I am asked by countless folks if this restaurant or that really sources all their ingredients locally. Most of the time, this question is asked with a bit of trepidation. Here’s the thing, it would be downright impossible to source every pea picking thing locally in the state of Tennessee. We can’t even grow our own tea leaves for our beloved Southern sweet tea, due to climate restrictions. Citrus, bananas and various nuts are out. So, making your own “Chunky Monkey” would not be feasible for the Tennessean localvore. Don’t even get me started on the gnawed off fingernails that Tennessee Wine Makers must have experienced during this year’s wet summer. Even still, Tennessee farmers are able to raise an abundance of beautiful food.
Before Alice Waters founded world renowned, Chez Panisse, our Mammas and Daddys and their Mammas and Daddys and so forth were raising corn, tomatoes, potatoes, okra, onions, beans, peas, greens and whatever else they could plant in the fertile, southern soil. They filled in the gaps with foods from other parts of the planet as a delectable treat. Mamma remembers eating oranges only at Christmas when they were in season down in Florida and Texas. She tells the story of Old Granny splitting open the hard shell of a coconut and watching its milk spill out into a bowl. That would be used in baking and candy making. The flesh would then be grated onto their cakes piled high with 7 minute icing for Christmas dinner. In fact, the last conversation I ever had with my MawMaw was about her coconut cakes.
Tandy Wilson, owner and chef of City House, recently shared his philosophy with me. He strives to keep the list of ingredients down to 5 that he cannot source locally. That is a very admirable goal and is probably why City House is one of my favorite restaurants. I have a lot of favorites in Nashville. Some that source locally and some that do not. Emma’s (our centurion dog baby) favorite is tater tots from Sonic. Pank’s favorite is Chez Panke (our back porch.) The point that we are all trying to make that slight shift back to Mamma an ‘ems way of cooking tickles me to death. So what if you see a chef from time to time at Restaurant Depot! Now, if he was dragging his cart up and down the produce aisle during the month of August, I would hand him my card because I know way too many farmers who could give him the hook up. It is a different story if the chef or merchant is selling food as locally grown when we know damn, good and well that tomato came from Mid-South Produce. That’s just fraud, any way you slice it. Meanwhile, I applaud all of these folks for doing what they can to make a difference in our food chain!
In the upcoming weeks, I will be sharing with you a host of farms, merchants, artisans and restaurants that are making a small dent in the way we look at our food. Later, I will be sending out newsletters with information on how you can meet some of these folks. If you would like to be included on that list, please drop me a line. This is gonna be fun y’all!!
Meanwhile, this recipe would be perfect for a holiday coconut cake…
Mamma’s 7 minute Icing
2 egg whites
1 tablespoon of corn syrup ( click here for alternative)
4 tablespoons of cold water
½ teaspoon of cream of tartar
1.5 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Beat all ingredients except for vanilla in a double boiler for exactly 7 minutes. No more, no less! Fold in vanilla just before icing the cake.