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Cooking & Culture: New Orleans

From the African roots of Southern soul food to the eating habits of trendsetting millennials, Hormel Foods is covering the dishes and stories behind food heritage through a new, online video series called Cooking and Culture.

New Orleans natives, Chef Kenneth Temple and Harold Burden, manager of demand planning at Hormel Foods, joined us to talk about the history of soul food in the first chapter of our new series Cooking & Culture in honor of Black History Month.

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Meet Harold

When it came time to invite a member of the Hormel Foods team to help roll out the first edition of “Cooking and Culture,” Harold Burden surfaced in the blink of an eye. The manager of demand planning and specialty products distribution traces his roots to New Orleans, where he learned to play jazz and make a mean gumbo befitting his native Big Easy. He’s also an inaugural member of the Hormel African American Employee Resource Group, one of nine such teams that strive to enrich the company’s workforce through diversity and inclusion.

How did you get from New Orleans to Austin, Minn.?

It’s true: Southerners don’t leave the South but I did. After receiving my undergraduate degree in marketing and management from Loyola University New Orleans, I went directly to the MBA program at Michigan State University. I was hired by Hormel Foods right after completing my master’s degree. It’s a testament to Hormel Foods that a Southerner like myself decided to leave home to make a new home in Minnesota.  

Do you ever get homesick?

Austin, Minn., is such a homey place but sure, I miss my native New Orleans, even though I’ve been away for nearly 20 years. At least once a year, my wife and I take our three children – who are all Minnesotans, by the way – to New Orleans for a week. I think it’s important for them to know their extended family and to see how my wife and I grew up.  

Tell us about those yearly trips to New Orleans.

You have to start with the food because there is just so much of it. We hit all of our favorite places in town – Parkway Tavern for po boys, Snug Harbor for good food/live jazz and on occasion, Tastee Donuts and Popeyes Chicken – and that’s not even counting what my mom, dad and grandma cook up for us. My dad is big with the outdoor cooking – fried turkeys, crawfish boils and things like that. My mom and grandma – I call her Mama Emma – take care of the indoor cooking.

The food is amazing but naturally it’s the people we care more about. Mama Emma is getting up in years. I’m like a sponge when I’m with her. I want to hear about everything, learn everything she has to teach me. And I want my kids to know her, too.

Have cooking and food always been important in your life?

Food brings people together and that certainly has been true in my family’s life. When I was a kid, I always wanted to learn more. I think I was more in the way because I didn’t want to be in the corner. I wanted to be right in the middle of it. To this day, I love to cook. I’m a big kitchen guy. Three or four times a year, I do gumbo or bring jambalaya to the office.

In my childhood, there was a daily getting together for meals. No matter how hot it got, the kitchen was always open. Our home was not spacious, but we would sit around a couple of card tables or a couple of trays and enjoy a meal.

Tell us about your childhood home.

I grew up in a “shotgun house.” (If you’re not from New Orleans, you might not know that the term describes a type of housing that’s very common there. The houses are the width of just one room and if you look in the front door, you can see all the way to the back. Hence, the name “shotgun.” It’s a straight shot from front to back.) We had a shotgun duplex. My mom, dad, two sisters and I lived on one side and my grandmother Mama Emma lived on the other side.  My mom, dad and grandmother still live in that same shotgun duplex today. My sisters have their own homes/families now. One sister is in Los Angeles and the other is in New Orleans.

What memory stands out in your mind?

Both of my parents are from Mississippi and they found each other in New Orleans where they settled. I have vivid memories of going back to Mississippi to the house where my great-grandmother and great aunt lived. It was a little shack on a plantation. It was where my family worked as slaves. (Pictures included under next question)

I went to their house once when I was 6 years old and they had a whole hog outside. They butchered it in front of me. Pig tails, etc., all got used. Nothing was wasted. It went back to slave times when the slaves got the scraps. Nowadays, the scraps are really valuable for so many “soul food” meals that people of all cultures enjoy.

You mentioned your family’s history with slavery. Do you have any details that you would be willing to share?

Burden_HendersonReed

The oldest relative we have a record of is my great-great-great-grandfather Henderson Reed (picture above). He passed away in 1926. He was half Caucasian and half African American – his father was his family’s slave master. Henderson and his mom were the first slaves on their plantation freed after slavery was abolished in the 1860s. They took on the life of sharecropping and lived near Woodville, Miss. He was an avid horse rider. My grandmother told me that he disliked the fact that he was half Caucasian so much that he decided to marry a woman with a very dark complexion. Her name was Narcisse (no picture available). Together they had 17 children! One of their daughters, Sarah, is the grandmother of my grandmother Mama Emma.

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Pictured above is my great-grandmother Mary (on the left) and her sister Cissy. Cissy was a nickname for Narcisse, her grandmother’s name. This picture is on the land/home where they grew up and worked as sharecroppers. They lived a very long time. My great-grandmother Mary passed away when I was 8 years old, so I was fortunate to get to know and hang with her quite often. She had five children; my grandmother Mama Emma was the oldest of her children.

It was at Great Aunt Cissy’s home that I remember seeing the entire hog slaughtered and all the parts used or saved for family meals. Below is a picture of the house itself where Aunt Cissy lived in Centreville, Miss. It was right in front of the porch where I stood while they slaughtered the hog. That’s my grandmother Mama Emma on the left and Aunt Cissy behind her. There is quite a bit of land all around the home where again, my family worked as sharecroppers. I also understand that my great-grandmother Mary used to work for a Caucasian family down the road as their cook. She would often bring home “leftovers” in a big pot for Mama Emma and their siblings to eat at night.

