Chestnut Pig Barbecue, November 16, 2013

Written By David S. Shields

Originally Published in the Rice Paper Newsletter, Fall 2014


The Carolina Gold Rice Foundation (CGRF), while devoted to the restoration of the crop central to the Lowcountry rice kitchen, has taken as its mission the restoration of the co-crops of Carolina Gold, and the other ingredients that made up classic Southern cuisine. The Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah, and Jacksonville markets before the 20th century were filled with fruits and nuts, beginning with loquats in March and continuing around the calendar to Christmas oranges and January tangerines. The autumn bounty of chestnuts coming from the hill and mountain country was a regular feature of these foodways, until the coming of chestnut blight and phytophthora, twin plagues that wiped out the vast eastern forests of American chestnut and decimated its dwarf cousin, the chinquapin.

The CGRF has been greatly interested in reviving the chestnut foodways that had once been common in our region. This chestnut legacy has been reduced to holiday “chestnuts roasting o’re an open fire” and chestnut stuffing for the Thanksgiving turkey. We have recovered recipes for chestnut grits, chestnut skillet bread, chestnut soufflé, and chestnut pudding (with rose water). But as glories of the southern table went, none of these dishes competed with the most cherished dishes — chestnut-fed pork barbecue and chestnut-fed venison.

When word filtered up from Florida that two wild pigs had been seen grazing in a widow grove of Dunstan (a hybrid American-Chinese chestnut popularized as edible landscape in the 1950s), Glenn Roberts, president of the CGRF, sent a request that they be penned in. And so two pigs gorged on fallen nuts until they had grown sufficiently fat to warrant a truck trip southward. Glenn hauled two ornery fat pigs into South Carolina, and on November 14, 2013 they were handed over to 601 Deer and Hog Processing in Fort Motte, S.C., for butchering. One of the pigs would be handed over to Chuck Ross and James Helms for barbecuing. Master charcutier Craig Diehl drove up from Charleston to take charge of the second pig for curing.

I arrived at 601 Processing on the afternoon of November 15 and found the son of the proprietor and Craig deep in a consultation on the quickest way to cut certain venison joints. These weeks in November constitute the crush time of 601. In the 20 minutes I was present, two and a half deer were disemboweled, skinned, and broken down. The bloody skeletons lay stacked in a corner crying out for a chef’s stock pot, but because of the game sale laws, no go. I did, however, learn that a substantial portion of the deer harvest is donated to Harvest Hope. That charity does not waste its materials.

The hog had been skinned when we arrived. (Alas, no cracklin’s for the guests.) Craig was tremendously enthused about the fat quality of the pig. It was admirable, and the meat itself robustly red-pink. Craig sliced through it quickly, his knife work singularly precise and quick. I told him to do his curing of the meat in ways that seem appropriate to the quality he found. We parted, and the proprietor commented that quite a number of chestnuts grew on a nearby ridge and that he has seen wild hogs in the vicinity. He then informed me that he is one of only four processors given a state permit to process wild pigs.

On Saturday morning of the barbecue I made three of the four barbecue sauces — the standard Lowcountry mustard, the classic Hemingway, S.C., vinegar and pepper, muscadine vinegar sorghum tomato and pepper, and there was blueberry as well. I wound up using Joseph Trapp’s sorghum rather than the Lindler. I brought several jars of Bradford watermelon pickle. I also made a cucumber, tomato, dill, and onion salad dressed with benne oil and good madeira vinegar. I arrived at Oldfields Plantation in Hopkins, S.C., the site of the barbecue at noon. Mike Davis of Terra Restaurant was already present with the chestnut skillet bread. 

The pig had been smoking for a good while and the compound was fragrant with the smell of smouldering chestnut husks. Much of the next two hours was consumed in setting up water stations, scrubbing down the tables, laying out the food displays. Chuck had begun the process of cutting the meat off the lustrously browned hog. He was the soul of self-control, refusing to taste until I, James, and Heidi Cooley, the head of the film crew, had partaken. Glenn Roberts, the provider of the pig, alas, was out in the field, unable to be present. So I had to report long distance that there was a distinct quality to the meat, an earthly basic flavor, a fine, almost floral fatty sweetness, and a long finish in the mouth. It was moist, tender, and the caramelized portions startling in their nuttiness.

There was, of course, hash with Carolina Gold Rice.

