Cherie Berry, head of the North Carolina Labor Department
Pronounced Sherry Berry, of course
For over twenty years her face was in every elevator in North Carolina verifying the inspection of the carriage, pulleys, hydraulics, brakes
For over twenty years, if you entered any elevator in the Old North State, you saw her
The most well known signature in North Carolina
The most well known face in North Carolina
She assured any Tar Heel and anyone visiting North Carolina that the rider would not fall to his death in the elevator shaft
There she is in her signature red pointing to a black and white picture
She upgraded to color with a red jacket and blonded hair
The most famous visage in North Carolina
Recently, we learned she retired
The current head of the labor department’s photograph is slowing replacing mon Cherie
He’s not as recognizable
Average white guy
Mon Cherie’s cherry jacket stood out
As the new dude supplants mon Cherie, elevators with her picture in them have now turned into collectors items
Were I to be in such an elevator, I might swipe the inspection certificate and frame it so mon Cherie’s visage could kindly remind me that I would not be plunging to my death
There is a t-shirt company based out of Charlotte, NC, that puts a silk screened likeness of Ms. Berry on it
The caption states “Cherie Berry Gives Me A Lift”
Not any more, though
Being my second favorite state, being a proud UNC graduate, being the father of children who attended camp in North Carolina, and, now, being a father of a Tar Heel, I have flat logged some hours in North Carolina
I have flat logged a lot of time with mon Cherie smiling at me from the corner of the inspection certificates
That she is gone from mechanical hoisters in the Vale of Humility makes my life a little less, well, lifted
My father was and is a proud graduate of the Citadel in Charleston
My mother taught in Charleston
Growing up in Beaufort, we went to a lot of Citadel football games
Also, growing up in Beaufort, it felt like we had to drive to Charleston to buy almost anything
There’s a joke at home that my mother will drive to Charleston for a gallon of milk. She still keeps Highway 17 hot.
From the time I was born until 1998, if we were travelling to the Holy City from Beaufort any time on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, we tried to time it right to hit The Edisto Motel & Restaurant in Jacksonboro, South Carolina, known to all in the Lowcountry as the Edisto Motel.
At one brief time, Jacksonboro was our State’s capital on the banks of the Edisto River
From 1947 when it opened until it closed in 1998, the Edisto Motel was the main draw for Jacksonboro, which consists of a few houses, a few gas stations
Owned by the Hickman family who lived next door and only a stone’s throw from the black tannic waters of the Edisto River, the Edisto Motel remains for me the zenith of seafood cooking. I compare any seafood restaurant to the Edisto Motel. Some restaurants have come close, but none are as good
Change my mind? You can’t and won’t
Thirty five minutes from Beaufort
Thirty five minutes from Charleston
Fifteen minutes from Walterboro
Folks flocked to the motel for supper those three nights
Zelda Hickman and her sister Doris Cook ran the kitchen and cooked the food themselves. Really.
I know this because one evening my youngest brother was being very picky about eating his perfectly fried local shrimp
Mrs. Hickman always moved round the restaurant asking if everything suited her guests. That evening she stopped by our table, “Hey, how y’all this evening?”
She could see my brother’s reticence to eat despite my parents’ pleas. She squatted down beside him and with her lilting accent said, “Oh, Son, I need you to eat those shrimp. My sister and I peel and devein each one and then fry them just for you.”
He gobbled every bite
People from all over the Lowcountry still bemoan the closing of the Edisto Motel Restaurant. As I said, we compare any fried seafood to Ms. Hickman’s and Ms. Cook’s. Knowingly, we roll our eyes and say to one another, “Still not as good as the Edisto Motel”
It was a family affair not just for the Hickmans and Cooks but for their guests, too
There were no reservations made
Instead, cars pulled in off of Highway 17 and patrons emerged to stand in line. If you were really lucky, you would arrive right at 5 p.m. on your way home from wherever you were going. Or you made that special trip to the Edisto Motel just for early supper
Standing in line and waiting was one of the best parts of the experience, because, it being South Carolina, all the customers would begin to chat and know people who knew people
“Oh, we’re from Walterboro”
“We live in Mount Pleasant”
“Just drove over from Lady’s Island”
“Came down from Summerville”
“We’re on our way back to Savannah”
Sometimes the wait would be for an hour or so
It did not matter one bit
I don’t recall anyone saying, “I’m not waiting in this line”
If they did they were a fool
The line was completely democratic and a cross section of humanity
The wealthy northerners that wintered at nearby plantations
The local folks who cleaned their houses
Black, White, Old, Young, Singles, Families, Folks from Off, Home Folks, Binyahs, Comeyahs, everyone went to the Edisto Motel
Inside the hallway of the building holding the restaurant there were long, metal, industrial coolers stocked with beer and soft drinks
Dads would always go inside and grab a couple cold ones and pass them around
By the time you snaked through the line and reached Mr. Hickman to seat you, he would ask, also in a wonderful Lowcountry brogue, “How many?” Then ” How manydidya have?” It worked on an honor system for the beer and cokes. They never monitored the coolers.
