Tamra Wilson

WFAEats Contributor

Tamra Wilson’s mother hated to cook and take-out in their small Illinois farm town was Dog ‘n’ Suds or Dairy Queen. Somehow Tamra escaped the pre-packed world of boxes and cans to win the Betty Crocker Award in high school. She learned about the greater food world through travel, imitation and (what else) the big orange Betty Crocker Cookbook. She’s a writer at heart and recently published her first collection, Dining with Robert Redford & Other Stories. The Wilsons have lived in North Carolina since 1979.

Favorite Flavor: maple

Who would you most like to have dinner with? Robert Redford

Most Exotic Food I Ever Tasted: Squid cooked with the ink sac. The dish, served in a bowl, resembled a boiled tire. There is probably a name for this; I call it “never again.”

What can you always find in your fridge? Open bottle of Chardonnay, skim milk, leftovers, farm-fresh eggs, home-canned zucchini relish and more leftovers.

If you got to choose your last meal, what would it be? Lobster. I did not go to the University of Southern Maine for nothing.

Best kitchen gift ever received: A handwritten cookbook my Dad made for my grandmother in 1936. The personal notations are priceless.

Most Memorable Kitchen Disaster: Unbeknownst to me, our oven was on the blink when I baked a red velvet cake for a church potluck. Not realizing the inside of the cake was raw (trust me on this), I iced the cake and took it to the picnic where people oohed and ahhed about the unusual “pudding.” After the meal, a large Labrador retriever leaned across the table and gobbled what was left, thus ending further questions about the recipe.

flower shape made from hard-boiled egg
Tamra Wilson

It’s not every day I see articles combining food and genealogy. A piece on the FamilySearch blog caught my eye: “How to Start Family Food Traditions from Scratch.” The essence of the article was to encourage readers to preserve their family food traditions—or maybe even start some.

Food traditions are those recipes, meals and cooking habits we acquire being part of a family. Like any other part of family history, they should be written and passed down.

Angel food cake with strawberry icing
Tamra Wilson / WFAEats

Angel food cake is light, fluffy and tricky to make. Recipes call for something like six egg whites, which leaves me in a quandary as to what to do with the rest of those eggs.

That’s why I bought a $5 grocery store cake from Food Lion the other day. Naked and spongy, it sat there in its round plastic house like a peeled banana, begging for icing. And the first thing I thought of was strawberry, which I happened to have in the pantry.

fried chicken, chips, apple, and cheese
Tamra Wilson / WFAEats

All the recent news about the United Kingdom took me back to 1974, when I was a college student in Brighton. The oil embargo hit Britain hard that winter while the Troubles in Northern Ireland continued to boil over with occasional bomb threats and road detours.           

I learned to live in a culture that wasn’t mine. Part of that was coming to appreciate the rather bland food: a steady diet of fresh peas, roasted potatoes, cranberry stuffing with fowl, well-done roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, and for dessert, fruit or most anything with custard sauce. 

fried fish and french fries
Jon Sullivan

I never heard of fish camps – roadside eateries with a gravel lot, home-grown signage and knotty pine interiors – until I moved to North Carolina. In my native Illinois, the only time people ate fish in mass quantities was at the Catholic Church on Fridays during Lent or at a fish-fry event that involved a feeding of the flock.

jars of zucchini relish
Tamra Wilson / WFAEats

Summer calls for potato salad, macaroni salad, tuna salad, egg salad, ham salad, chicken salad, deviled eggs. My magic ingredient for all of these is homemade zucchini relish. Forget the sugar-onion-vinegar combinations. This relish does the trick in one easy step.

With zucchini-drop season upon us, I must share this crucial recipe. You know what a zucchini drop is: those well-meant gifts of squash that arrive at your door from neighbors, friends, co-workers.

meeshaweingartova / Flickr/https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I’ve lived in Catawba County for 37 years, and I’m still learning things about local culture.

Take sweet potatoes.

Please.

They’re not my favorite food, a sure sign I’m not a Catawba County native. If I were, I would already know that sweet potatoes are a snack food.

Amy Rogers

Sometimes corporate America smiles back when you step on their toes.

Consider the case of me and the giant Kraft noodle. Back in January, I was busted at the Kraft Foods plant in Champaign, Ill., by a security guard who caught my son photographing me by the company icon. It was a privacy issue, she said, regarding the large noodle behind a company fence on a public street corner.

I know. I didn’t get it either, so I blogged about the incident on WFAEats.

Tamra Wilson

My adventures as a foodie took a wrong turn when I ran into the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese police last month.

It happened this way.

