Squishy Fig Gingerbread… oooh la LA!

Squishy Fig Gingerbread

It’s no new news that I’m not the baker. I can do it when need be, but all that chemistry of proper measurements annoys me… I’m not particularly into tedium, and I much prefer concocting stuff where the final successful outcome isn’t determined by improper measurement of a bit of this or that. 

When I was recently gifted with a bunch of sweet ripe figs, I said “self, what SHALL we do with all these here figs?”  Of course, I could throw together some quick and simple preserves. I’ve got that covered. But dang, look at all those figs still in that bowl (aside from those I’m throwing in my mouth while pondering).

So, first thing I did was to fill up my mini crock pot (I adore that thing) with figs, squishing with my fingers as I threw them in.

NOTE:  Squishing is an accepted cooking term and process, at least in my kitchen. You squish when you want to break up whatever ’tis you’re working with, but still want to keep pieces in tact, mostly for the texture. 

…the makings of crock pot fig preserves

So once I had my little crock filled with squished figs, I drizzled in some honey, a squeeze of 1/2 an orange and a little orange zest. I didn’t put much honey, because the figs were perfectly ripe and fully sweet all by themselves.  I turned my little gadget on “high” and in a few hours, had…. fig preserves!  I only made a small batch so I didn’t go through all the processing… and made a few batches of this to share.

Trader Joe’s Raisin Rosemary Crisps!

My favorite way to enjoy fig preserves is with cheese! If you have never savored fig preserves on some good salty cheese… or in my case, my FAVE Cambozola Cheese, well, you just haven’t lived! My family loves this too, and it’s always on our Christmas “nibbly” table. We particularly love this on these Trader Joe’s Raisin Rosemary Crackers! 

That weekend, some friends invited me over, so i took a little nibble…. some cambozola with some fruited crackers, my tomato jam and these freshly made fig preserves…. most there had never had such a combination and loved it. AND, the ones that “don’t like blue cheese” really liked this creamy Gorgonzola blue/Camembert combination cheese too.  

…Cambozola Cheese with Tomato Jam & Fig Preserves

 

 

 

Another way I love these preserves is in a grilled bacon and Swiss cheese sandwich…. 

Grilled Swiss Cheese & Bacon Sandwich with Fig Preserves….

 

 

 

OK…. so let me get back on track and tell you about my gingerbread.  I had had gingerbread on my brain for a few days and suddenly, the thought of combining moist sweet figs into rich gingerbread seemed like something to do… or at least ATTEMPT to do.

I pulled out an old recipe I had and went to tweaking… having no idea what would happen! I was really hoping for success so I could spring a tasty baked goodie recipe on all those who know me as the NON-baker,” self included. I’m so tickled to report that… IMO, success has been achieved! I declare, this gingerbread is da’bomb and exactly what was in my head when I embarked on this culinary cooking adventure.  I do hope before the figs are all gone, you will give this recipe a try, and come back here and tell me what you think…. did you like it? did you tweak it?

So since I have 11 new recipes I must get to in the kitchen and create for publication deadline, (but let myself get diverted to this post)…. here you go!  I hope you enjoy as much as I have… I even wrapped up some of the bars and threw in my freezer to enjoy after all the figs are gone this year!  

Note: This recipe was created using Savory Spice Shop Raleigh spices!

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Squishy Fig Gingerbread

Looking for a new way to enjoy all those ripe figs? Here you go... my squishy fig gingerbread! The figs make this gingerbread sooooo moist and a bit "gooey" too. A dusting of powdered sugar and you're good to go. Cut into bites, bars.... or enjoy a slab if that suits your fancy. 

Course: Brunch, Dessert, Snack
Cuisine: Farmers Market, Garden Goodies, Southern Desserts, Summer Food
Author: Wendy Perry
Ingredients
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup cane sugar
  • 1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
  • 3/4 cup coconut oil, liquified
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 1/2 cup self-rising corn meal mix
  • 4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon apple pie spice
  • 2 cups very ripe figs squished with fingers
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 13x9 baking dish.

