Jen Nathan Orris [00:00:05] This is Skillet, the podcast where we cook together and listen to each other. I’m Jen Nathan Orris. Here on Skillet, we collaborate with chefs, cooks and bakers. We ask them to pick a recipe that brings back memories, then I go over to their home and we cook the dish together. We talk about the people and places behind the recipe and the moments in our lives that were shaped by food.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:00:30] A lot of folks in the show are inspired by old family recipes, but sometimes there are ingredients or methods that don’t suit their modern tastes. So they switch it up – like braising oxtails in stock instead of water, or using a mixer instead of whipping cream by hand.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:00:46] For Joe Bowie Jr., classic recipes are a jumping off point for new ideas. He favors whole grains over white flour and its breads and bagels, and he likes to put a healthy-ish spin on desserts. One of his favorites is a riff on his mom’s sour cream pound cake, which is actually a take on his late father’s pound cake. These days, when Joe is making the family cake, he does it his way. He swaps some of the white flour for almond flour, and substitutes buttermilk for sour cream. But the love he bakes into each slice is just like mom and dad used to make.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:01:19] Even Joe’s parents weren’t prepared for his long and winding career path. He grew up in the Midwest and was a dedicated student all through college. His whole family thought he’d become a doctor, maybe a pediatric oncologist. Then some twists and turns brought him to New York City where he became a professional dancer. He performed around the world and back and then fell into baking, first as a hobby and then as a career.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:01:44] When we spoke a few months ago, Joe was on the verge of another big move. I was curious to learn what’s next for this dancer-turned-baker and to hear about how his family’s pound cake recipe has evolved over the years.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:01:56] So I went over to Joe’s house in Columbia, South Carolina.
[00:02:02] [car door].
Jen Nathan Orris [00:02:03] Joe’s husband and their dog, Avery, met me in the driveway.
[00:02:08] [dog barking].
Jen Nathan Orris [00:02:08] Joe is such a great host. He has an array of homemade cookies on the table, including his famous golden sugar cookies made with turmeric and ginger. Everything is ready in the kitchen, including a scale to weigh each ingredient down to the gram. So let’s turn things over to professional dancer and self-described bread nerd Joe Bowie.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:02:27] My name is Joe Bowie. Hello! Today we’re going to make my almond buttermilk pound cake, is what I call it. It’s almond because I substitute a little bit of almond meal in just to sort of lower the formation of gluten so it can get a nicer crumb and get more tender crumb. So it’s my almond buttermilk pound cake. It’s a take on my mom’s pound cake, which is sour cream pancake from the, you know, way back.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:02:54] This is the more current version. She likes it. So, you know, that’s like my biggest thing, my mother’s biggest compliment that makes me feel great about anything I made for her is, she says, “That’s saying something” is the first thing. And the other one is, “It makes me feel like I want to dance on the moon.” Which who can dance on the moon except my mom.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:03:14] I love that. Has she been saying that like your whole life?
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:03:18] No. It didn’t start until I was baking, and I put something in front of her. It may have been a cookie. I made her some cookies or something. She’s like, well, those cookies are saying something like, OK. She said, yeah, they make me feel like I want to dance on the moon. I was like, Who are you? [laugh] I’ve never heard that before. But she started saying it and now I know it’s good when it gets to that, you know, something that she really, really likes and she doesn’t care if it’s vegan or whole grain as long as it tastes good.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:03:48] So the first thing we’re going to do, we’re gonna start to scale out some of the ingredients. I have everything out. I’m gonna start with the dry, the dries. I like to scale everything, maybe it’s because I’m more of a bread baker. The reason I scale things is because it gives me consistency. And I know that whenever I make something, it’s pretty much going to come out the same every time.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:04:14] One hundred and ninety five grams…
[00:04:20] [flour bag crinkle].
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:04:20] And you can be really precise because I’m a nerd.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:04:24] Where’d you grow up?
