Comfort Cooking from the Family Archives: A Midcentury Recipe for Baked Macaroni & Cheese

The San Francisco Bay area may be most well known for its sourdough bread, Ghiradelli chocolate, and all things aquatic found at Fisherman’s Wharf, but in my family, we have another favorite to add to the list too. It’s an heirloom recipe that comes from the kitchen of my adventurous epicurean aunt, Patti, who lived thirty miles south of the Golden Gate Bridge in a foggy seaside utopia called Half Moon Bay.

Always known as an agricultural town, Half Moon Bay, was first settled by the Ohlone Indians and then by Mexican, Portuguese and Spanish transplants in the mid-1800s. Since its early days, this hamlet has been home to commercial tree farms, flower fields, nurseries, and vegetable farms that serve the local, regional and national communities.

There, in her light-filled kitchen decorated with antique blue and white dishware, Aunt Patti experimented with all sorts of wonderful recipes over the course of the latter half of the 20th century. Many meals were inspired by her backyard garden and all the things that she could grow in this cool California climate, but she was also interested in just making good food that prompted smiles and a fun dining experience. Hand-tossed pizza, homemade layer cakes, marshmallow frosting, from-scratch waffles, grilled hamburgers stuffed with all sorts of pizazz – those are just a few highlights of mealtimes at Aunt Patti’s table.

Happy New Year vintage kitcheners! Since the world is still struggling through the pandemic and a multitude of other crises, I thought it would be fun to start 2022 off with a fun food from the family archives that has universal comfort appeal. Today, we are making Aunt Patti’s baked macaroni and cheese recipe that was passed down from her mom, Dorothy sometime during the 1960s.

Aunt Patti was the best kind of gourmet cook – curious, generous and always willing to try new things. If you are a regular reader of the blog, you might remember her handwritten recipe for Citrus Chicken that was featured here in 2018.

Just like the popular comfort foods of bread and chocolate that are embedded in San Francisco’s culinary landscape, this recipe that has danced around Aunt Patti’s kitchen for more than six decades is a reliable crowd-pleaser that’s been known to bring enjoyment even on the lousiest of days. And it’s no wonder – this classic food has been a salve for bad days and good appetites for centuries.

The idea of macaroni and cheese – a pasta baked in a saucy bath of melted dairy proteins – has been recorded in cookbooks since the 1700s. Elizabeth Raffald was the first to print it in book format in 1769. She made hers on the stovetop using macaroni, cream, flour, and parmesan cheese.

Elizabeth Raffald, an 18th-century English domestic worker, cooking instructor and author was the first to bring macaroni and cheese to the printed page in 1769.

Even though the recipe’s origins lay in the cuisines of England, Italy and France, macaroni and cheese nowadays, surprisingly, is most often associated with American cooking. We have Thomas Jefferson to thank for that. In the early 1800s, he was so fascinated by this dish after first trying it abroad, that he recreated it at Monticello and proudly served it at dinner parties. That helped to propel its popularity and expand its reach to other areas of the country. He even went so far as to work out the mechanical properties required to make, cut and dry the pasta just like he had seen it done in Italy.

Fun facts of culinary history aside, once baked macaroni and cheese tantalized the American palate it became a mainstay on the menu of popularity forevermore.

From Aunt Patti with love – Macaroni and Cheese – an heirloom family favorite.

Aunt Patti passed away in the late 1990s, so we don’t have her as a hands-on cooking consultant anymore but thankfully, my family still has all of her handwritten recipes, which makes it feel like she hasn’t altogether left us. When her recipe for macaroni and cheese resurfaced via my cousin this past Christmas season, it was a wonderful reacquaintance with her cooking style, her spirit and her son. And it sparked many discussions. More on that below, but first I wanted to point out the beauty of the actual recipe itself.

I love several things about its physical appearance in particular. 1) That the recipe is written in my Aunt’s hand. 2) That it is splattered and stained with over sixty years of use. 3) That it has the no-frills title of Macaroni Cheese and contains a few humbling spelling errors. 4) That it references my grandmother, Dorothy, in the top-right corner.

