Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Slice of Heaven in East Nashville

by Jas Faulkner

The mom and two boys who have paused in front of Geraldine's Greatest Chess Pies look a little confused.   As soon as the mother speaks, it is evident she grew up in a part of the country where pies have top crusts or meringue or they simply aren't pies.

Geraldine Bell is ready for them. She reaches back to the table set up behind her and gathers some disposable spoons and two pies that are set aside specifically for the curious, the skeptical, and the southern cuisine challenged.  The boys eagerly accept tastes of both her chocolate and original flavors.  Even Mom seems won over as she thoughtfully rolls a bite of Bell's sweet pastry over her tongue.

To those who have never tasted chess pie, sampling Geraldine's version is a revelation.  It should be.  Unlike the mass produced approximation of good home food that is the gateway to new avenues to culinary experience that many of us experience first, Geraldine's pies are the real thing.

"These are the best chess pies in the state of Tennessee."

 It all started with the recipe for her original chess pie as one of many gifts of the heart that was passed down from her grandmother. Fifteen years worth of customers who have followed her would agree.  Fifteen years ago, she was a nurse tech and the pies were a cottage industry she operated in her spare time.  From there, she took her work to the beauty salons, gas stations and small businesses that agreed to sell her pies.  The kitchen table enterprise has grown into a business that is part of many Nashvillians' weekly stops a farmers markets all over the city.

A good chess pie is one of those underappreciated treasures of southern foodways.  The recipe has its roots in the older English version, sometimes called an egg or cheese pie.  Variations may contain corn meal, vinegar, or cheese curds.  The last ingredient has fueled speculation about the origins of the American name of this dish.  Is "chess" a regionalized version of cheese or the product of a dropped consonant  describing the pie chests where they would have been stored by homemakers in previous generations?  While some online sources may claim to have the last word, there is no conclusive evidence to confirm any of them as the one true source of pie wisdom.

For Geraldine Bell, the origins aren't as important as the inspiration she pulls from her family and her faith. Citing the support she gets from her husband of twenty-five years and her twenty-two year old son, Bell says they are behind her "110%".  She sees the business as further demonstration of the myriad ways she has been blessed.   Life's work is love made visible and Bell acknowledges that a lot of her own heart and soul goes into her craft.

"I put God first in all things.   I do nothing without the Lord and seek Him first.  You have to have faith and believe."

For more information about Geraldine's Greatest Chess Pies you can find a full menu and ordering information here:  Geraldine's Greatest Chess Pies


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Viva la NashVitality, Y'all!

As far as many members of the East Nashville Farmers Market faithful are concerned, every Wednesday at three-thirty is a time that is spoken for and will be until late Fall.  Upon entering the circle of vendors' booths, people wander, socialize, and exchange tips on cooking and admiring comments about the various dogs and babies that accompany nearly everyone on the premises.  It's a market.  It's also an established component of the culture of East Nashville and a vital part of the growing sustainability movement. 

Wait a minute.  Buying a chess pie or the world's tastiest kale is part of a movement?  Goat's milk soap is revolutionary?  Yes.  The Metro Public Health Department and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean want you (yes, you over there, we see you hiding that Moon Pie) to live a healthier lifestyle. Here's what Mayor Dean had to say about the subject:  

 “Fresh fruits and vegetables are essential to a healthy lifestyle, and Nashville is fortunate to have many local farmers and farmers markets to provide these natural and nutritious foods to our community. The East Nashville Farmers Market is an example of the many markets that are important for shaping and sustaining a healthier Nashville.”

So this, uh, thing? This big green revolution...  How is it different from any other city's efforts to make everyone hug a tree and eat an egg from a happy chicken with friends and lots of sunshine?  The thing is called NashVitality; and what sets it apart is the focus on creating and promoting opportunities for positive change at a communal level, 

When most city leaders decide to go green, they start with architectural revamping and large scale infrastructure conversions that are expensive, flashy and create a lot of media noise. The result is often pretty and it does offer a degree of benefit in terms positive environmental impact.  Those big measures are brave.  They merit the attention and serious evaluation they garner by those who want to develop more sustainable urban spaces in their own towns.  However, when the human scale of civic change is not a central part of the picture, adoption of more immediate, localized measures can be abbreviated.

