FacebookTwitterPinterestYouTubeGoogle PlusInstagram

JCVB Blog

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

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
582 Hits

The Perfect Tomato Sandwich is a Simple One

The Perfect Tomato Sandwich is a Simple One

Home-grown Tomato Sandwich!

Johnston County is one of the fastest growing counties in North Carolina, but our roots are still in the soil and our agricultural heritage is strong. Our farmer's are very visible at the NC Farmer's Market in Raleigh as the spring and summer crops are being harvested which starts with sweet strawberries in April and blueberries in June and July. By the time August rolls around, the bounty is rich and plentiful with corn, peaches, okra, and more. But there is one crop that brings out the amateur farmer in us all -- the tomato.

Tomatoes will grow very well in planters and raised beds and many families grow this red, juicy, tasty, fruit in the backyard. As the tomatoes start getting ripe on the vine, the anticipation for that first tomato sandwich begins. It's a simple recipe, but one that in a way defines summertime in the South.

Tomato Sandwich Recipe

  • 1 medium size ripe tomato (homegrown, of course)
  • 2 slices bread like Pepperidge Farm Country White
  • 1 Tablespoon Duke’s Mayonnaise (do not substitute)
  • Salt and pepper

Wash and cut the tomato into thick slices. Spread the mayonnaise onto both slices of the bread. Make sure to spread the mayonnaise to the edge of each slice of bread. Place the tomato slices on one piece of bread. Add salt and pepper. Cover with the second slice of bread, mayonnaise side down, of course. Cut the sandwich into two pieces and enjoy the best tomato sandwich ever.

If simple just isn't your thing, try for a bit of avocado on there. Or, turn two recipes into one by substituting the ripe red tomatoes on your sandwich for fried green ones. Yum!

If tomatoes are not growing in your back yard, and you need to find a reliable source there are several options in the county. On the weekend, local farmer's markets like the Clayton Community Farm Market are great places to find a bounty of crop vegetables . Other options are Lee's Produce in Clayton and Smith's Farm in the McGee's Crossroads area.

Wherever you find your tomatoes and other summer fruits and vegetables, we hope you try some of the recipes we have on our site and that you will shop with our local farmers.

To find our more about visiting local farms in the county, visit our website, www.johnstoncountync.org/agritourism.

Continue reading
687 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

S is for Spring and Strawberries

S is for Spring and Strawberries

I enjoy a good strawberry - perfectly ripe, red and sweet, but not too mushy. It's like biting into the sweet moment between Spring and Summer. All that aside, I don't think about strawberries much. And unless it's April in Johnston County, I don't write about them either. However, in the year that I have been writing and working for the Johnston County Visitors Bureau I have been astounded by the number of people who LOVE strawberries.

No other post on this blog or on the JCVB Facebook page amasses likes, loves, shares, and general interest like the one time of year I post about strawberries. What is it about this fruit? Is it their flexibility in cooking - good in anything from BBQ sauce to cupcake icing? Is it the idyllic picture they present of warm days during childhood spent in a berry patch? Could it be that the strawberry is the favorite fruit of most people, a hypothesis yet untested by science? I may never know. But, what I do know is that these delicious red berries are in season and it's time to celebrate.
Strawberries and Cream Scones
Lucky for you strawberry lovers, The Greater Cleveland Chamber of Commerce has been busy planning The Annual Strawberry Festival. The festival takes place Saturday, April 23rd from 9am – 4pm and is one of the biggest events in the Cleveland Township. This year's event will be even bigger. There will be an assortment of vendors, businesses, arts & crafts, face painting, games for all ages, and a ton of food including stuffed strawberries. Yum!

There is no admission charge to this event thanks to wonderful, local sponsors. So, if you're passing through make sure to stop in for red, ripe strawberries and fun! This event takes place right off of I-40 at exit 312. And let's not forget that the festival includes local farms selling strawberries - you can buy some to make the recipes provided below. Let us know how your strawberry and cream scones turn out, or share pictures of your other strawberry creations over at our Facebook page.