Grandma Dorothy, who lived between the years 1914-2012, was a great cook in her own right, but she was shyer than my aunt when it came to talking about food and how she prepared it. Luckily, Aunt Patti was a great recorder and when she fell in love with a recipe she liked, she wrote it down and filed it away in her recipe box. Did Grandma Dorothy invent this recipe, using her thrifty Depression-era cooking skills and staples she had on hand? Did Aunt Patti tweak it a little bit in the 1960s to make it her own? We’ll never know. But the fact that it has been made again and again in the same California kitchen for the past 60 years is proof enough that’s it’s a good one to keep hold of.

There are a bevy of different ways to approach baked macaroni and cheese … from the basic (cheese, milk, butter, flour, pasta) to the fancy (gourmet cheeses, spicy aromatics, infused butter, thick cream, specialty pasta). Aunt Patti’s recipe falls somewhere in the middle. It doesn’t contain any pricey ingredients or hard-to-find flavors but it does combine two more unusual components not often associated with a cheesy casserole.

The inclusion of sour cream and cottage cheese gives this recipe a rich, tangy flavor and fluffy consistency. It’s cheesy without being greasy and filling without being dense. It reheats beautifully and freezes even better, so if you wanted to make a big batch, double the ingredients and you’ll have a comforting casserole (or two!) for many winter meals to come. And since this recipe is connected to both my aunt and my grandmother, I’m taking the liberty to retitle it to include my grandmother’s last name and my aunt’s maiden name so that they will both be credited. This way, from here on out, the recipe will act as a tribute to two 20th century women who inspired each other in the kitchen. In turn, I hope their recipe inspires you too.

Macaroni Cheese of the Ladies’ Race

Serves 6-8

7 oz (1 3/4 cup) elbow macaroni or ditalini pasta

2 cups small curd cottage cheese

1 cup sour cream

1 egg, slightly beaten

1/2 teaspoon salt

dash pepper

8 oz (two cups) sharp cheddar cheese, grated

paprika (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Cook macaroni on the stovetop in boiling salted water for 12 minutes. While the macaroni is cooking, mix all the other ingredients in a large bowl.

Fold in cooked pasta. Spread mixture evenly in a casserole dish. Top with paprika or cracked black pepper or neither – whichever you prefer.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until the top of the casserole begins to turn golden brown. Let it rest on a cooling rack for just a few minutes before serving.

Aunt Patti would have suggested pairing this casserole with a simple side salad of home-grown lettuces, but it’s really delightful just enjoyed on its own too. The sharpness of the sour cream in combination with the creaminess of the two cheeses offers a silky flavor profile that is a dynamic, satisfying meal unto itself.

Since this recipe festively made the rounds in the kitchens of almost every single one of my family members and then their friends and their family this Christmas, it has sparked quite a few discussions.

I’ve learned that macaroni and cheese means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I’ve learned that there are two camps – those who prefer a homemade recipe like this one and those who prefer a boxed stove-top kind. I’ve learned that some people like extra cheesy, extra creamy macaroni swimming in sauce, and I’ve learned that some people prefer a lighter more souffle-like texture. I’ve learned that some people like to add a bunch of flavor enticing extras like bacon, chives, jalapenos, buttermilk, herbs and even apples to the mix. And I’ve learned that some people are purists and prefer nothing more than the likes of the original four ingredients first prescribed by Elizabeth Raffald’s 18th-century recipe. Like, pizza and all the zillion different ways you can top it, I’ve learned that strong opinions swirl around the kitchen when it comes to this type of comfort food.

I’ve also learned things about my own preferences and how I like to approach food these days. I love that this recipe is connected to a particular place and a particular set of women. I love that an old piece of paper with its compilation of interesting ingredients still continues to connect family and now you, here on the blog, sixty years after it was written. And I love that this recipe acts as an impetus to storytelling for the cooks who came before us. That to me is the real comfort of this comfort food.

If you try this recipe, I encourage you to comment below with your thoughts on this whole matter of macaroni and the cheese it swims with. Both Aunt Patti and Grandma Dorothy would have been pleased as punch to hear your thoughts, just as I am now. Passions and opinions are most welcome here!