But no one came for the drinks
If you did not experience it, then there is no way I can describe it
But, I’ll try
The seafood was fresh and local
Small creek shrimp
Mr. Hickman would drive to B&B Seafood at Bennett’s Point, to Gay Fish Company on St. Helena, and any shrimp dock in between to get the shrimp
They bought local oysters
Their flounder was flounder that had been swimming earlier that day
Their scallops were never skate wing
Crabs were deviled in the shells
Each meal was served with coleslaw or salad, baked potato or French fries, and hush puppies
I can hear Mr. Hickman now
Holding his order pad and pencil ready to go
“What ya having?”
“Slaw or salad?”
“Blue cheese, French, Thousand Island, Eye-tal-yun, Ranch, Oil and Vinegah, or Honey Musstahd?”
“Baayked or fried?”
He asked every diner that same question
Meanwhile, in the kitchen the ladies would put the seafood in a little egg and milk mixed together with some salt while you waited
They would then coat the seafood in cracker meal
Cracka meal as we say
Crushed crackers reduced to a flour like consistency
(N.B. Recently, a friend asked the Hickmans’ son what the secret was and he divulged the method and the brand of cracka meal. I’m in on the secret, but I’ll never tell)
Then, they would place the seafood into hot oil for just a brief spell then onto the plate with either the baayked or fried, some tartar sauce and some cocktail sauce. A lot of customers would order slaw just to have it to go with the seafood
The hush puppies fried in the same oil accompanied unnecessarily but oh so necessarily
The fried oysters in the winter were a work of art
During the early spring, if the shad were running, Mrs. Hickman would let you know that they had shad roe. She would fry it up and bring it sizzling to your table. I can taste the fried fish eggs popping in my mouth right now. I might be drooling
John Martin Taylor put the Edisto Motel fried shrimp receipt in his book Fearless Frying Cooking
He knew perfection when he found it
Like him, we knew perfection, too
We went their often growing up
During Law School in Columbia, a group of us went to the Edisto Motel for supper one night. Mrs. Hickman smiled and said, “I just love seeing people I’ve known for years all grown up” Little did we our days of fried perfection were not for long back in the 1990s
My family’s strongest and strangest memory of the Edisto Motel was sometime when I was in middle school. On a cold Saturday night on the way back from something in Charleston, we stopped for supper. It being cold, there was not much of a line. We were seated quickly at a table near the front corner of the restaurant
Across the restaurant were the Graces and Tuppers who also lived in Beaufort
We were next to a table of folks from Walterboro one of whom had draped what looked like a cheap rabbit fur coat on the back of her chair
After the usual slaw or salad, baayked or fried inquiry, we sat and chatted about the day, the weekend
In almost no time, our food arrived
Several of us had chosen the French fry option that night
Out of habit, my father grabbed the glass bottle of Heinz ketchup and began to shake it
Not knowing that the top was loose, he began to shake ketchup all over the dining room
He thought my mother had been shot
Mrs. Hickman, walking through the dining room, got ketchup on her glasses
Gene Grace’s shirt got hit from behind
The woman from Walterboro would never wear that cheap rabbit fur again
He shook with great vigor
No half measures
Finally, Mr. Hickman got hit behind the counter
Ketchup coated the ceiling
Once my father realized it was his violent shaking of the ketchup bottle and not a Stephen King movie come to life, he really started to laugh. So did all of us. My brothers and I didn’t get a drop on us
For years, whenever we went to the Edisto Motel, Mr. Hickman would wink at my father and tell him he checked the ketchup bottle tops just for him
I think there was a bill for the rabbit fur cleaning, too
I don’t know what that cost my parents
I do know that I would pay any exorbitant sum of money to have those shrimp and oyters again with some baayked or fried
On a camping trip a couple of years ago, a group of us almost recreated the fried shrimp using local shrimp, the right cracka meal, and hot clean oil
It was pretty close
But, it wasn’t the same without hearing Mr. Hickman asking if we wanted our potatoes baayked or fried
Where the hell have I been? Under a rock? Not paying attention? Why have I not known about Jim Lahey and Mark Bittman’s No-Knead Bread from the New York Times? Paradigm. Shifted
Man shall not live by bread alone. Matthew 4:4
But, he wishes he had known about this sooner as this had to have been inspired by the Word of God. It’s that good
According to the NYT, it’s one of the most popular things they have ever published. They say as much on the NYT Cooking website. There’s a video, even
This is from Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC. I made a couple of changes
I did read the Notes and used some of the tricks in making my first batch recently
This bread tastes like a French boule straight from your favorite bakery. It’s got a chewy hard crust and a light as air crumb on the inside with big air holes from the yeast and steam and fermentation. Not quite a sour dough, but the chew, the mouthfeel (I hate that term), the flavor profile (I hate that term) aren’t that far away from sourdough
You will need a heavy, oven proof Dutch oven – enamel, cast iron – with a tight lid. I used a LeCreuset that can go into up to a 500 oven.