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:04:25] I grew up in Lansing, Michigan. Our neighborhood was really lovely. The elementary school was just across the street. And we didn’t find out, my sister and I didn’t find out until later that we were one of the first families to integrate the neighborhood. And there were issues like people having to put signs on their lawns that said, “I will not sell my house.” A lot of the white people, because real estate agents were like, you know, your property values are going to drop now that they’ve moved in, kind of thing. And I was only one, so I don’t remember, but apparently the west side of town in Lansing, which is where my dad worked for General Motors, Oldsmobile on the line, and we would go stay over there during the day with my aunt and then he would come pick us up and we go back. He wouldn’t let us stay there. My mom and my sister and I stayed there during the day just not knowing what’s gonna happen. I think people threw rocks at our house. I think there were all sorts of things that apparently happened that we didn’t find out till really like we were in our maybe 21 years old. But, you know, I didn’t know any of that. So I grew up in an integrated neighborhood with friends of all colors and with really good schools because of the car industry. Property taxes were paid. Every high school and junior high had a swimming pool. You know, it’s like all teams, all, you know, so well equipped. And it’s not that way now. But that’s how it was. And it was really I had a really good life. Whether I knew it or not.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:05:51] Looking back now with this knowledge of what it was like for your family, does that make you think differently about your childhood memories at all?
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:05:59] It you know, it made me appreciate them more because when I go to visit my mom now, the auto industry is gone. The the actual factory has been razed. It’s gone completely. And so just the whole, topographically, the whole landscape has changed. And so it’s sad. You drive and it takes a while, even though you know, it’s no longer there. It takes a while. You like look and you go like, right. My dad worked there for 30 something years. Linem middle management, you know, and then retired and you think like that’s a whole part of our lives. We used to go down there, have to wear safety glasses. And that’s all gone, you know, those things. They’re just really, they literally are memories because there’s no physical memory at all. But it makes me more appreciative of that time. And also Lansing is a little bit depressed now in terms of economically. You look at those things, so like our neighborhood where I grew up, which was so fun, is not as nice anymore. It’s OK. It’s coming back around.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:07:04] So now I’m gonna scale out some butter, which I’d let soften. And my mom uses vegetable shortening and I understand her recipe says grease the pan. It doesn’t say butter the pan. And so when she grew up, butter was really expensive. So they would grease the pan with vegetable shortening. I don’t think they used lard, though they had a hog farm.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:07:29] Really?
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:07:29] Yeah. My grandparents had hogs down here in Greenwood, South Carolina. I used to come here when I was a kid. You know, I’d never been to Columbia. And my mom came to visit us last year and hadn’t been back in Columbia since she was like 16 in high school. And she just turned 80 last year. So she’ll turn 81 this year. So we brought her down and we took her to Greenwood, where she grew up. And she hadn’t been there since about like 15 years. Her mother died and she stopped going back. And she, she’s the matriarch of the family. So they all gathered and everyone came. And she was so touched and she still talks about it. You know, she’s like probably the last time I’m gonna go. And I was just like, you know, just kind of breaks your heart. But she had a ball and that’s all we could, you know, could ask for anything. And that was beautiful.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:08:24] And then we have one hundred and thirty grams of almond meal. And this is just a finely ground almond meal. And it’s all natural, superfine actually, because it’ll blend in a little bit better. Mostly.
[00:08:43] [flour bag crinkle].
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:08:43] There we go.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:08:43] You just took a tiny little pinch of the almond flour [out] because it was just like maybe like one gram over.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:08:48] And that’s just how I roll. Yes. That was probably wouldn’t, you know, if you think about it, when pound cakes were made, it really was kind of close to like a pound of everything or nearly a pound. And like my grandmother used to make cakes and my mom makes, you know, they don’t care. I mean, they care that it turns out really well, but they’re not sort of like going like, oh, my God, what am I going to do? It’s one gram over. It’s gonna be terrible. This will never turn out. So, no, I’m just sort of doing that in myself.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:09:19] So I’m just going to give it a little whisk just to get it stirred up a little bit.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:09:23] Why’d you want to bake pound cake on the show today?
