May 5, 2016

Like Alice Ammerman, Marcie Cohen Ferris, PhD, has focused her research on food in North Carolina and the American South. Ferris, professor in the UNC Department of American Studies, is co-leading the university’s “Food for All” theme with Ammerman.

“Coming together to partner on this theme is delightful because we have worked together previously on the issues of health, nutrition, food justice, food access and creating food studies on campus and in the larger Triangle community,” says Ferris. “We share a lot of the same undergraduate food activists who are interested and involved in the Real Food Challenge and UNC student organizations such as FLO – for Fair, Local, Organic Food.”

Ferris says her most recent book, The Edible South: The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region, examines the intersection of nutrition, Southern food, poverty and public health at the turn of the 20th century.

“There is a history behind the contemporary poverty, malnutrition, diabetes and obesity that we see in the contemporary South which is the result of a shifting economy and agriculture industry in the region,” she says. “At the same time, Southern foods are celebrated with celebrity chefs and locally sourced ingredients. Our region is both loved and maligned.”

Dr. Marcie Cohen Ferris (Photo by Kate Medley)

Dr. Marcie Cohen Ferris (Photo by Kate Medley)

Ferris is excited about the potential outcomes of the “Food for All” theme. “One example is the Edible Campus initiative being facilitated by Chancellor’s Fellow Emily Auerbach,” says Ferris. “Emily is involved with reshaping many areas around campus that will be replanted as edible seasonal campus gardens.”

Ferris recounts an entry in the food diary kept by undergraduate Kristen Lee as part of Ferris’s class, “Food and American Studies: Cooking Up a Storm.”

“Kristen was tired, had no time and had nothing green at home one evening at dinner time,” says Ferris. “But she lived close enough to campus to go get kale from a planter box and add it to her pasta. That was exciting to me! Those small changes can increase the quality of life on campus. Food is so much about joy, color, taste and texture; we want to offer a rich, full landscape for everyone on our campus.”

—Michele Lynn

See an interview with Ferris on UNC- TV’s “Bookwatch.”

Marcie Cohen Ferris’ recipe for N.C. Sweet Potato and Apple Latkes

1.5 lbs. sweet potatoes (about 3 medium), peeled
1 large apple (choose your favorite N.C. variety), unpeeled, cut into quarters and cored
3 scallions, thinly sliced
4 large eggs
3⁄4 cup matzoh meal or all-purpose flour
1 t. kosher salt
3⁄4 t. freshly ground black pepper
Canola oil for frying

Fit a food processor with the grating/shredding blade. Cut the sweet potatoes to fit in the food processor’s feed tube. Using the food processor (or by hand, with the coarse side of a box grater), coarsely shred sweet potatoes and apple. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the scallions, eggs, matzoh meal, salt and pepper. Mix well with your hands, until mixture is cohesive.

Using about 1⁄4-cup mixture for each, make 2.5” to 3” patties, shaping them firmly yet gently, so they don’t compact too much, yet don’t fall apart. Place patties on a sheet of foil or baking sheet. Heat the oven to 200°F to keep latkes warm.

In a large, heavy skillet over medium heat, warm 3 T. oil until hot. Add 4 to 5 latkes (don’t crowd the pan) and cook, turning once or twice, until nicely golden and crisp on both sides. (Watch carefully, as these scorch easily.) Transfer cooked latkes to paper towels to drain, and then transfer to a platter to keep warm in the oven. Repeat frying latkes, adding more oil to the pan as needed. Serve warm.

Makes 20-22 latkes. Serve with applesauce, cranberry sauce or all by themselves.

Dr. Ferris and Miriam Rubin developed this recipe for the UNC Press blog.

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