Cheers to favorite family recipes, to the kitchens that keep them, and to the conversations that continue to float around them. And cheers to 2022. I hope your kitchen greets you with joy every day of this brand new year.

No Plain Jane: How One L.A. Based Artist Draws Inspiration From Her Grandmother’s Jewels

If you had to look one kitchen appliance in the eye and consider it most human which would you pick?  Your coffee contraption that wakes you up each morning? Your mixer because it sings as the beaters whirl and whip? Or maybe it is your dependable dishwasher who is always so eager to clean a mountain of dirty pots and pans.

If I had to choose one such appliance, I would pick the fridge. It’s human height, its doors open like arms and even though you stock it yourself, there always seems to be something unexpected going on in there. Whether it’s restaurant leftovers you forgot about, a surprise treat added by a family member or a curious case of bacteria sprouting on last week’s loaf of bread, the fridge is the one appliance that consistently brings a little personality to each new day.

It’s also the one that gets the most use. Every day, you open the doors and close the doors so much so that you don’t even think about the physical action of that process anymore – the pulling and the pushing – but at the same time you are also careful with it. You reorganize it. Sometimes more than once a day. You jockey things around from shelf to shelf to make sure everything fits. You clean it and you care for it. You worry about it. If the power goes out, then what? You think about it in the middle of the night. Will the Thanksgiving turkey fit? Will the watermelon suck up too much cold air? Will the icebox pie set firmly?

If you are like my mom, you also outfit it. You buy lots of clear glass storage dishes and a label maker and you get to work making the inside of that fridge look like a beacon of efficiency and organization with this there and that here. Or you take the opposite approach and just stuff things in as they come with less rigidity and more relaxed effort.

And that’s just the inside.

The outside of a fridge is an equal blank canvas. It seems this school of thought has two camps – the people who decorate and the people who don’t. Do you prefer a plain, sleek front to your fridge or a personalized collection of life’s pieces in papers? Here in the Vintage Kitchen, we like the outside of our fridge decorated. Right now, ours contains a family photo, a calendar, three business cards, one Chinese takeout fortune cookie message (which proclaims that this is the year that ingenuity stands high on the list!), two stickers from a recent comedy show, two love notes, one watercolor painting, one recipe and one autograph. All these are held together by a collection of magnets that my niece, Olivia,  made for me when she was 11…

That was eight years ago. Now she is off at college, and these magnets were and will always be prized possessions.  A lovely gift and a pretty memory all wrapped up in one, they also were the start of my love affair with magnets. Thanks to Olivia’s gift, I re-discovered that magnets were an invaluable tool providing the ability to help hang on to the little bits of life that I didn’t want to forget about (like that fortune cookie message!). This leads to the topic of today’s post. Yesterday I promised to reveal the contents of this mystery box that one lucky winner in our giveaway will receive…

Are you ready to see what’s inside?

Ta-dah! It is a trio of floral fridge magnets handmade from vintage costume jewelry.  These beauties are the work of Heather Dean, the Los Angeles based artist behind Jane Dean Gems, an online jewelry and home decor shop that specializes in pieces made from vintage items and found objects.

As one of the original pioneering artists of Etsy, Heather has been around the handmade marketplace since 2005 but her designs and ultimate inspiration go way back to her grandmother Jane Dean, whose name Heather not only borrowed for her shop but whose collector’s spirit Heather tries to instill in all her pieces. What I love about Heather’s work is that she is a storyteller in sparkles and shimmer, offering a new way of looking at familiar objects from a finder’s point of view. A brooch becomes a magnet, a bauble becomes a bracelet, an arrow becomes a compass in the same way that your commonplace, everyday, utilitarian refrigerator suddenly becomes the canvas for a glamorous work of art.

In today’s post, we catch up with Heather, interview style to learn more about the muse behind the magnets, how her grandmother helped lead her down the handmade road and where to find the best places for artistic inspiration in all of L.A.

In the Vintage Kitchen: First of all, let’s talk about the name of your shop. I understand it is named after your grandmother, Jane. Please share a little bit about her with us.

