Tag Archives: southern

Southern Makers: Black Swamp

Up next in the O&P Southern Makers Series: Katie Thompson of Black Swamp.

Cypress Spiral Cuff from Black Swamp Co | Oysters & Pearls

I was fortunate enough to stumble across Katie Thompson’s work on Instagram, and I couldn’t get her spiral cuff bracelets out of my head.  Fortunately for me, Katie made me a few to choose from and sent one Cypress cuff (above) and a couple Black Walnut Cuffs (below) my way.  I couldn’t resist photographing them on another Low Country staple: a handcrafted Sweetgrass basket.  The two really make a perfect pairing.

Black Walnut Spiral Cuffs from Black Swamp Co | Oysters & Pearls

Just outside of Charleston, Katie and her husband Joseph live on the edge of Black Swamp, where together they design and build furniture at Joseph Thompson Woodworks.  Katie helps design the furniture and Joseph brings their visions to life.  In the midst of all this wood working, Katie found a way to breathe new life into the exquisite wood shavings left on the floor.  And so, Black Swamp Co. was born.  When I asked Katie about owning her own business she promptly replied, “I get to do what I love with the person I love!”  And each piece of jewelry from Black Swamp is a little labor of love.

Black Walnut Bracelet, Handmade by Katie Thompson at Black Swamp Co | Oysters & Pearls

My mom told me a story about how Black Walnut is so valuable, that once she went on vacation, and she came home to find that a neighboring, enormous Black Walnut tree had been felled in her absence.  Tree theft!  You can understand why though, when you look at how beautiful these Black Walnut cuffs are.  Katie used sapwood for these cuffs, which explains the color variation.

Two Black Walnut Cuff Bracelets, Handmade Outside Charleston, South Carolina by Black Swamp Co | Oysters & Pearls

The Cypress cuff is really special.  A sunken Cypress log washed up out of the swamp behind Katie and Joseph’s house, as if it knew it was destined for more than an eternity in the muck and mire.    After aging and drying out for three years, mine (below) was the first bracelet Katie made with it.

Sunken Cypress is so special because it is old growth Cypress.  Felled up to a century ago, the trees were easily 700 years old at that time.  When these trees were logged in and around the swamps of the Southeast, they were floated downriver to sawmills.  However, many of these logs sunk and were subsequently entombed in the beds of the rivers and swamps for the next century.  “Deadheaders” and “River Loggers” often dive for the submerged old growth Cypress logs and salvage them.  Katie was lucky enough to have one show up at her back door.  And I am lucky enough to have a small piece of it.

Sunken Pecky Cypress Bracelet from Black Swamp Co | Oysters & Pearls

To make the cuffs, Katie uses an ancient technique of steaming the wood, bending it around a form, then letting it dry for 24 hours.  She seals all her wooden jewelry with a water-proof and UV-proof sealant (although she doesn’t recommend wearing any of her pieces to the beach).

Black Walnut Spiral Cuff Bracelet by Black Swamp Co  | Oysters & Pearls

Katie also makes earrings and necklaces from their wood shop’s wood shavings.  Remember when I spotted her at the High Wire Distillery in Charleston?

20140504-195953.jpg

Turns out, High Wire is owned by Katie’s family – it’s such a small world!  If you’re in South Carolina, you can find Black Swamp at these fine retailers:

Canvas Salon – Charleston, SC

High Wire Distillery – Charleston, SC

SpaceCraft Studios – Charleston, SC

Cavortress – Mount Pleasant, SC

But thanks to the internet, we can all have a little piece of Black Swamp Co. to call our own.

Handmade Cypress Spiral Cuff by Katie Thompson at Black Swamp Co | Oysters & Pearls

See more of Katie and Joseph’s work at: www.jwtwoodworks.com

Read more from Katie herself on her blog: www.ktthompson.com

And shop Black Swamp Co. for yourself on her website: www.blackswamp.co

Until Next Time

Muscadine Jam + O&P’s One Year Anniversary!

Good morning!  And Happy Anniversary to Oysters & Pearls!!

