FacebookTwitterPinterestYouTubeGoogle PlusInstagram

JCVB Blog

The Johnston County Visitors Bureau BLOG is published weekly with news and feature articles on visiting the county.

Johnston County Hams and Christmas

Johnston County Hams and Christmas

Update: This blog was originally posted last year around this time. It remains an important statement about what Johnstonians hold dear during the holidays and at other time of strife and joy. The making and sharing of food is a language of its own. A Johnston County Ham on the table at Christmas is a gift that can be shared. Rufus Brown and his team's hard work paid off this year especially. The 2016 "Made in America: Gifts From Each of the 50 States" list in Parade Magazine has a Johnston County ham as the gift to get from North Carolina. Hams can be purchased from the Ham Shop in Smithfield or ordered online through the Johnston County Hams website

Blog Post Originally Titled As Long As There is You and Food

In a recent article published on the Southern Foodways Alliance website, Johnston County native Emily Wallace discussed the battle between Smithfield, VA and Smithfield, NC to be Ham Capital of the World. The article, called Ham to Ham Combat is both fascinating and funny. You can read it here.

More importantly, her interview with Johnston County Hams owner Rufus Brown produced quite the interesting quote, highlighted below.


Today, Brown says, the majority of local customers buy hams just once a year for their holiday tables. Folks call relentlessly. “I tell some of the people who work here, I say, ‘Listen. Their whole house could burn down, they could lose all their presents, but if their refrigerator made it through the fire with that ham in it, that Christmas would be fine,'” says Brown. “They say, ‘Nah, you’re crazy!’ But I say, ‘Once you get through one Christmas, you’ll see.'”


As a native of Johnston County myself, I can add validity to Brown's conviction that what matters most to locals around the holidays is food. It always seemed particularly cruel to me that the Grinch not only took presents and decorations, but emptied out the contents of all the kitchens in Whoville. What sort of monster takes the Roast Beast?! Johnston County Hams

This notion stems from a deep belief I have ingrained in me as a southerner that any obstacle, hardship, or unpleasantness we face shrinks to insignificance when we gather around a table filled with food and good company. And maybe that's not strictly southern, maybe it is simply human. But, our belief that presents and decorations are secondary to the tradition of a holiday meal shared with friends and family is not the only "food tradition" that southerners hold dear.

In fact, a good look at the history of southern hospitality reveals an unwavering notion that food is how you show that you care. When a family suffers a tragedy, when a new neighbor moves in, and on every major holiday, people provide food in support and in solidarity. As we mourn together and celebrate together, Johnstonians know that the best way to say 'I love you' or even 'Merry Christmas' is through providing nourishment - pies, cakes, casseroles, pudding, and, yes, ham. Below is a picture of the coveted Johnston County Christmas ham.


Instead of attempting to describe how amazing this ham is, I'll let Johnston County Hams do it for me, "For over 60 years and across two generations of renowned curemasters, we at Johnston County Hams in Smithfield, North Carolina have hand crafted "cured" country hams inspired by the techniques used by America's early colonists."

Another family-owned Johnston County establishment catering to our obsession with food is Atkinson Milling Company. Open since 1757, no I did not type a number wrong, and owned by the Wheeler family going on three generations now.

I asked Andrew Wheeler, third generation Wheeler at Atkinson's, to share what Christmas means to his family. He said that Christmas for the Wheeler family is always celebrated on Christmas Eve at Grandma and Papa's house (that's Betty and Ray Wheeler, the first Wheelers to own Atkinson's Mill, pictured below), "Traditionally, Grandma cooked the whole spread. The foods that are Wheeler family traditions are fresh greens, Grandma's macaroni and cheese, a BIG pot of chicken pastry (Atkinson's of course) and hushpuppies (obviously Atkinson's as well!). The greens are always grown and delivered that week by Colon and Coy Batten, longtime Wheeler family friends."

Ray and Betty Wheeler
But he can't just list the food, because, as I have pointed out, food means more than something to eat, it means heritage and home, "Papa loves Grandma's homemade macaroni and cheese, so it is a staple. And Grandma always made the best pastry. It was perfectly seasoned and never stuck together. The hushpuppies are significant to our family because our Atkinson's Regular Hushpuppy Mix was Grandma's own personal recipe and the very first product our company ever made after plain cornmeal."

