I forgot to mention that a portrait of local forager, farmer, and cheesemonger, Chris Bennett ran in November’s issue of Cooking Light (along with another shot of some food foraged from his land which was styled by Morgan Jones Johnston, below.)
Morgan chatting about her weekend of food explosions, part of which was our time in the woods with Chris Bennett (forager) and Jason Horn (food writer, recipe developer, et cetera).
Looking forward to seeing the film tomorrow!
This past weekend was truly a life changing experience for me. Saturday I headed out on a shoot for Birmingham Magazine with photographer Cary Norton and food writer/blogger/recipe developer Jason Horn to Hollow Spring Farm in Pell City, Alabama to go foraging. My knowledge of foraging was practically nonexistent, but I was excited about the styling possibilities of this story. Little did I know that our guide Chris Bennett, chef turned farmer at Hollow Spring, would utterly enchant me, changing the way I look at my food and where it comes from.
We walked along several different areas of the farm, through a field and found Wood Sorel and Wild Chives, through an orchard of sorts where we picked Persimmons and Winter Pears, Wild Grapes, and saw some bitter Muscadines. We passed an old barn where an enormous crop of Winter Greens was growing, and Chris informed us that this high tannin green (higher iron content than spinach) really says a lot about your soil—too much of it growing and you’ve got too much of an acidic soil and how to correct it. As rugged and earthy as Chris is, he picks up a crop and it almost seems to be a natural extension of his whole being, he has all the science and terminology to explain/classify/justify just about anything. And he does it in a way you understand. And remember. We went on along paths and streams and gathered Black Walnuts and Acorns from White Oaks and Chestnuts and Beech Nuts and Crab Apples and Pecans. And Maypops!!! It’s like Nature’s Willy Wonka Candy. They literally “POP!” open and inside are these booger-consistency pods. You eat these individual pods and spit out the seed within each. The flavor changes from sweet to tart to sour each time. AMAZING!
We brought our foraged items back to my house where Jason Horn prepared an amazing meal—that you’ll have to wait to see in the November issue of Birmingham Magazine. But the whole experience made me think about slowing down and thinking about literally where my food is coming from. Not just what bin in the grocery store and from where they fly it in. Or even what farm am I buying from at a farmer’s market. But LITERALLY, where in Nature is my food coming from? When does it ripen? What process does it go through? It’s great to get outdoors and look at the large pastoral landscape, but look down, around your feet. Look at the micro. There’s food all around us!!
And a very, very important note: Don’t go out eating stuff in your yard or in the woods unless you know for sure it’s edible! There are books and Google to help you figure that out!!
So having had my mind blown by Chris at Hollow Spring, and totally changing the where and how and why of my food, I attended the first Four Coursemen underground supper in Birmingham last night!! From Athens, Georgia, three chefs and two foodies started this underground supper club in a house, booking secret dinner for 25 people in a house at two long farm tables. They love food. They love farmers. They love community and the way that these things are married together. So now they travel around the country doing supper clubs, sourcing almost 100% of the ingredients from local farms, developing the menu based on what is fresh and local.
So they partnered with Cliff and Maureen Holt, the chef and owners of Little Savannah in Forest Park and surprised Birmingham with the announcement of a Four Coursemen event, which sold out 50 place setting in under five minutes! It was the biggest dinner they’ve ever done, and it went off without a hitch!! They came down for the days and traveled to local farms and farmer’s markets, sourcing (much to my mind-blowing “AHA!! It’s all coming together” revelation) a lot of the same ingredients that I had been out foraging the day before! Persimmons, used in a jelly on a chicken charcuterie plate with fresh arugula. Walnuts, crushed up and used in the mushroom soup to thicken it up a little, making it this wonderfully hearty Fall dish with sage blossoms and goat cheese from a new farm in Trussville. Pecans in a pecan sandie with a baked pear and custard for dessert. Look at the full menu!! It was mind-blowing!!!!!!
To sit among farmers and foodies and chefs, friends and total strangers, and to completely delight in the simple and utterly complex pleasures of food was truly a heavenly experience. We were all there to support community, art, the age old communal act of joining together around a table and sharing a meal. Food is more than what sustains you through the day. Food is life. Food is family and friends and new beginnings. It’s the great connector.
Here are some great links to find out more about everyone:
Spring Hollow Farm Blog, where Chris Bennett offers foraging classes (I HIGHLY recommend!) http://hollowspringfarm.blogspot.com/
Jason Horn’s food blog, The Messy Epicure with recipes and food happenings and more!http://themessyepicure.com/
Photographer Cary Norton’s amazing portfolio. The man is a master of film.http://carynorton.com/
Birmingham Magazine, for what’s going on in this amazing city.http://www.bhammag.com/
The Four Coursemen. Just go and find out everything about them. And look out for their show on the Cooking Channel! http://www.thefourcoursemen.com/
Little Savannah, a great culinary gem in Birmingham, Alabama.http://www.littlesavannah.com/
Southern Foodways Alliance. $10 from each of our cost last night went to SFA, an organization that is around to study, document, and preserve the foods and practices surrounding the food culture of the American South.http://southernfoodways.org/index.html