Burden_EmmaBanks

My grandmother Emma Banks (aka Mama Emma) is doing well today. She is 90 years old, living still in our shotgun home in New Orleans and is as sharp as ever! I spend a lot of time with her and she continues to give me so much information on our family history, as well as some of the great dishes and recipes that have been passed down for generations. Below is a picture of my grandmother and me right after her 90th birthday in April 2016. 

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What one thing have you brought from New Orleans (other than your amazing gumbo)?

New Orleanians are notorious for nicknames. Just pick up a local paper and look at the obits. They always mention the name, nickname and last name. For example, I already told you about Mama Emma. My paternal grandmother was Big Mama. Funny thing is, she wasn’t big at all. Tiny, in fact. But she was the head of the family, so she earned that nickname. I guess I brought the tradition to Austin. My nickname growing up was Baby Man and Lil’ Harold. Here at Hormel many people call me H Bomb, derived from my initials. 

Anything else we should know about you?

I was trained as a classical pianist and transitioned to jazz in high school. I don’t compete anymore but I play for enjoyment. Music and food are so important in New Orleans culture. I’m proud to play a small part in keeping them alive. 

For a taste of New Orleans in your own home

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New Orleans Okra Gumbo

Serves 6 |Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

1/2 cup canola oil, plus more if needed

2 pounds small okra, sliced 1/4 inch, tops & bottoms removed

1 large onion, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

6 ounces tomato paste

2 tablespoons garlic, minced

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon dry thyme

1/2 teaspoon dry oregano

1 pound smoked sausage, sliced

½ pound Hormel® Cure 81® ham, diced

8 cups unsalted ox tail stock or chicken, beef or seafood

To taste kosher salt

To taste black pepper

To taste cayenne

2 cups of white rice, cooked

Ox tail stock-2 lbs. ox tail, 8 peppercorns, 3 bay leaves, onion, bell pepper, celery scraps. 5 quarts water bring to a boil, skim strain after 2 hour. Reserve liquid and ox tail. Can be done a day ahead.

 

In a heavy bottom pot heat oil over medium-high heat, once hot fry okra in batches, fry okra for 1-2 minutes. Sit to side on paper towels. Once last batch is finished add okra back to pot. Add onion, bell pepper and celery and cook for 2-3 minutes; season with salt, pepper and cayenne (don’t over season for you will season again). Add garlic, tomato paste and bay leaf, thyme and oregano once garlic is fragrant stir in sausage and ham. Cook for 2 minutes. Add stock bring to a boil, season with salt, pepper and cayenne, taste. Reduce heat to a simmer occasionally stirring for 1 hour.

 

Serve over hot white rice.

 

Tip: You can add chicken, shrimp or crab to your gumbo too!

Buttermilk Biscuits with Sugar Cane Butter

Serves 6 |Total time: 20 minutes

2 1/2 cups flour plus 1/2 cup

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick of unsalted butter, cold

1 cup buttermilk, cold

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a bowl mix flour, baking powder, sugar, baking soda, salt together. Slice butter in by tablespoons and crumble until texture is coarse like cornbread. Make a hole in the middle and pour in buttermilk, mix until dough pulls from sides of bowl.

 

Take 1/2 cup of flour and knead dough 5 times. Cut out biscuits and place on baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes until golden brown. Once finished half each biscuit and spread sugar cane butter inside.

Sugar Cane Butter

1/4 cup sugar cane syrup

1 stick room temperature unsalted butter

Dash of salt

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

In a bowl mix all ingredients together and place in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

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Chef Temple shared a few more classic New Orleans-style recipes to help us celebrate Black History Month.

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Southern Ham & Vegetable Cobbler

Serves 6  |Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

1/4 cup canola oil, plus more if needed

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large onion, chopped

2 bell peppers, chopped

2 sweet potatoes, chopped small

2 cups Hormel® cure 81® ham

4 cloves garlic, minced

¾ teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon dry thyme

1 teaspoon oregano

½ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ cup flour

2 cups whole milk

1 cup parsley, chopped

 

Cobbler

2 1/2 cups flour plus 1/2 cup

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick of unsalted butter, cold

1 cup buttermilk 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large heavy bottom pot heat oil and butter over medium-high heat sauté onion, bell pepper, sweet potatoes, cook for 4-5 minutes add ham and garlic, once fragrant add salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, thyme, oregano and nutmeg. Add flour and stir evenly coating vegetables, add milk in thirds. You don’t want it to come out lumpy. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low simmer for 5 minutes. Pierce potato with fork, should be tender. Cut off heat, transfer to greased casserole dish.

 

In a bowl mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, black pepper and salt together. Slice butter in by tablespoons and crumble with hands until texture is coarse like cornbread. Make a hole in the middle and pour in buttermilk, mix until dough pulls from sides of bowl.

 

Take 1/2 cup of flour and knead dough 5 times. Cut out biscuits and place on top of casserole, bake for 15 minutes until golden brown, garnish with parsley. Serve hot and enjoy!

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Country Green Bean Almandine

SERVES: 4 |Total time in kitchen: 10-15 minutes

1 1/2 pound green beans, fresh or frozen

1 tablespoon canola oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup Hormel cure 81 diced ham

1/2 medium onion, sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup Slivered almonds

If fresh green beans, blanch in boiling water for 1 minute, drain in colander so water runs off. If frozen green beans, sit in water until defrosted, drain in colander so water runs off.

 

Heat skillet on medium-high heat. Add oil and butter, once hot add ham and onions sauté for 1-2 minutes, add green beans, garlic and season with salt and pepper, cook for 2-5 minutes (until water cooks out, no more steam) adjust seasoning and pour into serving vessel.

 

 In a separate skillet over medium heat toast almonds for 3-4 minutes until almonds smell slightly toasted. Pour over top of green beans and enjoy!