Even as North Carolina changes, the traditional dishes, homey atmosphere, and beautiful scenery of the Cascade Highlands region remain.
Cooking On The Go
By Janet Groene, F47166
Approximately 90 miles north of Charlotte, North Carolina, you’ll find a historic area with a new moniker. The area that includes Mount Airy (Andy Griffith’s hometown) and the Yadkin Valley wine-growing region of North Carolina and Virginia is now known as the Cascade Highlands region.
Come here to rubberneck as you drive miles of scenic, two-lane roads past picture-pretty vineyards and wineries. The area’s wine industry is hardly a decade old, but it’s already an exciting story. As tobacco and other row crops waned, farmers struggled to hold onto farms that had been in their families for generations. Then vineyards were planted; winemaking experts were brought in; and the rebirth of the area began.
For foodies, the Cascade Highlands provide an exciting trip. More than two dozen wineries dot the area, and many gourmet restaurants have sprung up to serve discerning tourists. There’s also the lingering legacy of down-home Southern favorites, plainspoken and delicious. They range from biscuit sandwiches at the iconic Snappy Lunch in Mount Airy to the chicken pies baked for church suppers by Moravians whose ancestors came to upstate North Carolina in the 1700s.
For area information and a calendar of the region’s many festivals, music events, and family-friendly activities, visit www.thecascadehighlands.com or call (888) 922-7223. To get in the mood for a visit to the area, try some of these time-honored recipes from the region.
North Carolina Apple Cake
North Carolina’s apple orchards are a vision in springtime when they are in bloom. In the fall, apple-laden trees are ripe for the picking, often at you-pick orchards. This interesting cake relies on apples and pecans for its flavor, unlike most apple desserts that call for cinnamon. It’s a boon for motor coach cooks, because it whisks together in one bowl without an electric mixer.
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 to 2 cups sugar (more for tart apples, almost none for Golden Delicious)
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups peeled North Carolina apples cut in small dice
1 cup chopped North Carolina pecans
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon rum or butter-rum flavoring
In a large bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil, eggs, vanilla, and sugar until light. Add the flour, salt, and baking soda. Fold in the apples and pecans. Pour the batter into a greased 9-inch-by-13-inch pan and bake for approximately one hour or until the cake is firm and springy to the touch. Mix the glaze ingredients (except the rum flavoring) in a small pan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Turn off the heat; add the rum flavoring; and pour slowly over the warm cake.
Shelton Vineyards Mushroom Duxelle
This recipe from chef Paul Lange of the elegant Harvest Grill at Shelton Vineyards (south of Mount Airy) makes a memorable dish with a few ingredients, a little time, and a great wine.
2 sticks butter
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds fresh, white mushrooms, very finely chopped
1 ½ cups Shelton Vineyards Estate Chardonnay
Salt, pepper to taste
Melt the first stick of butter in a saute pan and add half the minced shallot and garlic. Saute with half the mushrooms, stirring until all liquid evaporates. Deglaze the pan with half the wine and cook until the wine is completely absorbed into the mushrooms. Season the mushrooms to taste with salt and pepper. Repeat with the second half of the ingredients.
With a batch of duxelle on hand, you can add a gourmet touch to countless dishes. Seal and bake the mixture in pastry shells to make individual, bite-size mushroom pies. Pile duxelle on buttered toast or sprinkle a little over almost any vegetable, meat, or poultry dish for a burst of flavor.
North Carolina Hot Pot
Thanks to the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission for this recipe. A little meat makes six satisfying servings in this carefree casserole.
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 pound slab bacon, cooked and drained; or 6 ounces ham, franks, or bologna
1 large onion, sliced
1 10-ounce package frozen lima beans
1 1/2 cups boiling water
2 teaspoons curry powder
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 teaspoon salt
Layer the sweet potato slices with the cooked bacon (or other meat, cut up), onion slices, and lima beans in a two-quart casserole or slow cooker, beginning and ending with a sweet potato layer. In a separate bowl, combine the boiling water, curry powder, bouillon cubes, and salt. Stir to dissolve the bouillon cubes; pour the bouillon mixture over the casserole; and cover. Refrigerate for later baking, or bake immediately for two hours at 325 degrees. If the dish was refrigerated, it will require an extra half hour of baking time in the oven. In a slow cooker, give it eight to 10 hours on the low setting.