"After everyone eats, all 34 of us (yes there are 34 of us, hence the BIG pot of pastry) pile into the living room to open gifts. In recent years Papa has taken over the gifting from Grandma and it is always a lot of fun to see what he picked out for everyone. He gets all the grandchildren a gas card and a funny gift. For example, last year my wife received a bottle of aftershave and I got a can of soup. It is always a treat to laugh at everyone's crazy gifts and his unique spellings of all our names (Papa is known for his inventive spelling). While all the gifting is going on some of the children and grandchildren have a little wrapping paper fight. Grandma scolds everyone saying that she is going to take a switch to us all. In my 26 years she never has; we're all starting to think she's not entirely serious."

Atkinson offers a wide range of cornmeals, biscuit mixes, breaders, and grits. The best product for the holidays, in my opinion, is the Atkinson's Cinnamon Flake Biscuit Mix. Try using it to make the cinnamon roll recipe on our website here. You can get more Johnston County Christmas recipes here.

No matter your holiday tradition, favorite foods, or family recipes, I hope that you, like the Wheelers, are gathering together with those closest to you. Merry Christmas from Johnston County! May your new year be filled with more nourishment then a slice of Johnston County Ham on top of a warm, buttery Atkinson Milling Company biscuit.

Continue reading
631 Hits

Savory & Sweet Potato Recipes

Savory & Sweet Potato Recipes


Fall is for cool weather and warm comforting food, which means we've added more recipes to our on-going, online collection. This Fall we've found 4 sweet potato recipes and one butternut squash bonus recipe. Johnston County is one of the top county's in North Carolina for sweet potato production. We have a long history of trying to work sweet potatoes into everything from a traditional casserole to the breakfast and dessert tables. The unique flavor of sweet potatoes makes them an idyllic ingredient that can be utilized in both sweet and savory ways. The butternut squash recipe is a twist on a classic pasta carbonara dish. Serve a steaming bowl of it at your next dinner party to bring Fall flavor and carbolicious comfort food together.

If you would like a recommendation on how to get a hold of some delicious, locally-grown, Johnston County sweet potatoes, look no further than the Clayton Farm and Community Market. Their winter hours are every other Saturday from 10AM to 1PM and this Saturday the 29th there will be free Halloween fun for families. Click on a recipe below to give it a try and let us know how it went on our Johnston County Visitors Bureau Facebook page here. Happy Fall Ya'll!

Leftover Sweet Potato Casserole, Brie and Bacon Grilled Cheese

Sweet Potato Tots

Baked Sweet Potato Donuts with Dark Chocolate with Coconut

Sweet Potato Hash with Baked Eggs Recipe

Bonus: Butternut Squash Alfredo Pasta


Continue reading
583 Hits

Local Caterer Appears on Food Network's Cake Wars

Local Caterer Appears on Food Network's Cake Wars

Copied with permissions By Keith Barnes and the Kenly News

Joyce Jenkins of The Serving Spoon in Pine Level appeared as assistant to her daughter, Charlise Johnson, a Smithfield native who now lives in Atlanta, on Food Network’s “Cake Wars” last week making it to the final round of the high-profile competition.

“Cake Wars” episode, which aired on Monday evening, Sept. 5, featured the Johnston County team and followed four bakers competing in two timed elimination-style rounds. Each baker was vying for a chance at a $10,000 prize but only one master cake artist got the chance to walk away with the top prize. The team of Jenkins and Johnson County beat out two other baking teams before being eliminated in the final round of competition.

Jenkins is owner of The Serving Spoon located at 212 N. Peedin Ave. in Pine Level and has been a caterer in Johnston County for 13 years. Johnson graduated from Smithfield-Selma High School and now lives in the Atlanta area where she launched her custom cake-baking business in 2013.

“She’s been cooking with me since she was three years old and she’s 36 now,” said Jenkins. To get on the show Charlise Johnson sent in a video and her entry was selected by the judges leading to an invitation to come to California and compete.

“For the show the contestants each were allowed to get an assistant,” said Jenkins. “She asked me if I’d help her because she felt the most confident with me.”

“One contestant was from Pennsylvania, one was from New Jersey and the other was from California,” said Jenkins. “They were pretty formidable opponents.”

“They give you a list of ingredients that you have to choose from,” said Jenkins. “We made a lemon basil cake with tomato jam and used ricotta cream cheese icing and a sweet potato cake and whipped cream icing.”

Jenkins said every bit had to be prepared from scratch and they were given no hints or clues prior to the competition of what they would be doing. “It was an enjoyable experience,” said Jenkins. “We had fun and enjoyed meeting the other bakers who we became very good friends with before we left. I’m so happy Charlise took me along for the ride.”

“The biggest thing I got out of it was that I got to help my daughter grow her brand,” said Jenkins. “Anytime I can help my children succeed in life I’ll be there 100 percent.”

Earlier this year at the Johnston County Arts and Food Festival Gala held at Johnston Community College The Serving Spoon took home two top prizes winning in the most original dish and best appetizer categories.

