Being able to walk into a supermarket and pick up a carton of strawberries in January makes it easy to believe that all food should be available at all times.
In her new book “The Month of Their Ripening: North Carolina Heritage Foods through the Year” (UNC Press Books/2018), author Georgann Eubanks argues that waiting for local foodstuffs to be ready in their season allows us to build meaningful food memories and rituals. The book highlights one North Carolina heritage food each month and includes chapters on snow, shad, goat’s milk, ramps, serviceberries, figs, oysters and persimmons.
Host Frank Stasio talks with Eubanks about her tasty travels around the state to uncover the foods that North Carolinians call their own. Eubanks speaks at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh at 2 p.m. on Sept. 30, and at the Regulator Bookshop in Durham on Oct. 17.
Georgann Eubanks on special moments shared around food:
A friend of mine … has an oyster roast every December at his house. And there's something so special about the smell of smoke and the burning wood and people gathered, huddled around in the cold, waiting for these oysters to get done … These are the stories that pull us together as North Carolinians, wherever we are from, whatever race or class. There are certain foods that we all have shared, in common, and come together [around]. I think oysters are a good example. They're one food that across the political spectrum – I'm told by people who lobby for oysters – everybody agrees that we want our oysters in North Carolina to be healthy.
On the controversial persimmon:
Persimmons are an interesting fruit in that in North Carolina there appears to be three perspectives on persimmons which match geography. So people in the mountains, I've learned, are more interested in persimmon trees in that they attract possum and they attract deer. So if you're going to go hunting, count on a persimmon tree as a good place to stand and wait. In the Eastern part of the state, people don't take a shine to persimmons. I don't know exactly the origins of that although I found some early farmer's bulletins that talked about the "nasty persimmon..." But in the Piedmont, there is what I call a "persimmon pudding belt" that kind of runs along I-85 and down. And if you look in the cookbooks, I have yet to find a recipe for persimmon pudding that wasn't created by a Piedmont cook...
On developing her appreciation of seasonal foods:
It's how I grew up and it made me anticipate and welcome different times of year. Spending a lot of time with my grandparents, who were great gardeners and cooks and loved to grow different varieties. My grandfather was originally a sharecropper and worked in an orchard and when he got a "real job" with the U.S. Post Office he re-planted fruit trees in his yard. Gosh, you know it really helped me know how the year progressed and I think our children and grandchildren are missing that. And if we can introduce them to some of these varieties and teach them about the tastes and the time of year, it's a valuable lesson.