The first guests to arrive — some of host Ted Hopkins’s friends — were fascinated with the stories connected with the food, and ready with their cups when I broke out my sake bottle. (Sake is better than beer or bourbon as a complement to barbecue). Nathalie Dupree, her husband Jack Bass, and their passenger, Hanna Raskin arrived precisely at 2:00 and Nathalie went directly to the cutting station, going for some gnawing bones. For a half an hour the guests arrived, milled about, ogled the food (the panniers from the Palmetto Pig were covered, but the salads, cured loin I brought, and pickles were available for nibbling). Most guests gravitated to Michael Peterson’s chestnut basket where he peeled and hand fed a cluster of eager eaters. After Ted Hopkins arrived at 2:25, we were ready to begin. By this time there were approximately 50 persons present, including numbers from the press.

After a blessing, the panniers were uncovered, the lines quickly formed. The rhapsody on chestnuts and chestnut-fed pigs had people’s gastric juices percolating. Chad Carter appeared suddenly bearing a number of Bradford Watermelon pickle varieties and gummi-treats.

James Helms made sure a portion of the meat and sauce were secured for pig provider Glenn Roberts upon his return. There was not much left at the end of the feast. We had gauged the invitations to food ratio well. It took a little over an hour to clean up. A splendid sunny day turned to dark slowly with a spectacular sunset over a wonderful countryside.

Southerners had tasted that day the first chestnut fed barbecued pig available in the South in a century.

A Visit to Rodger Winn’s Tomato Paradise

Written By David S. Shields

Originally Published in the Rice Paper Newsletter, Spring 2012

Mention the words heirloom and vegetable in the same sentence, and the average listener will conjure the image of a tomato. The general interest in the heirloom tomato can be attributed to the general distaste for the common grocery store tomato. Thick-walled, mealy, taut-skinned, and reliably roundish, the tomato of commerce appeals to the eye, because of its pronounced red hue particularly in winter months, but not to the tongue. 

Those available in season in the east, come from Florida, Beaufort, S.C., or the eastern shore of Virginia, picked by migrant labor from leased fields doused with insecticide and fertilizer, sheeted in black plastic and harvested on a date determined by labor contract, not the ripeness of the produce. 

The commercial tomato is a product of convenience not an object of gastronomic regard. It is the null backdrop upon which the memory of tomatoes from old family gardens or vacation roadside stands shines. The heirloom tomato, whether a juicy gigantic beefsteak, a sugary black sandwich tomato, a mellow heirloom orange, or an acid and fresh Arkansas Traveler, commands attention for taste, configuration, and color.

All of the heirlooms date from after 1840, that moment when the tomato seized the palate of American diners, and the old landraces attracted the attention of horticulturists and seed brokers. Breeding for new tastes, shapes, and colors became a nationwide agricultural practice. From mid-century on, not a year passed when a new introduction captured the public fancy, making heirloom tomatoes one of the most ample and rich troves of vegetable/fruit creations of the past two centuries.

Many of the star tomatoes of past decades have disappeared entirely, supplanted by “improved” versions, or abandoned because of vulnerabilities to disease or insect depredation. Many varieties that went out of commercial seed production lived on, however, because of the preference of some local grower for its taste, look, or productivity. 

In the past decade a concerted effort by seed savers and botanical antiquarians have collected many of the surviving cultivars. One of the greatest conservators of the heirloom tomato is Rodger Winn of Little Mountain, S.C.

For a little over a decade, Rodger Winn, a retired nuclear engineer, has devoted his farm to the organic cultivation of landrace and heirloom legumes, grains, and vegetables. He became a seedsman performing grow-outs and trials of dozens of varieties for the likes of Baker Seeds, Southern Exposure Seeds, Fedco Seeds, and Heavenly Seeds. Like one of the great experimental planters of the 19th century, Winn grows an extraordinary range of items: honey drip sorghum, the Stone Mountain watermelon, the old long purple eggplant, brown cotton. But the rows of tomato plants and the poles of bean vines are the pride of his plantings.

Every year in late July/early August, during the week when the majority of his tomatoes achieve ripeness, Winn invites “those in the know” to his “Tomato Splat,” a tasting of his heirlooms on the lawns of his house. Long tables festooned with china plates, each filled with a variety of tomato identified by hand-lettered sign, provide the 100 or so guests with an instant education on the range of heirloom types. Visitors bring their own bread and condiments. Rodger Winn supplies the entertainment (a bluegrass band) and the tomatoes. At the invitation of Jim Kibler, scion of an old Carolina planting family whose land is near Whitmire, we attended the 2011 Splat. Protecting sandwiches from free-range chickens, we sampled an extraordinary range of tomatoes— at least 30 of the multitude of offerings. 

