“All the sweetest winds,
they blow across the South.” – Ryan Adams, “Oh My Sweet Carolina”
A few weeks ago, I went on a weekend trip to Charleston, SC with my husband. My first time in the utterly charming city was cloaked in promise – in the great expectations that so often accompany any inaugural visit to a new place. My father-in-law was even so kind as to give me a quick run-through of the need-to-know information regarding Charleston and all it has to offer, seeing as how he’s been there a time or two and knows the lay of the land quite well. Decorated with cobblestone streets, victorian-era lampposts, secret gardens, and horse-drawn carriages, Charleston sits on a peninsula and is bordered on the East by the Cooper River (pronounced “cuppah”) and by the Ashley on the West. You have to grit your teeth together and sort of growl when you say it to sound like the locals, “err-shley …”
I practiced this on the drive down.
As we descended down into the Carolinas, the brown dirt of Virginia gave way to the distinctive red clays of North and South Carolina; a sight that has always generated excitement for me. This isn’t due to an affinity for red dirt so much as my affinity for the beach. Throughout my life, the majority of my family vacations have taken place on one Carolina shore or another and when I was little, I was told to watch out for the red clay as a sign that we were nearing our sandy, oceanside destination. That’s how you know we’re getting really, really close.
Somewhere along I-77, Lucas and I stopped at an old, “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” roadside stand for drinks and a bite to eat, and it was here that I caught my first inklings of the delightfully distinct Carolinian twang that has long been my favorite sub-genre of Southen accents. I get a little lost in it, wishing that I, too, spoke in a way that made people long for things like porch swings, juleps and sweet tea – for a slowing down of life. It just rolls so beautifully off the tongue, the Carolina accent, and makes me feel comfortable, reminding me over and over again of my great affinity for the South and its many, many charms. How y’all doing? Will that be all, ma’am? Y’all have a blessed day. It was like music to my ears – to OUR ears, as my husband felt the exact same way. We laughed at how living in Washington DC has made us appreciate the small-town Southern charms and auto-politeness that we grew up with; the simple acts of asking someone how they’re doing, letting them go before you in a checkout line, giving an easy wave to a stranger for no reason besides genuine friendliness. Don’t get me wrong, I see some of that sweetness up here in DC … but not enough, really. No, not quite enough for my liking. Bless your heart, Washington.
It rained cats and dogs throughout almost the entirety of our trip. Charleston’s riverbanks swelled up and seemed happy to share their excess with the rest of us, the streets promptly flooding and flowing with water over the course of the weekend. That’s just the way it is this time of year … it rains and the city floods almost immediately, the locals informed us. Try as they might though, the rains did not manage to successfully dampen our moods and/or spirits. We found refuge in a fantastic variety of eateries, cafes and bars (of the “dive” variety, specifically) that helped us while away the hours with perfect contentment, never mind the monsoon-like conditions raging outside.
The food on this trip, did not disappoint. I don’t think I will ever forget how much I enjoyed the meal we had on our last night at Edmund’s Oast, the relatively new brew pub that has made waves in the Charleston food scene. If you go, order the chicken liver mousse and prepare to be amazed. It’s one of the best bites of food you will eat in all of Charleston, boasted our waiter. And if he wasn’t right about that …
The oysters and fried seafood at Leon’s Oyster Shop were easily the best I’ve ever tried, a far cry from the greasy, fatty versions that I’ve sampled at many a beachside seafood shack. Leon’s fried seafood was another thing entirely. The shrimp and oysters arrived to our table in small, red plastic baskets lined with crinkly paper. No muss, no fuss. There is absolutely no need for embellishment or decoration when the food can completely and totally speak for itself. The lightly fried fare retained its sweetness as well as the briny, salty flavors of the sea while somehow managing to be light and airy at the same time – nothing even approaching greasy or heavy.
The grits and greens at Hominy Grill lived up to the hype and provided the best possible entree into a weekend that was filled to the brim with memorable Southern food. I had a cocktail that was laced with honeysuckle vodka, and immediately made a mental note to find a bottle when I returned home. It was dreamy.