It takes a while
Up to 24 hours
Seriously slow process
But don’t rush it
As it cools on a rack it snaps, crackles, and pops. Let it cool fully, slice with a good bread knife, then slather a thick slice with butter
It ain’t gluten free, though, so sorry to our pals who can’t eat gluten
I about fell out in my kitchen when I turned it on the rack to cool
Look at that beauty
3 1/2 cup bread flour – not White Lilly – I used King Arthur brand with hard red wheat, high gluten content. Not good for making biscuit but on time for this bread.
1/4 teaspoon yeast. (Note: if you are using active, dry yeast, you will need to proof it as I did. If you are using instant yeast, no reason to proof it)
2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 1/2 c. + 2 tbs. water. I used the 2 tbsps to proof my yeast and used warm water for that.
Flour for sprinkling work surface, and for sprinkling the bread. You can use wheat germ or cornmeal to sprinkle on the bread, too.
In a large bowl combine flour, salt, proofed yeast and water and stir until blended. The dough will be shaggy and sticky. You will wonder why it looks such a mess. Use a wooden spoon. You will think, there is no way this going to work. Trust the yeast. It does all the work for you.
Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let dough rest at least 12 and up to 18 hours at room temperature. I made it before supper one night and then baked it the following mid-day.
The dough is ready when there are bubbles dotting the surface and it looks like it has come together. I checked on it in the middle of the night, and bubbles had just started. Even so, I was super skeptical that this would work.
After the 12-18 hour rest, line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper. Lightly flour it and place the dough on it. Sprinkle with a little more flour and fold it on itself a few times. Cover with the plastic wrap from the bowl and let it rest 15 minutes
With barely floured hands, roll into a ball quickly. Srinkle top with a little flour more flour or cornmeal or wheat germ, and cover with a cotton dish towel – but not terry cloth.
Let rest for two more hours.
When it’s ready it will be doubled in size and not bounce back when pressed with your impeccably clean fingers
A half hour before the end of the two hour rise, heat your oven to 450 degrees. Not on convection if you have a convection oven. Put a heavy 6-7 quart covered Dutch oven and the lid- cast iron, enamel, Pyrex, ceramic – in the oven as it heats. You’re creating an oven in an oven that will trap steam and heat. Trust me. It works. I had to take out one of my oven racks so that the top of the lid had room to fit.
When the dough is ready, using potholders for sure, remove the Dutch oven from the oven.
Plop in the dough. I threw it in with the parchment paper. I won’t do that next time as I think there would have been a darker crust, which would be fine with me
Place the lid on the Dutch oven, return it to the oven, and bake for 30 minutes
After 30 minutes, remove lid and bake 15 to 30 minutes until it is as brown as you want it to be. That’s the key. To brown it well. Had I not plopped it in with the parchment, I think I would have had a better colored crust. I will do it the right way next time.
After the bread gets as brown as you like it, remove it from the oven and turn out on a rack to cook. I held the rack over the Dutch oven and inverted it, then turned the bread over again right side up to cool
Let cool on a rack and listen to the snap, crackle, and pop
There was an old commercial aired on local channels in the Lowcountry back in the 1970’s. At one point, one of the actors stopped and said, “Hey, we saw that first!” as he claimed all right, title, and interest in the hocked product.
