Old North in the South

For a family who have been living in California for over a decade, every trip out of this vast and wild western state becomes an exciting adventure.  This past September, I had the opportunity to travel to two southeastern states for a week.   The few moments of leisure outside my work schedule, where I managed to take a peek at the unique natural and cultural heritages of the region, turned out to be such a refreshing experience.

The 3 days in North Carolina, I was going back and forth between Raleigh-Durham, the state capitol, and the rural-industrial areas around it.  In appearance, Raleigh-Durham was not different from any other modern American city with a scenic combination of high-rises, urban afforestation, and road network.  And yet widespread waterways and endless patches of broadleaf trees made it vibrant and exhilarating.  The bustling vibe quickly quieted down as we drove out of the city, and tobacco fields and rustic farmhouses became the major characters of the stage.  This scenery became an interesting topic between a couple of co-workers of mine, whose families were both connected to this agricultural tradition of North Carolina—the coastal Atlantic plains’ sandy soil was uniquely suitable for tobacco; tobacco farming helped forming the industries of the state since the 17th century; tobacco remains the #1 cash crop of North Carolina today.

Historical facts like this, trivial as they may seem, always fascinate me.  On my last day in North Carolina, I took a detour to Greensboro for a quick visit at Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, which commemorates a critical battle in the American Revolutionary War.  The Battle of Guilford Courthouse took place on March 15th, 1781, lasted only 9 minutes,  resulted in the British Army claiming victory while sustaining heavy loss,  then forced to abandon the gains and retreat.  From that point on, the United States army proceeded to confining and destroying the British Army, leading to their eventual surrender.  How dramatic it was that such a short battle was the turning point of a historic war and impacted the fate of a nation!

The current state of the park was a decorated celebration for the event, with numerous statues, monuments, and demonstrations reminding people of faith, valor, and tenacity that upheld this country’s history.  More than that, this place is anything but an isolated memorabilia of the past.  Miles of trails wound under the vast canopies shaped by  lush woods providing joggers and bikers a perfect destination in which to enjoy this warm, beautiful late summer day.

Green woods in Guilford Courthouse National Military Park
Trail in Guilford National Military Park

As I drove out of the parking lot, one of the park rangers rushed out to correct a piece of information he had given me earlier about the site.  Thanking him, I was reminded of the few brief encounters I had with the Southern hospitality.  Folks here never seemed to hide their thoughts, and yet their words conveyed genuine care, proven by them going out of their way to extend help.  Among many things, this will probably at the top of my list to remember.

As the cool autumn breeze suddenly descended on the land of Northern California, I started to crave the warm, spicy, hearty food I got to enjoy during my trip.  I vividly remembered that one lunch I had in North Carolina was a feast of all the southern goodness in a simply but hearty way with the state’s signature barbecue pork, accompanied by a handful of side dishes.  It certainly filled my stomach and replenished my mind like magic.

Lunch in North Carolina

First dish to replicate was the Carolina style barbecue pork, with a tangy vinegar sauce accentuating the natural richness of pork.  As a meat eater, I never succeeded in fully appreciating the smoky Texan barbecue flavor, but the Carolinas seemed to know how to cook meat like a Chinese.  I  tried a simple recipe on allrecipes.com for the pork, which required no more than adding salt, pepper, and vinegar to pork shoulder and letting it cook in a crock pot for a day.  The outcome was outstandingly satisfactory.  For the sauce, this recipe combines vinegar, sugar, and a few common spices to concoct a perfect mate for the pork.  Moreover, a mayonnaise-less coleslaw can bring some extra freshness to the table.

Carolina style pulled pork with coleslaw, from our kitchen

I made this meal on a busy day where nobody had big chunks of time to cook.  We would have made cornbread to appropriately pair with the pork.  On that thought, maybe I will challenge the ultimate Southern side, hush puppies, next time to compensate.  —WZ

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