Clam fritters and Hog Island mutton will be on the menu, but organizers of “The South You Never Ate” event want folks to leave with more than a full belly.
The event on Friday, Feb. 24 at Ker Place in Onancock invites people to experience ingredients and dishes that are unique to the area and are some of the oldest in the eastern U.S. It also aims to whet the appetite for what the Eastern Shore has to offer. That could be jobs as a chef, restaurateur or a vintner, reasons for people to make their homes on the Shore.
One of the brains behind the affair is Bernie Herman, chair of the department of American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He’s also a man with a deep admiration for the Shore, and is there part time in Machipongo. Herman knows the high poverty levels that persist in Northampton County and drive many young people away.
But the county is special when it comes to food, he said.
“The cuisine is every bit as distinctive as the low country of South Carolina and the bayou of Louisiana,” Herman said.
“It’s literally the South you never ate outside of this community. ... It’s an awareness of what makes this place so special. If we could create one job for one person so that one family would not have to leave, that would be something.”
Herman has collaborated with others over the years to research the foods and recipes that are native to the Eastern Shore. Last year, the group held its first event, with chef Amy Brandt creating a seven-course roster for the evening. Brandt has brainstormed another menu, giving this year’s the title “The South You Never Ate: Second Helpings.” It is already sold out.
Several individuals pulled the event together, along with the Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society and the Eastern Shore of Virginia Foodways Project. Five “supper scholarships” will allow five students interested in the culinary arts to attend. Money raised from the night will go to the historical society.
The five-course menu reads like modern twists on old Eastern Shore cookbooks, or tweaks to long-ago talks around a battered kitchen table.
One course includes family-style lattice-top oyster pie with pan-fried black twig apples. Another pairs Hog Island mutton roast with spoon bread. (Hog Island sheep were indigenous to the area, as were Hayman sweet potatoes, which will go into the bread.)
The foods will be enjoyed with wines from Chatham Vineyards on the shore.
Another organizer is Heather Lusk, whose family began HM Terry Co. Inc. in 1903; it continues to grow oysters and clams.
She’s a native of Willis Wharf and left for college, worked in corporate law and then returned home six years ago.
Her father, she said, encouraged her to leave – temporarily.
“He said there’s always a place for you here, but you need to go away and get some experiences for you to bring back here.”
Now she wants others to see the unique place she calls home.
“We want to give people a sense of place in a place that’s not historically ripe for opportunity,” she said. “We’re not going to reach hundreds of people, but if we can reach one or two people, that’s large.”