  2. Using mixer, gently combine eggs, sugar, molasses, coconut oil and extracts until blended.

  3. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Mix into wet ingredients a little at the time until well incorporated. 

  4. Using spatula, fold in squished figs.Pour into baking dish. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the surface starts showing cracks.
  5. Let cool, slice and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Peas, please… field peas, that is!

…field peas and country ham

Peas are such a simple food… they don’t need much fuss’n with, and can be fixed in all sorts of ways. Cook simply with some country ham pieces.  Ladle up a cup of the pot likker from their cook’n. Add some cornbread and call it supper!  Top with stewed tomatoes or homemade tomato jam

White acre peas with a dollop of tomato jam!

 

 

Whirl up for some right tasty hummus. Or make what we call “Carolina Caviar” for porch sit’n or tailgate’n which we will be doing soon! 

Add some tomato based BBQ sauce for a little kick to your Carolina Caviar!

To make this rather southern “dip,” you can cut up fresh veggies like peppers and tomatoes and onions and shake in some hot sauce, or just stir in some prepared salsa and “doctor it up” for a simpler version. I like to stir in some thicker tomato based BBQ sauce for a tasty surprise too. I like to serve mine with pork rind dippers as you’ll see here at this big reception I did long ago, but just serve with your own favorite chip!  

 

All sorts of fresh field peas are plentiful during July and August… time to stock up!

Any way you use them, North Carolina field peas are just good eats.  And right now is prime pea pick’n season. Load your freezer with all sorts of great peas to enjoy throughout the coming seasons, until it is time to load up again next summer. 

 

Putting up peas… White Acre Peas

 

You will need to blanch them before freezing, but that’s really easy to do.  You will find several methods to do that here, at the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s site! 

 

So run along to your local farm or farmers’ market and pick up PEAS!  Beautiful peas in all shapes sizes and beautiful colors!  Cook some cornbread, pour a glass of iced tea, and plop yourself down in that rocking chair on the porch… enjoy these dog days of summer before they are gone.  

….beautiful summer field peas

I rocked many a mile with my mama and grandma…. shelling peas on my grandma’s porch… back in the day, before pea shelling machines stole that “joy” from us.  Who else has those memories?  I remember my mama saying… “you will be glad you shelled those peas when we are eating them this winter” to which I defiantly declared… “I’d just as soon not eat a pea as to have to do this right here” as any young girl wanting to go play would say. But you know what, those WERE “the days.”

Oh how I’d love to turn back the clock… to these days… porch pea-shelling days!

And oh how I’d give ANYthing… to go back and have those days again… with my mama, my Ma Hocutt, and the sounds of peas falling into those metal pans and my sore little thumbs. Anybody care to join me?

…sweet summer corn salad with honey-citrus dressing

Corn…. here, there and over yonder!  Oh, the delicious time of summer is here in all its golden glory, and I don’t know about you, but I just can’t get.enough.CORN!
I love it raw… lightly steamed on the cob… grilled… in my grandma’s corn puddin… as a side…. or as a meal, like last night when I made my favorite corn salad.  Just good nekkid food at its finest…. nekkid just like the Good Lord gave it to us!

summer corn salad with honey citrus dressing

Enjoy this vibrant sweet summer corn salad with honey-citrus dressing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corn time is HOT time here in North Carolina, so anytime I can “cook” supper, without cook’n a damn thing…. well, that’s what I’m talkin’ about. I tell you, we just do not appreciate our local farmers enough… who toil in this heat for US… and bring us their goodness, for such bargain prices! I get a tad defensive when I hear folks saying “that food is more expensive… I can’t afford it.”  Say WHAT?  I sometimes feel like I’m stealing from them, and just say “keep the change” even though it’s a mere pittance of what they deserve.  Having come from generations of farming families in rural NC, I consider them to be “my people.” I know my food didn’t come from the back cooler at the Food Lion.  So when I have the choice, it’s farmers’ market  freshness for this gal.  

