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Sazerac March 2024

Sage Gardener

Plant some beets. Now. If you don’t have a vegetable garden, put them in your flower bed or in a planter. They’re easy to grow, thrive in cold weather and add a splash of color to your winter palate of pale, mushy turnips, rutabagas and potatoes.

Beets in all forms are descended from a maritime plant that grows wild along the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts of Europe. Prized by the Greeks and Romans for their green tops (Swiss chard is a first cousin to beets), the multicolored roots were largely ignored except for animal fodder through the 17th century. Beetroots, as the Brits call them, really didn’t catch on until the 19th century when the French began pairing them with rich béchamel sauce, stewing them in butter and drowning them in cream. Then again, what doesn’t taste good after swimming in a rich roux? Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, “throughout the Colonial era, Americans relied heavily on the garden beet for survival during the winter months. The vegetable was considered an essential winter food — especially during the Six Weeks of Want, a period of produce scarcity that extended from the end of January through mid-March.” That, according to the Smithsonian’s online article “Beauty and the Beets.” (There’s also a website and an online recipe for Paula Deen’s Red Velvet Beets.) On the other side of the planet in Belarus, Poland and Russia, borsch was emerging as a nourishing beet-intensive stew, packed with other various cold-climate vegetables and amped up with almost anything on two or four legs. Ukraine claims borsch as its national dish. An X-(or Twitter-)sphere battle is ongoing between Russia and Ukraine over the birth of borsch. The comments section is ripe with fighting words: “As if stealing Crimea weren’t enough, you had to go and steal borsch from Ukraine as well.”

But back to beets. Fresh is best and farmers markets will be peddling them soon — red, yellow, orange and candy-striped. Don’t have the space to grow your own or the time to make it to the markets? Beets are one of the few vegetables, in my opinion, that aren’t ruined by canning. Harvard beets (beets, sugar, water and cornstarch) are one of my favorite winter dishes. (The name is derived from the deep red of Harvard’s football jersey — or perhaps a tavern in England named “Harwood” that was corrupted in American English into “Harvard.”)

I’m not sure my mom (or most other Southern cooks of her era) ever cooked beets that weren’t canned — and then pickled. If there’s a traditional Southern recipe for beets that are anything but pickled, I’d be tickled to know. I couldn’t find one in any of my slew of Southern cookbooks, including the one from Crook’s Corner, though I know they once served warm-goat-cheese salad with roasted beets and pumpkin seeds. A shame, because they’re so good roasted or in borsch or even raw in salads.

I must admit that most of the beets we grow rarely get much larger than shooter marbles. No sweat. We split them in half, cut up the greens and throw them in a frying pan with way too much butter. Butter, beets, ba-da-boom. Ba-da-yum. Don’t beat me up. Remember I don’t claim to be an expert gardener, just a sage one who never skips a beet.
              David Claude Bailey

Unsolicited Advice

There’s a reason the March Hare in Lewis Carroll’s epic tale, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, appears nerve-wracked and, well, harried: We’re betting it’s because he’s just returned from a family vacation with his many offspring. Since his month is upon us — and so is spring break — we thought we’d offer up a helpful packing list for Mama or Papa Rabbit. Hop to it!

Snacks: We know you’re on break, but here’s a little math equation for you. Take the number of snacks you think you need and multiply that by at least five. It likely still won’t be enough, but you’ll get closer.

A book: You’re a sippy-cup half-full kind of thinker, aren’t you? We like how hopeful you are that you’ll have time to relax. So, go ahead, bring the book. They make great coasters.

An outfit per day: Load up that suitcase with fashions for the person you hope you’ll be on vacay as opposed to who you know you’re gonna be. Just make sure you also pack your fav sweats. You know, the ones with the holes.

Devices with screens: Let’s just be honest here. Opening aforementioned book? A device in the hands of your kiddo might be your only chance.

Ear plugs: We’re sorry, what?

Sazerac Letters

To Cassie Bustemante in response to her December 2023 “Chaos Theory.”

Laid up by my third round of COVID (my chemo-compromised immune system likes to alternate that with pneumonia every few months), I finally found time to read December’s O.Henry and laughed out loud over your story of blow molds, which I did not know were called that until today. My three offspring and their two cousins loved nothing more than seeing their paternal grandmother’s “tacky Santa,” old and faded then, lighting up her carport in the ’70s. He was so beloved that when Nanny’s “treasures” (of which there were three stories and an outbuilding full) were offered upon her entering a nursing home, the only item asked for by name by all five grands was Tacky Santa. It took some costly negotiation, but my middle son prevailed and, to this day, it’s the “leg lamp” on the front porch of his multimillion-dollar Texas home, even after the HOA’s silly comments about “not meeting neighborhood standards of taste.” Thanks for the memories!     
Nelda Howell Lockamy

Photograph © Greensboro History Museum Collection

Window to the Past

Did you know that New York-based Constellation Brands has its humble roots in the Gate City? Beginning life as Car-Cal Winery, the company imported from California and bottled here before relocating to the Empire State. You could say it was a Car-Cal-culated move as it’s now one of the world’s top wine producers.

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

Thank you to all who entered our 2023 O.Henry Essay Contest, with the theme, “The Kindness of Strangers.” Your stories brought tears to our eyes and laughs to our lips while cementing our faith in humanity. With so many delightful entries, our task was daunting, but we’re pleased to have chosen three beautiful essays that will appear in our pages throughout this year. Without further ado, your 2023 winners:

First Place: Ronald Winter, “The Kindness of Strangers, In Unlikely Places”

Second Place: Harry Roach, “The Gift of the Fan Belt”

Third Place: Kay Cheshire, “The Checkout Counter”

We’re mixing things up for the 2024 contest and will accept entries May 1 through September. 30. Look for an announcement and details about our theme in our forthcoming May issue. 

        O.Henry editors

Turning a Page

Nobody knew what to expect in 2018 when a group of readers, writers, students, academics, authors and volunteers organized the inaugural Greensboro Bound Literary Festival.

Founded by book lover Steve Colyer and Scuppernong Books owners Brian Lampkin, Steve Mitchell, and Deb and Dave White, it closed with a sold-out event featuring celebrated poet Nikki Giovanni.

Now Greensboro Bound has named its first-ever executive director.

What prompted the move?

“Exhaustion,” says Lampkin. “Most nonprofits get to that point,” he chuckles. “You have all this volunteer enthusiasm and you realize you need somebody to tie everything together.”

After a thorough search, Greensboro Bound decided on Lex Orgera.

“Lex is an exceptional writer and publisher,” Lampkin says.

A poet, writer, editor and herbalist, Orgera holds an M.F.A. from Emerson College. She is the cofounder of Penny Candy Books for young readers and the author of two collections of poems, along with a memoir, Head Case, about losing her father to Alzheimer’s disease.

“I’m really thrilled to be stepping into the role of executive director in an organization I believe in,” Orgera says. “The festival is an amazing weekend of conversations, ideas and workshops, but we also partner with Guilford County Schools to get books and authors in front of students,” Orgera adds. “We stay busy!”

And the upcoming festival in May?

“We have a little something for everyone — best-selling novelists, award-winning poets, music writers, culture critics, chefs, memoirists and more.”

With Orgera on board, the 2024 edition of Greensboro Bound should be quite a read. — Ross Howell Jr.