Heather:  My grandmother’s name was Jane but I called her “Mimi.” When I was a little girl I was enchanted by her large collection of costume jewelry. She had drawers full of colorful brooches, sparkly rhinestone earrings and long beaded necklaces. I loved opening her jewelry boxes, examining the pieces and trying them on. My grandmother was a working woman who didn’t have a lot of money, but she knew how to put herself together on a budget. She shopped at the Garment District in downtown LA  (now known as the Fashion District) to find good deals on clothes, and she accessorized her outfits with jewelry and beautiful silk scarves. It just seemed fitting to name my business after her since I use vintage pieces in my own designs. I also love the simplicity and traditional character of the name, Jane. It goes well with vintage style.

Jane as a young girl with one of the necklaces she acquired later on.

Did Jane teach you a lot about jewelry or did you learn through your own natural fascination? What attracts you to it?

I was certainly inspired by my grandmother’s love of jewelry and flair for accessorizing, but I definitely had my own fascination with vintage items. I started collecting vintage jewelry as a teenager in the 1980s, when more was more. I would go to garage sales and second-hand shops looking for interesting pieces at great deals. I loved old rhinestone choker necklaces, sterling silver bracelets and rings (I wore one on every finger, including mid-knuckles). Back then, pre-internet, I would go to the library to learn about the vintage treasures I had found. Researching vintage is sooo much easier these days, thanks to the internet!

These fridge magnets are desert themed! Everybody needs a little cactus, don’t you think? Find this trio in her shop here.

How did you happen upon the idea of refurbishing vintage jewelry into fridge magnets? Such a cool idea!

I had been buying box lots of old jewelry so I could use the components in my own designs. I was mostly looking for pieces that could be used in necklaces and charm bracelets, but I ended up with a surplus of broken bits and bobs, orphan earrings, etc. that didn’t really work for my jewelry making. One day, I decided to glue magnets on the back of a few old pieces and they turned out really cool! They sold well and soon became my favorite things to make. My first magnet sets were fairly simple but over the years they have become much more complex, with several pieces stacked on top of each other and often embellished with paint, rhinestones and charms. I also love using rustic found objects like old bottle caps, rusty washers and miscellaneous thingamabobs. I’m always finding things on the ground and putting them in my pocket to be used later in a creative project. When I do my laundry I usually find some kind of nut, bolt or pebble in the lint trap, because I always forget about the little treasures in my pockets!

Small treasures lying in wait for Heather’s unique designs.

Please explain a little bit about the process of making magnets – does one piece set the wheels in motion for a particular collection or does a set evolve as each magnet is made, or do you figure out a color palette and then go from there?

I create magnet sets based on one fabulous piece, or a color combination that I love, or using one of several themes that I work with over and over again. Some of my most popular themes are beachy seashell mixes, Southwestern, Day of the Dead, Victorian and robot (made out of junk and google eyes). I have also made many custom magnet sets to coordinate with people’s kitchen colors and for wedding message boards. I’ve even had customers send me their own vintage jewelry to turn into magnetic keepsakes.

It’s easy for me to pull sets together because I keep my huge collection of jewelry bits very organized. I have a large vintage letterpress cabinet, several craft drawers, boxes and glass jars full of stuff. Everything is sorted by type; hearts, flowers, animals, celestial, bead clusters, rhinestones… that way I can find what I need quickly!

Heather’s wonderfully organized cabinet!

Are there jewelry magnets on your own fridge?! And if so, what are they like?

I do have magnets on my own refrigerator. My favorite one is made out of a big rhinestone flower brooch that belonged to my grandmother… I was never going to wear it so I turned it into a functional object that I get to see every day in my kitchen!

Find this set of 8 Southwestern mini fridge magnets available in her shop here.

Is there a holy grail of costume jewelry that you are forever on the hunt for? Do you have a favorite vintage designer or type that you like to collect?

Because I sell vintage in my other shop, CuriosityCabinet, I’m always on the hunt for sterling silver. I love unique handmade jewelry….Southwestern, Native American, Mexican, and mid-century artisan pieces. But for my handmade work, I honestly look for junk! I love the challenge of turning something broken or damaged into something new and fabulous. A lot of my supplies are things many people would throw away. I don’t use anything collectible or valuable.

