Bless Your Spoon: Whether fair or fare — history is there with family

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 12, 2023

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By Stephanie Williams Dean

Each year, my family attended the state fair in my hometown, Nashville. The fair was a big deal to Mama, and therefore, a big part of my childhood history. Even after I became an adult, Mama and I would saunter down the midway, stopping along the way to devour a warm corn dog and creamy caramel apple — our personal favorites. The event’s a must-do, fall activity — always attending the Carolina Classic Fair when it rolls into town.

And some things never change. Eating at a fair is about discovery — happening upon some wildly delicious, syrupy or salty concoction. I do sample one or two new items — the “pickled” savories and “fried” sweets seem to be trending. Despite new flavors, I still love my old stand-bys, leaving less space for novelty food choices. Despite what newly fangled, specialty food is being featured, I begin the graze with a blue ribbon, fair favorite — a mustard and ketchup-covered corndog.

But this year, one thing did change. I discovered a new mouth-watering, hand-dipped dog, and something more than thick, homemade, cornmeal batter surrounded this tale. It’s a story I relish because family is at the heart of it.

As I wandered past the concessions, I made note of grills with sizzling beef tips with onions and sugary ice cream trucks. Then I stopped at a truck where I tried a new corndog — the best one ever tasted! Finally, I landed at Trey Miller’s crepe, nut and fudge truck where his family’s connection was revealed — it had to have been divine intervention.

Trey’s success surrounds his Mama’s candy and crepe recipes. While his mom wasn’t a big cook — she was a master at making crepes — both sweet and savory. His strawberry crepes were fantastic. But even more so, I loved his story of growing up on them. It’s no surprise Trey took to the road selling these sweet and savory treats, using the recipes from Mama’s old files.

But his story doesn’t end here. Trey shared that the family has six other food trucks at the fair. And his history with the fair dates back to his grandparent’s era. Several generations of Millers have been in the carnival business.

To my surprise, I learned it was Trey’s cousin, Greg, who operated the food truck where I’d sampled that delicious corn dog. I wouldn’t be surprised if Greg’s story surrounded another old family recipe. The batter is homemade and the dogs are hand-dipped. A thick wrap of luscious cornbread encircles a juicy, savory beef dog — yummy and delicious. A new go-to.

Earlier I’d mentioned to a friend that I might splurge on a milkshake. You can imagine my surprise when Trey pointed out his Uncle Gentry’s ice cream stand across the way. Uncle Gentry has the smoothest, salty and sweetest peanut butter milkshake that’s ever melted down a throat. But then I learned that Uncle Gentry also runs the Pickled Barrel concessions where I’d commented on the steaming beef tips and mashed potatoes when walking by. Further up the road was another ice cream truck that had been owned by Trey’s grandfather back in the day. This family is all together in the fair business and that was a mighty sweet story that came with every bite. My tummy was full but my soul was completely satisfied with warm, delightful Miller family tales.

But I still had another important stop to make. Let’s be sure to give it up for one of our own — Davie County resident Brandon Cassidy. Brandon’s truck, Food Freaks, won the award for overall, best of the entire fair in the “savory” category. Now that’s a mighty high honor considering some fierce competitors and is deserving of a little bragging space for Brandon. I thoroughly enjoyed one of his most popular offerings — a peanut butter and banana, beefy, “Elvis” burger — and 100% yum! Brandon’s food truck business is all in the family as well, with his wife and the couple’s four children helping out.

