Sunday, July 26, 2015

Bam! Try bamboo pickles

Some people can't see the forest for the trees. But Carla Faw Squires, like her mother and grandmother, looks upon a bamboo grove and sees pickles.
"People think they look like calamari," Squires says. She will offer samples at PickleFest of the bamboo pickle recipe her grandmother developed after World War II. "If you like crunchy dill pickles, you'll like these."
Squires drives from Raleigh to her family's home place in Wilkes County to harvest bamboo each spring. The community gained the curious crop after a woman who served as a nurse during the building of the Panama Canal returned home with a few carefully wrapped plants. With a booming supply and a Victory Garden mindset, the women of Wilkes County were determined to use it to feed their families.
Squires' grandparents, who owned a small country store before her grandfather became chief of police, eventually moved to Lenoir but returned to North Wilkesboro in the 1970s. They planted their own bamboo grove, starting with just seven stalks. Pickling soon resumed, with young Carla at her grandmother's side.
"I was the only grandchild interested at the time," says Squires, who left a technology finance career in 2007 to start the Bamboo Ladies. Bamboo pickles first were processed in Asheville and then at The Cookery in Durham. She now produces about 500 jars annually at a processing center in Hillsborough. They can be found locally at NOFO @ the Pig and Southern Season.
Cooking Light magazine named her pickled bamboo among the winners of its 2010 Taste Test Awards: "Charming, odd, and delicious, they're a perfect gift for the adventurous foodie."
The product is entirely handmade, beginning with cutting and shucking young shoots and carefully slicing the bamboo to keep its concentric circles together. "It's more difficult that you might think," says Squires, noting that a mandoline or other rapid slicer pops the bamboo into unmanageable rings. "The whole process is hard work, but it's worth it to keep my family legacy intact."

What's the big dill, Durham?

Ben Woodward remembers the childhood delight of Sour Patch Kids candies. As the sugar crystals melted and his tongue re-enacted the precise sweet-salty-sour-bitter chart that made little sense on the blackboard, he blinked briny tears of joy.
Today, the co-owner of Haw River Farmhouse Ales in Saxapahaw is finishing a brew for beer lovers who crave a similar pucker. His Pickled Pepper Sour Beer will be among the featured pours at Saturday's PickleFest in Durham.
"It's an acquired taste for some, but craft beer drinkers are more exploratory today than they were 10 years ago," Woodward says. "It's no different than offering someone a shrub. When they realize it's a vinegar soda, they think you're crazy."
Until they try it. In their tasting room, Woodward has observed a three-step reaction among those trying sour beers or shrubs, also called drinking vinegars. The first sip is shock and surprise; the second leads to curiosity and wonder. "By the third sip," he says, "they accept that it really is as delicious as they think it is."
Woodward explains that classic sour beer results from slow-acting bacteria luxuriating in the barrel as long as a year. His Pickled Pepper is a quicker hybrid called kettle souring. Wild yeast is added to the mixture to hasten fermentation of sugars, delivering a tangy brew in about three months.
"They're both delicious, but it's like refrigerator pickles versus fermented ones," he concedes. "It's not as complex, but not everyone likes those deep flavors."
If you're looking for a gateway beverage that's alcohol-free but refreshingly crisp, Woodward suggests his golden beet shrub made with white balsamic vinegar.
"We were going to do a traditional red beet and dark balsamic shrub, but when I saw those golden beets at the farmer's market I couldn't resist them," he says. "It will be flavored with black peppercorn and a couple of pickling spices."
While Haw River finishes its shrubs in casks and pours them from a tap, Woodward says many shrubs are easy to make at home. Books like Michael Dietsch's 2014 sensation, Shrubs: An Old-Fashioned Drink for Modern Times, offer basic instruction as well as tips on how to incorporate seasonal botanicals.
"You can make them at home in just a couple of days and finish them with a bit of soda water," Woodward says. "Unlike commercial sodas, you can make these as sweet or sour as you like, and with what whatever fruit or vegetable you like. Really, the possibilities are endless."
This post first appeared in Indy Week.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Innovative concept puts a local spin on the food court at Southpoint

