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D.G. Martin Column: Literary leader champions heritage foods

How did Carrboro writer and teacher Georgann Eubanks become the leader of the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association?

In a word, she earned a top role in our state’s cultural community by her diligent and unselfish community service that has made things better for all of us.

D.G. Martin

For instance, she spent years traveling up and down our state’s roads, stopping in all our major cities and many towns and rural crossroads to find material for her three-volume “Literary Trails of North Carolina.” Along the way, she met hundreds of North Carolina’s writers, their families, friends and people who influenced them.

The “Literary Trails” series is a lasting treasure that, by itself, makes Eubanks a permanent part of our state’s literary elite.

Given the importance of “Literary Trails,” her latest book, released last week by UNC Press might surprise some of her fans who were looking for more about writers or writing. But you can tell from the book’s title that it is about something other than books and authors. The title is “The Month of Their Ripening: North Carolina Heritage Foods through the Year.”

How did this book about foods come about?

While Eubanks and her photographer and partner, Donna Campbell, were driving across the state looking for writers and literary connections, they found some of the special places where writers like to hang out.

She wrote about some of them in “Literary Trails,” and when I was reading that series I learned about several places that I put in my book, “North Carolina Roadside Eateries.”

I think Eubanks loves the old-time, modest, community gathering places and the people who own and operate them, just the way I do.

But her new books take her connections to foods to a different level.

In each of the 12 monthly chapters of “The Month of Their Ripening,” she identifies a North Carolina heritage food that ripens or is seasonally available in that month.

In the February chapter Eubanks writes about goat milk; in March, shad; April, ramps; May, soft shell crabs; June, serviceberries; July, cantaloupes; August, figs; September, scupperrnongs; October, apples; November, persimmons; December, oysters;

Did I forget about January? No, but I did not want to begin by telling you that her January favorite food is snow, which I did not think is really a food.

But she quickly persuaded me snow was a perfect choice.

She explained simply, “In January there is little else in nature that presents itself to us that we can eat. Snow, however, is a dessert that literally falls from the sky, and when it does, North Carolinians… declare it a party.”

She continues, “For North Carolinians, the ritual of making snow cream from the simplest ingredients — sugar, snow, vanilla, and cream — evokes a particular place and time for many of us.”

Eubanks shares snow-cream stories from several of her literary friends, including Jill McCorkle and Randall Kenan. Both will be inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame on Oct. 7 in Southern Pines.

Eubanks quotes from a poem “Bring Back the Snow Cream” by former North Carolina Poet Laureate

Shelby Stephenson. Writing about his mother’s snow cream, his final verse is
“what a longing
memory throws over
the smell I could feel
in that kitchen”

Before the chapter ends Eubanks delves into history of snow and ice treats as far back as Alexander the Great and Nero.

She warns us about the potential risks of snow contaminated by air pollution.

She shares recipes from her friends and describes the debate about how many eggs, if any, and what kind of cream or evaporated milk is best to use.

Having been charmed by her ode to snow, I was not surprised that in every one of the following 11 chapters Eubanks gave its month’s heritage food a warm, entertaining and informative write-up.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Thursdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 11 a.m. on UNC-TV. Preview the upcoming program on UNC-TV’s North Carolina digital channel (Spectrum 1276) on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. This Thursday’s and Sunday’s guest is Ed Haag, author of “Charlie Soong.”