Sunday, January 10, 2016

Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of America-Elizabeth Town, North Carolina

The Location: Elizabeth Town, North Carolina
2013 population: 18,266. 55.9% African American, 37.0% white. Per capita income: $18,024.

Nicknamed, the "Harbor of Hospitality," the city was founded in 1794. It was originally a mercantile hub, but segued into a commercial and industrial center. It was originally named Redding, but since there was another town nearby with the same name, it was renamed in 1801. Two different theories exist about the name: Either it was named after Queen Elizabeth I, who had funded the colonization of the Virginia and Carolina coasts 200 years previously, or it was named after Elizabeth Tooley, a local tavern owner who donated a lot of her own land to the city.

Elizabeth Town is positioned on the Pasquotenk River, and the nearby Dismal Swamp Canal would help improve the town's financial success. In 1827, the custom house, or the government building where trade paperwork was filled out and filed, for all of Camden County, was moved to Elizabeth Town. This increased business and tolls being paid to the city.

The Confederacy had a fleet stationed in the city during the Civil War. After a brief battle in the city on February 10, 1862, the city was taken over by the Union. Guerilla warriors for the Confederacy would continue to attack Union forces, though unsuccessfully, for the remainder of the war.

After the Civil War, the railroad would alter Elizabeth Town's importance as an industrial center. With transportation moving to the railroad, it left the city less relevant than it had been, but it would be revived during the Second World War. It was made into a center for textiles, aeronautics, and shipbuilding. It would also bring commerce back to the area, due to the increase in population. Today, the city still has a strong economy, with government and agriculture-based industries.

The Food: Vinegar and Mustard BBQ Sauce and Pimento Cheese
The South has a wide variety of dishes to choose from. I have tried to spread them out over the course of this project, and not overdo certain best-known items. Barbeque is one of them. I have done one other state: Texas, and knew I was going to do this one, since the sauces are so vastly different, but I did not want to overdue it. So, two states out of fifty got barbeque, and I think that's fair, even though it's known all over the country.

This ended up being an interesting meal. The items I thought I would like, I ended up not liking, and the item I thought I wasn't going to like, ended up being really delicious! North Carolina has two very unique barbeque sauce traditions that I had never tried before. Vinegar-based sauce and mustard-based sauce are dueling sauces that, depending on where you're from in the state, you are very passionate about. I decided that since they were both simple sauces, I would try them both. I purchased a pork roast and roasted it very simply in the oven with salt and pepper. This way I had a neutral base for each sauce.

The vinegar sauce was basically what it sounds like: cider and white vinegar with Tabasco, sugar, and chili pepper flakes. I made it a couple hours before using it, so I thought it would marinate and become very flavorful. Unfortunately, it basically just tasted like vinegar. Maybe I should have heated it up to help the flavors blend better, but I feel like I shouldn't have had to. Pork with vinegar doesn't taste very good, so this wasn't a win, in my opinion. I will share the link to the recipe in the sources section for anybody interested in trying it out, but I'm not going to type out the recipe here.

The other sauce was a yellow mustard-based sauce. My taste for mustard has begun to expand over the years, so I thought I might be ready for this one. It turns out, I am not. This one just tasted like mustard and vinegar and I did not end up eating it either. It also ended up being a sort of unappealing brown color too, so that didn't help. Again, I'll provide the link, but I'm not going to write out the recipe. It turns out, I'm definitely a traditional tomato sauce-based bbq sauce person. It's what I grew up eating, it's what my palate is used to. It's just what I think is the tastiest. But at least I know now what the other kinds taste like. Barbeque fans are very passionate and particular about what they like and don't like in a sauce.

And now, for the recipe that I was assuming I would detest, and did because it is such a Southern staple: Pimento Cheese. Anything with the word pimento in it is generally something I try to avoid. If you are unaware of what pimento is, think of the red bits inside a green olive. It is a roasted red bell pepper that usually comes in a jar. I cannot stand the taste. So, when I decided to try it out anyway, the first thing I chose to do was to roast my own red bell pepper. I have no idea what a jar of the already roasted stuff costs, but I imagine it's probably more than the cost of buying your own bell pepper and throwing it in the oven. It is the easiest thing in the world to roast a bell pepper and I cannot recommend that over the jarred stuff highly enough. If you have never roasted a bell pepper before, here's the process: Wash the bell pepper and place it on an ungreased sheet pan. Put that into a 400 degree oven. It will start to blacken on the outside and sometimes it will pop and make noises, but don't be worried, it's just releasing the air from the inside of the pepper. Occasionally, turn the bell pepper so that the underside gets a chance to blacken. After about a half hour, remove it from the oven, place it in a mixing bowl, and cover it with plastic wrap to allow the heat to steam the skin off the pepper. When it's cooled down enough, remove it carefully from the mixing bowl(it will generate a lot of juice from the pepper. You can decide if you want or need to use this for whatever you are using it for. I drained mine off except for a very small amount.) onto a cutting board and pull out the stem and peel off the skin. This will allow you to start ripping apart the sides and carefully unfolding it. You will want to remove all the seeds. From there you do whatever you need to with it. Cut it into thin strips, or what I did was dice it very small. One average bell pepper will yield a little over 1/4 cup of roasted, minced pepper.

Fancy Pimento Cheese

20 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup minced fresh chives
1/2 cup minced roasted red pepper
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup dill pickle juice
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce (I used Tabasco)
1 pinch ground black pepper

Using the smallest holes of a box grater, grate half the Cheddar cheese. Grate the remaining Cheddar cheese on the next larger size holes.
Stir together the Cheddar cheese, chives, roasted red pepper, cream cheese, pickle juice, mayonnaise, hot pepper sauce, and black pepper in a bowl until evenly combined.

I have seen pictures of other pimento cheese recipes over the years, and the ingredients are all blended together. The cheese must be heated up or something, but this wasn't like that. It does feel a little odd to scoop up and spread wet cheese shreds onto a piece of bread and eating it, but it was worth working through the weirdness! One ingredient stood out to me as very unique: the pickle juice. What a brilliant idea for flavoring food! And it turns out it was great in this recipe. I served this spread out on slices of French bread and it was really good! I made a half recipe, as you see above, the recipe is enormous! A half recipe still filled that entire container and I will be sharing it with my coworkers tomorrow.

So, my dinner didn't turn out as I had planned, but that's ok. That's what is fun about this blog project. Not everything is going to turn out how you want it to. Some things will taste amazing and some will taste awful. You never quite know what you will get. And just because you didn't like something, doesn't mean something went wrong in the cooking process. Sometimes it just means you don't care for the flavor, or your palate is not adjusted for it yet. If only I knew somebody from North Carolina who would have tried the recipes and let me know if I did them right or not!! Oh well, it was still a fun experiment!

Pimento Cheese Recipe

Vinegar-based BBQ Sauce

Mustard-based BBQ Sauce

City Map

City Pic

City Stats

City History

1 comment:

  1. Interesting... that's coming from a sauce gal!! -G