Crop Stories is a biannual journal that digs deep into relationships between farmer and field, consumer and market, soil and table. Each issue adopts one crop as a theme, then applies narrative, journalism, and recipe to meditate on the state of the small farm in the American South.
The Watermen of Harkers Island, Gravy, Winter 2016
A colorful oil painting hangs near the front door inside fisherman Eddie Willis’ second-story home on Harkers Island, North Carolina. It was a Christmas gift from his wife, Alison. In the foreground is Willis’ mother, Dora, seated on a bench with his then-two-year-old daughter, Maggie. Behind them, Willis, in a white tee and black bib overalls, pulls the heads off shrimp. The key figure, though, is Alberto Morales, hat on backwards, head down like Willis, lost in the mundane pleasure of fish-house work. Morales is Willis’ fishing partner. Willis calls him “the other me.” On any given day, it is hard to find one without the other.
Drive north out of Durham on US-501, and the cityscape dissssipates into long stretches of road flanked by open pasture and an ever-widening horizon. Just a few miles up the country road, in Bahama, North Carolina, a few of the most talented barbecue cooks in the South are gathering together for a weekend honoring the centuries-old tradition of cooking animals over slow-burning coals—barbecue.
The undisputed champion of tang in the baking world is none other than the versatile, wonder staple known as buttermilk. This prized liquid, traditionally what’s left after churning fresh cream into butter, gets its star power from its ability to collude with baking powder and lift biscuits to new heights. Buttermilk breaks down gluten to soften the crumb of your favorite cake, while the lactic acid and its signature zing makes pies, scones, and breads sing. Buttermilk ain’t too proud to play backup, either. It often employs subtle nuances to add depth and complexity of flavor to whatever it is added to.