Living Here Guide

5 essential ingredients for cooking in Charlotte

Stone Ground Grits

Making stone grits with Kathleen Purvis
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Making stone grits with Kathleen Purvis

I can only pick five? This is going to be tough.

I could write a whole book about the ingredients you need when you set up your new kitchen in Charlotte.

I could tell you about pecans, peaches, pickled okra and livermush. How about the best tea for ice tea? (I’d pick Luzianne, although I can be swayed). We could have a long discussion about which of the many jars of Mount Olive pickles you need. And which brand and style of pimento cheese? That debate can get heated.

Narrowing my list to five took a lot of thought, and a lot of scratching off and putting back.

I finally settled on these, although they’re all open to debate.

1. Cheerwine. Every region has its beloved soda (around here, most people say Coke when they mean any bubbly sweetened beverage; if you say “pop,” you’ll get weird looks). Cheerwine isn’t wine (and it doesn’t contain alcohol). The reddish cola with the sort-of cherry taste is made in Salisbury and it has a loyal following.

2. Duke’s Mayonnaise. Does Hellmann’s inspire the kind of devotion people have for Duke’s? Originally concocted in Greensville, S.C., by caterer Eugenia Duke, it’s now owned by the C.F. Sauer Company in Virginia. Since it’s made with no added sugar and more egg yolks than other brands, it has a tanginess that’s just right in pimento cheese, potato salad, chicken salad and the all-important tomato sandwiches (slices of tomato on white bread – no lettuce and no bacon, please).

3. Stone-ground grits. There are a number of good brands, including the nationally admired Anson Mills from Columbia, Old Mill at Guilford (the restored stone mill is a pretty drive if you need a day trip), Old School in Albemarle and Bost Mill in Cabarrus County. Stone-ground grits take longer to cook and a steady amount of whisking, but they have a corn taste that can convert even those who are suspicious of grits. When you find them, keep them in the freezer. They’ll get rancid at room temperature.

4. Neese’s Country Sausage. The Neese’s company is based in Greensboro, but the local factory on North Davidson Street just before the NoDa arts district is a favorite sight. Instead of tubes, it’s still sold in blocks with a wax paper wrapper. It’s what you need for sausage gravy on your biscuits. When you learn to make biscuits.

5. Southern flour. Speaking of biscuits, if you struggle with them, as well as pie crusts and poundcakes, it’s probably not you. It’s probably the flour. In the South, flours were traditionally made with soft red winter wheat, which is lower in protein than the summer wheats used in flours like Gold Medal. Less protein means less gluten development, which creates tender biscuits and pastries and softer cakes. Self-rising flours are favored by biscuit makers for convenience, because they already have baking soda. White Lily is the easiest to find, but Southern Biscuit, Daily Bread and Our Best are North Carolina brands.

Listing the recipes you need to know how to make in this area would take years. You’ll find a searchable list of The Observer’s recipe online, at www.charlotteobserver.com/food-drink. But these three will get you through the first social occasions as you get to know people here.

Kathleen is the Observer’s food editor.

Cheerwine Punch

There are all kinds of versions, but this is the one I use when it’s my turn to bring punch to church.

2 (2-liter) bottles Cheerwine, chilled

1 (2-liter) bottle ginger ale, chilled

1 (46-ounce) can unsweetened pineapple juice

Cheerwine sherbet or an ice ring (optional)

Combine the Cheerwine, ginger ale and pineapple juice in a punch bowl and mix gently. Add sherbet or an ice ring if you’d like.

Yield: About 20 small servings.

Pimento Cheese

Everybody has a favorite recipe for this essential taste of the South; this is how I make it. Yes, your grandmother’s was much better.

About 16 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese (I like Vermont white, but anything really sharp is fine)

2 tablespoons chopped pimento, drained well

1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Salt and white or black pepper to taste

1/2 to 3/4 cup mayonnaise, preferably Duke’s

Grate the cheese using the largest holes in a box grater. You should have 2 to 3 cups. Add the pimento, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Add enough mayonnaise to make a good mixture that isn’t too wet. You want it to taste most strongly of cheese, not mayonnaise.

Refrigerate and serve on crackers, as a sandwiches, stuffed in celery or to top a hamburger.

Yield: 2 1/2 cups.

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