This week’s recipe is a nod to my time in Charleston, and is one of the very best buttermilk pies I have ever, ever tried. The recipe is from Sarah Malphrus, the pastry chef at the esteemed Husk restaurant in Charleston, by way of Celeste Albers of Wadmalaw Island Farm (by way again, of Local Milk), and it is fantastic. Her recipe includes a cornmeal lard crust (Sarah Malphrus’) that I have made and loved and please do look it up if you want to try it. But for me this week, in my need to make a quick, reliably satisfying dessert, I reached for the frozen pie crust that I often keep stashed away in my freezer. A buttermilk pie is a fantastic thing to make when you need a quick-fix, low maintenance dessert, and in just a few minutes, I had it in the oven baking away … my house gradually beginning to smell of butter, nutmeg and the faintest hint of lemon.
This week I learned that I will be the editor of the new “Honey” and “Cinnamon” feeds that are coming to The FeedFeed website, and I’m really excited about this. If you’re unfamiliar with it, The FeedFeed is a fantastic site that “connects people who love to cook” by enabling users to search for recipes by ingredient, cooking style and/or meal type – such a great idea. I’ve followed/used the site for years and I’m thrilled to now be a more active part of their fast-growing community of cooks and passionate food lovers. As the editor of the honey and cinnamon feeds, I get to curate the recipes and content that makes up each feed, scouring the FeedFeed community’s vast pool of tagged (hash-tagged via Instagram) posts for recipes that would be great fits. So, if you’re a blogger or a cook who loves posting your creations on Instagram for the world to drool over, be sure to keep tagging (or start tagging) your posts #feedfeed @thefeedfeed so I can see what you’ve made.
As for this week’s recipe, it is a favorite of mine. I didn’t even bother to make my own crust as I mention above, as I had some perfectly deliciously fantastically suitable ones at the ready in my fridge. Also, I have a back injury that is a bit of a bother. Working and kneading dough isn’t really the most comfortable activity for me at the moment, so I’m thankful for high-quality ready-made options. But please do use your crust of choice here, proceeding along with this filling recipe after you’ve got it nicely secured in your pie plate. This is a fast recipe – the kind you reach for when you need something sweet but don’t want to take hours to put it together. No lattice making, no faffing around with this that and the other. It’s a simple, straightforward filling that comes together in a snap, taking your pie from daydream to table in relatively little time, so far as pies go. We all need a few of these recipes in our back pockets, don’t we? This pie – this buttermilk pie – is a beloved Southern classic that I’ve tweaked ever so slightly with the addition of some lovely hibiscus tea. The tea adds a delicate flavor to the pie and gives it the prettiest mauve hue. If you want to make a straight-up buttermilk pie though, simply omit the tea and carry on. No harm, no foul.
Sweetening whipped cream with honey has been a revelation to me, and I almost wish I hadn’t discovered this lovely trick. I’ve always reached for the confectioner’s sugar when making my whipped creams, but the honey is too good – like, bad/good. The floral notes it adds to the cream make it feel like it was meant to be paired with this hibiscus-scented pie all along.
*adapted from Celeste Albers of Wadmalaw Island Farm & dairy, by way of Sarah Malphrus, by way of Local Milk
*Recipe makes 1 pie, despite what my photos might have you believe (I made more because I’m greedy)
1 store-bought pie crust, prepared according to package directions (you can use your own homemade crust here, of course, if you so choose)
2 eggs, separated, at room temp
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temp
1 cup sugar
3 TBSP flour
1 TBSP lemon juice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup very strong hibiscus tea (I steep four bags of hibiscus tea in about 1/2 cup of water and use half in this recipe and drink the rest)
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk, at room temp (this matters)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Beat your egg whites until so ft peaks form. Set aside.
Using the whisk attachment, cream together the butter and the sugar in a stand mixer (or using a handheld if you prefer). Add the yolks to this mixture, and whip to combine well. Add the flour, lemon juice, nutmeg, hibiscus tea, and salt to the mixture and combine well.
Slowly cream in the buttermilk and mix for one minute. Fold the whites into the buttermilk mixture. Pour the pie mixture into the prepared crust (either your store-bought crust, following the instructions on the package, or your homemade crust). Smooth out the filling with a spatula and bake for 45 – 50 minutes or until golden and set in the middle.
Cool on a rack before serving. Serve with generous dollops of the whipped honey cream (seem below).
for the whipped honey cream:
Using a stand or handheld electric mixer, whip up your desired amount of heavy whipping cream, takes about 2 minutes on med-high speed. When you’ve got stiff peaks, you’re done. Sweeten the cream with honey to taste. (I use about 1 cup of cream and about 2 – 3 tablespoons of honey, but this is up to you).