Who are your top three most favorite artists and why?

It’s difficult for me to pick favorites because I appreciate so many artists and creative mediums, but having recently returned from Mexico, I’m still thinking about the magnificent murals I saw painted by “Los Tres Grandes” the leaders of the Mexican muralism movement; Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco. The enormous size of the works, with their bold colors and emotional subject matter really made an impression on me. It’s nothing like studying them in books and on slides! One piece by Sequeiros actually brought me to tears when I saw it.

From top left: Jose, David, Diego and the trio as pictured in the 1940s.

Because I’m an avid recycler of junk, one my favorite contemporary artists is El Anatsui, a Ghanaian sculptor who creates enormous, flexible tapestries made out of salvaged bottle caps and metal pieces from liquor bottles. They have the fluidity of fabric and can be bent and formed into different positions. They are truly magnificent and are created entirely out of recycled materials!

The art of El Anatsui

Back when you were studying art in college, did you always plan on opening your shops, Janedean Gems and Curiosity Cabinet, or did they just evolve naturally over time?

I never ever thought I would be able to do what I’m doing now! I definitely didn’t plan it. After working various retail jobs for many years, I went back to school in 2000 to study art history at UCLA, thinking I wanted to work in a museum or gallery. I bought my very first computer to use for school and discovered Ebay at the same time. For fun, I puta few pieces of my handmade jewelry up for auction to see if I could sell them. I was so excited when they sold, that I made more pieces and sold those too! Soon I’d created a nice little side business. That’s when I first starting selling my jewelry magnets.

In 2005, I read an article in the Los Angeles Times about a new selling site specifically for handmade products called Etsy.com. I signed up that same day and have been selling in my janedean shop ever since! In 2007, I opened a second Etsy store, CuriosityCabinet to sell some extra supplies but it soon turned into a vintage shop when I realized how much I love finding, researching and selling unique vintage and antique pieces. Now I balance 2 shops on etsy and 2 accounts on ebay.

Find Heather’s second shop Curiosity Cabinet here

So it is technology that allows me to do what I do. Computers and digital photography have changed my life, allowing me to offer my handmade items and curated vintage collections to people all over the world, from the comfort of my own home. Nothing could have suited my personality better! I’m an independent loner who likes to make my own schedule (and work in my pjs) and I’m now able to use my years of retail and life experience to benefit my own business.  I’m maker, buyer, merchandiser, photographer, advertiser, packer, shipper and I love it!

A fun sampling of items that you’ll find in the Curiosity Cabinet… from top left: Vintage Southwestern Brass Cuff, Portrait of Robert Browning, Vintage Carved Horn Bird Brooch, Antique Brass Hand Paperweight, Vintage Brass Elephant Figurine.

 

Name 5 things that inspire you.

1. Creativity- other people’s creative works inspire me constantly… from designers, crafters, artists, film makers… when I see what fellow human’s brains and hands are making, it inspires me to come up with new ideas of my own.

2. Walking- from beach walks to nature hikes to urban exploring, I always get inspired by things I see when I’m on a walk! When I’m out and about I like to take lots of pictures with my phone and gather small objects that intrigue me, which can end up being sources of inspiration later on.

Collecting in Heather’s hands looks like this!
3. Nature- I just love the natural world, in all its perfection and/or rustic beauty. From gardens to beaches to mountains, I love being surrounded by plants, flowers, trees, rocks, water and wildlife. I love the sights, smells and sounds of being out in nature.
4. Animals-  I love animals of all kinds, domestic and wild. They fill me with happiness and joy. I’m a cat lady for sure, but I love dogs, little critters, watching wild birds and I am continually inspired by the biodiversity on this earth.
5. Music- Finding just the right mix of music to suit my mood really helps inspire me when I work. I have eclectic taste so it may be anything from jazz to old country to punk music, depending upon how I feel that day.

What top five places would recommend to visitors in L.A. (based solely on what you think is great – not necessarily what is typical to tourists).

I’m not into hot spots or the latest trendy restaurants and if I’m going to brave the nightmare of LA traffic I want to see art, culture or nature!