A loving, praying family unit is so important. There’s a familiar quote that says, “Families that pray together, stay together.” Praying families build a foundation of love, comfort, strength, inspiration and a relationship with God. Biblical scripture found in Proverbs 22:6 supports this quote, saying “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” And there’s another beautiful verse in Matthew 18:18 where Jesus teaches, “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” So gather your children around your table and bind them with the Spirit, for as Jesus said, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

BASIC CREPES

• 3 eggs

• 1 ½ cup whole milk

• 2 Tbsp. melted, salted butter

• 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

• 1 tsp. sugar

• 1/8 tsp. salt

• Butter for cooking

In a mixer bowl, beat eggs. Add milk and melted and cooled butter. Slowly add flour, sugar and salt and blend well. Allow mixture to rest 1 hour before cooking. In a saucepan, add about 1 ½ Tbsp. butter to pan and swirl pan to cover bottom and side. Pour in batter to cover bottom. If there are holes in batter, add a little more mixture to pan. Bottom of crepe will brown in about 1 minute. Slide knife under crepe and flip it. Cook for ½ minute or until brown. Stack cooked crepes with wax paper in between. Prepare with sweet or savory sauce.

Savory Seafood Filling

• 4 Tbsp. melted salted butter

• 2 Tbsp. finely chopped onions

• ½ pound sliced mushrooms

• 3 cups cooked fresh seafood

• 3 cups Mornay sauce

• Salt and pepper to taste

• 5-inch crepes

• ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Use your favorite combination of cooked fresh lobster, shrimp, crab and scallops. In a skillet, melt butter until bubbling and sauté onion and mushrooms until limp. Stir in cooked fresh seafood. Add 1 cup Mornay sauce and salt and pepper, to taste. Stir until heated through. Put a spoonful or two of filling down center of each crepe. Roll up and place seam side down in buttered baking dish. Top with remaining Mornay sauce and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 20 minutes.

Mornay Sauce

• 2 Tbsp. each chopped onion, carrot, and celery

• 6 Tbsp. butter

• 6 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

• 1 ½ cup whole milk

• 1 ½ cup chicken stock

• ¾ cup white wine

• 3 egg yolks

• 1 cup cream

• ¾ cup each, grated Swiss and parmesan cheese

• Salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy saucepan, melt butter until bubbling. Sauté finely chopped vegetables and ham for 20 minutes. Add flour and stir and cook 5 minutes. Heat milk and stock and pour into mixture while stirring. Add wine and simmer 15 minutes. Beat egg yolks with cream and add while stirring. Remove from heat. Strain out vegetables. Before serving, stir in cheese and salt and pepper, to taste.

BEEF TIPS IN MUSHROOM GRAVY

• 2 pounds 1 ½-inch-cut, premium steak

• 1 condensed beef mushroom soup

• 12 ounces cooked or canned mushrooms

• ½ cup Burgundy cooking wine

• ¼ cup water

• 2 beef bouillon cubes

• Dried onions

Cut beef into bite-sized pieces. Combine beef pieces, mushroom soup, cooked or canned mushrooms with juice, red or Burgundy cooking wine, water, beef bouillon cubes and dried onions in a Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. Bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for 3 hours. Serve with mashed potatoes or over rice.

CHICKEN ON COKE

• 8 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

• ¾ cup Heinz ketchup

• 1 ½ cup Coca Cola

Salt and pepper the chicken pieces. In a cast iron skillet, pour ketchup. Place chicken pieces in skillet and evenly pour Coca-Cola over the chicken. Cover the skillet tightly and cook on top of stove for ½ hour. Remove the lid, and simmer additional ½ hour.

EASY BEEF BRISKET BARBECUE

• 1 trimmed beef brisket, any size

• 1 Tbsp. garlic powder

• 1 cup liquid smoke

• Disposable aluminum pan

• 1 large bottle KC Masterpiece BBQ sauce

• Heavy duty foil

Place brisket on long sheet of foil. Turn up edges to hold any liquid. Sprinkle beef with garlic powder. Pour liquid smoke over brisket. Seal brisket tight in the foil. Place in a disposable aluminum pan with 3-inch sides. Cook on middle rack of a preheated 200-degree oven for 8 hours without opening the foil. Remove from oven and open packet. Pour off liquid. Remove any fat not previously removed. Pour BBQ sauce over brisket. Leaving packet open, bake in a preheated 250-degree oven for 1 hour. Sliced across grain of meat. You can cook this in a crock pot on low using same instructions but flavor will not be as intense.

