‘Tis the season friends, when the weather starts to turn a bit cooler and we are all drawn back outside from our perch next to the air-conditioner, under the fast-moving ceiling fan. This is one of my favorite times of the year and I don’t even like football which is akin to heresy in Alabama. But nonetheless, there is cause to celebrate the change of season and so many ways to do so.
This Thursday evening marks the Annual Twilight Supper at Jones Valley Urban Farm in downtown Birmingham. This square city block has been transformed over the past decade and, with the installation of a new executive director, is seeing a renaissance of sorts. Grant Brigham joined the organization this past summer and is focusing his laser-like vision on streamlining the organization and making sure every effort serves the Jones Valley mission: “JVUF (www.JVUF.org) will be a model sustainable urban farm that teaches youth and the Birmingham community about sustainable agriculture and nutrition through outdoor experiential education.”
The Annual Twilight Supper is the organization’s principal fundraiser with proceeds funding the Seed2Plate Program (“a oneof-a-kind fieldtrip where kids have a handson experience and reconnect to healthy food”) and the Delicious/Nutritious Program (“an experiential nutrition education program for cooks, managers, and staff in institutional cafeterias”), among others. Supporting this worthwhile cause is meritorious in and of itself; eating a meal al fresco, prepared by Chef Frank Stitt of Highlands Bar & Grill and Nick Pihakis & Drew Robinson of Jim ‘n Nick’s is just icing on the cake. With ingredients supplied by Whole Foods Market, the menu includes roasted pepper and local goat cheese crostini with grilled sausages, White Oak Pastures grass-fed skirt steak and flat irons, succotash, Dol’s spicy cornbread and an apple and muscadine crostata with crème anglaise. Nick will also be roasting a whole Berkshire pig. International Wines will pair selections to each course. Seating is limited but you may email Pardis@HighlandsBarandGrill.com to purchase any remaining tickets, which cost $200.
Sunday Supper has long been a tradition in the South. Trips to grandmother’s house after church featured meals served family style: plates of fried chicken, mounds of collards, black eyed peas punctuated with bits from a ham hock. The meal seemed to last for hours as generations caught up on the past week’s events. If you were lucky, banana pudding or a coconut cake made from scratch would appear, making you full enough to doze off in the back seat on the car ride home. Little Savannah Restaurant (www.LittleSavannah.com) in Forest Park promises a riff on this Southern tradition this Sunday evening as they play host to the storied Four Coursemen (www.TheFourCoursemen.com) of Athens, Georgia.
What began as two friends (Damien and Randy) who love to cook supper-club-style, grew to add a few more (Patrick, Eddie and Matt) and then Nancy, the wine-pairing friend, joined in on the fun. The Four Coursemen have been wildly successful in crafting clandestine epicurean adventures in the small college town. The gang of six gets together in a nondescript shotgun-style house, twice a month, to cook sustainablygrown food for twenty-eight friends or soon-to-be friends. The menu is a secret until the appointed hour but not a single guest complains. The food is always creative, delicious and provocative. Think Rabbit Thigh Confit with Parsnip Puree, Red Cabbage Slaw, and King Trumpet Mushroom Duxelle; Seared Asparagus with Goose Egg, Anchovie, and Uncle Matty’s Pork Cracklins; Butternut Squash Soup with Bacon Lardons and Vanilla Brown Butter. You cannot fake food like this. Meals like this are only possible when the people creating them have an almost religious-like reverence for their ingredients and whose only goal is to honor those staples by adding a little heat and spice to elevate them to the sublime.
The challenge The Four Coursemen face in their travelling road show is in sourcing their prized ingredients so partnering with Clif & Maureen Holt is a natural alliance. The couple will take the visiting chefs to their favorite local places to source the meal. On Friday, they’ll visit Stone Hollow Creamery in Harpersville. They’ll gather additional proteins at Rora Valley Farms in nearby Coosa, Alabama where the Sanders family has been raising grass-fed chickens since 2006. No visit to the area would be complete without a stop in to see Frank McEwen and Sons at the mill in Wilsonville, Alabama. Maureen says they plan to get to Pepper Place Farmers Market early on Saturday morning to call on Rod Palmer of Owl’s Hollow. Then, they’ll make their way over to the Eastlake Farmers Market to see the crew from A&P Farms of Gallant, Alabama.
Guests lucky enough to score a seat at the table on Sunday will benefit from all this travelling. The menu won’t be set until Damien, Randy, Patrick, Eddie and Matt see what they can get their hands on. But rest assured, it will be a most memorable meal. To make your reservation for the five course meal with Nancy’s wine pairings, log on to http://rsvp.thefourcoursemen.com. The price is $100 which includes a $10 donation to the Southern Foodways Alliance whose mission is to document, study, and celebrate the diverse food cultures of the changing American South.
I look forward to seeing you at the table.
Christiana Roussel lives in Crestline and is a lover of all things food-related.
You can follow her culinary musings on-line at ChristianasKitchen.com or on Facebook (ChristianasKitchen) or Twitter (Christiana40).