Southern Voices: Robert Stehling, Hominy GrillBy Stephanie Burt
Piedmont North Carolina bleeds into coastal plains on one side and climbs up into the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the other, and in the middle, the green rolling hills of the region are dotted with towns and cities along the transportation corridors, stretches of farmland and piney woods in between. One of those towns is Kernersville, and it’s the childhood home of chef Robert Stehling, who has since helped another region -- the South Carolina Lowcountry -- become famous through his cooking at Hominy Grill in Charleston, SC.
Still, it was in Kernersville that he learned how essential pecans are to the Southern pantry, and it’s a knowledge that has never left him. “Pecans are one of the first things my brother and I learned to collect,” he recalls, “and we’d ramble around in the woods and through the neighborhood collecting them, then sit in front of the TV and have competitions on who could pile up the most perfect halves. In a real sense, it made us aware of the food that was growing around us.”
Years later, when he began to develop the menu for Hominy Grill (and way before his cooking won him a James Beard award for Best Chef: Southeast), he very purposefully made sure to include pecans in various items on the menu. For him, it’s simple: “Pecans are a natural part of the grains of Southern cooking,” he explains. “They’re woven very deeply into the cuisine, and the point [of Hominy Grill] was to cook a Southern identity. Pecans are in our DNA.”
And the following recipe might become part of your family’s holiday DNA as well. It’s easy and filled with festive flavors.
2 c. all purpose flour3/4 tsp. salt1 tsp. baking soda1/4 tsp. baking powder1/4 tsp. cloves1/4 tsp. mustard powder1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg2 tsp. ground ginger1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature1 1/2 c. granulated sugar4 large eggs1 c. canned pumpkin1/2 c. chopped pecans1/3 c. strongly brewed coffee, room temperature
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