Don't be surprised to encounter some of your favorite food trucks on your next visit to The Streets of Southpoint. No, not in the parking lot as part of a food truck rodeo—in the food court.
The Durham shopping center, one of 120 properties owned by a leading national mall operator, is testing a food court concept that includes local food truck owners cooking with locally sourced food.
There is no set goal for working local businesses in the mix, says Lynn Gray, director of field marketing for the eastern region of General Growth Properties Inc. The project will not eliminate familiar chains or the ubiquitous eateries that wave come-on samples of sesame chicken, but it should provide some options for local foodies getting their shopping fix.
To date, two Durham-based food trucks are opening counter-service shops at the Southpoint food court. Porchetta, renowned for its variations on slow-roasted Italian pork sandwiches, opened June 10. American Meltdown, which has built an award-winning reputation for its creative grilled cheese sandwiches, is scheduled to follow in September. Additional Triangle-based providers may be added as current leases expire.
Nick Crosson and business partner Matthew Hayden started Porchetta ("por-KET-a") in June 2012. They were discussing opening a traditional brick-and-mortar location in the Apex-Pittsboro area last fall when General Growth approached them about taking an available space at the mall.
"They said they wanted to begin the process of rebranding and being more local," says Crosson, who will work the shop while Hayden operates the truck. "They felt food trucks would be a good fit because of the style and service and our connections with the community.
"Everything they said made sense. We were excited and, quite frankly, honored, that they contacted us," Crosson says. "They were very helpful in making sure the deal was good for everyone."
The expanded kitchen space—from about 180 square feet on the truck to 738 square feet at the food court has allowed Porchetta to add new equipment and menu items. Thanks to a new rotisserie, they now serve hot Italian-style sliced beef in hoagie rolls from Neomonde topped with zesty giardiniera, a mix of pickled vegetables.
Slightly higher prices than you'll find on the food truck—a sandwich, side and a drink costs about $10—are prompted by increased overhead, but Crosson says he is eating some of the costs to stay competitive with his neighbors.
click to enlargePorchetta, specializing in pork - sandwiches, is joining the growing trend - of local food trucks opening brick-andmortar - locations. - PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE
  • Photo by Jeremy M. Lange
  • Porchetta, specializing in pork sandwiches, is joining the growing trend of local food trucks opening brick-and-mortar locations.
"People aren't used to seeing this kind of service in a food court," he says. "Business has been fantastic. Every day, someone tells me they haven't eaten in a mall food court in 10 years, but they came for us."
Such diners, who place a premium on shopping and eating local, may attract a new demographic for Southpoint. Still, American Meltdown's Inserra appreciates that the mall is taking a risk in choosing to work with small, local shops than familiar corporate entities.
"We don't have a team of lawyers like the big companies," says Inserra, who launched the business in March 2012 with his wife, Alycia. "It took more time than we expected, especially getting a bank loan, but we feel that they really want us there. They said they were tired of the same old food court. They want a more dynamic food environment in their malls, and they felt we'd be a good fit. We are glad to be part of it."
Inserra says American Meltdown will offer popular items from its food truck, including sandwiches that have earned national honors at the Grilled Cheese Invitational. They'll have an expanded menu of sides and will introduce a changing selection of homemade ice creams.
"It's going to be great to have a neighbor like Nick," Inserra says. "We've shared information as food truck owners, and now we'll share again. It's what helps you grow as business owners."
Crosson and Inserra both say their food truck operations will continue regardless of whatever success they have at Southpoint.
"Our truck is finally paid off and generating cash," Inserra says. "I've got a restaurant to pay for now, so we're going to keep it rolling as long as we can."
This post first appeared in Indy Week.