DR. PEPPER BAKED BEANS

• 28 oz. can pork and beans

• 1 small chopped onion

• 1 chopped green pepper

• 1 chopped tomato

• ½ cup dark brown sugar

• ¼ cup Dr. Pepper

Drain liquid from canned beans. In a bowl, combine drained beans, onion, pepper and tomato. Mix well. Pour into a greased baking dish. In a bowl, combine sugar with Dr. Pepper. Pour sugar mixture over beans. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 45-50 minutes.

BELOW THE BORDER CORN

• 8 slices bacon

• 8 ears fresh corn

• Heavy-duty aluminum foil

• ¼ cup chili powder

Wrap a bacon slice around each ear of corn. Place each on a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Evenly sprinkle with chili powder and wrap right in foil. Cook on closed grill, 400-degree heat for 15-20 minutes and turn once.

JIFFY CHOCOLATE SHAKE

• 1 pint chocolate ice cream

• 4 cups whole milk

• 7 Tbsp. chocolate or mocha Ovaltine mix

• Dollops of Jiff peanut butter (optional)

For chocolate, in a blender, combine ice cream, milk and Ovaltine and blend ingredients until smooth. For a chocolate-peanut butter shake, add a large dollop of Jiff premium peanut butter while blending until smooth. Add more peanut butter, as to taste.

TURTLE DROPPINGS

• 1 stick salted butter

• 2 cups sugar

• 4 Tbsp. Hershey’s cocoa

• ½ cup whole milk

• 2 ½ cup cooked oatmeal

• ¼ cup chopped pecans

• 2 tsp. vanilla

• ½ cup smooth peanut butter

In a saucepan, melt butter. Add sugar, cocoa and milk. Bring to a rolling boil, and cook for 1 ½ minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in cooked oats, pecans, vanilla and peanut butter. Blend well. Drop by spoonful onto waxed paper. Yield:24

SPOON DROPPED DUTCH DOUGHNUTS

• ¾ cup sugar

• 3 cups all-purpose flour

• 4 tsp. baking powder

• ½ cup raisins

• ½ cup finely chopped apple

• 2 beaten eggs

• 1 cup whole milk

• ¼ cup Wesson vegetable oil

• 1 tsp. vanilla extract

• Crisco shortening

• Confectioners’ sugar

In a bowl, stir together sugar, flour, baking powder, raisins and chopped apple. Make a well and add the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Mix thoroughly. Drop by teaspoonfuls into melted, hot Crisco shortening. Fry until browned. Sift powdered sugar over finished doughnuts.

CANDY CARAMEL APPLE CAKE

• 3 beaten eggs

• 2 cups sugar

• 1 ½ cup corn oil

• 3 cups all-purpose flour

• 1 tsp. soda

• 3 cups peeled, cored, finely chop apples

• 2 cups chopped pecans

• 2 tsp. vanilla extract

• ½ tsp. each salt, ground cinnamon

Brown Sugar Glaze

• ½ cup melted salted butter

• ½ cup heavy cream

• 1 cup brown sugar

In a mixer bowl, beat eggs. Add sugar and mix well. Add flour and soda while alternating with oil, and mix well Stir in apples nuts and vanilla. Mix well. Bake in a 10-inch greased and floured springform pan in a preheated 350-degree oven for 1 hour and 20 minutes. For the glaze, in a saucepan, melt butter. Add brown sugar and cream. Bring to a boil for 3 minutes. Pour over cake while still hot. Serve with whipped cream.

FAIR FUDGE

• 2 squares unsweetened chocolate

• ¾ cup whole milk

• 2 cups sugar

• Dash of salt

• 2 tbsp. salted butter

• 1 tsp. vanilla extract

In a double boiler, melt chocolate. Add milk and cook until thoroughly blended. Add sugar and salt. Stir over medium heat until mixture boils. Boil without stirring for about 15 minutes or until forms soft ball when dropped in cold water. Remove and stir in butter and vanilla. Place pan in ice water and beat until thickened. Pour into well well-greased pan. When set, cut into squares.