Summer at Anson Mills
As months go, June is unassailable. It holds the longest day, the lushest greens, the sweetest peas. Its calendar heaves with commencements and betrothals. Roses bloom and strawberries blossom only in June. Fireflies flare against June’s night skies alone. Its birthstone is the pearl! Fresh and unfettered, June knows nothing of the clawed, parched trail of summer days to come, and returns, every year, as deeply and perfectly June as ever.
What does this have to do with our newsletter? It is a point of departure for a celebration of essence—the essence of great ingredients and their aptitude for producing quintessential flavors, the essence of outstanding dishes. Consider our utterly virginal White Lammas Cake Flour. We turned it loose in a mixer and came up with a coconut cake that is the flavor essence of an old-fashioned butter cake. Consider Anson Mills’ new Farina di Maccheroni ‘oo’ Crema, the definitive handmade flour for fresh sheet pasta. It showed us the way to fazzoletti and ravioli, as fine and extensible as skin, with unsurpassed delicacy of flavor and texture. Consider Anson Mills’ Laurel-Aged Charleston Gold Rice, an aromatic long grain, years in development. It produces cooked grain-for-grain rice comparable to the famous aged basmati rice of India.
Each recipe we feature in this newsletter relies on precise execution that urges the use of weights over measures. We recommend weights in our recipes, anyway: it’s a cleaner, faster, more reliable way to cook and bake. For these particular recipes, however, the scale is essential.
This is exciting food all around, each dish the absolute essence of itself. Glenn calls it putting truth on the plate. I call it June. No matter what you call it, it’s time to eat.
We begin with dessert. Don’t you always want dessert first anyway?
Coconut Layer Cake
Coconut cake has been celebrated and revered in Charleston almost to the point of fetishization. Its history as the wedding cake of choice is so considered, so regimented, so delineated that there are “rules” about the number of layers, the color and composure of the cake layers, the thickness and style of frosting, whether toasted coconut should be permitted for the just-fallen-snow finish—and so on. Well, we don’t want to step on anyone’s layers here, but when the institution in Charleston most honored for its coconut cake, the Planters Inn, makes its with pound cake layers, we feel a bit of breathing room might have opened up.
Now, we don’t suggest you acquire fresh coconut for your cake unless you happen to live where coconuts grow on palms in your front yard. If you set your bar for authenticity this high, you’ll likely never finish the first cake, let alone make another. (By the way, those supermarket coconuts, off the tree for years, won’t do anything for your cake). Our second suggestion is to avoid chemical or synthetic flavorings, coconut syrup, creamed coconut loaded with sweetener, etc. Set the bar for authenticity this low, and really, why bother baking at all? We follow the coconut middle ground.
That said, we think this cake is nearly an authentic replica, drawing close to authenticity based on the attributes of its flour alone: Anson Mills Artisan Fine Cloth-Bolted White Lammas Cake Flour is the only handmade unbleached cake flour on the market. These are differences you won’t fail to notice.
Fazzoletti and Ravioli
We prepare Farina di Maccheroni ‘oo’ Crema by hand to order for various subsets of Anson Mills’ chef clients: some are chefs you might recognize or read about; others speak less English than Italian; still others are content to produce great food with little fanfare. All of them want for authentic Italian ingredients. These chefs and their patrons consistently praise the virtues of pasta made with Anson Mills Farina di Maccheroni ‘oo’ Crema, citing its silky texture, beautiful color, see-through finish, and unique, delicate flavor.
The sheet pasta recipe we’ve developed for this newsletter produces a dough that is as lovely to work with as the pasta is to eat, whether rolled out in sheets and trimmed into handkerchief squares for fazzoletti, or contrived into more intricate, filled shapes like ravioli. We adore fazzoletti for its simplicity. It should be speared in layers with a fork and consumed messily—after the diner tucks a napkin into the neck of his shirt. Toss with red sauce, sprinkle with Parm, and say, “Bye-bye.”
The ravioli is a more refined affair. We keep the filling light and simple for summer with a straightforward basil, ricotta, and aged Reggiano combination, and float the ravioli in butter-enriched chicken broth, a smattering of fresh, shelled peas, and a big pinch of chives. The clarity of the pasta’s flavor shines in this interpretation.
But our weakness, frankly, is for red sauce.
Laurel-Aged Charleston Gold Rice
So we’ve got this newfangled “Chaaahston” rice, born of that “old” Carolina Gold rice. And wow, this is phenomenal stuff! Charleston Gold rice was created over years using descriptive information and taxonomy of a famous lost long-grain rice cultivar called Carolina Long, and everyone’s favorite lowcountry rice, Carolina Gold. Not only has baby inherited the finest attributes of each parent—long grain, golden hue—but it has an appealing characteristic neither parent can claim: Charleston Gold is aromatic like the perfumed rices of India and South Asia.
But that’s just half of what is so exciting.
The second half of this story takes us back to the early 1800s when the finest estate seed stock of Carolina Long rice was sealed in barrels with wild red bay leaves to preserve it for three years. The rice was not thus stored to improve its flavor and cooking attributes; it was stored to preserve three successive years of rice seed against catastrophic loss. (Farmers who collect and supply their own seed have a three-year seed reserve, to this day.) One collateral benefit of these stockpiles was that growers with successful rice crops over seasons were able to sell some of their reserve seed to elite customers in Europe. When they did, they discovered that the rice, over time, had become infused with a delicate nutty perfume backed by hints of laurel and faint sweet vanillin. These aromas created a distinctive mélange of flavors in cooked rice. But the most interesting and valued characteristic of laurel-aged rice was its grain-for-grain integrity and decisively firm texture. And this, too, is yet another advantage of barrel aging, which gently removes moisture from the grains.
Through its long work with the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation (of which Glenn is a founding member), Anson Mills debuts Charleston Gold rice to the public. But the rice we offer here is not merely baby Charleston Gold. Rather, in the great tradition of lost rice, it is three-year-old, barrel-aged, laurel-scented Charleston Gold! And you, dear Reader, may be among the first to sample the flavor and texture of the past.
(Read more on the backstory of Carolina rice and the development of Charleston Gold rice here.)
Kedgeree and Quick Mango Chutney
I have a number of friends in the food world, but few who are closer to me than Dawn Yanagihara. Dawn and I share a kindred spirit of inquisitiveness wrapped in rebellion wrapped in inanity when we consider the “haute” world of cooking, and we have similar sensibilities that arise from shared experience in food media over the last couple decades. Dawn is an outstanding cook and meticulous writer (who also edits all my copy). This past spring when I was in a scheduling crunch and needed help with this newsletter, I immediately reached out to Dawn. I asked her to draw from her personal history and love of rice to commemorate the birth of Carolina Gold rice’s new child, Laurel-Aged Charleston Gold, with a special recipe. Dawn is Japanese-American Geechee whose family consumed rice every single day (the definition of “Geechee”), including alongside traditional American fixins at Thanksgiving and Christmas. We’d been discussing how to combine elements of the East, Europe, and the New World in our approach to Charleston Gold. Only Dawn would have come up with kedgeree, the Anglo-Indian long-grain breakfast dish associated with the British Isles, which bears a confused and fascinating history. Kedgeree struck Glenn’s own Geechee fancy, too, because it is the perfect any-time-of-day meal, not just breakfast. Glenn immediately traced the kedgeree to its supposed African influences and placed its origins in Charleston, but we managed to shut him up with a bowl of this phenomenal food.
The homemade mango chutney, which tags along most winsomely with the kedgeree, is my contribution.
Happy June, y’all, and Good Food!