Nothing trends like an ingredient nobody's paid attention to since your great-great-grandmother made pancakes with it.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper: Do you consider buckwheat to be Southern? You have the familiar ingredients like corn and rice, but I just never think of buckwheat as a Southern ingredient.
Sean Brock: Well, I think it kind of qualifies it as a Southern ingredient because of its role in what we call the Carolina rice kitchen. You have to think about agriculture in the 18th and 19th centuries. This was long before you could go and purchase industrial means of fertilizers or pesticides, so you had to understand crop rotation.
You had to plant specific plants in a specific order to add or take away specific things from the soil to keep your main crop happy. Here, that crop was Carolina Gold rice. But buckwheat is really one of the more important ones when you're talking about crop rotations. What's fascinating to me is that, when studying a cuisine, you find yourself all of a sudden studying agricultural practices.
The plants that were part of that crop rotation found their way into the pantry, into the kitchen, and into the cuisine. You can go to almost any farm in the South right now and you'll see people using it as a cover crop, or what they call green manure. It's a really fantastic plant for that, but it's also really wonderful in the kitchen because it's one of those untapped ingredients.
I think it may have a bad rap because it's so healthy for you. Sometimes, when something's extremely good for you, people assume it doesn't taste good. But once you eat buckwheat, there's this new flavor. It's got this deep, mineral bitterness, and it's really one of the most earthy ingredients you could ever imagine. We use it when we want to add earthiness to a dish, but we also really enjoy using it in desserts. I think it plays really well in the sweet world.
LRK: How do you use it in dessert? I usually think of buckwheat as more of a savory ingredient. You know, buckwheat flour, buckwheat groats, the whole buckwheat. But how do you use it in desserts?
SB: There's a really neat thing that you can do. Take the groats and soak them for a couple days, then rinse them a couple times. Then you just process them in a food processor, and you get this raw, uncooked, incredibly delicious porridge that you can sweeten. We sweeten it with sorghum.
LRK: Another local ingredient, really.
SB: Yeah, absolutely. And then we'll take whatever fresh fruit that's ripe and delicious, and we'll just put some ice cream with it. So you have this beautiful, earthy porridge, this fresh fruit and the ice cream. And it's quite a simple dessert, but extremely delicious. It always throws people for a loop because they don't expect to be eating buckwheat for dessert.
LRK: Interesting. So it's fermenting during that process?
SB: Yeah, a little bit, and that gives it what we call a funky flavor. But it's really this depth of flavor that you can only get through fermentation, which is all the rage these days. Everyone's talking about fermentation.
LRK: It sounds like you're moving backward at a fabulous rate.
SB: Everybody's got little things fermenting all over their kitchen, which is fantastic because I grew up that way. When I was growing up, my grandmother's basement was just full of these old crocks with corn on the cob fermenting, and cabbage fermenting, and all these things. Now it's like the biggest trend. I think it's fantastic, because it's really one of the most delicious things that you could cook.
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Lynne Rossetto Kasper has won numerous awards as host of The Splendid Table, including two James Beard Foundation Awards (1998, 2008) for Best National Radio Show on Food, five Clarion Awards (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014) from Women in Communication, and a Gracie Allen Award in 2000 for Best Syndicated Talk Show.