I had been looking forward to Fire, Flour & Fork (“an event for the food curious”) for a ridiculously long time, and the event did not disappoint. FFF ’14 was a four-day culinary gathering celebrating the vibrant food culture and history of Richmond through a speaker series, themed lunches and dinners created by local and national chefs, an “Urban State Fair” open to the public and an artisinal tasting tent featuring regional specialties, beers, wines and ciders.
I started my FFF ’14 experience on Friday, Oct. 31. I picked up my pass at the Hilton Garden Inn and made my way to the session I was most looking forward to that day – “Pie for Breakfast” with Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar. Christina got us started on the right foot by handing out slices of Milk Bar’s famed Crack Pie to each attendee. During the session, she explained the history of Milk Bar and her creative process when creating desserts. She said that she knows that her version of a chocolate chip cookie or an apple pie can’t hold a candle to her grandmother’s or her aunt’s or the best one she ever had, so instead of attempting classic desserts, she instead invents new riffs on classic recipes to create desserts that are unexpected, yet familiar (like her Apple Pie Layer Cake). Her discussion on the development of the Crack Pie recipe and her demonstration of its preparation showed off her creativity and the serendipity that often happens in the kitchen. Most of the recipe was planned with certain ingredients to achieve specific results, like the somewhat savory oat cookie that’s crumbled and used for the crust, and the powdered milk that adds both flavor and texture to the finished pie. But when she was writing her cookbook, she couldn’t figure out why the Crack Pies she made at home didn’t taste the same as the ones in the restaurant until she remembered that, at Milk Bar, the staff often has to store the pies in the freezer. Realizing that that process added to the final texture of the pie, she added that step to the recipe.
I also had a blast from the past when I ran into a friend of a friend from way back who now, with his wife, writes local food blog Plate N’Conquer.
On Saturday, my friend (and food photographer) and I had a full day planned. I dropped off my “Apple Pudding Pie” (from a Mary Randolph recipe) for judging in the apple pie contest at the Urban State Fair, and we headed to the Library of Virginia. Our first session was “At the Counters” – a showing of documentaries on the lunch counter sit-in movement as a part of the larger Civil Rights Movement of the early 1960’s, and on local Richmond residents’ experiences taking part in a sit-in at Richmond’s Thalhimer’s department store’s lunch counter. “If We So Choose,” a short film by Nicole Taylor, offers the history and historical context of the Athens, Georgia lunch counter sit-in movement. “The Richmond 34,” by Bundy Films, LLC, tells the story of the 34 black Richmonders who were arrested at a sit-in at the Thalhimer’s lunch counter on Feb. 22, 1960. During a panel discussion after viewing the two films, Nicole Taylor was joined by Elizabeth Johnson Rice, who was a member of the Richmond 34, Dr. Raymond Hylton of Virginia Union University and Elizabeth Thalhimer-Smartt, the granddaughter of William Thalhimer, the owner of Thalhimer’s Department Store at the time of the sit-in.
Just before our second session, I got a voicemail saying that my pie had won the apple pie contest. I was in shock, since I had decided that it looked awful and that my friend and I should just eat some at her house before we drove downtown, but she had convinced me to turn it in. I won a $100 check and two Fire, Flour & Fork aprons :)
Fittingly, our next session was “Queen Molly,” a lecture by culinary historian Leni Sorensen on legendary Virginia cook Mary Randolph and the enslaved women who worked in her kitchen. I’m a big fan of Mary Randolph and her cookbook, “The Virginia House-Wife,” so learning about her life and her cooking career in Richmond was fascinating. I also appreciated the information on her kitchen, the women who would have worked there and what the city would have been like for an enslaved person at the time of Mary Randolph. Enslaved cooks were such a large part of the culinary history of Virginia and America, and it’s important that food historians research these people’s histories and bring their stories to a larger audience. Leni is in the midst of a project to cook her way through “The Virginia House-Wife.” You can follow her progress at http://www.indigohouse.us/.
Our lunch, the Day of the Dead luncheon at Saison, was the highlight of the day. A tribute to the cuisine of Oaxaca, Mexico, the 4-course menu by chef Adam Hall featured traditional Oaxacan specialties paired with beers and wines to tell the story of the Dia de los Muertos. Our Welcome Beverage, an event exclusive, was a Hardywood Paloma Singel infused with grapefruit and lime peel, pink peppercorns, mosaic hops and tequila-soaked oak chips. It was refreshing and crisp (especially after our long walk to the restaurant), and perfectly set off the sparkle and heat of the amuse-bouche, pink grapefruit with fresh and dried chiles and cilantro. As we tasted our way through the courses, chef Hall explained each dish, relating them back to trips he’s taken to the Oaxaca region and the local markets and restaurants he discovered there. The pumpkin tamal with toasted pumpkin seeds and queso fresco was paired with a white Burgundy, while the turkey mole negro with sesame seeds worked well against the Genio Monastrell Tinto Joven, a mourvedre blend. The barbacoa de res taco with applewood smoked tomatillo salsa verde was paired with – what else? – Natty Bo and lime! (Side note – I am totally going to try smoking my tomatillo salsa verde with some apple wood next summer when my tomatillos are ready to pick!). The dessert course, pan de muerto, was prepared as a beignet with orange/annatto curd. An Oaxacan hot chocolate finished the luncheon. From start to finish, this meal was delicious, creative and one of a kind. I can’t wait to head back to Saison for dinner sometime!
We visited the Artisinal Tasting Tent and ended up missing our 2 o’clock session, but there was so much to explore there (I also needed to get my pie plate back and pick up my prizes!). We tried Strangeways Beer, Blanchards Coffee, Early Mountain Vineyards wine, Blue Bee Cider, Keep It Simple Syrups and so much more. Plus I got to put a face to a name when we met the lovely Matt, who writes the Forks Over Hipsters blog.
For my last session of the day, my friend and I decided to keep the buzz from lunch going by learning about the history of bourbon. Back to the Library of Virginia we went, where Dane Huckelbridge, author of “Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit,” schooled us on the development of bourbon distilling in America, and we got to hear from Reservoir Distillery on the process and ingredients that go into making craft bourbons and whiskies in Richmond.
Our day couldn’t have been better, and I’m looking forward to next year’s Fire, Flour & Fork event already!
And now, because I promised it to many, here’s my recipe for the winning “Apple Pudding” Pie. All the credit goes to Queen Molly and Graves Mountain apples! :
6 medium to large apples
2 sticks (1/2 lb.) butter
4 cups sugar
2 tbsp. lemon juice
Rind of 1 grapefruit, grated
1 tsp. granulated sugar (for dusting)
1 tsp. mace (for dusting)
1 recipe of Mary Randolph’s butter-based pie crust
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Wash and dry the apples. Place them, stem side up, in a medium, square or rectangular casserole dish. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake the apples for 45 minutes.
Let the baked apples cool enough to work with (they should still be a little warm). Peel the skins off and cut out the cores. Put the flesh into the food processor and puree until smooth. In a mixing bowl, mix the pureed apples, butter, sugar, lemon juice and grapefruit rind. Once the mixture has cooled, mix in the eggs.
Place a pastry crust in a pie pan and pour in the apple mixture. Increase the heat of the oven to 350 F. Bake 15 minutes, then turn the heat back down to 325 F. Bake another 30-45 minutes, being careful not to let the top brown too much. Pie should look and seem set in all but the very middle (about a three inch circle in the middle of the pie). Remove the pie from the oven and let it cool. Wrap and refrigerate the pie overnight. When ready to serve, dust with granulated sugar and mace.