From top left: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA); the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA); The Getty Villa; The Broad; The Fowler Museum at UCLA; the Bergamot Art Center; The Natural History Museum; La Brea Tar Pits

I love museums so that’s what I’d recommend the most! The major art museums, LACMA, MOCA, The Getty and The Broad are must-sees, of course. The Getty Villa on Pacific Coast Highway has a fascinating collection of ancient art, housed in a Roman villa overlooking the gorgeous Pacific Ocean. The Fowler Museum at UCLA has some fantastic exhibits of African, Asian, and arts of the Americas. One of my very favorite places to visit is Bergamot Arts Center (previously Bergamot Station) in Santa Monica. It is a collection of art galleries located in an old railroad station that showcases local and contemporary artists. I also love the Natural History Museum and La Brea Tar Pits because I love science and I’m fascinated with prehistoric animals.

The beach bike path weaving its way along the California coast. Photo via pinterest.

My favorite outdoor place is the beach. I love walking along the water, watching the shore birds and gathering seaside specimens. There is a beach bike path where I live that winds for about 25 miles from Pacific Palisades to Santa Monica to Venice, then Marina del Rey to Manhattan, Hermosa and Redondo beaches. My favorite time to go is early in the morning, or in late afternoon/early evening during the long days of summer.

If you could have dinner and drinks with five famous people (living or dead) who would you choose and why?

I’d love to have dinner with David Attenborough, the naturalist and documentary film writer, producer and presenter. I would enjoy talking to him about animals great and small, evolution, and what we can do to protect our environment and the future of this planet.

Heather’s dinner guests(from top left)… David Attenborough, Mike Leigh, Paul Thomas Anderson, Akira Kurosawa and Ingmar Bergman.

I would also love to talk with a few of my favorite film directors about their processes; Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa, who have passed, Mike Leigh and Paul Thomas Anderson who are still working. These directors have made some of my favorite films of all time and I have lots of questions.

Having been a part of the Etsy community since 2005, you are a true pioneer. Share with us how your journey has changed over 13 years. Is it a continuous process of refinement in what you offer and what you design and what buyers want?  If Etsy did not exist, would you still have wound up in the same place you are today?

I can’t even believe I’ve been on Etsy for 13 years! Where did the time go? If Etsy never existed I might have just stayed on at Ebay full-time or started selling through my own website. Etsy is a very different site than it was in the early years but I try to roll with the changes the best I can, and make them work for my business. If it ever stops feeling like a good fit for me I’ll probably sell through my own website and maybe do more craft fairs (which I don’t do now… too much work!)

I actually still make many of the same things that I have since the early 2000’s, but for a while I got worried that magnets were becoming obsolete when stainless steel refrigerators starting taking over the market, but recently they have started making them magnetic again (yay). I guess some people were sad when they discovered they couldn’t stick their favorite magnets or kid’s pictures on the fridge.

Jandean has become more of a side business the past couple of years, since selling vintage has taken over my life! I don’t have the energy to run them both at full throttle so I tend to make jewelry and magnets when the creative bug strikes. It’s nice because I can just make what I want when I want to, and don’t feel that I have to turn out as many pieces as I did in the past, which can cause burn out.

I do plan to devote more energy to the handmade side of my business this year. I’ve been feeling very inspired lately and have started lots of new projects. I’m hoping to fill up my janedean shop with lots of new one of a kind, recycled goodies very soon!

We can’t wait to see what Heather has in store, for her stores, in the coming months.  Will there be more sparkly magnets in our future? I sure hope so! Keep up with Jane Dean Gems here and with Curiosity Cabinet here.

In the meantime thank you to everyone who popped in with guesses for the giveaway.  Possibilities ran the gamut from handmade candles to antique salt cellars to wooden kitchen utensils, showcasing what a creative bunch all you readers are. The winner of the giveaway will be announced on the blog tomorrow night from the random pool of guesses submitted yesterday here on the blog and via Instagram. 

Cheers to Heather for finding beauty in found objects,  for turning fridges into glamour girls and for providing all the gorgeous pictures throughout this post of her shop and workspace.