…tasty little wheels of fresh summer corn at Raleigh State Farmers Market!

I love strolling about, tasting little “wheels” of fresh corn, to find that day’s bestest! But usually, there’s little difference so I 

…one of many fresh corn vendors at the NC Raleigh State Farmers Market!

try to buy from different farmers each trip to share the love. I think about how early they had to rise to get that freshly harvested load of corn to the market… some coming from counties away.  Sleepy. Hot. Tired. …and ready to call it a day!  And probably not interested in cook’n anything either when they get home.

So wherever you are, run to your local farmers’ market and shop! And don’t cook this salad for supper. Grab some fresh corn…. field peas that are abundant right now, squashes and tomatoes and peaches and figs and melons…. oh my!  The bounty right now is endless… too bad it can’t be available all year long, although if it were, it probably wouldn’t taste nearly as good.  Savor the seasons.… and Make.Corn.Salad!  Your mouth (and those you share it with) will thank you!!

What could be wrong about combining these delicious ingredients together?

The dressing is so simple…. bright and flavorful, and citrus is the perfect pairing with the corn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sweet Summer Corn Salad with Honey-Citrus Dressing

Summer = Farm Fresh Vegetables!  And there are few things better that freshly pulled corn. The hardest thing about corn is deciding which way to eat it on any given day, but when my craving sets in, I just MUST stir up this summer corn salad. There's just nothing like the sweet corn, with its little "bite" stirred together with some feisty radish.... and freshly snipped herbs all dressed simply with honey and the bright flavors of citrus! So run to your local farmers market and get some sweet corn and make some for yourself.  But watch out, it's addicting!

Course: Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: Farmers Market, No Cook, Southern
Servings: 4 ish
Author: Wendy Perry
Ingredients
  • 5-6 ears fresh corn shucked, cleaned and cut off cob
  • 1 bunch radishes cleaned and chopped
  • 1/2 medium red onion diced
  • a few snips fresh herbs (I used chive, cilantro and thyme)
  • about 1/2 cup local honey (drizzle in a little more if suits you!)
  • juice of 1 orange
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1-2 tablespoons Savory Spice Shop California Citrus Rub
Instructions
  1. Combine all vegetables and herbs in large mixing bowl.  Drizzle with honey and juices.  Add spice rub and stir to combine.  EAT!!

Recipe Notes
  1. Feel free to add other herbs that you prefer. I just use what I have growing in my herb pots around the porch.   Feel free to throw in other veggies too!  I sometimes add a little bit of minced celery to this salad. Just don't get too carried away and lose focus on the CORN.
  2. If you do not have a Savory Spice Shop near you (although you can order their incredible goodies online!)... just look at what they have in it and use similar things.  I do love pairing citrus with the honey for this salad.  It just seems like a perfect match. You can zest your orange and lime into the salad and add whatever seasonings you have on hand.  Don't not make it just because you don't have the SSS rub.  

Wendy’s Dilly Swiss Tomato Pie!

’tis pie season. Tomato Pie Season. And I can’t believe I have never put my Dilly Swiss Tomato Pie here….  

Dilly Swiss Tomato Pie

Dilly Swiss Tomato Pie
Photo by Matt Hulsman for Our State Magazine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As food stylist and recipe developer at Our State Magazine for 5 years, I often prepared and styled recipes from church and community cookbooks they featured each month, while sometimes I created recipes for the magazine. Now those who know me well know getting in one of my kitchens and doing some “throw cooking” creating recipes of my own…. usually with North Carolina goodies, is my mostest favorite thing to do!  And this tomato pie 

Sometimes, ingredients just harmonize and the recipe turns out just right the first time!  This tomato pie is one of those times. I get visions in my head… and can hardly wait to pull together the ingredients and start playing! Although rare, there certainly are disasters and some “what was I thinking” concoctions, but for the most part, I believe this to be a talent given to me by God… there’s just no other explanation.  That, along with just having taste buds that seem to know what tastes good together is my “formula.”  This comes to me naturally, and it is so hard for me to grasp that this simple thing, for others, is terrifying and beyond anything they can or will do.  We had this very conversation this past weekend where I was throwing together my okra salad, a variation of it, and folks there were just mesmerized at what I did, and said in a million years would have never thought to do such a thing… while gobbling it all down!

