After a short hiatus, the project “Discovering North Carolina” is in full swing again and I am so happy to be able to share my experiences researching this great state. This is the first of three articles that will display the experiences I’ve had over the course of the past nine months and will leave you with three recipes, one representing each designated county. Check out my page Discovering North Carolina for project details and previous posts.
After attending the Got to be NC Festival and briefly learning about the Moravian culture, I continued my research for Forsyth County to gain a better understanding of its unique food culture. I browsed Old Salem’s website and corresponded with a couple of Forsyth County locals as I planned a visit to Old Salem Museums & Gardens. I was eager to stop by The Tavern for lunch to learn more about the traditional food and what life was like in this Moravian community.
Salem, NC, currently known as Winston-Salem, was founded in 1766 by a Protestant denomination seeking religious freedom who traveled from Bohemia and Moravia (currently known as the Czech Republic) to Pennsylvania and finally Salem, North Carolina. The settlers, known as Moravians, kept records of their lives, recipes or ‘receipts’ of what they ate, which allows for the Moravian food culture to be continued to this day.
I had the opportunity to bring my parents, who were visiting from Wisconsin, on a day trip to Old Salem. They were happy to browse through the Moravian history and culture as my father’s genealogy includes Bohemian heritage. As we eagerly waited for lunch at The Tavern, Lori who co-owns the restaurant spent some time with us discussing the Moravian food-ways they were striving to recreate. She expressed the importance of using seasonal foods, fresh produce from the gardens and using only items that would have been traded such as molasses and brown sugar in her pies and desserts. We also discussed her stance on using white or dark meat in the Moravian chicken pie, as this is an on-going debate among Forsyth natives. We sank our teeth into the savory grilled cornbread, crisp pear salad and flaky, tender, all white meat chicken pie. Dad enjoyed the fried chicken liver platter and we all savored each bite, embracing the sights and the sounds of the staff dressed in Moravian attire bustling around the hardwood floors. Our server enticed us with six mouth-watering dessert options to complete the meal. After a fairly quick decision, we smiled happily and let the luscious German Chocolate Pie and the warm, melt-in-your-mouth Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie consume us.
As we strolled around the town, Winkler’s Bakery was high on my priority list of places to visit. Before visiting Old Salem, I knew baked goods such as Moravian Ginger Cookies, Lovefeast Buns, Lemon Tarts and Moravian Sugar Cake were all favorites. Walking into the cool, brick building and being surrounded by the sweet aroma of yeast and sugar, we couldn’t resist sampling the sugar cake and sweet yeast roll. The interpreter dressed in his baker’s attire gave us a history lesson of how Christian Winkler bought the bakery in 1807 and discussed how each of the desserts were incorporated traditionally in holiday celebrations.
After choosing which sweet treats I wanted to take home with me, I had the opportunity to discuss the history of Moravian food with Joanna Roberts, Assistant Director of Interpretation at Old Salem. She discussed how sugar cake was known as a “Great Cake” in the 16-17th centuries, and later named “Sugar Cake” in the 19th century. A Great Cake was defined as any cake made from yeast, eggs, milk and butter. Sugar Cake was different in that it frequently contained potatoes, as most do to this day. According to Mrs. Hanes from Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookies, the main purpose for using potatoes was to keep the dough moist and prevent it from drying out too quickly.
On the drive home I reflected on my experience at Old Salem and what I learned about the Moravian culture and food ways. The next step was to decide on a recipe which defined Moravian life. After much thought, I decided Moravian Sugar Cake would be the recipe of choice I would try my hand at making. After browsing through Preserving the Past, various recipes online and testing one recipe, I finally found a recipe that fit the buttery taste, soft texture and sweet flavor I was aiming for. Although Sugar Cake mixes and pre-made Sugar Cakes are available to purchase at Old Salem or Dewey’s, making your own from scratch brings the experience full circle.
Forsyth County may be known for being the home of Krispy Kreme, but the Moravian Sugar Cake has become a staple for holiday celebrations. Forsyth County and Old Salem have much to offer as they aim to celebrate their past heritage and unparalleled food culture. If you’re making your way to North Carolina during the summer or holidays, activities such as participating in a Lovefeast, learning the history of the Moravian Star or sampling the traditional Moravian fare may be just the ticket to embrace the unique food culture of this historical county.
Moravian Sugar Cake
Slightly adapted from Winklers Moravian Sugar Cake
1 (1/4 ounce) package active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup water (110 degrees F)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup instant mashed potatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour, divided
3/4 cup water
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon whole milk
6 tablespoons melted butter, cooled
1 tablespoon butter, sliced into bits
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup melted cooled butter
Pour yeast and 1/2 teaspoon sugar into warm water, stir with wire whisk until yeast dissolves. Set aside until liquid has foamed. Combine dry ingredients (sugar, instant mashed potatoes, salt, 1 cup flour) in large bowl and mix with wooden spoon. Add wet ingredients (3/4 cup water, yeast mixture, eggs, milk, butter) to dry mixture, stir to combine. Gradually add remaining flour to mixture and combine to form a soft bread dough consistency. (This is not intended to be kneaded.) Place dough in greased bowl, turning to coat thoroughly. Place the one tablespoon of butter bits into dough. Let dough rise in warmed oven until it doubles in size, about an hour. Punch dough down, transfer and spread in greased 9×13 baking pan with 2 inch sides. Let rise for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon. Punch fingers into dough, making small holes. Drizzle the remaining 1/2 cup of melted cooled butter over the dough to cover, let dough rise 30 minutes. While dough is rising, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake 13-14 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean and is golden brown. Serve warm and enjoy!
Tip: Cake can be frozen and reheated in the oven at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes.
Resource: The Town of Salem. http://www.oldsalem.org/learn/the-town-of-salem/ Accessed October 11, 2014. Updated March 3, 2015.