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:09:26] It is the one thing that I remember in our family that actually has a history. It feels like it has a history. And my father baked them at first. When I was growing up, I don’t remember my mom, my mom baked, but my dad bake the pound cake. And it was a big deal. And I remember all of the ingredients sitting out, like sour cream and eggs. And it’s like, wow, all that sugar and all that flour. And we would get the cake flour, which we didn’t use for everything. So it’s like there’s cake flour. So it was this really big deal. And they were delicious. And everyone talked about, you know, Joe Bowie’s pound cakes. I’m Joe Junior. And then my mom took over. Of course, you know, as mothers do. And she took over, started baking them. And then there was one Thanksgiving. I think I came home. And it’s the first time I ever used a kitchen aid mixer. I had hers and I made two pound cakes, like really quickly. I was just like, oh, my God, it’s so much faster than with like my handheld thing or with a spoon. And so I started making them again. And I tried different versions, you know, like fancier versions. I remember using them from different cookbooks and trying different things like, oh, this one might be good or this one might be good. And what I ultimately discovered was hers or his, which was the sour cream pound cake that was on this little piece of paper, was the best one I had had. And like most consistent,.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:10:51] I love hers. And when I go to Michigan, generally, she will make a cake. She makes it for me. She makes it for my sister’s wife. When my mother lets me make things for her, I know that she trusts me. And now she calls me with baking questions. How would you make a blackberry cobbler? Here’s what I would do. You know the fear when your mother gets in her 80s and suddenly you get a phone call and you’re saying, please, please, please, please, please. [she says] “How would you?” I’m thinking please don’t be rushed to the hospital. [she says] “How would you make this? What would you do?” It’s like, oh, thank you. Here’s what I do. Let me send it to you. So it has history. And and it was the first thing that a man in our family baked, you know, because most of the men and growing up, most of the men I was around, they were like, you know, men. They didn’t bake. And there weren’t so many, like, now everybody’s a chef. You know, there are these chefs and thyey’re mostly men. But when I was growing up, the women cooked and in my family, the women cooked and the guys watched football games and I didn’t care.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:11:59] Were you in the kitchen with the women or…
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:12:02] Sometimes I was. And sometimes I was just watching. You know, my dad died two years ago and may father was like. He ate. So if I made anything, I would just see him with handfuls of food. It’s like, no, no, no, no. Everyone gets to have some. But you made me cookies. It’s like I made cookies for every, errbody. And when I made cakes and things, I would catch him in the middle of the night, you know, with a knife. It’s like, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, what’s going on there? He’s like I just wanted a piece of cake.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:12:41] That’s some baking powder to leaven a little bit of salt to get a hint of salt.
[00:12:48] [spoon tap].
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:12:48] But I like that in desserts. And I’m gonna actually whisk again.
[00:13:02] [whisking sounds].
Jen Nathan Orris [00:13:02] Tell me about your family growing up.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:13:04] My family growing up. I have one sister and we are thick as thieves. She is just a little bit over a year older than I am and we’ve always been incredibly close. She actually lives here now in Columbia. She moved. She and her partner moved here from Atlanta. And so we’ve always been very close. My parents were lovely. They were hard working, both from the south then came north for the jobs. My mom came for the jobs and to go to Michigan State, where she went for a couple of years. And my dad, who is like the middle of seven, came up because the sisters were up there. They were in Detroit and Toledo. One was in Indianapolis. They kind of all hit the Midwest. And so he went to work. And so we had a you know, it was really lovely. They were you know, he was like the dad and my mom was the mom, sort of stereotypical in that way. We went to church all the time, not all the time, but enough. And they were supportive. And my sister was a tomboy. I was not. I got a home economics award. I baked, I played tennis, I drew and sang and played instruments. I was the weird kid, a little bit nerdy because I liked school and I loved studying. So all the learning stuff. All the kids are like, “I don’t want to [go to school].” I was like, “I’m so ready to go back to school.” But it was a really good life. And my family was really supportive and continues to be. My family has always been there for me, even when they disagreed. You know, there were times where they disagreed with me.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:14:46] Do you want to talk about any of those times?
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:14:46] Yeah. I mean, well, initially I went away to college to be pre-med and to be a doctor. It was the dream. It was the goal. I did well in school on those tests and was good at math and science in addition to really enjoying the arts. And so when you go away to an expensive school and your parents have not gone to college, you know, my mom went for a couple years, but I was the first college graduate. And so the dream, when it gets interrupted by, let’s say, a dance class, it up ends things. And when you’re the kid who’s been faithfully a good kid, who does what he’s told, who follows the plan, who, you know, ends up valedictorian of his class and does all the things that people are supposed to do. You know, the little bright black kid. And then suddenly all that sort of. it’s not that they weren’t proud of me, but all of that sort of pride in what he’s going to become. Oh, he’s gonna be a doctor. My great-grandmother used to call me Doc, you know, like, hey, what do you think is going on with me? And it’s like, I don’t know. My arms hurts, do you know what’s going on? I was just like 16. So I think that it was, not disappointing, but certainly a little bit discouraging. At first, they didn’t know what to make of it. We didn’t have any artists in our community or there was no precedent. There were doctors and lawyers and businessmen. But the idea of wanting to go into the arts was not. It hadn’t even thought of coalesced in my brain.