I seriously cannot believe it’s been one year since I started this little ole blog.  It’s been such a fun experience, and I’m so happy I did it.  I love the conversation starter it has become around town, and I love the new people and bloggers I’ve met because of it, whether virtually or in person.  I can’t wait to see what this next year holds!

To celebrate, I was going to make an elaborate cake, or pie, or something that seemed befitting of such a special occasion.  However, that idea completely went out the window when I decided to make jam instead.  Which I suppose is fitting after all.  Simple and as Southern as it gets: Muscadine Jam.

Simple Muscadine Jam | Oysters & Pearls

No, this is absolutely not seasonal.  Muscadine grapes ripen near the end of August, and that’s when I picked these at my parents’ house.  Remember me mentioning that?  Let’s take a trip down memory lane, to a sunnier, warmer, and much tanner time.

Scuppernongs On The Vine | Oysters & Pearls

Muscadines on the Vine | Oysters & Pearls

Muscadine Grapes | Oysters & Pearls

Picking Grapes | Oysters & Pearls

Gold Muscadine Grapes | Oysters & Pearls

Gold Muscadine Grapes | Oysters & Pearls

Grapes | Oysters & Pearls

Both the purple and gold grapes are technically “muscadines.”  I grew up calling them all “scuppernongs.”  I’ve since learned that they are both muscadines, but the gold variety are scuppernongs.  Sort of like, a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not a square.  Ya mean?

Anyway, the absolute best way to eat these grapes is directly off the vine.  Pop the hull and spit out the seeds.

Muscadine Grapes | Oysters & Pearls

Purple and Gold Muscadine Grapes | Oysters & Pearls

Don’t you just feel warmer now?  I think I’m just about over this winter weather and ready for summer again.  Writing this post and editing these pictures from August really sealed the deal, and a reminder of summer through the pictures and the smell of these grapes cooking is exactly what I needed this week.  Is anybody else over winter?

Anyway, last August my Mom and I picked almost 8 gallons of grapes behind my parents’ house.

Purple and Gold Southern Muscadine Grapes | Oysters & Pearls

We washed them, separated them by color, and bagged them up.  I had big plans for jelly.  Or something.

Southern Muscadine Grapes | Oysters & Pearls

But then life got busy and in the way, and in a panic, I stuffed all the bags in our deep freezer.  Whole.  Turns out, that’s okay!  And last weekend, I got around to doing something with some of them.

Scuppernong Grapes (Muscadines) and Sugar | Oysters & Pearls

Using a recipe from one of my favorite food bloggers, Elena over at Biscuits & Such, I decided I would make a simple muscadine jam with a couple bags of grapes.  It didn’t work out perfectly, and my first two batches of the jam never really set.  However, I’ve since repeated the process a couple more times, figured out how to fix it, but also decided that this happy accident is perfectly all right with me.  Scuppernong Sauce is also the jam.

Scuppernong Grapes for Jam | Oysters & Pearls

Muscadine Jam Recipe
adapted from Biscuits & Such
makes 4 jelly-jars (half pint)

ingredients

– 2 pounds (1 gallon freezer bag full) muscadine grapes (any variety)
– 2 cups raw cane sugar
– juice of two meyer lemons (1 cup)
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1 packet Sure Jell Pectin

instructions

In a large sauce pan, combine grapes, sugar, lemon juice, and salt.  Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes until thick.  Stir in pectin and simmer an additional 10 minutes.  Note: this will take longer if you are using frozen grapes.  I put them in the pot frozen, and started the timer once they began to simmer.  Stir often to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pot, and smash the grapes against the side of the pot.
In a waterbath or your dishwasher, sanitize jars and lids.
Push the jam mixture through a mesh strainer to create a smooth jam, or leave the grapes intact for a chunky preserve.  I did the former.
Use a spoon or ladle to fill the jars, leaving a 1/4″ headspace.  Wipe the rims of the jars with a cloth and screw the bands down over the lids tightly.  Process jars for 10 minutes in boiling water, then remove to a dishcloth on your counter.  Let sit for 24 hours or overnight.  If any jars do not seal within 2 hours, immediately put them in the refrigerator.

Disclaimer: as with any canning or preserving, there’s always a slight risk of botulism.  If something doesn’t seal, stick it in the fridge.  If you have any concerns whatsoever, toss it.

