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Archive for February, 2008

The Grapevine Newspaper

I started writing a weekly column for a local upstart newspaper.  I have high hopes for The Grapevine Newspaper, and I hope it does well.  I’m writing a food & culture column  featuring food finds in Vineland and surrounding areas.  The first article is as follows, and was printed today 2/13/08.  When they get the website up, I’ll link this to it… Enjoy!

In my family, Sunday is family day and family day means eating dinner together. Few things are more rewarding and meaningful to me than sitting down at the table with my family and breaking bread together.  The only activity that I enjoy more than eating with my family and friends is cooking for them.

A few years back, Jill and I were fairly strict vegetarians.  We ate very little meat, chicken or fish, and we almost never had eggs. But after traveling extensively in Europe, we realized in a very tangible sense that food is culture.  There is no single biggest factor in determining who you are or what your culture is than what you eat.  In fact, the renowned gastronome Jean Brillat-Savarin said in 1825, ‘Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are.”  So now we’re meat-eaters again.  I guess that’s part of who we are, although our diet is still mainly based on vegetables and grains.

I like to use local ingredients whenever possible when I cook and I thought some sausage would be great for Sunday lunch, so I stopped at Serra Sauage on Park Avenue.  I always like going into this converted Wawa and seeing all of the pink coils of various flavored sausages laid out in the display case.  This particular time, I chatted with the gentleman at the counter for a minute about some of the different flavored sausages they make.  Although the cheese and garlic sausage was great the last time I came in, I went with the classic sweet sausage this time.

Sunday afternoon rolled around and, after getting some work done in and around the house, I had worked up quite an appetite.  I went into the kitchen and started pulling various foods out of the refrigerator: a head of escarole, some white beans that I had soaked and simmered a few days prior, the brown paper bag that contained the pink, meaty coil of sausage that I had bought the previous day.  I snipped and washed the escarole and cooked it with some half-moon cut onions, olive oil, pinot grigio from Bellview winery, and the white beans.  Jill joined me in the kitchen and decided to cook the sausage.  She put a little vegetable oil in an old cast iron pan, turned the fire on, and gently placed the sausage into the pan.  It sizzled and popped, and soon the kitchen was filled with the smells of sweet Italian sausage.  After about 10 minutes, the meat that touched the hot oil browned and crisped, and Jill pulled it off of the heat. While the sausage rested on a paper towel, Jill threw together a spicy mustard dipping sauce, and I grabbed my serrated knife and sliced up some thick crusty wedges of foccacia that she had made at our bakery the previous day.

Lunch was ready.  We sat down at the table with Jill’s grandmom and dug in.  The sausage was wonderful and perfectly cooked.  The spicy mustard went wonderfully with the fatty sausage.  The bitterness of the escarole paired nicely with the sweetness of the onions and the acidity of the wine.  The white beans added a firm texture to the wilted greens.  The focaccia was slightly chewy, with a dense crumb and a faint hint of olive oil.  Not bad for a couple of former vegetarians.

Not being a native of Vineland, I was unsure of how the food culture would be when I moved here.  After a while though, I found some nice spots to enjoy the food culture of Vineland and south Jersey.  Serra Sausage is one of those spots.  I have a feeling there are a lot more I don’t know about, more interesting food cultures to discover, more delicious foods to eat and more fascinating people with whom to share them.  My hope is that some of you can help me find these hidden gems of south Jersey.  If you have any suggestions, please feel free to e-mail me.  I look forward to hearing from you and hearing about your food culture.  Tell me what you eat, and I may learn a thing or two about you and your family.

Stephen Wilson owns The Sweet Life Bakery with his wife Jill McClennen.  They live in Vineland with Jill’s grandmother, and can be reached via e-mail at thesweetlifebakery@verizon.net

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