I feel the same way about gumbo
That national dish of New Orleans, be it Creole, file, z’herbes, whate’z’s
South Carolina beat them to the pot
We saw that first
Old cookbooks here call gumbo a mix of orka and tomatoes stewed and served over rice
It’s got Gullah roots
The word gumbo comes from an African word for okra
Okra is still one of our favorite foods in South Carolina. Having come over from Africa with the slaves brought to these shores against their will to grow rice, okra has been paired with South America’s tomatoes, Europe’s herbs, and local swimps and oysters for over three hundred years.
All about that rice
We had been serving okra with tomatoes and rice since well before Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville named that historic Indian portage near the Bayou St. John for a French duke in 1718
That all being said, I love a good old New Orleans style gumbo, but, hey, we saw that first
I roux the day, which certainly is not from round these parts
I use the andouille sausage, which certainly is not from round these parts
I love a gumbo
I’ve been known to serve this to company. That’s how much I love gumbo
I also have a set of gumbo spoons. Wide bowls to scoop up all the goodness. Not cream soup spoons. Not bouillon spoons. Not place spoons. Full on gumbo spoons
I recommend them highly
In your silver pattern
And, yes, you need a silver pattern
Gumbo spoons work for all manner of soups and stews but work best for, you got it, gumbo
Here’s my version of Gumbo cobbled together from old South Carolina cookbooks, Emeril (BAM!) Lagasse’s (BAM!) cooking show on the Food Network, and Elizabeth’s on 37th in Savannah, Georgia, a city I love, with deep rice culture roots, too.
Remember to serve with steam producing white rice, some good bread, and the hot sauce of your choice.
Sorry to all my pals in the Big Easy, but, hey, we saw that first.
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1/3 c. all purpose flour
1 green bell pepper, chopped – when I say chopped I mean quarter inch style diced – that’s one of those cook’s notes of which I hear
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. fresh black pepper
1/2 tsp. cayenne red pepper
1 lb okra, sliced
4 c. chicken borth
1 14.5 oz can chopped tomatoes
4 c. water
2 bay leaves
3 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp. oregano
1 grocery store rotisserie chicken, all meat picked off the bones, skin discarded, and torn into bite sized pieces. We all know that I eat the skin as I pick the meat off the bones. Or, 5 chicken thighs baked for 45 minutes, cooled, and then skin discarded, meat torn into bite sized pieces. The grocery store yard bird is so easy
1 lb. andouille sausage – cut into bite sized rounds
1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled (optional)
1 pt. oysters (optional)
Juice of a lemon
1/2 c. fresh basil, chopped
That good cooked white rice – steaming hot
Parsley – if you must – for garnish
In a large pan, make a roux of the flour and oil by whisking slowly over medium heat. Cook until almost the color of dark peanut butter, dark brown sugar, milk chocolate. Add the green pepper, celery, onion, salt and both peppers. Cook until vegetables are soft – about 10 minutes. Add the roux, veggie mix to a large pot along with okra, tomatoes, water, broth, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, chicken, and sausage. Bring to a boil. Then, cut back heat to a low simmer and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes. If using seafood, add the shrimp 5-7 minutes before serving. Add the oysters and their liquor right before serving. To finish, add the lemon juice and basil. Makes it sing. Serve with that steaming white rice and hot sauce on the side. I usually ladle the gumbo into the soup bowl, then add the rice. My bride does just the opposite. Then, sprinkle on a little chopped parsley. If you must.
We had our cohort, bubble, safe zone over for supper recently. Half of the group works in the medical field and had already been double dosed with the microchip by Pfizer
It being winter, I decided to pull out an old faithful citrus dessert from the pages of Southern Living some nine years ago. It’s super easy at the height of citrus season
It’s a perfect ending to a heavy meal with the mildest sweetness and silky luxurious goodness
Panna Cotta with Orange Curd and Grand Marnier
As one member of the cohort, bubble, safe zone dragged her spoon over the dregs in her sorbet cup, she said incredulously, “Wait, you made this?”
It helps to have some really cool silver sorbet cups in which to serve like those bad boys up there
I highly recommend inheriting some
This is for the nice lady who was shocked I made this.