Old Salem Sugar Cake
For more than 300 years, this cake has been a Moravian favorite in North Carolina. It takes only a few minutes to boil the potato in a microwave oven to provide the mashed potato and potato water for this authentic recipe. This cake is ideal for breakfast, a coffee break, or a sweet snack.
1 medium potato, peeled
3/4 cup potato water
2 packets yeast
2 eggs, beaten
1 stick butter, softened
½ cup sugar
Approximately 3 3/4 cups flour
1 stick butter, melted
Approximately ½ cup cinnamon sugar (more or less to taste)
Put the cut-up potato and a cup of water into a covered microwave-safe container and cook for four to five minutes or until the potato is tender. Measure 3/4-cup of potato water and allow it to cool to lukewarm. (Water that is too hot kills yeast.) Dissolve the yeast in the potato water.
In a large bowl, mash the potato with a fork and allow it to cool to lukewarm. Stir in the eggs, softened butter, sugar, potato water with yeast, and enough flour to make a stiff dough. Let it rise in the bowl until it doubles in bulk. Grease a 9-inch-by-13-inch jelly roll pan (or two smaller pans) and use floured fingers to spread the dough in a thin, even layer. Let it rise again, and then make “dimples” all over the dough with your finger or the handle of a wooden spoon. Drizzle with melted butter and sprinkle generously with cinnamon sugar. Bake the cake at 375 degrees for approximately 20 minutes or until it’s golden brown.
Spiced Sweet Potatoes
Nutritious, affordable sweet potatoes are a staple in North Carolina home cooking.
6 medium sweet potatoes
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 stick butter, softened
3 eggs, beaten
1 small can crushed pineapple
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup grated coconut
1 1/4 cups milk
Peel and boil the sweet potatoes; mash them; and stir in the cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter. At this point the potatoes can be refrigerated for later baking, if you wish. To proceed, stir in the beaten eggs, pineapple with juice, sugar, coconut, and milk. Bake in a sprayed 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish at 350 degrees for approximately one hour or until a golden crust forms on top and the filling is firm.
References are made on “The Andy Griffith Show” reruns to the Blue Bird Diner and to Snappy Lunch. Both eateries are open today in Mount Airy. Snappy Lunch, unchanged since the days when it provided quick, affordable lunches for mill workers, is open only for breakfast and lunch. Its menu revolves around saucer-size biscuits served with gravy or made into sandwiches filled with country ham, ham and egg, bacon and egg, cheese, and so on. The restaurant’s most famous lunch item is the pork chop sandwich.
2 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
Approximately 1 ¼ cups milk
6 lean, boneless pork chops, approximately 3/4-inch thick
Vegetable oil for frying
6 large hamburger buns
Sliced tomato and/or onion
Ketchup, mustard, and/or hot dog chili
Whisk the eggs and gradually add the flour, sugar, salt, and milk to make a batter as thick as heavy cream. Season the pork chops with salt and pepper and tenderize with a mallet if necessary. Heat a 1/4-inch layer of oil in a large skillet until it shimmers. Pat the pork chops dry; dip in the batter; and let any excess drip off. Without crowding the skillet, fry chops on both sides until crisp and golden brown. Repeat with the additional chops, adding more oil as necessary. Serve on buns with your choice of toppings. This recipe makes six sandwiches.
Fried North Carolina Trout
Did you know that North Carolina claims to have the nation’s first fly-fishing trail? It’s in Jackson County, just west of the Cascade Highlands.
Pat the fillets dry. Lightly sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of the fillets. Whisk the egg and milk together; dip the fish in the egg mixture; and then dredge them in a mixture of flour and cornmeal. In a skillet, heat a shallow layer of oil until it shimmers, and fry the fish until golden. This recipe makes four servings.
If you love caraway rye bread, you’ll really like the flavor that caraway imparts to this easy side dish. It’s perfect with pork chops from the grill.
2 pounds sauerkraut, fresh or canned
1 cup water
1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced
1 medium potato, peeled and finely diced
6 slices regular or 4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut up
1 heaping teaspoon flour
2 teaspoons caraway seed
Drain the sauerkraut; rinse it; drain it again; and place it in a saucepan with the water. Bring to a boil; cover; reduce heat; and simmer with the onion and potato until the vegetables are tender. In a frying pan, cook the bacon and remove it to a paper towel to drain. Stir the flour into the bacon fat that’s left in the frying pan. Stir the bacon pieces and fat mixture into hot kraut and heat to thicken. Stir in the caraway seed. Taste the sauerkraut. If it’s too sour, add a teaspoon of sugar. Serve hot as a side dish.