By Marcia Pilgeram
Honestly, these past six months have kicked my ass, and I’ve lost a bit of my sass. By nature, I’m not even a “glass-half-full” kind of gal. My glass is usually bubbling over the top, but I’ve watched it evaporating since March. I can’t say I’ve been depressed, but certainly, I’ve been worried and discouraged. Looking for a change of pace, I finally took my friend Yannette up on her invitation to come for a visit. Two years ago, she moved from California to North Carolina, so this was a good opportunity to visit her new home. I donned a mask, a brave front and, two flights and six hours later, she was serving me an Asian feast, starting with a Tom Yum Martini, followed with homemade potstickers, spring rolls and Thai curry.
Yannette and I are great travel companions and have traveled halfway around the world together, from the French West Indies to Thailand and many points in between. We’re both chefs and travel advisers, so we have lots in common. Yannette has written several cookbooks and spent many years working in the test kitchen at Sunset magazine.
We discovered we were kindred spirits while on a small cruise ship in St. Kitts. While most of the women went ashore shopping for duty-free luxury goods, Yannette and I headed to the hardware store so we could each purchase a tawa (concave frying pan) on which to fry traditional roti (flat bread).
My travels pale in comparison to hers — at last count, she’s visited more than 130 countries. She is always generous and thoughtful. She never fails to bring me food or food-related gifts from exotic locations: fragrant spices from Morocco, bone napkin rings from South Africa, pomegranate molasses from Turkey and lamb bullion from Australia.
She’s also a detailed planner, so, along with tempting dinner menus, a custom cocktail menu was prepared for me by her mixologist husband, Tom. I’m here to report that I have a new favorite libation: the Scofflaw (rye whiskey, grenadine, lime, bitters and Cointreau).
The last time I was Down South, I was stuck in the galley of a rail car, preparing meals for Union Pacific Railroad management, who were surveying track damage caused by Hurricane Gustav. I never had a chance to see any countryside on that trip. This trip was strictly leisure, and Yannette made sure to indulge me in some of my favorite activities.
We took long sunny walks through the woods and along storybook riverbanks, and drove to several roadside country markets teeming with fall crops. I’ve never seen so many pumpkin varieties. The peaches were so ripe and fragrant they made my mouth water (even through a mask).
We visited a Nubian goat farmstead and creamery (honestly, the best goat cheese I have ever tasted). We toured a historical 200-year-old working gristmill, sampled famous Carolinian chicken and biscuits, and she even drove three hours to Mount Airy so I could visit Andy Griffith’s hometown and the fictional “Mayberry.”
One of my favorite stops in Raleigh was Restaurant Depot — a massive, membership-only mecca for food professionals. Though there was little I could buy due to the quantities, it didn’t stop me from perusing every single aisle and the enormous cold room, where, if space had allowed, I could have purchased a whole lamb or goat on the hoof. I did manage to buy a brick of cheddar from Wexford, Ireland, and brined sheep cheese from Greece.
Every day was an adventure in food and daily I filled my suitcase with the local culinary treasures of the South: bags of grits, cryo-packed ham hocks, roasted peanuts, plump pecans and even some local craft beer (thanks for overlooking the extra five pounds, Alaska Airlines)
Tom loves rhubarb, so before I left, I made him a homemade cobbler. Usually, I combine rhubarb with some berries, but once I spied those big, ripe peaches, I knew it was a winning combination for a cobbler. I hope you’ll try it and agree!
I’m so grateful for these friends who encouraged me to come and experience their Southern hospitality and share their food and drink; and, finally, I sense my proverbial glass beginning to fill again.
This dessert is best fresh from the oven. Serves 6.
• 2 cups flour
• 2 tsp baking powder
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 1/2 sticks of butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
• 1 tbs fresh lemon zest
• 3/4 cup cream
• 2 tbs sugar
• 1 egg
• 2 tablespoons tapioca
• 1 pound rhubarb, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
• 1 pound thinly sliced peaches
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
• 1 tsp cinnamon
• 1 tbs sugar
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Butter a 9-by-9-inch glass baking dish and set aside.
Filling: In a medium mixing bowl whisk together 1 cup of sugar and tapioca. Stir in the rhubarb, peaches and lemon juice. Mix well.
Dough: Whisk flour, baking powder, zest and salt. With fingers work in butter until it’s the texture of cornmeal. Combine cream, egg and sugar, stir and add to flour mixture — it should be sticky (add a little more cream if needed).
Pour fruit mixture into the buttered baking dish. Drop spoonfuls of dough on top of fruit. Mix cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle on top.
Bake, uncovered, for about 45 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling and the dough is cooked through and golden brown.
Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 15 minutes before serving, plain or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
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