I learned about the Southern Foodways Alliance when I was about to enter grad school at the University of North Carolina. Granted, I'd previously read Director John T. Edge's book Apple Pie: An American Story, but wasn't introduced to the SFA until Bill Ferris gave me a copy of Cornbread Nation when I was visiting Chapel Hill as a prospective student. Though I'm originally from the Midwest and had never lived in the South, the writing in that book-- with its valuing of food traditions and narrative in both an intellectual and popular format that was smart and fun, historical and personal--had an affect on me. While I'd intended to go to grad school to focus on American folk music, this was the first step in my cross-over to the foodways side of the department.
Ever since then I've kept tabs on the organization via their publications, blog, and documentaries, as well as friends like Lora and Emily who've done freelance work for them. So I was very excited when my fellow UNC Folklore grad Sara Camp Arnold asked if I'd be interested in writing a series on Southern female pastry chefs for the SFA blog. While rad ladies and baking are two of my favorite things, this also aligns with the SFA's 2013 theme of women, work, and food.
So for the next 3 months or so, I'll be interviewing a bevy of the South's most talented women pastry chefs, and sharing their profiles and recipes in a series "Give Me Some Sugar" on the Southern Foodways Alliance blog, Southern Living's The Daily South, and a few right here. The first chef is one whose baking I know well--Phoebe Lawless of Scratch Bakery in Durham, NC. Not only is she a Midwesterner and a bona fide pie lady, but she also has an appreciation for all those nothing-in-the-house recipes that inspire creativity out of frugality-- a woman after my own heart. Below, her story and recipe for Rustic Cheese Pie.
Who: Phoebe Lawless
Where: Scratch Bakery, Durham, NC
“I consider myself more of a baker than a pastry chef,” says Phoebe Lawless, owner and chef at Scratch Bakery in Durham, North Carolina. Having had my fair share of her desserts—her Shaker Lemon pie, fluffy buttermilk biscuits, and signature doughnut-muffins—I’d say this is not a qualitative statement, but an explanation of her approach, which she calls “pretty pragmatic,” and “homey and delicious rather than perfect and gorgeous.”
She says she’s drawn to food traditions that are based on thrift and necessity, where you might open up the pantry, find almost nothing there, and still set out to bake something delicious, using creativity as your tool. While Lawless’s food is lauded as quintessentially Southern, she says that her inspiration is not strictly from the South, but has a broader rural and agricultural foundation. Growing up in Ohio and eventually moving to the North Carolina Piedmont, she found the cooking of the two regions be very similar. Though the produce may vary, both value frugality and adherence to seasonal and local ingredients.
1. Prepare Nothing-in-the-House pie crust as per the directions. Refrigerate for at least one hour.
2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. In a lightly oiled 9×2-inch round cake pan, place one of the rolled pastry rounds, centering to allow the edges to line the walls of the pan. Fill the pastry with cheese ﬁlling.
4. Top with the remaining pastry, tucking the edges into the cake pan to seal the bottom and top crusts. Brush the top of pie with the egg wash and score with a small sharp knife or fork and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until golden.
5. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out to cool completely before serving.