This is especially true when it comes to winning the hearts and minds of a citizenry who wants to see a greener, cleaner, healthier city, but is also devoting a large portion of its time and resources to taking care of individual and family concerns.  When the scale moves beyond individual reach, when the time frame for viability stretches too far into the future, it is easy for many people, no matter how fervently they believe in the ideals driving the changes, to check out, leaving completion in the hands of future generations. What sustainability activists sometimes overlook is the need for smaller, attainable goals, measures that give everyone a taste of (and for) a future that is less taxing on the environment and each other.  

Marne Duke, manager of the NashVitality campaign, sees the solution as somewhere in between the grander Tomorrowland of acres of solar arrays and a car running on fuel courtesy of a household Mr. Fusion in every garage.  According to Ms. Duke.

" The campaign is really about creating opportunities where we live, work, learn, worship and play to live healthier lives. We try to focus on places and opportunities, rather than individual actions. We’ve found it’s less overwhelming for folks trying to make lifestyle changes to feel a part of a larger movement and supported in all the places they visit" 

The opportunities NashVitality promotes are plentiful and diverse.  The initiative's website serves as a green information nerve center where Metro Davidson County residents can find information about everything from events that promote a healthier lifestyle by getting active to workshops on improving life at the office to the best places to buy that perfect tomato or learn to grow one of your own. 

According to Ms Duke, the program was created by the Metro Public Heath Department in collaboration with the Mayor's Office and a collection of community movers and shakers.  The MHPD funded the creation of the NashVitality brand through a grant called Communities Putting Prevention to Work that was initially awarded to the city by the Department of Health and Human Services as a part of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. 

The result was an unprecedented outreach effort that announced the existence of the new program in the various weekly papers, on billboards, buses, and benches all over Nashville.   The campaign included images of people from all walks of like engaged in activities associated with the lifestyle that would become the benchmark for NashVitality's goals.  The success of the program is borne out in the pictures that followed the initial unveiling of the program.  The idealized vision of a healthier Nashville is getting closer to reality every day thanks to NashVitality.  

So the next time you bite into a local strawberry or pass up processed corn meal for open-pollinated meal that was grown and ground in Middle Tennessee, keep in mind that you are committing a revolutionary act.

Viva la NashVitality, y'all! 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Last Week for Strawberries!

One of the sweetest and most delicious signs of spring is strawberries. The small, fresh berries were plentiful at the grand opening of the East Nashville Farmers Market this past Wednesday. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect for a stroll around the market with my husband and the dog. After trying (and failing) to get the dog interested in some petting zoo animals, I nabbed some of those delicious strawberries as well as a sage plant for the garden.

Currently its spring and that means time to indulge in some of the first fresh fruits and vegetables. For strawberries, when they are at their peak season it’s best to let their own intense flavor shine. For my pint of berries I decided to riff on strawberry shortcake. I sliced the strawberries and sandwiched them in a biscuit with a dollop of whipped cream to hold it all together.

These delicious little treats can be as easy or intricate to make as you want. I chose to make my own biscuits and whipped cream. However, since the main event is the strawberries using a biscuit mix and ready-made whipped cream would result in a treat just as delicious. Though homemade whipped cream is dead easy to make and really interesting (turn liquid into a solid!). For about a cup of cream, add 2 tablespoons of sugar and any flavoring you like. I used vanilla; other options would be crème de menthe, rose water, grand marnier, or even cocoa powder. Simply add cream, sugar and flavoring to a bowl and using a mixer, whip into soft peaks.

The biscuit provides a crunchy, buttery contrast to the soft, sweetness of the berries. Just a hint of saltiness from the biscuit balances the sweet for those who love the combination of sweet and salty. I found that biting down into one of these sandwiches caused everything to squish out. So every bite must be taken carefully and savored, which is really how these are best eaten. These would be great for mother’s day, a brunch among friends, or perhaps nibbling some leftovers for a midnight snack.

-Amanda Harvey, Guest Blogger