Winn’s tomatoes varieties serve a range of functions— some were bred originally as paste tomatoes (The Amish Paste deserves particular notice), some for drying, some for pickling. Of the salad and sandwich tomatoes we consumed, most concurred that the Black Tom and Cherokee Purple had special merit. Steve Kresovich thought the Heirloom Orange particularly piquant.

In order to offer such a panoply of varieties, one must have inspired a great deal of trust and done a fair amount of trading in the community of people that cherish old garden cultivars.

While tomatoes were the reason for coming to Little Mountain, I was particularly interested in seeing Winn’s legendary plantings of field peas and beans. The beds did not disappoint. Besides the southern standbys — Greasy Beans (from the Bradshaw Collection) and the Red Cranberry — there were rare family varieties like the Epting Bean and the Grandma Roberts Purple Pole Bean. The Limas and Sieva beans thrived in the hot muggy clime of the Carolina Piedmont. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen more variety in a single landscape. Because beans and field peas operated in the rotation plantings with the traditional southern landrace grains, ascertaining their qualities and agricultural effects is an important component of the restoration of fields and food in our region.

To view the seeds Rodger Winn makes available annually to the public, consult his website:

Guinea Squash

Written by David S. Shields

Originally Published in The Rice Paper Newsletter, Spring 2011


Certain foodstuffs that crossed the Atlantic with enslaved Africans had their African genesis recognized by prefixing the common English name of the generic item with "Guinea," the west African territory in which the Mandingo and Fula peoples lived: Guinea corn (Sorghum vulgaris), Guinea fowl (Numida meleagris),  Guinea pea (Abrus precatorius), and Guinea squash or eggplant (Solatium melongena).

While introduced into England as a horticultural novelty at the end of the sixteenth century, the Guinea squash did not gain a foothold in European cuisine until the middle of the 19th century. In the American colonies, however, it became a fixture in those regions that used African slave labor: the West Indies, the mainland south, Central America, Brazil. In the United States the regions divided about the merits of the vegetable. A northern commentator observed in a 1839 issue of The Farmer & Gardener, and Live-Stock Breeder and Manager magazine, “This is considered a delicious vegetable; but little attention has, however, been paid to its cultivation, and it is seldom seen in our markets; but in the southern States great quantities are cultivated, and sold in their markets.”

Antebellum southern markets were controlled by whites, so the eggplant joined okra, benne, and the cowpea as foods that spread from the black hearthside to general consumption. In the earliest printed descriptions from white southerners of how guinea squash should be prepared for the table, we encounter the African mode of preparation — the preference for frying. William N. White, the south‟s most eloquent horticulturist on the eve of the Civil War, preserved a version of the traditional preparation in his 1857 handbook, Gardening in the South: “Cut the eggplant in slices a quarter of an inch thick. To remove the acrid taste, piles the slices on a plate with alternate layers of salt; raise one side of the plate, that the juice may run off. In half an hour wash them well in fresh water, and fry them quite brown in batter.” White observed that eggplant was an acquired taste; “they are not commonly liked at first, but after a few trials become very agreeable to most tastes, and are esteemed a delicacy.” 

In states where African-American cooking did not greatly influence public taste, the penchant in dressing guinea squash as if it were a winter squash by transforming it into a form of baked pudding predominated. Like a pumpkin pie filling or a squash pudding, the guinea squash was boiled, mashed, mixed with egg yolks, bread, and spices before being baked. Despite prepping the vegetable in ways greatly similar to favorite familiar foodstuffs, New Englanders took their time embracing guinea squash's qualities. When the vegetable gained treatment in cook books (mostly printed in Boston, New York or Philadelphia), it did not appear under the southern name, but as "eggplant" — that moniker affixed to the plant by Europeans in the late 18th century to describe the small, white colored ornamental eggplants grown as specimens and exhibition plants, not the purple-blue, gourd-fruited vegetables that dominated culinary use. The name's eventual universal adoption testifies to the dominance of the agricultural press and the international cohort of horticultural savants who filled its pages.

Throughout the 1800s, instructions on how to grow the plant did not greatly very from the first directions published by Bernard M'Mahon in 1806: “This delicious vegetable may be propagated, by sowing the seed, on a slight hot-bed, the beginning of this month [April], or in March; and towards the middle or latter part of May, they should be planted in a rich warm piece of ground, at the distance of two feet and a half asunder, for the purple, or two feet for the white kind; and if kept clean, and a little earth drawn up to their stems, when about a foot high they will produce plenty of fruit.” Eggplants are annuals, grown from seed that takes substantial time to germinate. While growing care had to be take to limit the depredations of the potato bug, that particularly savored eggplant foliage and fruit. While the insect throve on egg plant leaves, neither animals nor man can eat them without suffering narcotic poisoning. Gardener Robert Buist recommended regular watering of the plant.