Meyer Lemons and Sugar for Scuppernong Jam | Oysters & Pearls

I mentioned my happy Scuppernong Sauce accident because it’s awesome.  The problem lies in the straining process.  If you don’t push enough of the jam through a mesh strainer, your “jam” won’t set.  And pushing it through a mesh strainer is no joke.  You will have to do a lot of pushing.  I used the back of a wooden spoon as well as the bottom of a soup ladle.  Try to get as much pulp through as possible if you want a true jam that sets (jells).  However, if you want a delicious summery scuppernong/muscadine syrup/sauce that is delicious on ice cream, in yogurt, or on biscuits, by all means, don’t kill yourself with all that straining.  Because this stuff is the jam, whether or not it actually sets.

Muscadine or Scuppernong Jam | Oysters & Pearls

I am absolutely giddy with the idea of swirling some of this syrupy sauce into a batch of homemade vanilla ice cream this summer.  I can’t think of a more Southern summer dessert.

And have I mentioned it’s divine on a biscuit?

Simple Southern Breakfast- Biscuit with Scuppernong Jam | Oysters & Pearls

That goes for any time of year.  Including the frosty doldrums of this South Georgia winter.

Biscuit with Muscadine Jam | Oysters & Pearls

And although I would love to gift each and every one of my wonderful readers a jar of this Heavenly jam/syrup/sauce, I have another gift for you.  I like to make little labels on jars of jam I gift to those I love, and since I can’t give you the jar, I’ll give you the label.  Just print, write the type of jam you’re giving, and sign it.  It should fit perfectly on the lid of a jelly jar.

You're The Jam Printable | Oysters & Pearls

Because you, my dear readers, are indeed, the jam.  Thanks for making this one of my best years yet.

xoxo

Until Next Time

Southern Restoration Furniture’s Marc Ventry

Sunday afternoon, Wheat and I pulled up to an unassuming metal warehouse in downtown Quincy, Florida.  The only indication it wasn’t abandoned was a mailbox labeled “VENTRY,” and a box fan in an open sliding door.  Marc Ventry met us at the steps and led us to his “office:” a 2500 Chevy truck.

Marc Ventry | Oysters & Pearls

Marc pulled from the back of his “office” what we had come here for: a custom-made cutting board just for me, painstakingly built out of heart pine tobacco slats from his family farm.

Extra Large Custom Tobacco Slat Cutting Board by Marc Ventry | Oysters & Pearls

24″ by 24″ inches of gorgeous heart pine, steeped in history.

Custom Tobacco Slat Cutting Board | Oysters & Pearls

In case you’re wondering what tobacco slats are,  or even what heart pine is, let’s have a quick lesson.

Heart pine is the center of a pine tree, which is prized for its hardness, strength, longevity, resistance to rot, and beautiful coloration.  Old heart pine is most often from the center of the enormous long leaf pine trees that once blanketed the South.  Long leaf is a slow growing pine, and once the century old stands were felled for timber, the trees were most often replaced with slash pine, which is quick growing.  Between their short-lived replacements and lack of controlled burning, long leaf pines are pretty hard to find these days, especially in the numbers they once were.  The Nature Conservancy and some private landowners have made a big effort to restore the long leaf and wiregrass ecosystem, especially in my hometown of Bristol, Florida… But that’s another story for another day.

Back to the boards.  This part of North West Florida and South West Georgia was prime shade tobacco farming land back in the day (and some of it still goes on – our good friends at Hopkins Farms still farm tobacco).  Shade tobacco from the area was used as the outer wrapper on cigars.  When the tobacco was harvested, it was strung up on tobacco slats and hung in barns to dry.  Those hundred year old long leaf pines were turned into tobacco slats about eighty years ago, making this wood easily a couple hundred years old today.

Tobacco farming around these parts essentially went the way of the dinosaur by the 1970s, and many farmers turned to tomatoes.  The tobacco slats were repurposed for tomato stakes (or fire kindling), and the tobacco barns were repurposed into furniture and wedding venues.

