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Summer at Anson Mills

August 2008

Now that the Gourdseed corn is laid by and the gold rice we planted is ripening in the fields, hot August afternoons find us dozing under a ceiling fan on the porch of our Carolina beach house, traveling backwards in time to discover historic foods of the Old and New Worlds—foods that will play well together on a table spangled with late afternoon light.

We might sail from old Spain with conquistadors bound for the Americas to track the odyssey of Spanish flatbread traditions and a white wheat, called Sonora, into central Mexico and then on to California. We gather Sonora seeds from a California field and plant them in South Carolina, along with an American heirloom bread wheat called Red Fife. We mill, then blend the two wheats to send their flavors soaring and enhance their baking properties. This new flour, which we call Trigo Fuerte Flatbread Flour, makes ethereal scratch wheat tortillas and quesadillas.

In a 15th century Native American coastal community, we find hominy corn and masa. We eat native corn flatbread that cradles just-caught fish and searing, hot green chiles. We follow America’s native cuisine—and the trail of its ingredients—as they wind through a European settlement and arrive, almost intact, into the 21st century. Enroute, in the Appalachian Mountains of the 19th century, we watch the rise and fall of a yellow hominy corn called Henry Moore. Taken by its charms, we grow, harvest, and dry this corn ourselves, then bring it home where we make fresh masa. From this masa we press and griddle up rustic, deep-yellow tortillas that have a flavor that astounds. We chop cabbage, roast tomatillos and chiles, fry fish, and dive into one of the most appealing and enduring foods that we know: fish tacos.

A carriage tour of late 18th-century Southern plantations puts us within striking distance of the ultimate pimento cheese and its time-honored companion, Southern wheat crisps. We taste aged farmhouse cheddars, hoop cheese, farmer’s cheese, potted cheese—and select the finest. We pick sun-ripened sweet peppers from the garden. From Virginia to Alabama, we visit wheat fields and discover Red May, the perfect crisping wheat. We haul these ingredients home and make an unrivaled pimento cheese and crisp, thin wafers from Red May that are regal enough to be its companion. The pimento cheese and crisps—and a bottle of creamy champagne—accompany us on a choppy midday sail along the coast.

Our final journey takes us to the port of Savannah in the 18th century. We bring new crop Red May wheat and harvest ripe Georgia peaches from their orchards on the Sea Islands into our kitchen. For an afternoon gathering three centuries later, we create a Red May Graham streusel-topped peach crisp, timeless and divine, a study in textures and a celebration of Southern flavors. As the crisp bakes, it fills our house with intoxicating aromas, and through the oven window we watch it bubble and brown to perfection: We are witness to the rebirth of classic Southern cuisine the way it was meant to be.

We invite you to join us.