Strawberry Sangria

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Stout Brownies

Strawberries and Cream Scones

Strawberry Banana Popsicles


Continue reading
1033 Hits

Food Takes Center Stage at Ham & Yam Festival

Food Takes Center Stage at Ham & Yam Festival

Join Us for the 32nd Ham & Yam Festival


It's time for the Smithfield Ham & Yam Festival in Downtown Smithfield, scheduled for May 7th with a wealth of activities for the entire family. The Ham & Yam Festival is a celebration of the agricultural history of Johnston County. The area was once a rural farmland where hog farmers and sweet potato growers made a living. Because of this, the focus of the festival remains food. Attendees can find many varieties of hams and yams at the festival – barbecue from the cook-off, country ham biscuits, hot dogs, sweet potato fries, and yam desserts. For the complete schedule of events and all things Ham & Yam visit the official website

We've managed to snag a recipe for you to try at home, but you can also get one while at the festival in May. The sweet potato mixes very well with sweet and savory flavors. Sweet potatoes are also nutritious. The smoothie will therefore be both good and good for you!

Yam SmoothieYam Smoothie

Courtesy of A Culinary Flair

3/4 cup baked sweet potato (flesh only)
1 ripe banana
1/4 cup fresh strawberries
1 tablespoon Sugar in the Raw
Dash of cinnamon
Dash of ground ginger powder
4 to 5 cubes of ice

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend on high to a smooth creamy consistency.
Adjust taste by adding sugar, cinnamon and ginger.
You can substitute frozen strawberries instead of fresh.
Pour into a 10-12 ounce glass and enjoy a healthy drink.

Ham & Yam is also about family fun and entertainment. There are craft vendors, as well as games and rides. Three stages include performances throughout the day. James Wesley will headline this year. The concert is free and is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 7. With his whiskey-smooth voice, Wesley sings directly to real people about real things that profoundly affect real lives—and from his small-town upbringing to his blue-collar work ethic, he has a deep understanding of what those folks are longing to hear. 

One of the top rising stars in country music, Wesley found a new level of exposure as the opening act for Taylor Swift’s Speak Now Tour, and has released several singles. In 2015, Wesley partnered with Calcutta to produce the single and music video “Hooked Up,” a song inspired by anglers who chase blue marlin at the legendary Big Rock off the coast of Morehead City. You can see that video below.

Continue reading
1136 Hits

As Long As There Is You and Food

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?!

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.

Johnston County Hams
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
1405 Hits

A Simple Twist of Fate

A Simple Twist of Fate

A Simple Twist of Fate     

People tell me it's a sin
To know and feel too much within
I still believe she was my twin, but I lost the ring
She was born in spring, but I was born too late
Blame it on a simple twist of fate.
-Bob Dylan

In the immortal words of Bob Dylan, blame it on a simple twist of fate. Nathan and Colleen Roby named their little-restaurant-that-could Simple Twist. And so it seems that the providence of that namesake has carried them into the present with not one, but two thriving locations.

The restaurant business is not for the faint of heart. It takes hard work and long hours. But Colleen credits their success to the locals for the passion they have shown for Simple Twist through their patronage, "we opened the first location in Garner in June 2014 and community support helped to make it an instant success."Simple Twist Burger

Both excellent service and fresh, unique cuisine choices help to set Simple Twist apart. Colleen and Nate - who runs the kitchen and sets the menu - have developed partnerships with local producers, "we have close relationships with farmers in the area that have brought us all kinds of locally grown produce. We only serve Certified Angus Beef, the best kind of beef you can get. We use high quality ingredients to create delicious meals."

It's this same dedication to sourcing that carries over into the quality of the food. Colleen stated that the restaurant also works hard to keep menu items homemade, "Everything is made from scratch, there is hardly anything in the freezer." She points out, "In fact, we converted a large 2 door freezer into a cooler when we first opened since we did not need the space for freezing product." Cool.

Customers can taste the love and passion that goes into every bite and they showed their appreciation by showing up. A lot. In June 2015 Simple Twist opened a second location here in Smithfield to keep up with demand. Smithfield's residents and workforce couldn't be happier.

And the restaurant's business keeps growing. Nathan and Colleen just recently decided to extend their hours at the Smithfield location, "we plan to open Sundays starting August 30th. We will have Bloody Marys and Mimosas served with our regular menu, and will be open from 11AM-4PM." Simple Twist is also working with the Johnston County Visitors Bureau on initiatives that will bring visitors into Johnston County and into Simple Twist. You can read about the Girlfriends Getaway Hotel Package here.

One thing I suggest you don't leave up to a simple twist of fate is a visit to this restaurant. Click here to print a coupon for your first visit. I absolutely love the twisted guacamole. It includes three of my favorite things - avocados, bacon, and bleu cheese. Yum! Click on the video below to watch Chef Nathan Roby whip up this amazing appetizer.

Continue reading
4702 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