Wineward Bound: Travel South to Chateau Elan Winery

Ms. Jeannie’s friend was visiting from the West Coast a few weeks ago, and over dinner one night he was remarking on a wonderful trip, he and his fiancee had taken to Napa Valley. Of course they stopped at a bevy of wineries to learn and sample and the whole experience really opened him up to the wide world of wine palates.  So Ms. Jeannie thought it would be fun, now that he was a wine connoisseur of sorts, to take him on a  little southern road trip to Braselton, Georgia, the location of the state’s most noteable vineyard, Chateau Elan.

Chateau Elan Resort & Vineyards, Braselton, GA
Chateau Elan Resort & Vineyards, Braselton, GA

Wine in Georgia, you say? How could that be, Ms. Jeannie? Well, my dears, Georgia has actually been growing two unique types of grapes since the 1500’s  – the scuppernong and the muscadine grape. It is not uncommon to see little vineyards of two or three rows in people’s yards all over the south. Ms. Jeannie, herself has two rows of 35 foot vines herself. Here’s some pictures…

grapes

Muscadine grapes
Muscadine grapes on the vine

scuppernongs
Scuppernong grapes on the vine

Larger then your traditional grape, muscadines (red) and scuppernongs (golden) are just slightly smaller then the size of a golf ball. You can see in this picture some some sizing perspective…

Muscadine & Scuppernong Grape photography by sintwister
Muscadine & Scuppernong Grape photography by sintwister

Both muscadines and scuppernongs have a thick, tart outer skin and a sweet, juicy center that is similar to a plum, yet with a touch more tang. Most people bite and then suck out the sweet interior pulp – but Ms. Jeannie likes to eat the whole thing or cut them up in little segments like a sweet tart.

First discovered growing wild in North Carolina by Italian explorer, Giovanni de Verranzano in 1524, these two varieties of grapes grow naturally only in the Southern United States where they thrive on a short cold season and lots of humidity.

Giovanni de Verranzano. Photo courtesy of biography.com
Giovanni de Verranzano (1485-1528). Photo courtesy of biography.com

When Giovanni discovered them growing in the Cape Fear River Valley, he wrote in his trip’s log book that the “grapes were of such greatness, yet wild, as France, Spain, nor Italy hath no greater.” At the time, Giovanni was on a coastal exploration trip on behalf of the French King, Francis I. Ms. Jeannie wonders what this french King must have thought of the their-bigger-than-yours statement when Giovanni went to report his trip findings!

On a side note, unfortunately, in the end things didn’t fair so well for Giovanni, who on his third trip to the coastal US,  was killed (and some sources say eaten) by local natives in 1528. Goodness gracious – it is not a very sweet ending to the story of a man who discovered such a sweet fruit.

Anyway, back to the grapes…the wine produced from muscadine/scuppernong grapes is very, very sweet, (think sweeter then a riesling) and light in body, which makes it nice (in small doses!) on those hot summer evenings, when it seems too stifling  to eat anything but air. Often times, as in the case of Chateau Elan’s varieties, these local grape wines are enhanced with other local fruits like peaches, strawberries or blueberries which give it a unique flavor. This enhancement also makes for interesting culinary delights  like fruit syrups drizzled over ice cream, simple soaked white cakes or jams and jellies, so scuppernongs and muscadine, as you can see, s are quite versatile when it comes to cooking as well.

Chateau Elan offers four local varieties of muscadine/scuppernong wine as well as a variety of wines imported from their California vineyard, Diablo Grande in Patterson, CA.

Diablo Grande Resort in Patterson, CA
The vineyards at Diablo Grande Resort in Patterson, CA

Ms. Jeannie went on the wine tour and tasting at Chateau Elan so that she could try both the sister wines from California as well as the local Georgia wines.

The vineyard at Chateau Elan was established in 1981 and sits on 3,500 acres. It’s about a 45 minute drive east from Atlanta in the tiny, rural town of Braselton, GA.  Braselton has a little Hollywood color to it. The actress Kim Basinger, bought the entire town  for $20 million in the late 1980’s with the idea of turning it  into a Hollywood film set/production studio. Unfortunately, that idea never materialized. Kim ran out of money and wound up selling Braselton to a developer in the mid-1990’s. Now it is mostly known for it’s antique shopping, area golf courses and of course, the Chateau Elan Resort which in addition to a winery includes a small luxury hotel, several golf courses and a spa.

