As days grow shorter and temperatures dip, Asheville home kitchens are starting to heat up with soups on the stove and plenty of comfort food items on the menu.
Elizabeth Sims, co-author of three popular cookbooks from locally based restaurant chain Tupelo Honey, says that while the internet is a quick way to figure out what to do with what’s in the fridge, in cold weather she’s more likely to consult her personal collection of cookbooks.
“I probably have about 75,” she says. “I like to buy books by people I know, and when I travel, I like to bring home a cookbook to remind me of that time and place. I love community and Junior League cookbooks and the standards like Joy of Cooking and the original Silver Palate cookbook.”
She notes that community and church cookbooks, in particular, are treasure troves for fall and winter recipes. “I do a lot of casseroles in the winter with a liberal use of cheese, and there is always a pot of soup on the stove,” she says.
One of her go-to recipes from the original 2011 Tupelo Honey cookbook, Tupelo Honey Café: Spirited Recipes from Asheville’s New Southern Kitchen, which she put together with then-chef Brian Sonoskus, is all about the cheese: Sonoskus’s warm pimento cheese dip. (Find the recipe at avl.mx/8ef.) “He had to make a lot of it for photos, and I think I ate my weight in that dip!” she says.
Ashley English is also a soup devotee. The author of numerous books about homesteading and food, including the Southern From Scratch cookbook, English says soup delivers comfort along with healthy dividends as temperatures cool and humidity levels drop. “We are 70% water by composition, so we definitely need to keep bringing in moisture to our bodies even when it’s absent in the atmosphere,” she says. “Soup takes care of that need deliciously.”
English’s spicy chicken and vegetable soup (see sidebar) is not only nourishing, but the hot sauce, she points out, helps clear the nasal congestion colder weather can bring. Because summer’s end saw Mason jars fly off shelves like paper goods did in March, cooks can substitute store-bought diced tomatoes for the home-canned ones in her recipe.
As a native of the Adirondack Mountains, chef Dan Silo, owner of Sawhorse restaurant, knows stick-to-your-ribs cuisine. “Fall and winter are the wheelhouse for Sawhorse,” he says with a laugh. “It is my favorite season to cook and to eat.”
One of the most popular items on the Sawhorse menu, buckwheat pancakes, is a recipe handed down generations on his mother’s side of the family. “My great-great-grandmother cooked in lumberjack camps,” he says. “My great-grandmother, when she was about 13 or 14, learned to cook going to work with her mother.”
Silo’s pancake recipe is adapted from one handed down from his great-grandmother. “The flavor is kind of nutty from the buckwheat,” he says. “And texture-wise, it’s more like a crepe and used more as a vessel for a topping than a stack of pancakes.”
At Sawhorse, which recently reopened with some indoor dining and the parking lot transformed into a biergarten, the buckwheat pancake on the dinner menu is smothered with fingerling potatoes, cheese, duck confit and maple jus. The recipe for the pancake (see sidebar) was included in the Asheville At Home digital cookbook produced by the Asheville Strong nonprofit earlier this year to benefit the N.C. Restaurant Workers Relief Fund. A print edition of the cookbook will be available in November for holiday sales.
Maia Surdam, co-owner of OWL Bakery who also holds a doctorate in U.S. history, says she learned to bake by baking. She took her first cooking and baking job at a bed-and-breakfast as an “intellectual break” after earning her Ph.D., then eventually met OWL founder Susannah Gebhart who brought her on as a baker.
“Susannah was my first and most important mentor and teacher,” she says. “In six years, I learned how to make all the things the bakery is known for.”
Surdam has stepped away from day-to-day operations of the business to devote more time to her new position as program director for the Partnership for Appalachian Girls Education in Marshall. But she still indulges her passion for home baking, sometimes turning to the collection of cookbooks she has acquired. One of her favorites is Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss.
“One thing I learned from her book is a different type of strudel,” she says. “The apple turnovers and apple strudel at OWL are so delicious, but I don’t make that kind of dough at home. Luisa’s recipe is really simple to make, and you get these delicate, buttery layers.”
Easier than strudel is a simple baked apple, a notion Surdam was reminded of last fall when she went apple picking in a Hendersonville orchard. “As we begin to spend more time indoors in the fall and winter and the weather turns cold, home cooking will be really important again to get us through,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be complicated; the smell of a baked apple can bring us so much joy.”