So when the subject of tomato pies came up, I came here to get the link and text to them. And it wasn’t even here!  So today, I’m fixing that.  

This simple summer pie can be made in a flash… and that’s just what kind of cook’n we all prefer in prime tomato season when adding heat to our lives in any fashion is not on our agenda… at least not here in North Carolina, where the heat and humidity becomes absurd.  July, August and September are prime field tomato months for us, although I’m fortunate to have some farmers near me who grow some pretty darn good hot house tomatoes we start eating about March or April! So “Tomato Everything” graces my menus and recipes, and that’s fine by me… as I’d just as soon eat juicy fresh local summer ‘maters as I had a hunk’o steak!  

You can Google and scour Pinterest for “tomato pie” recipes, and find thousands of them… most claiming to be “the best tomato pie you’ve ever had.”  But I’m here to tell you, I’m laying claim to that title with MY tomato pie. Period.

There are a couple of reasons for this.  First, it has Duke’s mayonnaise, which speaks for itself! And if you live in a place where there is no Duke’s, I have full pity on you… (but you CAN order online from them or have friends and relatives visiting you from The Land of Duke’s bring you some). Many of y’all know by now that my “little” (back then) nephew Wyatt and I had the opportunity to be featured in several Duke’s commercials a few years back. We became something akin to “celebrities” for a few years as they would run starting in spring and tomato sandwich time, right on through the end of tomato season in fall.  And he was BMOC2G (big man on campus in 2nd grade). So anytime I can throw some Duke’s in a recipe, I do.

Nextly… most tomato pies you see use mozzarella, or cheddar cheese.  Nope, not around here! I’m a Swiss cheese fanatic, and when others are using the same old kinds of cheeses in recipes, you’ll likely find Swiss in mine…. like my Swiss Pimiento Cheese (another recipe I throw together and need to throw here too)!

And lastly…. you will typically see herbs from what I call the “Italian Family” in tomato pies, but you haven’t lived until you’ve enjoyed a meaty juicy tomato pie…with fresh DILL!

So those couple of things married together make my taste buds do a culinary happy dance. And I’m sure they will do the same for yours.  So without further babble…. I bring you, my Dilly Swiss Tomato Pie! I do hope you will make one soon, and come back here and share your review with me… and that you and yours love it as much as me and mine do. And since I have all the ingredients on hand, I think I shall throw myself one together now too. One can never have too much tomato pie, right?

Dilly Swiss Tomato Pie
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Dilly Swiss Tomato Pie

Most tomato pies will feature cheddar or mozzarella cheeses, and typically, herbs and seasonings in the Italian family. This one takes the "usual" to "unusual" and brings the fresh flavor of dill to the table, with the rich creaminess of Swiss cheese... finished off with the crispy crunchy onion topping. You can even make this crustless.... for more of a tomato pudding than pie!

Course: Breakfast, Brunch, Side Dish
Cuisine: Southern
Servings: 6 (or sometimes, just 1!)
Author: Wendy Perry
Ingredients
  • 1 store bought deep dish pie crust (or your own)
  • 3-4 large tomatoes, cut into 1/2" slices
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • several turns freshly ground black pepper
  • 2-3 whole green onions, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup Duke's mayonnaise
  • 1 cup grated Swiss cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 1/2 cup canned French-fried onion topping
Instructions
  1. Place the tomato slices in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Let tomatoes drain for at least 20 to 30 minutes. Dry any surface moisture with a paper towel.
    NOTE: The longer you let the tomatoes sit the better as the more moisture you can pull, the meatier they will be. I sometimes slice and salt in the morning for cooking my pie later in the day.