I was visiting family in Champaign, Illinois, when I spotted a pasta lover’s nirvana: a giant Kraft noodle. There it sat behind a chain link fence along Mattis Avenue: a supersized yellow macaroni fit for Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Tamra Wilson

Have you noticed the trend of putting food on Christmas trees? No, I’m not talking about strings of actual cranberries, popcorn or candy canes, but fake edibles: vegetables and fruit and baked goods, seafood and sandwiches.

A gardener friend dove into the produce theme recently with glass ornaments depicting eggplants, lettuce, corn, broccoli, onions, strawberries, grapes, and tomatoes. It was quite a colorful stunner.

alamodern.com

Most gift registries focus on the kitchen, and one list I perused recently was no exception. Among the usual pots, flatware and dishes I saw several gadgets: a digital rice cooker, egg slicer and an apple wedger.

I shook my head. After 38 years, I’ve never owned those last three items, but I’ve somehow prepared more than 21,000 meals.

Tamra Wilson

I remember my first dish of homemade ice cream. I was five years old and my parents had been invited to a preacher’s house. Adults sat on webbed lawn chairs while the minister and others took turns cranking the metal handle attached to a wooden bucket. After an eternity, the canister was opened. Inside was the most wonderful soft vanilla ice cream I had ever tasted.

Growing up, I coveted our neighbors’ ice cream freezer. They had an electric model that would buzz and grind forever until we were invited over to partake of vanilla custard heaven.

Tamra Wilson

Pie or cake?

From time to time, a southern magazine or newspaper will pose that question and invite readers to weigh in. That only goes to show how Southerners don’t know pie like they should.

Where I grew up in Central Illinois, the dessert question is this: What kind of pie shall you have? Ice cream is the consolation prize when all the pie is gone. Cake, banana pudding, and cheesecake aren’t in the running.

Jeepers Media / Flickr/https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

When I heard that Kraft Foods plans to take the orange color out of their mac and cheese “to meet consumers’ changing lifestyles and needs,” I thought: Here we go again. A major food manufacturer is playing the health-food game, trying to fix something that’s not broken. Or, to put it another way, something that’s so broken it’s campy.

E. Pennsboro Twp. Police

I’m not a huge fan of eating hot dogs, but when it comes to stories about them, count me in.

My last wiener installment for WFAEats, titled “A ‘Frank’ Story of Survival,” involved a petrified weenie from my mother’s kitchen. Fifty years ago it rolled under her dishwasher and into family legend.

Tamra Wilson

Making a tortilla isn’t easy.

I learned this on a recent Thursday night among women from First Presbyterian Church in Newton, NC. We were students of master tortilla-maker Haydee Rodas, who was visiting from our sister church, Iglesia el Redentor, in Guatemala.

I know; tortilla-making sounds so simple. A large bowl of flour mixed ever so right with water, salt, baking powder and shortening. Roll them out, no wait! We watched as Haydee shaped them completely by hand. Pat, pat, turn, pat.

Alex Zorach/wikipedia.com

Central Illinois, where I grew up, is the land of cold, windy evenings that begin in October each year.

The Fall Meal -- consisting of sausage, potatoes, sauerkraut, fried apples and cheddar cheese – was a tradition at our house. The dish was a perfect mix of sweet and savory, crisp and creamy, hearty enough to stave off those cold, windy evenings.

Tamra Wilson

When it comes to fairs I make a bee-line to the food pavilion. No, I don't mean the hot dogs or funnel cakes or cotton candy. I'm talking canned goods - row after row, competing for blue ribbons. 

Though North Carolina's county fairs are finished for the season, there's still the mother of them all coming up - the N.C. State Fair in Raleigh, Oct. 16-21. Nearly $12,000 in "premiums" are up for grabs, some of which will go to the kings and queens of home canning. 

Marshall Astor / Wikimedia

Some call them potlucks or potlatches. In the Carolinas, they’re called a covered dish. The idea is the same: every attendee brings a prepared food item to share.

They’re filling events. You go in knowing you must sample every dish and will probably go back for seconds, or at least dessert. No one’s dish should go unsampled. You leave with a loosened belt buckle and happy memories. Good food, laughter, a celebration of friendship.

John Stephen Dwyer / Wikimedia

Food is a telling thing. For a true venture into cultural anthropology, visit a local grocery store – preferably a mom-and-pop operation. I’ve shopped for groceries on three continents and in many states of the US. I always find interesting things to take home.

Tamra Wilson

Experts tell us that hot dogs are full of preservatives. I know this for a fact.

When I was ten years old, my mother had a portable dishwasher she seldom used. She preferred hand-washing to dragging the heavy machine across the linoleum and hooking the clumsy nozzle to the hot-water faucet. So the portable stayed next to the refrigerator – and this is where our saga begins.

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