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.

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WFAEats
9:58 am
Mon September 29, 2014

In Search Of Perfect Canned Goods

Credit 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. 

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WFAEats
11:03 am
Mon July 14, 2014

A Covered Dish: Less Can Be More

Deviled eggs
Credit 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.

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WFAEats
10:48 am
Tue May 20, 2014

Souvenirs? Consider The Grocery Store

Banana sauce
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.

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WFAEats
10:58 am
Tue April 8, 2014

A “Frank” Story of Survival

Portrait of a hot dog
Credit 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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WFAEats
9:45 am
Tue March 18, 2014

Dining Advice For North Of The Border

Ohio River
Stihler Craig U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Let’s talk about the Ohio River, shall we?

The waterway that drains the eastern half of the Midwest and has divided North from South for more than two centuries, is more than a state boundary. It’s demarcation for Southern cuisine.

Let me explain. I grew up in Shelby County, Illinois, a full hundred miles north of the Ohio. It was an existence devoid of cathead biscuits, home-made cornbread, and stone-ground grits. Okra, country ham, and collards did not exist.

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WFAEats
11:15 am
Mon February 17, 2014

The Secret Of Life: Eat More 'Doughnies'

Krispy Kreme doughnuts
Credit Krispy Kreme

What’s the secret to longevity?

If my mother is the model, we need to eat more doughnuts and bananas. My mother Enid McElroy lived to be 93 averaging a banana a day, plenty of high-test coffee and pastries by the box. Her favorite: doughnuts, or “doughnies.” She would eat them religiously. She would buy them glazed, powdered or jelly-filled and feign dismay that the rest of us wouldn’t join her sweet-toothed binges.

“Aren’t you going to eat these? They’re going to waste.” Then she’d reach into the doughnie package for seconds.

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WFAEats
11:04 am
Thu December 19, 2013

Mylbra’s Fruitcake

Packaged fruitcake is often dreaded, but homemade doesn't have to be.
Credit suzannelong / flickr

Mylbra Tilley was one of those “aunts” (no relation), who flitted in and out of our house on a whim. My mother, who didn’t veer far from recipe basics, sometimes took cues from Mylbra, who scoured the newspaper and friends’ suggestions for new recipes.

In fact, her homemade fruitcake, inspired by a newspaper clipping, shouted “Christmas” for years at our house. Rather than the store-bought doorstop-cakes from the grocery store, this one was delicious.

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WFAEats
10:25 am
Fri October 4, 2013

Comfort Food: Helen’s Famous Goulash

Credit Tamra Wilson

One of the best stories I’ve ever written contained a recipe. “The House of Nits” was a fictionalized version of one week in July when our father was away on business and our mother left to attend a cousin’s funeral in Ohio. Helen, our next-door neighbor, was asked to keep an eye on my brother and me.

I was ten years old and had just taken knitting lessons. Helen, an accomplished seamstress, had never learned knitting, so we made a deal: if I taught her how to knit, she would teach me how to sew. She was a good teacher. I have been a sewer, and a knitter, ever since.

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WFAEats
11:27 am
Wed August 21, 2013

Square Fish, Bread-Butter-Milk And Other School Food Mysteries

Credit bookgrl / flickr

Fish square on bun, tartar sauce, buttered corn, Jell-O cubes. Bread, butter, milk.

Welcome to school lunch, any Friday in 1963.

Menus, published every week in the Shelbyville, Illinois, newspaper, gave a heads up on what was for lunch at the school cafeteria. Teachers would know when to ditch the lunch line. Children, if they were able to read a newspaper, would know when to bring a sack lunch from home.

My brother and I would read menus as if divining the future for a particular week.

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WFAEats
10:48 am
Wed July 10, 2013

It's Squash Drop Season

Credit bengarland / Flickr

If you have friends who garden or have access to too much produce, you may be the recipient of their gleanings. Co-workers, acquaintances, neighbors come bearing bags from their bounty.

Thanks to so much rain the bounty is higher than average. The current “drop” involves summer squash. This game works something like tag. The dropper tags you with veggies and you, the dropee, are “it.”

Sometimes the veggies turn up unannounced on your door step. Sometimes they come with a warning on the phone: I’m bringing some squash by.

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