Continue reading
1218 Hits

Just Peachy

Just Peachy

Honestly, what is there to say about peaches that you don't already know? Quite possibly my favorite fruit. Versatile, sweet, and juicy these pink/orange fuzzy fruits are good in dishes from appetizers all the way to the dessert course. I like to bite into them on a hot day like an apple myself. And don't get me started on peach ice cream. Amazing. Summertime magic. I've given you peach recipes in the past from mojitos to cobbler. To switch it up I've provided a peach green tea with a spiked-up option, a peach coffee cake you can enjoy guilt-free for breakfast, and an appetizer dish that will make you the hostess with the most-ess at your next party.

Iced Peach Green Tea

Brie, Basil, Bacon, and Peach Pastry Puff


In Johnston County, Thompson Orchards is the best place to get your peaches - and creamy, homemade peach ice cream. Thompson Orchards is family-owned and family-grown, located on Highway 701 South (I-95 Exit 90, 5 miles south). Locals and visitors make sure to stop in each summer for not just homegrown peaches but other produce, veggies, and other goodies.

Here are the orchard's hours this weekend:
Saturday, July 9 9:00am-6:00pm
Sunday, July 10 1:00pm-6:00pm

Be sure to stay dailed-in to their Facebook page for announcement of hours for the remainder of the season.

Continue reading
885 Hits

Meet JoCo's 'Que Competition Master

Meet JoCo's 'Que Competition Master

In eastern North Carolina we like our barbeque simple. You could call us purist. Whole hog. Pulled. Splash of vinegar. But the great thing about barbeque is its tendency to be geographically dependent. If I say barbeque in Tennessee or in Texas or in Oklahoma, there's no telling what's gonna end up on my plate. It makes for some confusing moments, some great eatin', and some intense competitions.

Johnston County resident Jerry Stephenson Jr. knows all about intense competition, he enters about 17 to 24 KCBS competitions a year; for the un-indoctrinated that means the Kansas City Barbeque Society. The KCBS is the world's largest organization of barbeque and grilling enthusiasts to the tune of over 20,000 worldwide members. Jerry is one half of a winning barbeque cooking team called Redneck Scientific, the other half being his sister. They grew up on a farm in eastern NC and Jerry says he learned his 'que skills from watching others cook whole hogs, "I just watched and learned. Then I cooked pigs myself later in college for the fraternities, sororities, and the rugby team for extra spending money."

Jerry says that he loves the simplicity of the whole hog approach to barbeque, a man after my own heart, "Low and slow cooking over coals that are burned down from logs. The coals are shoveled into precise places to cook the hog perfectly." Although Jerry likes to tiptoe out of my simplicity circle, going one step above vinegar to put a little Texas Pete on his pulled pork sandwich. That, he says, is his favorite type of barbeque. Fair enough. Although the Oklahoma relatives on my mother's side politely disagree.


Going Whole Hog


But how does one go from being a barbeque enthusiast to a barbeque master? Well, you sign-up and then you hope for the best. Jerry started cooking competitions with homemade barrel smokers that he also sold. He eventually trademarked the name of the ovens to Redneck Convection Ovens or RCOs. The name of his team and business, Redneck Scientific, was derived from these homemade smokers. With the help of the RCOs Jerry won a top ten nod in ribs during his first KCBS competition. In the next competition Redneck Scientific got 2 top ten nods in pork and again in ribs. Jerry says he was hooked.

"I still remember the first Grand Championship we won in 2011 at Squealin' on the Square in Laurens, SC. We placed top ten in all 4 KCBS categories (chicken, ribs, pork butt, and beef brisket)." Though Jerry was raised on the whole hog life, he enters all categories when he cooks. And often wins at them. And he doesn't deviate from the process he has for cooking each type of barbeque, whether it's pulled pork or brisket.

"My competition starts on Wednesday night when I make sauces and rubs for that week’s competition. On Thursday night I trim all of our meats and load our trailer to leave the next day.  Typically, we like to arrive around noon on the day before a competition. Once we arrive, we have our meats inspected and then inject some of the meats. Around 10 pm that night, I light my smoker and go to bed.  I usually get up sometime between 2AM and 5AM and put my big meats on. My competition day then begins at 5AM with a schedule that I follow every single time."

Sorry folks, that's as detailed as you're gonna get. A magician never reveals his tricks. I can tell you that all of Redneck Scientific's meats are procured locally. But any good competitor knows that a certain amount of superstition goes into the process, "I wear the same Superman shirt that I wore at my first competition, but I'm not really superstitious beyond that. My sister is a whole other story."