Before we look at the wines, Ms. Jeannie wanted to point out  a few pretty things she noticed about the Chateau itself…

Innovative flower beds!
Pretty flower beds!

Since it was early Spring when Ms. Jeannie visited – the gardens and vineyards were just waking up – but to add a bit of color to the landscape, the flower beds surrounding the Chateau all contained a bright yellow/blue combination of pansies and guess what…  flowering broccoli!  Very pretty and quite an unexpected pairing! Ms. Jeannie will have to remember this for her early season gardening.

The statue and fountain gracing the front entrance.
The statue and fountain gracing the front entrance.

At the entrance of the Chateau is this wonderful bronze statue of a woman stomping the grapes set inside a large fountain.   It’s a really pretty figure!

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When Ms. Jeannie was taking pictures, crows were hanging out on the roof-line – maybe they were getting together for cocktail hour themselves!

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The winery tour starts inside the Chateau in the large gift shop area. On the tour, Ms. Jeannie learned about the production side of wine-making which included, of course, how it was stored, and bottled. It was a pretty industrial process and a long way away from stomping of the grapes that the statue represented – but it was interesting none the less.

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The barrels were beautiful all lined up in rows.  The wine is aged in both French and American barrels…

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Once the tour was over it was on to the wine tasting. During the tasting, Ms. Jeannie sampled five wines, three from the California property and two from Georgia.

The start of the tasting!
The start of the tasting!

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The first wine Ms. Jeannie tasted was the Chardonnay Reserve 2010, which she liked very much. In addition to the actual tasting part, she also learned how to sniff, swirl and suck in her breath to really appreciate the advanced flavors of the wine. This does make a big difference – to taste your wine this way.  It’s nice to take some time to appreciate what you are drinking and to identify the subtle mix of flavors and aromas.

Chardonnay Reserve 2010
Chardonnay Reserve 2010

Next was the Pinot Noir. This one was lighter in color than Ms. Jeannie expected!

Pinot Noir 2011 Reserve
Pinot Noir 2011 Reserve

The next was Ms. Jeannie’s favorite of all the samples, the Scarlett 211. It was full-bodied and smelled a bit like incense.    The Scarlett is a blend of Syrah and Sangiovese grapes which gives it a darker, richer color than the Pinot Noir.

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Scarlett 211

The last two Ms. Jeannie tasted were the Georgia wines. The first was Summer Wine which was muscadine  infused with peaches…

Summer Wine
Summer Wine

The second was Spring Blossom which was muscadine infused with raspberry…

Spring Blossom
Spring Blossom

Both were very sweet with residual sugar levels of 6%, ( to give you some perspective, the California wines had sugar levels of .5%). Ms. Jeannie, herself doesn’t care for such sweet wine, so she preferred the California varieties better – but she could see how these two could definitely be incorporated into a flavorful dessert.

In addition to wine, scuppernongs and muscadines also make fantastic jams. Ms. Jeannie wants to send  a giant box to her sister this summer so she can experiment with some special jam recipes! She’ll keep you posted on how it all turns out.

After the wine tasting, Ms. Jeannie and her friend headed to Paddy’s Ale House, just one of the 9 dining experiences on the Chateau property.

Paddy's Pub - direct from Ireland
Paddy’s Pub – direct from Ireland

The pub was built in Ireland, then deconstructed,  brought to Georgia and reassembled. It has wonderful character and has retained a true Irish spirit. So if you are not exactly a wine lover – but a beer lover instead –  than this is a grand spot to while away the afternoon. They serve all the traditions – warm Guinness, Irish whiskies  and their own take on traditional fare like Fish & Chips, Shepard’s Pie and Boxty.  Ms. Jeannie had the Shepard’s Pie which was comprised of  braised spare ribs, mixed with vegetables and baked under a layer of mashed potatoes. Delicious!

If you have visited the Chateau, Ms. Jeannie would love to hear about your experience so please comment below. If not,  are there any local wineries in your neck of the woods that you enjoy? If so, please share them with us!