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.

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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