Edible North Carolina captures the state’s culinary moment
The oysters – chilled and cleaned in coastal waters, snatched from a bed and driven in a truck until they are shucked with a knife and placed on a slab of crushed ice – have a story to tell.
This story is one of countless others that weave together the North Carolina food landscape.
The state of this food landscape and how it entered its current momentous moment is the subject of Marcie Cohen Ferris’ latest book, Edible North Carolina: A Journey across a State of Flavor.
Ferris’ book annotates that moment in North Carolina’s kitchen, speaking between the glitz and the gaze of the country’s food world, now fixated on the state after major wins at last month’s James Beard Awards.
“Edible North Carolina” is sort of a follow-up to Ferris’ 2016 book, “The Edible South.” But the format has changed, and so has Ferris’ lens, delving into North Carolina’s foodways and using many voices from across the state to tell her story.
“Food is a social story,” Ferris said. “It helps us understand our own community and global experiences. It is a lens in our lives.
Tests and recipes
“Edible North Carolina” includes essays from recent James Beard Best Chef Southeast winner Ricky Moore, legendary Crook’s Corner chef Bill Smith, Raleigh chef Cheetie Kumar and Appalachian cookbook author Ronni Lundy, among many other luminaries on the state’s food and media scene.
Each try is paired with a recipe, like Andrea Reusing’s Grilled Pork Neck and Keia Mastrianni’s Strawberry Pie from Charlotte.
“Many voices had to be involved to tell a complete story,” Ferris said. “It was meant to be a story about the contemporary food landscape.”
This landscape includes how contemporary pitmasters make the whole-hog barbecue economy work in a modern restaurant, featured in an essay by former News & Observer food writer Andrea Weigl. Or Kumar’s story on the lasting impact of the pandemic on restaurants and food systems.
“It seems like a critical moment,” Ferris said. “And there are so many factors that contribute to that.”
One is geography, Ferris said, a temperate climate and a long coastline, rich farmland and mountains for foraging. Others are cultural, like the loss of black farmland, covered in an essay by Shorlette Ammons, and the influence of Latinos on Southern food, covered in an essay by Sandra Gutierrez.
“What ‘Edible North Carolina’ explores are national issues, the same successes and problems in the rest of the country, through a lens on one state,” Ferris said.
American Food Studies
The roots of “Edible North Carolina” began in Ferris’ American Food Studies class. The retired UNC-Chapel Hill professor expects some students to walk into his classroom dreaming up a simple adventure through whole pork barbecue and fried chicken.
“I think some thought they would come and learn more about sweet potatoes and barbecue and the flattened ideas of southern cooking,” Ferris said. “And instead we talked about capitalism and slavery and the basics of the country’s economic system and wondered why exactly we’re eating black-eyed peas and cornbread.”
There are food pathways and systems, one representing tradition and the other reflecting how a modern society takes a chicken from a farm to a rotisserie, or a sweet potato from the earth to a menu.
Ferris sees today’s food systems as more fragile than ever, vulnerable to hurricanes and pandemics, like when North Carolina saw hundreds of people line up in cars hoping to buy chicken. discounted on the back of a truck.
“I hope people have a long memory,” Ferris said. “Food systems really fail. When we have a big national focus, when they fail, they really fall apart, like at the start of the pandemic. I hope people recognize the activism and the choice they make by knowing their plate.
A panel of edible essayists from North Carolina will be held at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books on July 17 at 7 p.m., featuring Ferris, along with Sandra Gutierrez, Cheetie Kumar and Andrea Weigl.