[00:16:25] [sugar sprinkled into bowl].
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:16:25] So, sugar, I am going to use my mircroplane and zest some oranges into this. I like to test it into the sugar and the butter and just get more flavor out of it that way.
[00:16:42] [orange scraped over microplane].
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:16:42] When I started dancing or discovered dance, I had a real like, whoa, what’s going on here, I’d never, ever felt as though I’d never chosen anything. And I chose it and it chose me. And it was just, I was obsessed, more than with school. I was just obsessed.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:17:01] How did you get into dance?
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:17:02] I got dared to go to a dance class. I have a friend who was a very talented little ballerina, baby ballerina we called her and she had grown up dancing and she injured herself just before it, like she would have gone into a company. She was slated to go into the Houston Ballet, I think, and she’s injured herself and her father. I went to Brown University and her father had gone to Brown. And so Margaret came to Brown. And I remember her saying, like, you think you’re in such good shape when you go take a dance class. I was like playing tennis with a friend or something. I was like, “I will!” And I loved to dance around. But, you know, who knows what that means? I like graceful things like any gay child loves gracefull things, like, oh, my God. And so I went to a dance class and really was this kind like, whoa, this is great. And there weren’t very many men dancing. And so the woman who was teaching the class, an African-American woman, was like, hey, come on, don’t you want to do this? I’m like, I can’t, I can’t. I have to go to chem lab. I have to go to bio lab. I have to go study my calculus. But I wanted to be in that studio. And so I started writing papers in there I would do my homework in the studio because I had keys. They gave me keys. And so I would like dance around. It was like George Winston, I think at the time, dancing around, dance around and sit down and write or study and then dance around. And it really it threw me off in the most wonderful way. It threw me off. I I didn’t realize how important and what an impact something like that could have on me. The arts could have have me. I’d always gone to see, my mother, strangely enough, as difficult as it was initially for them to accept my wanting to dance, when we were kids, because we lived in a university town, there’s East Lansing, there was Michigan State. All the bus and truck shows that came through. She took us to every one. So we saw all like Ain’t Misbehaving and all the shows. And we also saw every concert. The first concert I went to was Earth, Wind and Fire. We saw the Commodores. She made sure we did all these things. And she worked at Michigan State. So she would have one of her students go get us tickets. So we’d end up with like the best tickets in the house. She made sure we did all this artistic stuff and cultural stuff, not knowing how it was probably affecting me. But like, I like. I didn’t know what I wanted to be.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:19:44] What do you remember about those early days dance? What did it feel like? What did you love about it?
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:19:51] I think that was a kind of a bratty Know-It-All kid. What a surprise. But with dancing, I started so late that all of the women, there were a few men, but the people around me happened to be really very talented and I didn’t know what I was doing. And so it really it gave me something else, something new to learn. Completely out of my wheelhouse. And so there was this freedom. There was like, oh, my God, I. It was a physical freedom. It was a physical sensation, which you don’t get from just thinking about something necessarily. I mean, you can you can get certain you can have an epiphany. And that is indeed physical. But this was like, I am moving around. My arms are open. I am dancing. And I love that it felt free. That performance, there will never be another one like it. It happens. It is ephemeral. It is gone. And you, the more you try to hold onto it, the more you will go crazy. Like, Oh, my god, this really great show yesterday? I want to recreate that. You can’t. You can only you’re different every day. It’s different every day. You never know what’s going to happen. And it’s risky. And I hadn’t done things that were risky. I had not taken great risks in my life. I knew what I was good at and I stayed good at those things. And so when something like dance, which is like even if you’re good, doesn’t mean you get a job, doesn’t mean you’ll work. You know, there were when I moved to New York, there happened to be a lot of companies, small, medium, large, where you could work. But as the years went on, I remember holding auditions, having 500 women come for two spaces and 100 of them should be working. But you can only narrow it down like, well, I think you’ll fit in better. So you do those things and then there are people you just can’t take your eyes off. You don’t even know why. They have this light and this radiance and they shine. You don’t even know why you’re drawn to them. They’re not necessarily the most technically perfect, but they are radiant. My first job was with a major company. I got lucky. The Paul Taylor Dance Company. I was the first African-American man I’d ever hired and that was great, but It wasn’t a long tenure. I was there for two years. It was we kind of butted heads a little bit. And he also because he had had an African-American woman who was the sister of my very first teacher. And I remember her coming to teach a class income when I was in college. And she, under her breath, sort of muttered, “Paul would love him.” And I never, I didn’t think much about it then. But Carolyn and Julie both were very prominent my life. So that was a major thing. And I didn’t realize the gravity of it until other people pointed it out. I was just happy to be dancing.