  2. Preheat the oven to 350º. Prick the bottom and sides of the piecrust with a fork. Bake for 10 minutes.

  3. In a bowl, combine the mayonnaise and cheese. Fold in the chopped dill.
  4. Layer the tomato slices in the piecrust. Season them with black pepper. Scatter with chopped green onions. Dollop the mayonnaise and cheese mixture over the tomatoes and onions.

  5. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the cheese is melting and starts to brown. Scatter with fried onion topping, then bake for an additional 5 minutes. Let stand about 10 minutes. Slice and serve warm.

Recipe Notes

Variation: You can use a variety of tomatoes for added color and flavors!  

Your pie will have more onion crust topping than this picture.... sometimes "things" have to be done in the name of food styling for better photos, and this is an example.  Too much of the onion and you wouldn't see the beautiful meaty tomatoes underneath!

Recipe originally published in Our State Magazine ~ July 2015

A backroads aventure…. clothesline

clothesline…

clothes·line  ˈklōT͟Hzlīn/
{-noun- a strong, narrow rope, cord, wire, etc., usually stretched between two poles, posts or buildings on which clean laundry is hung to dry.}

Being a born and bred (and still living in the) country southern belle, I have always traveled the back roads to and fro whenever possible, my preferred line to connect the dots of my life adventures. Like my daddy, I’d much rather meander down roads lined with weary old barns, each with a story of their own to tell, dandelion dotted fields and the colors of rural North Carolina, than hurried obnoxious billboard-lined highways with cookie cutter pre-fab structures lacking personality.

I’m a truck-driving “windows-rolled-down” kinda gal who likes to tickle my senses with smells of freshly cut pastures in spring… and roasty toasty curing tobacco in late summer. Heck, I’ll even admit that I find the fragrance of a cow pasture to be somewhat delightful.

…a road less traveled

I long for nostalgic things… “stuff” that takes me back to my childhood, and such simpler,  unbusy times.  A scavenger by nature, I get all giddy with most anything old… used as is, or repurposed into something new… and such treasures are found when taking those roads less traveled.

 

Something that always captures my eye when moseying from here to there is a clothesline! Now that’s something you won’t likely see when flitting down an interstate. I remember long ago watching movies and television shows of folks in tall buildings… somewhere like New York City I imagined, where folks would have clotheslines strung from one building to the other across the way… and would hang their clothes on pulley-type lines. As they hung their clothes, neighbor ladies would chat across the way with one another while carefully pinning their clothes out to dry… aprons, dish towels, their husband’s work breeches and other pieces of their daily lives.  Over these lines, I suppose many a lifetime friendship was made and many a dilemma pondered, be it privately, or with the family matriarch at the other end of that line.

I wanted one of those. A nifty rolling clothesline, but maybe too, somebody across the way to chit chat with as that was my ideal of what “neighborly” was about.

But… there was no tall building from whence to do this.

To me, reeling clothes out like that was just dandy. Nowadays, as absurd as it seems, many homeowners’ associations (and even my little RV park) forbid clotheslines! How can this be? The prohibition of such a simplistic thing seems so wrong. I guess they consider them ugly and unsightly. But I tell you, with all the ugliness around us every which way we turn in the world these days, for me, a clothesline is the least of our worries and is a pleasantry.

If you don’t want to see your neighbor’s under-drawers flapping in the wind, just don’t look! No wonder this world is in such a mess… and neighbors are strangers… when you’re an outlaw because you want your clothes to be hung out to dry by the breeze of God’s hand.

…God’s clothes dryer

Side yard, back yard, balcony or strung across the front porch, a simple cording, decorated with the family’s garments makes me smile. There is one small old house on a path I frequent where I look forward to passing by each time. There must be dozens of folk, farm workers, living in this one small home, bordering on the definition of “shack.” And some worn out lady must do nothing but wash clothes all day, because the clothesline strung across this small porch and off the side is always full… of an ever-changing canvas of its occupants clothes and bed clothing that paints a colorful picture of rural Americana… like a quilted curtain around this porch.  I can almost smell “fresh” when driving by and see all these garments flapping in the wind and want to photograph them, but don’t, for it feels somewhat intrusive to do so.

