A monthly newsletter on the most interesting people, places, and sometimes pointless things related to cast iron.
It was another long, strange year on Planet Earth, but amidst the madness of the human race, there was still fine food and drink, books and music, and so much more. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorites as a parting gift to all of you. Happy cooking, happy holidays, and happy New Year, y’all.
Down the craggy Western Shore of Maryland, small cities give way to suburbs which turn into quiet country two-lanes on your way into St. Mary’s County. And it is here, in fact only here—some 70 miles south of Baltimore—into the southernmost tip of that side of the Old Line State, that you can find the delightful hyper-regional delicacy that is stuffed ham. What makes it so special? Read on, then go in search for yourself.
America is in the midst of a red-meat renaissance. Walk up to any butcher shop or grocery store and you’re likely to find more options than ever. Which in some ways is incredible—after generations of ignorance-is-bliss convenience, we’re becoming acquainted with (and interested in) our food again, with the market rising to meet the demand. On the other hand, as a miscellany of cuts flood our cold cases with a slew of terminology—A5, prime, choice, select, grass-fed, grain-finished, certified, and so on—it leaves many a consumer in a state of confusion. What are we buying? What’s the best of the best? What’s marketing or misinformation? And nowhere in the beef department is this such an issue as with the most hallowed of all, Wagyu. We turned to the experts to unpack it all.
On the farthest edge and centermost point of the Atlantic Coast, land gives way to water and the broad Delmarva Peninsula narrows into the Eastern Shore of Virginia at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Here, two tiny counties of the Old Dominion State are only connected to the rest of its mainland by a nearly 20-mile bridge-tunnel, where it feels like, at any point, you might drift off into the ocean’s waves. On this tiny stretch of sandy soil, life moves slowly, and a handful of farmers, watermen, chefs, home cooks, historians, and neighbors are working with that sense of timelessness to preserve one of America’s most unexpected foodways. Or, as James Beard Award-nominated folklorist Bernie puts it, after New Orleans with its bayou and Charleston with its Low Country, the Eastern Shore of Virginia and the lower Chesapeake Bay stand out as “the third great Southern coastal cuisine.”
If M.F.K. Fischer were still alive and well today, we’d think she’d want to share a sherry and pâté with Kara Mae Harris. Few writers have spent more time deeply considering the art of the recipe, with the Baltimore historian devoting the last decade to collecting some 60,000 of them for her online database and regionally beloved blog, Old Line Plate. But more than just archiving these meals for the culinarily curious, she also delves deep into the history behind them, discovering the ways in which they have shaped the Mid-Atlantic’s sense of place along the way. Just in time for Thanksgiving, we caught up to talk about the weird and wonderful of what we eat, especially around the holidays.
If you had asked Jess Pryles a decade and a half ago if, one day, she’d become a bona fide expert on American barbecue, the Australian native wouldn’t have seen it coming. But one bite of brisket on a trip to Austin would change her life forever, leading the self-taught chef and Hardcore Carnivore author down a path toward mastering the ins and outs of all things meat—so much so that she even got a master’s degree in meat science from Iowa State University. Read on for a quick primer on shopping at your local butcher’s counter, cooking in cast iron, and seeking out her favorite cuts. We’ll be buying a picanha this week.
The Eastern Shore of Virginia is, for all intents and purposes, clam country. In fact, the Old Dominion State has the largest clam fishery in the United States, hauling in hundreds of millions of both farm-raised and wild varieties, from little necks, cherrystones, and razors along the coastal peninsula’s Chesapeake Bay shorelines to quahogs off the banks of the Atlantic Ocean. And if you’re not eating them raw or roasted, there are few ways better to indulge than the local delicacy of a pan-fried fritter.
A round of oysters is always cause for celebration, and this time of year on the Chesapeake Bay, that shows up in the form of oyster stuffing. Whether stuffed into a bird or cooked in a cast-iron pan, it’s a time-honored tradition during the holiday season. Or, as Harris’s book reports The Baltimore Sun putting it in 1914, “Inside the oyster belt at Thanksgiving time, it is nothing short of heresy to fail to serve turkey with good old-fashioned oyster stuffing.” Throw it into a Joan and consider it tradition.
There was a time not that long ago when you’d walk into certain butcher shops, ask for a hanger steak, and get a quizzical look. Perhaps that’s because, for some time, the secondary cut was also known as a “Hanging Tender,” hailing from inside the ribcage (in fact, it’s part of the diaphragm), as well as “the Butcher’s Steak,” with those cunning meatmongers often keeping this deeply flavorful, textured specimen for themselves. “But the gig is up,” says Pryles, who shares her pan-cooked version with us, featuring wagyu, no less, and a bright salsa to boot.