Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What were they thinking?

I stumbled across this home remedy in a 19th-century cookbook called Aunt Babette's:

"How to Make a Bacon Bandage for Sore Throat.
Cut the bacon in strips one quarter of an inch in thickness and two or three inches in width and long enough to pass entirely around the throat. Remove the bacon rind and any lean meat there may be in it to prevent blistering the throat or neck. Sew the bacon to a strip of flannel so as to hold it in position and prevent its slipping and then apply the bacon to the throat and neck. Pin it around the neck, so that it will not be uncomfortably tight. The throat and neck should be completely swathed with the bacon. If after an application of eight hours the patient is not better apply a new bandage in the same manner."

I'm baffled by the use of bacon as a sore throat remedy, but I'm not baffled by the use of bacon in a chocolate bar (go figure). On the Vosges chocolates website, there is a category called Exotic Candy Bars. There you'll find Mo's Bacon Bar (as well as other exotic bars made with things like hemp seed and tea). This use of bacon makes sense to me, because the combination of sweet and salty works beautifully. (Have you noticed the recent trend of salt in sweet things like ice cream and caramel?)

The creator of the Bacon Bar explains that as a child she first encountered the delicious combination of sweet + salty/crunchy when at breakfast her pancake syrup got onto her piece of bacon. As she puts it "...on that plate something magical happened, the beginnings of a combination so ethereal and delicious that it would haunt my thoughts until I found the medium to express it--chocolate."

Eventually the idea took the form of this chocolate bar, which is made with milk chocolate, crunchy bits of applewood smoked bacon and just a sprinkling of smoked salt. It costs $7, but it's worth it just to say you've had a bacon chocolate bar.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Cooking the Gullah Way

Years ago, when my son had just reached the age where he could appreciate a road trip, I decided to take him to a part of the country that had always fascinated me: the Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina.

My fascination had started many years before, when I was not yet in the food business. I was writing a book chapter on cruising the Intracoastal Waterway from New Jersey to Florida, and in the course of my research read a lot about the Sea Islands. I also read about the food of the region, because though I was writing about boats, I was dreaming of being a foodie.

You can't read about the food of this area without encountering the Gullah culture of Daufuskie Island off South Carolina. The Gullah came originally from West Africa, and because they lived on an island that for decades was only accessible by boat, their culture and language survived without much dilution.

Daufuskie Island (and its inhabitants) is the subject of a book called The Water Is Wide by Pat Conroy (the author of, among other books, The Prince of Tides). In the book, Conroy describes his year as an English teacher in the one-room schoolhouse on the island. One of his students was a girl named Sallie Ann Robinson.

Sallie Ann Robinson grew up to be a cookbook writer, with the express purpose of preserving on paper her Gullah food roots. She has just written her second cookbook, Cooking the Gullah Way, Morning, Noon, and Night. There are recipes for local dishes like Preserved String Beans and Tadas (potatoes), Momma's Crackling Muffins, Local Sea Island Country Boil and Persimmon Wine. The last 20 pages or so are a compendium of Daufuskie home remedies for such things as bed-wetting, tick removal or getting rid of the smell of burned food from your house.

If you're interested in Gullah cooking, you could also check out Robinson's first cookbook: Gullah Home Cooking the Daufuskie Way (especially if you're in need of a recipe for Sticky Bush Blackberry Dumpling).