LUMBERTON — For those who think that North Carolina can’t grow grapes fit for a fine wine, Ginger King has evidence to the contrary.
“The president of Italy visited the United States,” King said, “and the wine that President Obama selected to present to him came from North Carolina.”
King, a funds manager at Bladen Community College, has spent several years sampling the state’s sweet nectar. And for those who think wine is only for drinking, King has something to say about that, too.
In fact, she wrote a book on the matter. It took her three years.
“I didn’t plan to write a book. My friend wanted to travel and do wine tastings,” King said. “When I went back and looked at my notes, I noticed that all my tasting notes focused on what food I would prepare with the wine.”
Those notes scribbled at vineyards across the state would eventually turn into a book that combines food and drink in unlikely recipes.
“Carolina Wine Country Cooking” details recipes that include “wines from the Carolina vines.” The 66-page, easy-to-carry, fold and keep-in-your-bag-book features 50 recipes like Fish Tacos with Reisling Relish.
When the self-described “Iron Chef’s country cousin” started cooking with the drink, the ideas grew as abundantly as muscadine grapes on the vine.
“Muscadine grapes used to grow wild all throughout North Carolina,” King said. “I remember them from my childhood.”
The sweet grapes that are made into Scuppernong wine can be found on what is known as the Mother Vine, a plant on Roanoke Island thought to be one of the oldest in the United States. They can also be found in King’s recipes, such as Scuppernong Swirl Ice Cream.
“One thing I found is that the Scuppernong wine and the Scuppernong blush wine in particular — with anything with black pepper or bell peppers or jalapeno peppers — gives a depth of flavor,” King said. “You don’t taste the super sweetness of the wine and you don’t get an empowerment of the pepper. It just adds a deep, rich flavor.”
“Carolina Wine Country Cooking” all started at the Book ‘Em North Carolina writers and publishers conference in February of last year. And while cooking and a love of writing is what landed King at the event, it was cooking with wine that gave her a big break.
“I asked a question about self-publishing a family reunion cookbook I was working on,” King said. “The person I asked happened to be Mike Simpson from Second Wind Publishing.”
In addition to inquiring about her cookbook, King was also there to get information about a career in writing. She had recently been laid off from her corporate job, and she was searching for other career paths.
Simpson happened to be part-owner of Barnhills in Winston-Salem, a dual wine shop and book store.
“Through our conversation, I mentioned that I had several recipes that use Carolina wines in it, and he stopped dead in his tracks and started looking for a business card. He told me he was a publisher,” King said. “I sent him a few recipes and he emailed me back and said there is real interest here because we feel there is definitely a market. I felt the same way. If something like this would have been available at the vineyards I was visiting, I would have picked it up.”
Ever since the encounter, King’s situation — much like wine itself — has gotten better with time. She will be signing “Carolina Wine Country Cooking” at the next Book ‘Em North Carolina event on Feb. 23.
As she sits in the Bladen Community College library speaking softly about using wine to icing on cakes, “Carolina Wine Country Cooking” sits in local vineyards and others across the state. It costs $16.95 and can be found at the Stephens Vineyard in Lumberton and Winery and the Lu Mil Vineyard in Duplin.
Much like the unlikely pairings in her recipes, King’s plans for the future are made bolder by the ingredients that make up her past.
“‘Carolina Wine County Cooking’ is the first in a series,” she said. “We want to do about seven total, some featuring vintners, different chefs who use wine and their restaurants, and some focused on the seasons.”