Father’s Day barbecue
For 50 years, I visited my father in Chapel Hill and then Durham, North Carolina. Now I’ve moved my dad, in the evening of his life, to Davis. There’s not much reason for me to return to North Carolina, except sentimentalism. Still, I bring a part of that with me, especially memories of barbeque and the food renaissance I witnessed over 50 years.
My dad introduced me to barbeque, through his family there. For years, while my stepmother was alive, the tradition for barbeque was Bullock’s all-you-can-eat, family style service, restaurant in Durham. Bullock’s is an institution, the Duke Blue Devil Basketball team eats there, unless you get there early, you have to stand in line, and the waitresses and cooks have been there for years. But I have my own favorite, one the North Carolina Barbecue Society’s Historic Barbeque Trail lists as well.
I sampled Mama Dips in Chapel Hill, even bought her book “Mama Dips Kitchen.” I tried Hillsborough BBQ, in nearby Hillsborough, the beautiful, historic county seat of Orange County, in which Chapel Hill is located. My all time favorite, for food and ambiance, is Allen & Son, on Millhouse Road in Chapel Hill. At Allen & Son, the pork is slow roasted over a hickory log fire all day on the premises. Keith Allen cuts the wood himself. Then it’s pulled, chopped, soaked in sauce and served with a vinegar slaw and hushpuppies.
Allen & Son also have a location in nearby Pittsboro, 17 miles south of Chapel Hill. Driving my dad over miles of country roads past columned colonial farmhouses, trailers with confederate flags, and well-used barns, I’ve come to love Pittsboro and Chatham County. It has its own food co-op, and is the home of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, the pioneer organization working to protect nearly 200 breeds of livestock and poultry from extinction.
In the late 1960s, when I first started going to Durham, my southern step family jokingly referred to it as a cow town. Recently however, Bon Appetit Magazine called Durham “America’s foodiest small town.” Things change.
The New York Times Food Section as well as Food and Wine and Cooking Light Magazines have all recently featured Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh, collectively known as “the Research Triangle Area.” There are 150 small farms within a 50-mile radius there, fueling a farm to table movement, but the technology jobs provide the new wealth and food enthusiasm that fuels the emerging scene.
The Research Triangle is centered in what is called, “The Park.” Gone are most of the tobacco fields, furniture and textile factories that were there, replaced by technology, pharmaceuticals, and life science industries. The state was ranked third best state for business in 2010 by Forbes magazine. My dad, a physicist and engineer, came in the 1960’s, for the first boom of technology, married again and stayed.
Back then, I’d fly into Raleigh Durham Airport with mostly white, male passengers in seersucker suits whose drawl and manners were as thick as kudzu, a vine that still grows everywhere. My Johnson County, Smithfield- born stepmother would take me to the roadside stands that dotted the countryside, and we’d pick out all manner of vegetables, shelling the beans together on the front porch. After I caught a few lightening bugs, we’d eat in the dining room on her mother’s fine china.
She called that meal a summer vegetable supper. The fireflies are now mostly gone — I don’t know why. The vegetables still grow. The Crowder peas, technically a field pea, were and still are my favorite.
These days, when I’m there, I buy them at the local farmers markets in Carrboro and Durham. There’s one farm stand I still frequent, outside Hillsborough, for its Vidalia onions and legendary, sweet dripping Georgia peaches.
Once my dad moved out of his family home, I started staying at the Siena Hotel in Chapel Hill when I went to visit, and I found it comforting to return to a place I would be greeted after a flight across country. The bartender would serve up a drink, and let me order salad or pasta if the kitchen was closed on my first night back.
Inside the Siena, is Il Palio, North Carolina’s only AAA Four Diamond Italian restaurant. I didn’t know the meal I had there recently would be the grand finale to 50 years, but it was. Slowly, throughout the evening, my recent friends, the sommelier, Chetan Reddy, paired wines to Chef de Cuisine’s Isaiah Allen local dishes, prepared a meal especially for me, as if they understood 50 years of travel to a culture foreign yet domestic.
The meal finished with a dessert. It was a Quince Tarte Tatin on a base of caramel inside a puff pastry of ground almond flour paired with a raisin wine. Some things, like southern hospitality, don’t change.
This Father’s Day will be my dad’s first in Davis. I’m grateful to my southern family, many of them now gone, who introduced me to southern culture, and to friends who helped me connect to the place there in a new way as I got older.
Southern Style Slaw
In North Carolina, slaw goes with barbeque. The dressing for slaw is typically vinegar based, rather than mayonnaise based. The slaw is spicy, to cut the fatty drippings of the pork. When I fly in frozen barbeque and hush puppies after a trip to Chapel Hill/Durham, this recipe is the one I make to go with it.
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
½ cup light vegetable oil, such as safflower or canola
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 small or ½ large head green cabbage (about 2 pounds)
Putting it together
In a small bowl, using a whisk, combine the two vinegars, vegetable oil, sugar, hot pepper sauce, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper and whisk to make a sauce. Set aside.
Core and finely grate the cabbage. Put the grated cabbage in a large bowl and stir in half of the vinegar sauce. Let stand for 10 minutes, then taste for seasoning, adding salt and/or more sauce as needed. Serves six.
(Ann M. Evans and Georgeanne Brennan are coauthors of the award winning “Davis Farmers Market Cookbook, Tasting California’s Small Farms,” 2012. They have a food and agricultural consultancy, Evans & Brennan, LLC. Their national blog “Who’s Cooking School Lunch?” features personal stories of front line men and women cooking school lunch. Reach the blog at www.whoscookingschoolunch.com and Ann and Georgeanne at email@example.com.)