Winter and Spring 2012
We are working on the final bits of transition of my old site to the new one. So sorry for the delay! Please bear with me…and stay tuned! You can keep up with my shenanigans by friending me on Facebook, where I’m John Martin Taylor (facebook.com/HoppinJohn).
The 20th Anniversary Edition of my first book, Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking, will be released in September. I’ll be offering free shipping on advance orders of signed copies on my commercial site soon.
Since its release in 1992, my book has been reviewed over 500 times. The Los Angeles Times said “few regional cookbooks aim quite as high as this one, but the unorthodox scope of Taylor’s survey is no surprise to those who marveled at his fanatical devotion…. Taylor’s done exactly what regional cookbooks should do and usually don’t.”
Jane and Michael Stern wrote in Gourmet, “No man deserves more credit for Charleston’s culinary resurgence than John Martin Taylor, author of the exhilarating Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking.”
Vogue called it “The best regional cookbook in many years,” and featured a 10-page profile of me, while the Atlanta Journal-Constitution declared, “Hoppin’ John Taylor knows his stuff!”
Charleston Magazine in 2007 named John one of the city’s Top 100 Most Influential People in its 337-year history: “Before Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking was published in 1992, Charleston cuisine was unfocused. Thanks to Taylor, we took pride in our produce, biscuits, seafood, and sweet tea. And foodies of the world agreed.” In 2010, the magazine again sang my praises, naming me one of their “Local Legends: Ten icons of life in the Lowcountry during the past 35 years.” The issue was the magazine’s 35th Anniversary Edition, in which they also named Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking as one of their ten “Treasured Tomes,” alongside the works of Josephine Humphreys, Edward Ball, Dick Jenrette, and Padgett Powell. Pat Conroy, the venerable lowcountry novelist, early on praised the book: “Reading this book for me is like taking a trip to my home in the Carolina Lowcountry — a treasure to delight all cooks.”
With an in-depth historical overview and 250 recipes for time-honored foods from the Carolina coastal plain, this is the book that put Shrimp and Grits, Frogmore Stew, and Carolina Pilau back on the culinary map.
March 18, 2012: I have an article on Transylvania in today’s Washington Post. More photos here. Our friend Dr. Gilson Capilouto is visiting from Lexington, Kentucky, where she is a professor of speech pathology. She has a speech tomorrow in Varna, Bulgaria, at Karin Dom Center for Children with Special Needs. We arranged to stay in the Tsar’s summer palace on the Black Sea. We are the ONLY PEOPLE HERE.
March 2012: Yesterday I walked along Tsar Simeon Street in Sofia, which is filled with Middle Eastern merchants. Best place in town to buy lamb and kaboos (Arabic bread). There’s a baker with a traditional clay oven. The rounds of dough are slapped on the inside of the oven walls. There’s a new batch every half hour. In the afternoons, the queue goes around the block. A foot-and-a-half in diameter, the breads sell for about 30 cents each. There are also versions with meat and with sesame seeds.
Pita Bread, as well call it in America, is actually very easy to make, though it will never taste like this unless you’ve got the clay oven! I ran a recipe 4 years ago on the blog; you’ll have to scroll down to January 10.
February 26, 2012 Mikel and I spent 4 days in Bucharest, Romania, last weekend. You can see my photos here.
February 6, 2012 Read about Banitsa here.
January 19, 2012 Read about my meal at Istanbul’s Çiya here
January 18, 2012: Catching up, and Slow-Roasted Pork with Pink Sauerkraut
Bear with me! I’m having to move this entire blog, page by page, photo by photo, to a different platform. I’m also working on the revisions to my Lowcountry Cooking book, the 20th Anniversary Edition of which will be published by The University of North Carolina Press in the fall.
I’ve also decided to offer my work-in-progress, I’ll Cook/You Clean: Finding Your Life Partner, Living Together, & Staying Together, with 50 Recipes, as an e-book, so I’m working on that as well.
I usually post daily on Facebook, where I hang some photos and a few notes as a sort of sketchbook for the blog. Feel free to friend me there, though don’t be offended by my politics if you do. Here’s my Facebook page from yesterday. (You don’t have to be a member to see pages you’re invited in to see.)
The photo on the left shows most of what I used to make an incredibly delicious dish with gifts that people have brought us over the holidays. The pot in the rear is a traditional Bulgarian gyuvetch (a type of stew) pot that was given to us by some of Mikel’s coworkers.
You can cook with the clay pots on top of the stove as well as in the oven, but first you must treat the pot by soaking it in water, allowing it to dry completely, and then heating it very very gradually on top of the stove. When it was finally warm enough to sauté in, I added some home-rendered lard brought to me by my friend Philip Harmandjiev, the owner of Damianitza Winery (photo, below right, by Mikel Herrington).
Philip is a remarkable farmer and businessman, going beyond his guru Joel Salatin’s sustainable farming practices to include raising earthworms in beds composed of his cattle manure and pomace (the leftover skins, seeds, and stems from his winemaking) to feed his chickens. I’ve watched the humane raising and slaughter of those birds; there was no anxiety among them, no squawking. I have eaten one of his chickens (which he has been giving away to Bulgarian families to re-introduce them to the lost tastes of their youth); they are delicious, like his wines. When my own wine guru, Debbie Marlowe, came to visit, we visited wineries in the Melnik region, including Philip’s. More on that to come, I promise.
I browned a pork shoulder in the lard, removed it, added a sliced onion, and sautéed it until it was wilted. In the meantime, I wrapped the shoulder in layers of Damianitza’s pink sauerkraut which he and his winemaker, Ivo Todorov (left), made in oak wine barrels in their cellar, two barrels of which they made on the lees of their winemaking, with the natural malolactic bacteria. Though they run a thoroughly modern winery, they look for every opportunity to make their operations sustainable. To compare flavors and textures, they also made two additional barrels using lactic acid bacteria from Christian Hansen, the Danish purveyor of natural culture starters. Since crunchy pork belly with sauerkraut is a sort of linchpin of the Scandinavian smörgåsbord, that seems like a perfectly good idea to me. I’ve only tasted the kraut made on the Damianitza lees, but it is, quite simply, the best I’ve had. I’ve got it stored in the plastic tub in which Philip brought it to me (photo, below, right). It’s out on our balcony. (Yes, it’s cool enough: it snowed again this morning.)
Ivo tells me that the pink color comes from their addition of beets, which they added for flavor. They also added celery to help balance the taste, and carrots, which are also sweet. He noted, “Those sugars help to achieve more deep acid taste after fermentation…. Because of this healthy addition we have such pink color. The wine lees are too small in volume to give color.” [A study done in Wisconsin back in the 1920s was concerned with sauerkraut that turned pink because of some "bad" yeasts. According to Ivo, they negatively alter both the flavor and aroma of sauerkraut.]
After sautéeing the onions, I removed the pot from the heat and added two sliced apples (a gift from our housekeeper) which melted into the final sauce, making it sweet as well as sour; the remains of an open bottle of Bulgarian Traminer wine (also a host gift); a couple of bay leaves; the cabbage-wrapped shoulder; and a few more leaves of kraut. I placed the pot, covered, in a slow oven for 4-1/2 hours. The house smelled wonderful and when I opened the pot, the meat was, as they say, falling off the bones. We’ve had it twice now and it’s simply delicious.
Happy New Year!!!
I hope each and every one of you had a wonderful holiday and that your new year sees good health, prosperity, and happiness! I got a great letter from a reader. It is posted here.
And the story of hoppin’ john, the dish, continues: This, from the January 3 Washington Post.