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A crockpot notion for a restaurant
Your mid-week dose of Southern food news
Welcome back! Here’s hoping everyone had a happy and relatively healthy holiday season. In today’s issue, you’ll find Crock Pots galore (Texarkana, Ark.); an updated take on pork (Atlanta) and a small town’s eponymous china pattern (Elloree, S.C.)
Whenever Milver Jean Bruce’s relatives visited her Texarkana home, they could count on being greeted by the aroma of a slow-cooked meal.
“All the time, we’d come to the house and be like, ‘What you got in the pot?’” Bruce’s daughter, Sharon Booth Bruce Batts, says of her mother’s signature slow cooker.
Now Batts and her cousin, Heather Batts, are the owners of 13 such cookers, all of which are perfuming the air at Big Mama’s Crockpot. The Texarkana restaurant, which opened in November, was named in honor of Bruce, who passed away in 2016.
“She came up with the Crock Pot idea,” says Batts, who worked as a nurse for 32 years before making good on her mother’s ambition. “She said it would be easy and the flavors would be good -- and you could almost guarantee the quality.”
Although Crock Pots weren’t designed to prepare any specific dish, inventor Irving Naxon (born Irving Nachumsohn in 1902) was inspired by stories of his mother in the old country taking pots of cholent to a local baker before the sun set on Fridays: While observant Jews don’t cook on Shabbat, the meat-and-bean stew would simmer unmonitored in the bakery’s turned-off oven.
Naxon in 1940 received a patent for his contraption, then marketed as “The Boston Beanery.”
Two kinds of beans were on the menu at Big Mama’s Crockpot on Tuesday: The Battses served pinto beans and “long string beans with red potatoes.” Customers also had their pick of pot roast; neckbones; candied yams; mixed greens; baked pork chops; chicken spaghetti and dirty rice.
“All of (the pots) are full are most of the day,” Batts says, adding they don’t stay that way for long when they’re stocked with smoked chicken wings or chili.
“Best chili in the South,” she promises. “We add venison: The flavor from the game gives it a taste that customers really like.”
Among the few non-Crockpot items that Big Mama’s offers are a free slice of white bread or “a big honking piece of cornbread with a pat of butter.”
Batts says most customers opt for the latter.
Georgia’s notorious Wild Hog Supper, which marks the start of the state’s legislative session, has changed in two significant ways since the Georgia Food Bank Association (GFBA) took over the annual event:
First, it’s no longer a subsidized feed for elected officials and their buddies. After decades of lobbyists picking up the tab for Brunswick stew and feral pig barbecue, the Supper in 2014 started charging admission in accordance with a new ethics law capping individual gifts at $75.
Second, the hogs aren’t wild.
According to Politifact, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Phil Campbell and state House Speaker George L. Smith in the late 1950s were hunting hogs with E.C. “Boo” Addison in a south Georgia swamp when they hit upon the idea of throwing a yearly feast for the general assembly. It fell to the Addison family to trap the hogs; fatten them; butcher them and truck them to Atlanta.
“The hogs at the 49th annual Wild Hog Supper were indeed wild,” Politifact reported dutifully in 2011, before thoughtfully providing the Addison recipe for whole hog. “These critters never see a pen until they are captured. We rate this one True.”
Yet truth isn’t eternal.
“Wild boar hasn't been served since GFBA took over,” spokeswoman Jennifer McNaughton says of the fundraiser. “We serve domestic pig.”
The 59th annual Wild Hog Super is scheduled for Sunday. For information on tickets (which even politicians need), visit georgiafoodbankassociation.org.
If you’re invited to a dinner party in Elloree, an Orangeburg County, South Carolina town that’s home to 692 people, chances are the entrée will be served on a plate with pineapples and citrus fruits pictured on its rim.
“It’s a pattern that a lot of people have,” says an Elloree Heritage Museum & Cultural Center employee who declined to be named out of a belief that museum volunteers deserve more attention than staff. “It’s a very comfortable pattern.”
Aesthetics aside, the museum has a set of the Noritake dinnerware because the pattern’s name is Elloree.
As a label posted with the display explains, Charleston china shop owner Gabriel B. Ingraham, Jr. in the 1960s got to know Masao Kikoshima, who ran the Noritake showroom in Atlanta. Kikoshima very much wanted to go to the Masters Tournament but couldn’t get a ticket. When Ingraham learned of his friend’s plight, he called Sen. Fritz Hollings, who arranged for several Noritake executives to attend.
The label continues, “Kikoshima was very grateful and while speaking to Mr. Ingraham asked him about Indian words.”
Ingraham, a native of Elloree, offered up the name of his hometown, which he translated as ‘home I love.’ In 1970, Noritake assigned the name to a new pattern.
It‘s unclear why the thank-you conversation would have turned to words of indigenous origin, or why Kikoshima had naming privileges at the New York-based company. But the town of Elloree in 1971 celebrated its immortalization by putting on a release party for the pattern, the centerpiece of which was a Japanese tea.
“For today's collector, the ambiguities that surround Noritake can be overwhelming,” the leaders of North Carolina’s Replacements, Ltd. wrote in their book, Noritake: Jewel of the Orient. “Questions about possible meaning (if any) of various color backstamps, the dates of usage and production location remain disputed and, in some cases, unanswered at this time.”
What’s certain is Noritake produced its last piece of Elloree china in 1977.