She said she felt like she was back in Italy
Panna Cotta with Orange Curd and Grand Marnier
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1 cup cold milk
3 navel oranges
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup turbinado sugar
1 cup orange curd – receipt below
1 bottle Grand Marnier – or Grandma to the cool kids
Sprinkle gelatin over 1/4 cup of the milk in a mixing bowl. Stir and let stand. The mix will be lumpy. Remove 3, 2×1 inch strips of rind from 1 orange with vegetable peeler. In a 3 quart pot, cook cream, sugar, and orange rinds over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved for about 5 minutes. Do not boil. Remove from heat and stir into gelatin. Add vanilla and remaining milk. Discard orange strips. Poor into six sorbet cups or wine glasses. Cover and chill at least 8 hours.
To serve, section the oranges and roll the sections in turbinado sugar.
Pour a bop/teaspoon/little hint/however much you want of Grandma over the panna cotta, then top with a tablespoon or so of orange curd, then garnish with the sectioned oranges covered in sugar.
Southern Living did not add the Grandma, but, trust me, you want it, as it makes it even more a l’orange
2/3 cup sugar
2 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1 1/3 cup orange juice
1 egg, beaten lightly
3 tbsps butter, cut into pieces
2 tbsp orange zest
Pinch of salt
Combine sugar and cornstarch in a 3 qt saucepan. Whisk in orange juice. Whisk in egg. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking the whole time, and boil for 3 minutes. It will thicken up quickly. Remove from heat and whisk in butter, orange zest, salt. Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap placed directly on the surface of the curd to keep a skin from forming. Really great on top of the panna cotta
I’ve been known to eat the leftovers cold from the bowl
When you serve this, your guests will ask, “Wait, you made this?”
For MPO, MC, JSH, PNH, LVP – because you were there
Back in 2018, when we could still go to things, we were picking up some friends in the lobby of the Dewberry Hotel here in Charleston.
They were in town for an event sponsored by Charleston’s publishing powerhouse Garden & Gun.
We were meeting them there first before going to some mutual friends’ home for a quick drink before their event.
I was really acting as the hired help/chauffer/DD
Always good to have a DD
DUI ain’t funny
(Side track. One of my favorite brutal expressions and some twenty plus years after that fatal car crash in Paris caused by a drunk driver, it’s fun to say to anyone going too fast or making rash decisions, “Woah! Slow down, Doadie, there’s a tunnel up ahead!” People cringe. Then they laugh. Poor Lady Di. But, I digress)
As we were waiting in the lobby for one friend to grace us with her presence, my bride and the other friends watched a group of twenty somethings gather prior to heading into a ballroom for a wedding reception
It was a glorious fall day in Charleston
Weather was in the 60’s
Soft sun setting around 5:30
Our other friend arrived
Hellos all around while the young folk – of which I still mistakenly think myself one – sauntered round the lobby, made for the bar for that pregame libation, ooohed and aaahed over each others’ dresses secretly judging and hating the other’s clothes. We could see it in their mascaraed and shadowed lidded eyes.
One tall fellow burst into the lobby, fully tuxedoed but with tie in hand
His date looked at him with exasperation
This was some A+ people watching by the way
He attempted to mess with his tie, but, no luck
Shouting across the crowded lobby, he bellowed, “Does anyone in here know how to tie a bowtie?”
Same exasperation in his voice as Charlie Brown asking if anyone could tell him what Christmas was all about during the most religious of all Christmas cartoon specials.
With the same equanimity as St. Linus the Evangelist from that special, I raised my hand and said, “I can. I can tie a bowtie.”
The date ratted him out
“This fool thought he could rent a tuxedo today. He had to buy this at Brooks Brothers like 3 hours ago. He can’t even tie a bowtie. He should have bought the pre-tied one.” Her eyes rolled.
Shaking my head, I told the guy to sit down on the leather stool in front of me.
I stood behind him and tied the tie in less than 30 seconds flat. My friend took a picture.
A quick little adjustment, and he was ready to enjoy his evening.
“Dude! You’re the MAN!” he said as he high fived me
In response, I said to him the words that my father said to me when I was in the eighth grade on asking how to tie a bow tie
“There’s nothing to it. Close your eyes. Tie your shoes.”
Close your eyes
Tie your shoes
That’s all it takes to tie a bowtie
Yes, you’re going to have to work with it
Yes, the first few times you do it will be sloppy
Yes, you have to make one end of the tie a little longer than the other to get it right
But, it’s just that easy
Close your eyes
Tie your shoes
So easy to tie one on that the fake ties should be outlawed, banned, sent into the outerdarkness
One day we will go out again
One day we will wear bow ties
One day there will be wedding receptions, dances, black tie events
One day a twenty something will need help in the lobby