So I simply take a snapshot in my mind, a different one each time I go by. But I do always slow down, sometimes stopping on the side of the road to take a “life break” in my busy day to simply enjoy what I see.

This takes me back… if only for that moment, to my grandmas’ yards, where I loved helping them hang clothes. Each had their own cloth bag for pins. Such a simple contraption but so functional and purposeful. I have one myself now, and smile when I see one in antique stores for sale… looking a bit lonely and usually frayed and tattered, but having been tied around some sweet lady’s waist for decades having assisted her in hanging out thousands of washed pieces of her family’s life.

…vintage clothespins

I love old clothespins too! The new ones fall apart in no time, while the old ones I manage to find here and there have lasted for decades… sturdy through wind and rain, and continue their intended functionality, and then some. Yep, Made In America!  My old clothespins are like found treasures and are scattered about my world… from bag closings to hanging Christmas tree ornaments.

I remember Ma Hocutt’s line most vividly. My Daddy Hocutt had mounted two T-shaped pipe poles firmly into the ground out by their grapevine and cherry tree they planted when I was born. There were three lines from pole to pole, made of some sort of heavy wire covered with a green plastic coating I’m sure he got from the local town hardware store. Every now and then, those lines would start to sag a bit, and Ma Hocutt would get my granddaddy Clarence to tighten them up. My job was helping her carry the pin bag out and hang on the line to slide it down as we hung things. There was a wiping rag tucked into the bag she would wet before taking outside for me to clean the lines. I felt SO important. She would tote the heavy wet basket of fresh-smelling just-washed clothes and wait as I did my job.  I would then be her assistant… following her instructions to “shake it out good,” then handing her piece by piece and helping pin them to the green line up above my head. My favorite pieces were her mint green bed sheets. Ma Hocutt would toss them across all 3 lines, make sure they didn’t touch the ground below, and I would help her spread them out nice and straight so they wouldn’t need to be ironed… my most “unfavorite” childhood chore. (For you young’uns, yes, we did used to have to do that!) I could hardly wait to get under them to dance about. It was shady and cool on a summer’s day, and smelled soooo good and clean.

That was a half century ago, and I don’t remember our specific conversations. But I do remember this as ‘our’ time… before our world’s changed. For you see, when I was just eight, my Ma and Daddy Hocutt had a terrible car accident. He had a massive heart attack causing them to plunge off the side of a mountain deep in rural Virginia, where they too, were taking the back roads, meandering home from a vacation in Washington, D.C. She was left “crippled” for life, so there were never anymore clothes-hanging times together after that day. And had it not been for a mountain lady, herself out hanging clothes up the hill and hearing my Ma Hocutt’s calls for “help,” she would probably not have survived being thrown from the car with both legs broken in multiple places and folded back up under her. How ironic… a clothesline played a part in saving her life… after this tragedy in my young life, when my hero, my Daddy Hocutt, was taken from me in an instant. My little world was broken and my heart was ripped to pieces.  After nearly a year in the hospital, my Ma Hocutt came home, and me and mama became “keepers of the clothesline” and took care of washing and hanging out Ma Hocutt’s clothes for her.  

My own clothesline now is my dog pen. I’m guilty of not hanging out clothes as I should, but perhaps I shall put down my pen right now and throw my bed clothes in the washer so I can hang them out… because there are few small pleasures in life as refreshing as crawling into a bed of crisp clean bed sheets that dried naturally by God’s own clothes dryer.  Now, as for my mama making me iron them long ago on Saturday mornings before I could go out to play, that would NOT be something I long for anymore.

God blessed me to live in the country where I CAN hang my clothes, undies and outies, out to dry… and my neighbors won’t give a doodly squat… because theirs are blowing in the wind too!

 

Originally published in 2011, edited.

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