In the north market gardeners grew the eggplant as a hot house plant. But a robust market for the crop did not develop until the late 1870s when French recipes for the Aubergine gave the vegetable cachet among persons maintaining a fashionable table. Because the Guinea squash requires sustained heat (67-70 degrees Fahrenheit) for germination and early growth, it developed a reputation as a difficult plants in regions with variable spring weather. In the south what became apparent to regular planters of the vegetable was its resilience once established. “No vegetable with which I am acquainted, can withstand drouth better than the eggplant, which bears and matures its fruit under a degree of heat and dryness that would be fatal to other crops.” (A. Oemler, Truck Farming at the South (New York: Orange Judd Co., 1884), p. 177.)  One could plant the Guinea squash in the sandiest portions of one‟s land, provided compost or manure had been well intermixed, and produce a thriving crop. The standard garden rotation was the plant the Guinea squash in succession to a heavily manured plant, such as cabbages or onions, followed by a root vegetable, excepting the potato.

While experimental gardeners played with the white eggplants, kitchen gardeners early in the 19th century cultivated the smooth-stemmed purple, which comes to maturation rather quickly, and the prickly stemmed purple, a later season variety. In the mid-century the “Long Purple” came into favor. After the Civil War the latter variety was tweaked by plant breeders into the “New York Improved Purple.” In the early 1880s the darker colored, more compact “Black Pekin” came into wide cultivation, while fancy gardeners amused themselves with the Scarlet-fruited and Guadaloupe Striped novelty varieties.

The recipes below illustrate the regional variations in treatment. The first six are from southern sources, the last five from northern and western books. It should be noted, however, that the southern recipes were contained in books printed in northern cities for the most part, and so substituted eggplant for the local usage of guinea squash. Guinea squash remained the favored designation in horticultural books and the southern agricultural journals. Many of the latter imprints were published in southern locales.

A Final World from the New England Kitchen Magazine 3 of 1895: “There are dozens and dozens of real Southern dishes that delight the souls of those who eat them when prepared properly—sugared sweet potatoes, guineas squashes, corn fritters, etc. — but the Northern built menus seldom or never mention them. They tell us to eat hominy with sugar for breakfast, and salmon with egg sauce for supper!”

Fried Egg Plant 

Purple ones are best. Take young fresh ones, putt out the stem, parboil them to take out the bitter taste, cut them in slices an inch thick without peeling them, dip them in the yolk of an egg, and cover them with grated bread, and a little salt and pepper; when one side has dried, cover the other in the same way, then fry them a nice brown. They are very delicious, tasting much like soft crabs.
Mrs. Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife: or, Methodical Cook (Baltimore: Plaskitt, Fite & Co., 1838), p. 108.

Broiled Egg Plant 

Split the egg plant in two, peel it, and take the seed out, put it in a crockery dish, sprinkle on chopped parsley, salt, and pepper; cover the dish, and leave thus about forty minutes; then take it off, put it on a greased and warmed gridiron, and on a good fire; baste with a little sweet oil, and seasoning from the crockery dish, and serve with the drippings when properly broiled. It is a delicious dish.
Pierre Blot, What to Eat, and How to Cook It (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1863). p. 182.

To Bake Guinea Squash, or Egg-Plant

Parboil the squashes until they are tender, changing the water two of three times, to extract the bitterness. Then cut them lengthwise in two, and scoop out the inside, being careful not to break the skin. —Season the pulp of the squashes with pepper, salt, crumbs of bread, butter, and a slice of onion, chopped fine (this last ingredient, if not liked, may be omitted). Mix all well together, and fill the skins of the squashes with the mixture lay them on a plate, and bake in a Dutch oven. They do not take long to boil, but require two or three hours to be baked brown.
[Sarah Rutledge], The Carolina Housewife, or House and Home: by a Lady of Charleston (Charleston: W. R. Babcock & Co., 1847), pp. 100-101.

Breakfast Egg Plant

The purple egg plant is better than the white ones. Boil them whole in planty of water until tender, then take them up, drain them after having taken off the skins, cut them up and wash them in a deep dish or pan; mix with them some grated bread, powdered sweet marjoram, and a large piece of butter, and a few pounded cloves. Grate a layer of bread over the top, and brown it in an oven. Send it to table in the same dish.
Mrs.L. G. Abell, The Skillful Housewife’s Book: or Complete Guide to Domestic Cookery (New York: Orange Judd & Co., 1852), p. 106.

