There are few things more discouraging as a cook when a family member complains that “it doesn’t taste quite as good as your mother’s dish (or grandmother’s).” For many years, I took great offense at this slight and propelled myself to do better the next time.
Sadly, I always came up short: “Your fried chicken is good, but not nearly as tasty as Mammaw’s.”
After berating myself endlessly, I finally realized that the food ingredients we are using today aren’t the same that my mother and grandmother used. No wonder the foods taste differently.
This was vividly brought to my attention after watching Anthony Bourdain narrate a brief history of Rice in the Low Country during the PBS Show entitled “Mind of a Chef.”
To make a long story short – as he could easily talk for hours – Glenn wants to restore local grains and other crops in the southeast that have largely disappeared in American cuisine. These cash crops vanished as consumers were gradually weaned over to less nutritional factory-processed foods. To resurrect these native crops, Glenn and his colleagues would often travel to Africa to re-discover species that once thrived on American shores.
Before finishing the program, I ordered Carolina Gold Rice, which Glenn refers to as the “grandfather of long-rice in the Americas.” While I prepared it somewhat differently, the taste and texture were unlike anything I have ever experienced with other commercial grades of rice.
Since that wonderful experience, I wouldn’t think of ordering my grains, polenta, grits and those delicious Sea Island Red Peas from anywhere but Anson Mills. In fact, all of their products are unlike anything you will find in most grocery stores.
So popular have these products become in gourmet restaurants, you can often find menus which list entrees served with Anson Mills polenta or grits. Savvy consumers know the difference.
Now that I have discovered Anson Mills and some other wonderful products by artisan farmers, my children now tell me that my new rice vegetable casserole is “as good as Grandma’s.” This puts a smile on my face.
The lesson is quite simple: If you use quality products – preferably in season – your food will taste better.
In future posts, I will cover beans, heirloom tomatoes and other vegetables, extra virgin olive oil and humanely slaughtered and organically raised fowl and meats. Finding the “right” ingredients is 90% of the battle to make great dishes.