But fortunately, some farmers just piled the slats up and shut the barn door.  Thus some of these slats are still around, and folks like Marc Ventry are turning these vestiges of farms past into present works of art.

Marc generously allowed us to poke around his workshop, and he even showed us how he makes his cutting boards, step by step.

First, Marc planes each slat down and glues them together with food-grade glue, clamping them together until the glue is dry.

Glued and Clamped Tobacco Slats for Cutting Board | Oysters & Pearls

Once the glue is dry, Marc has the bare bones of a cutting board.

Tobacco Slats Glued Together for Cutting Board | Oysters & Pearls

Beautiful, beautiful bones.

Tobacco Slats, Glued Together for Cutting Board | Oysters & Pearls

Even at this stage, you can tell this is going to be something special.

Edge of Unfinished Tobacco Slat Cutting Board | Oysters & Pearls

Next he runs the entire thing through his planer and cuts it in half crossways.  This way, the finished sides will match up perfectly.  He places more planed tobacco slats perpendicularly between the two sides for reinforcement and to keep it from bowing.  This, in turn, makes the edges the very prettiest part of the boards.

Tobacco Slat Cutting Board, Edge Detail | Oysters & Pearls

On the edge, you can see how the tobacco slats match up on both sides of the board, the wide color and pattern variation between the slats, and the care with which each slat was chosen and placed.
This attention to detail is what sets these cutting boards apart and makes them true works of art, rife with Southern history and family heirloom potential.

Finally, Marc rubs the finished boards down with a homemade mixture of oil and beeswax… from his own bee hives.

I know.

He even has his own line of beeswax products called Nunya Beeswax, which is completely awesome, and includes scented hand balm and chapstick.

Nunya Beeswax | Oysters & Pearls

Fortunately for me, he brought me these to sample.  I have since retired my Burt’s Bees chapstick, and I’ve been carrying one of each of these around with me at all times.  I love that the hand balm is lighter in my purse than a bottle of lotion and poses no risk of spillage.  And the lavender smells divine.

To top it all off, this renaissance man, who is even an organic farmer, builds furniture.  In addition to custom pieces for local furniture haven H&H Furniture in Havana, Florida and private clients, he also builds shabby chic furniture out of his collection of odds and ends and a plethora of old doors.

Old Door, Soon-to-be Shabby Chic Table | Oysters & Pearls

This door is destined to be a glass-covered table, and will eventually be available for sale, along with Nunya Beeswax products and his tobacco slat picture frames at Miss Mandy’s Cottage Living in Tallahassee, Florida.

Custom Tobacco Slat Picture Frame by Marc Ventry | Oysters & Pearls

This is a custom tobacco slat frame built for a customer that Marc happened to have on hand to show us.  A frame (or two, or ten) is next on my list of things to acquire from the Marc Ventry inventory.

Custom Tobacco Slat Picture Frame, Corner Detail | Oysters & Pearls

There has been a slow tip-toeing back to shopping local, back to caring about where our food comes from, back to purchasing high-quality, handmade goods.

Marc is a living, breathing testament to all of the above. We call products like his cutting boards “artisanal” these days because you can’t buy them at a mall.

I’d rather visit a saw-dusty warehouse and have a beer with an “artisan” any day.

Tobacco Slat Cutting Board | Oysters & Pearls

You can find Marc Ventry’s “artisanal” work at these fine local retailers:

Southern Restoration Furniture:
Miss Mandy’s Cottage, Tallahassee, Florida

H&H Furniture & Design, Havana, Florida

Nunya Beeswax:
Native Nurseries, Tallahassee, Florida
The Honey Tree, Tallahassee, Florida
Sew Woodstock, Bearsville, New York
Sweet Grass Dairy Cheese Shop, Thomasville, Georgia
The Queen Bee, Havana, Florida
Shine Jewelry Boutique, Tallahassee, Florida

For custom work inquiries, email Marc at marcventry@gmail.com.
You can purchase his tobacco slat cutting boards, frames, and see more of Marc’s work at www.southernrestorationfurniture.com

You can follow along with Marc’s many adventures on Instagram @marcventure

This is not a sponsored post. I am simply smitten with these uniquely Southern and “artisanal” local goods.

20130818-170606.jpg