Food & Drink

Cookbook provides taste of eastern NC

By Joan Leotta

For The Sun News

This 500-page-plus cookbook is not simply unusual for its length. What makes it unique and exciting (beyond the recipes and great food information included) is that the book is the tale of Vivian Howard’s love for her region (eastern North Carolina). The book is one of her several evangelistic level fervor, representations of her desire to share all of its goodness with the rest of the world. She accomplishes this with two restaurants in Kinston, N.C., a television show, and now, this book. Vivian Howard’s name and her restaurants are probably known to you if you watch pubic television. She is the co-creator of the Peabody Award winning show, A Chef’s Life. Her restaurants, Chef and Farmer and The Boiler Room Oyster Bar, draw crowds from several hundred miles away. Now, the book, allows you to visit with her whenever you want, without having to drive, heat up the DVR, or make reservations. Read it from the very beginning, including the introduction to truly understand the layers of her relationship with food, serving food, and the recipes of her region, both the traditional and her own inventions.

Howard views the region of southeastern North Carolina where she grew up as her “Tuscany.” She is a proud regional cook—not simply a Southern cook. Each and every ingredient and recipe has a connection to the area where she grew up. Her book revels in the fact that the south is not one amorphous region full of pulled pork and biscuits. She, like great chefs of Europe, and I count my own dear Italian ancestors among these, skillfully puts forth the particular flavors of her corner of the Southern panoply. She rightly notes that every place’s foodstuffs are unique—shaped by the particular terrain climate and the way people farm and use what grows and lives there.

As a young girl, Howard deserted Deep Run, N.C. (just outside of Kinston) as soon as she could and before she became interested in cooking. After some time in New York and San Francisco and discovering her deep interest in food, she returned. She says that the recipe’s ingredients are characters that have shaped her life and she approaches the writing of the book in that same way. Each ingredient is explained not simply in a general way, but also with a strong emphasis on the way that ingredient is used in her region. Knowing the stories behind the food --- that is empowering to any cook who picks up this book. It’s exciting to learn how a celebrated chef developed her relationship with a certain product and to be given an insight into her creative process. Revealing how she combines tradition and invention—that is the part that is empowering and inspiring for me—as I am sure it will be for others of you who read this book.

She explains the nuances of each ingredient so well, you will be tempted to apply your background, your love for food to this ingredient and invent new recipes of your own. She advocates and uses, fresh, local ingredients and prefers to shift her menu with the seasons to enjoy things at their peak rather than use frozen or canned (even home canned). If you think that to use her methods you will have to expand your pantry exponentially, you may be happily surprised. She advocates a minimalist pantry of gadgets and pans and explains how each item she recommends will be used with the recipes in the book. That section alone is worth the price of the book—to see how a chef stocks her own kitchen, spices and equipment, down to each type of knife, pot, and pan.

One of my favorite examples of her creativity in giving tradition a “new spin” is her recipe for thumbprint cookies with hot apple jelly. She has turned the traditional thumbprint cookie, a staple at many holiday parties and turned it into a savory by combining the Southern cheese straw or cheese cracker with a pepper jelly. I plan to add this cookie to my holiday appetizer “play list.” Although she includes a recipe for making your own hot apple jelly, she allows for the fact that not everyone has time for that and says that bought jelly is fine to use.

Hurricane Matthew took a toll on her part of the world (rivers) just as it did here in Horry County. As soon as she was able to clear and clean her own little corner of Kinston so she could reopen, she has been hard at work doing fund raising to help her suppliers get back to “normal.” (One supplier lost 100 chickens) and to generally assist the many folks whose homes and businesses were devastated. Her own plans to open up a branch of the Boiler Room Oyster Bar (the more casual of her establishments) in Wilmington, NC will be delayed due to the various hurricane-related issues. But, keep checking her website for details to learn when her own cooking will be within striking distance of the Grand Strand. However, if you have the book, you can start to enjoy her expertise with food through reading and by experimenting with it yourself,

With the book, she is available anytime you want.

Hot Apple Jelly Thumbprints from Deep Run Roots by Vivian Howard reprinted with permission from Little Brown and Company

Makes 2 dozen cheese wafers

Notes from Vivian Howard

1. These look like traditional jam thumbprint cookies, but they’re a riff on cheese straws with their own built-in, assertive garnish. I first made the little devils when charged with developing a creative, portable Tabasco-containing snack for hung-over people.

The cheese-straw part of this is standard and freezes well. I use Gouda, but sharp cheddar works too. The apple jelly, however, requires a little more attention. Apple jelly is the easiest way to use up the peelings and cores from Apple Chips (page 490) or anything else you happen to do with skinless apple flesh.

Because the skin and the core have more pectin than the rest of the apple, it’s a resourceful way to use them.

2.Note: You can make these cookies without actually making the jelly. Just heat 1-cup store-bought apple jelly until its liquid and stir in 2 tablespoons hot sauce and 1-teaspoon lemon juice. Let it cool and set up again. Then you’re ready to go.

Gouda Thumbprint Cookies


1 cup all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

⅛ teaspoon baking powder

8 tablespoons (1 stick) room-temperature butter

1½ cups shredded smoked Gouda


In a medium bowl, sift the flour, salt, and baking powder. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and cheese at medium speed for 2 minutes. Then reduce the speed of your mixer and add the flour mixture. Continue to paddle for 2 minutes, longer than you expect, until the dough is nice and fluffy.

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Load a piping bag with the cookie dough and pipe 2-teaspoon-size rounds onto a Silpat (silicone, reusable baking sheet)or parchment-lined baking pan. Using your thumb, make a small indentation in the center of each round. Spoon 1 teaspoon apple jelly into each indentation. Bake for about 12 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom.

The cookies should keep at room temperature in a sealed container for up to a week.

IF you do want to make your own hot apple jelly, here is Howard’s recipe, also printed here with permission from the author and publisher.

Hot Apple Jelly

Makes 1 cup


Peels and cores from 5 pounds of apples (about 1¾ pounds)

¾ cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons hot sauce such as Tabasco or Texas Pete

1 teaspoon


Put the peels and cores in a 4-quart saucepan and add enough water to almost reach the top of the trimmings, but don’t submerge them in liquid. Bring it up to a boil, cover and cook at a quick simmer, keeping watch to make sure the apples are at this point shrunken and submerged in water.

Put a small plate or bowl in the freezer to test the viscosity of your jelly later. After 30 minutes, strain the trimmings and transfer the slightly thickened liquid back to your saucepan. Over medium heat, reduce the liquid to 1 cup. Add ¾ cup sugar. Bring it up to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Take the plate out of the freezer and spoon a little apple jelly onto its cold surface. If it pools up and jells, it’s ready. If not, cook another three minutes.

Once it’s at the right consistency, stir in the hot sauce and lemon juice. Let the jelly cool to room temperature before you use it. It will keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 3 months.

At A Glance

Title | Deep Run Roots; Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South

Author | Vivian Howard

Publisher | Little, Brown and Company

Cost | $54.00