harvested in early December from the best local growers.
The ACE Basin my mother experienced in the springtime 80 years ago would not have looked much different than it does to me now. Nothing has really changed here over the decades. But our perspectives could not be more different. My aforementioned friends, for instance, add a key element of mystery in my perception of life in the ACE Basin. But my mother knew them on another level. To her, they were targets—they were food. Mom was an avid hunter and a crack shot. I am neither.
Which brings me to my friend, Harry (pictured above), and a great modern irony: Harry is “protected,” which means I can’t eat him. But he can eat me. My mother’s relationship with Harry’s ancestors was much, much different. In the spring, she could—and did—eat Harry’s kin. Alligator purloo, alligator pie, alligator sausage, and barbecued alligator tail were all local foods.
Though I was not able to shake the sense—as I finished planting rice—that Harry would like to add me to his spring rice menu, I dedicate this newsletter to him as he watches over our winter farro and oats and supervises from afar as we plant early corn and Sea Island peas.
Happy warming trends, y’all, and Good Food!
An intriguing aroma seems to be drifting through the collective unconscious these days. We have been peppered with inquiries from chefs about farrotto, a dish made from farro, whose name makes plain its attempted identity theft of a more famous dish called risotto. They asked us to describe its agrarian and gastronomic history and its relationship to risotto, how best to prepare it, why it exists in the first place—those sorts of things. We decided to make a pot of farrotto ourselves with Anson Mills’ diminutive Farro Piccolo. For pairings, our mind drifted toward thoughts of spring: fava beans, artichokes, green garlic, spring onions (but not asparagus, which didn’t seem a good fit.) We were also thinking light, aromatic, well-mannered vegetable stock. But the farro didn’t agree. It was far too gutsy in flesh and spirit for the dainty ingredients we tossed its way. Moving to a meatier realm, we found clear, strong chicken stock to be an excellent base choice (and can imagine a lovely amber veal stock in its stead). We fancied red wine over white to melt the shallots, though both are superb. We forsook elegant spring vegetables for traditional celery and carrot confetti. We cooked gently. We were not disappointed. Farrotto is a BIG side dish with surprising flavor depth and dizzying aromatics. It goes creamy without sacrificing the explosive crunch we associate with farro’s little round grains. And while we have myriad notions of where to take farrotto come fall and winter, we want to say emphatically that it is also a dish for spring. Consider farrotto with grilled lamb chops, salmon, or shrimp. Consider it with sliced marinated flank steak or pork tenderloin. Consider it with a simple green salad. If risotto is a blond, and you like brunettes, here’s one for you.
Colonial Cornmeal Pound Cake
Few among us don’t adore a slice of homemade pound cake—simple, unfrosted, and pure. For this recipe, we brought two of Anson Mills’ most innocent ingredients together in partnership: our Colonial Style Fine Cloth-Bolted Pastry Flour and Antebellum Fine Yellow Cornmeal. Like many of you, we’ve eaten modern-era cornmeal pound cakes and have been struck by two things: (1) they don’t taste like corn, and (2) the cornmeal, instead of revealing itself as a flavor, is too eager to show itself as a texture. The mouth sensation of these cakes is unappealing—as if the cake was dropped on a gravel driveway and served with its attendant grit. A markedly different experience will be yours with this Colonial Cornmeal Pound Cake, whose crumb is divinely moist and tastes of buttery corn, and whose crust is thin, crisp, and intriguing. Staled and toasted, this cake is equally fine.
In the spirit of spring, we bring a rhubarb compote into the picture. It’s quick, thrillingly sweet-tart, and beautifully hued. We eat it happily on the pound cake, but this compote has so much going for it, you could introduce it to any number of dessert venues, such as our Carolina Gold Rice Pudding, or simply lick it off a spoon for several minutes without pause.
Rustic Coarse-Style Oatmeal
It’s hard to believe, but Anson Mills Handmade Toasted Stone Cut Oats just got better. Our recently harvested ’09 new-crop oats toast better, mill better, and taste better. You’ll find more whole oat pieces in your bag, less oat flour, and fewer hulls. For those of you familiar with our recipe, you’ll know what we mean when we say we took the rinse cycle down by two. We have also adjusted the recipe’s hydration and cooking time just a touch, but rest assured: making a bowl of our oatmeal is still just a 10-minute proposition.