Stuffed Egg-plants a la Creole 

Parboil the egg-plants; cut them in halves; scoop out the inside, being careful not to break the outside skin, which you refill later with the following stuffing: Mix up the insight of the egg-plant with a slice of boiled ham chopped very fine, bread crumbs, butter, salt, and pepper — shrimps if you have them, make a delicious addition; bind this stuffing with the yolk of an egg and fill your egg-plant skins; sprinkle with powdered bread crumbs, put a small lump of butter on each piece, and bake.
Mrs. Washington, The Unrivalled Cook-Book and Housekeeper’s Guide (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1886), p. 192.

Egg-Plant Pudding

Quarter the egg-plant and lay it in salt and water the overnight, to extract the bitterness. The next day, parboil, peel and chop fine, and add bread crumbs (one teacup to a pint of egg-plant), eggs (two to a pint of egg-plant), salt, pepper, and butter to taste; enough milk to make a good batter. Bake in an earthen dish twenty minutes.
Mrs. R. L. O. Marion Cabell Tyree, Housekeeping in Old Virginia (Louisville: John P. Morton, 1879), p. 249.

Egg Plant Dressed as Oysters

Wash an egg plant, and boil it until it is perfectly soft, but not broken. Take out all the inside, mash it and season with a piece of butter, pepper and salt to your taste. Beat the yolks of three eggs very thick. Crumb a stale baker‟s loaf, and season it with salt and pepper. Have ready a pan of hot lard and butter mixed; take a spoonful of the plant, dip it into the egg, cover it with the crumbs, and drop it into the pan to fry. Take the back of the spoon and flatten the top of the plant, so as to form the shape of an oyster. When the under side is done, put some egg and bread over the top, turn it and fry a light brown. Serve hot for breakfast.
Hannah Widdifield, Widdifield’s New Cook Book; or, Practical Receipts for the Housewife (Philadelphia: T. B. Peterson, 1856), pp. 105-06.

Mashed Eggplant — A very fine way to dress Egg-Plant

Take as many eggplants as the size of your family requires — pare, quarter and boil them till soft enough to mash like turnips. Mash them, add a little bread crumb soaked in milk, butter, chopped parsley, an onion boiled and mashed, some butter, pepper, and salt. Mix these well together, and pour it into a baking dish; cover the top with grated bread, and bake it for half an hour.
Sarah Josepha Hale, Mrs. Hale’s New Book of Cookery (New York: H. Long & Brother, 1852), p. 234. 

Stewed Egg Plant 

Slice and cut into dice half of a peeled egg plant, and throw into cold, salted water half an hour. Cook till very soft in boiling, salted water, and drain in a colander; throw back into the saucepan, and pour over it a pint of rich milk thickened with an every tablespoonful of flour; add one of butter and teaspoonful of salt. Let it cook till it thickens. Meantime, have one or two beaten eggs in the ish in which the vegetable is to be served, into which pour the egg plant while stirring briskly, to prevent the curdling of the egg. This makes a rarely excellent dish.
“Stewed Egg Plant,” Good Housekeeping a Family Journal 5 (May 14-Oct 29), p 237.

Vegetable Marrow Tart

Peel and core the marrow, cut into small pieces, boil until quite soft, drain the water well from it, and beat with a fork until all the lumps are out. Have ready three eggs, well beaten with a little milk, mix with the marrow until it is in the consistency of custard; sweeten it, and add a little grated nutmeg; pour into shallow dishes, lines with short paste, similar to baked custards.
Mrs. J. C. Croly, Jennie June’s American Cookery Book (New York: Excelsior Publishing House, 1878), p. 139.

Egg Plant Salad 

Peel two middle-sized Egg Plants, cut them in slices a quarter of an inch thick, sprinkle each slice with a little salt, and put them together again. After half an hour press them gently, to extract the moisture. Then dry them on a napkin. Fry them lightly in clarified butter, then drain them on a napkin. When cold cut them in small pieces, put them in a salad bowl, with some scalloped pickled sturgeon, a spoonful of grated horse-radish mixted with mustard, a clove of fine chopped garlic, a little fine chopped parsley, and a handful of water cress. Season them with salt, pepper, olive oil, and vinegar. Mix the whole well together, then arrange them properly, and garnish them with stoned olives and hard boiled eggs cut into quarters.
Jules Arthur Harder, Physiology of Taste: Harder’s book of Practical American Cookery, 6 vols. (San Francisco, 1885), p. 155.