The female 50% of Redneck Scientific maybe has some winning history behind the superstition. Jerry's sister, Roxanne Manley, uses the ancillary contests at the barbeque events to showcase her skills as well, beating out 350+ teams at last year's American Royal World Series of BBQ to win Side Dish Champion. You go girl!

Rounding out the Redneck Scientific team are Jerry's wife Liz Stephenson and their two daughters Elle and Fiona. They all travel together to competitions as far away as Las Vegas, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Redneck Scientific has been competing since 2011 and has had their name called in at least a top ten placement or higher over 200 times. That's a lot of wins, folks. Jerry creates his own sauces and cooks on Backwoods Smokers. The team is sponsored by Royal Oak Charcoal, BBQ Guru controllers, Oakridge BBQ rubs, Q Company Backwood Smokers, and Mojobricks.


Getting a Taste of Redneck Scientific


I know what you're thinking. How can I get my hands on some of this amazing barbeque? Well, I've helpfully posted up the Redneck Scientific schedule below. In addition, you can have them cater your next event. Yes, you can have Redneck Scientific personally feed up to 2,500 of your friends and family.

"We offer full service catering all over the Triangle area.  We have an established group of clients we feed each year.  We can cater for 25 or 2500+ people. Our catering menu can be found on our website. I’m also a 50% partner with a friend out of Charlotte and we vend up and down the East Coast at festivals.  Our vending company is called “The Redneck Bubba” after his BBQ team (BubbaJacks) and ours (Redneck Scientific) and you can find more information on that at www.RedneckBubba.com."

So, what is in the future for Jerry and his team? A restaurant perhaps? In Johnston County? He says that I, and everyone else, will have to wait and see, "I can't speak to a restaurant just yet, but the future of the competition team is my two little girls. They're already clambering to cook a meat or 2 in competition. Hopefully, they'll take over and I'll just get to watch like my Dad used to."

Well, if indeed a restaurant does happen I will be the first in line with a fork in my hand. In the meantime, Jerry has a ton of competitions lined up and a lot of cooking and winning to do this year still. While I would recommend a nice Double Barley or Deep River brew to go with your que', Jerry is ever the traditionalist, "I just think it goes really well with sweet tea." That's what I told my Oklahoma relatives about brisket and they almost made me sleep in the storm cellar. Just kiddin'.

Jerry is an eastern North Carolina traditionalist about another thing too, the bonds that keep him tied to barbeque and coming back to compete year after year, "Learning to cook whole hog at an early age left an appreciation in me for the unique taste of eastern NC pulled pork. But, more than that, it impressed upon me the camaraderie and fellowship that comes from standing around a pit."

Cheers to that and good luck this year!


Redneck Scientific Schedule


DC BBQ Battle  6/24 Washington, DC
Deep River Brewing vending 6/30 + 7/3
Festival of Discovery 7/8  Greenwood SC
Smoke in the Valley  7/22  Maggie Valley NC
Pigs and Pedals  8/5  Asheboro, NC
Sams Club Richmond VA  8/12
Sams Club Charleston SC  8/26
Low Country Fest 9/2 Charleston SC
Beak Week 9/9 Goldsboro NC
Tilley HD Bike Blues and BBQ  9/16 Salisbury NC
Butts and Beans  9/23  Newton NC
Squealin in the Square  9/30 Laurens SC
East Carolina BBQ Throwdown  10/7  Rocky Mount, NC
Smoking in the Foothills 10/14  Lenior NC
American Royal World Series of BBQ  10/28 Kansas City, MO
Hog Happenin  11/4  Shelby NC
World Food Championships  11/11 Orange Beach, AL

Continue reading
1672 Hits

Beer Wine & Shine Trail

beer wine and shine trail logo

Travel around the county to four award-winning wineries, two breweries and get a taste of brandy along the way!  Receive a Free $30 coupon book when you complete the trail.

Read more...

Meeting Planners

meeting venue with presentation screen

Johnston County offers conveniently located and affordable conference facilities for meetings, reunions, and unique destination weddings sites.  Why not select a historic home or horse farm for your next event?

Read more...

Group Tour Operators

girl with camera in travel group

Groups have discovered exits along I-40 and I-95 for outlet shopping, music theatre, museums and heritage sites.  Call today for custom itinerary planning.

Read more...

Hotel Packages

hotel bed and pillow with johnston county logo

We have created several special hotel packages including a Girlfriends Getaway for outlet shopping, we know you need a break and great deals on shoes!  Click here to book your getaway today.

Read more...

hospitality heroes logo

FREE TRAINING

 

Check out what other travelers say about Johnston County, North Carolina on TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor
Go to top