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:22:48] Once I left Paul, I moved to Belgium to dance with the Mark Morris Dance Group, which had been the national dance company of Belgium. And that was eye opening to live in Brussels. I learned French. I speak French now fluently because of it and and because I had a Belgian boyfriend. But moving to Belgium was crazy and wonderful. And then we moved back and I remained with the company for 20 more years. And so I became a person who assistant directed on operas. And that was fun. So I got stage at the Met, the English National Opera, The Colloseum, all these fun things which I didn’t realize were sort of were so important. There’s so much, you know, that I really had a knack for those things, really. By the time I left, most of my contemporaries had gone. And when I realized that one to two of our newest dancers were half my age, like actually half my age was like. So. All right, I see. Let’s see how this is going. And no one you know, no one’s forcing anything. But I was it was time to go. And I remember I catered, I baked everything from my going away party, my retirement party. I like would run home after shows and bake cookies and breads. I had gotten this award, this grant to take a baking class because I had a feeling that’s where I want to go. And that started in the company, too. I baked cupcakes for someone for a birthday because I didn’t have time to get a gift. And they fought over those cupcakes like they were like five year olds. And so I started baking for people. I would guess what they wanted or if I thought we needed pie, hey, here’s a pecan pie. You know, everyone loves pecan pie until the sugar crash happens. And then it’s like, wow. Adults with sugar crashes. So I started baking in that way and it became a thing and I started, you know, doing things for the company and for myself. And then when the possibility of getting a grant to go to culinary school or do a little program happened, it was kind of the perfect thing for me. So that was like then. The thing that really got me moving in a different direction was getting that grant from Career Rransitions for Dancers.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:25:11] When I first started bread baking in particular, I had a really great teacher. And I I really it kind of hit me in a similar way that dance had in that I became obsessed with it and I would bake at home. I took this five day artisan bread baking class and had a really inspiring instructor. She’d let me come in and assist on things. And so I started doing that while I was still working for the dance company. I was still on weekends and sometimes in the evenings going to bake. Again, it was something that I couldn’t imagine myself not doing. Just like dance. I knew I had to at least try it. The difference, of course, is by the time I finished dancing, I had gotten to a level where there aren’t many working model dancers in New York City or there were not in companies. And so to get into a company and to be there for years and to get paid well and have insurance and things. It was a shock when I when I went into the food industry. And wow, I think my pay was like one third of what I had made, dancing even less. So all these things were just like, is this really what I should be doing? But my first job in particular, it was in a research and development bakery. And I love creating things. And so it kept the creative spirit alive. And also we taught classes and the woman who was there was another wonderful woman, I worked mostly for women. Wonderful baker like so smart. And she’d said, I’m hiring you. So I know you know how to bake, but I look on your resume and I see that you’ve also taught a lot. And because you’ve taught so much dance, I know that you’re comfortable in front of people. And so that was what allowed me have an in. I had certain things that I could draw on from the dancing. And of course there is the precision of it. And, you know, like dancing, of course, is the more you do it, the better you get at it. You practice stuff, you know, you rehearse things. You’re in the same with baking. I’ve had people say to me like, oh, you know, that didn’t turn out as like, how many times do you do it? Once. Well, get to work, you have to. I mean, you get better and better. I knew that as long as I felt good and felt happy. That was where I needed to be. And when, you know, it was there were times when I was baking at places where I wasn’t. I was like, this is not the way I want to feel doing this. And I love doing this. And I don’t want to start to hate doing this. So I gotta go. You know, people say, like, you didn’t stay somewhere long enough and how is it going to look on your resume? It’s like, I don’t care. I really don’t care because it’s not worth it to be unhappy and, you know, long hours on your feet for long hours and not enjoying it. It’s just kind of like I mean, unless you have to I mean, I had the luxury, I’m not in the position. I mean, there are people who bake who have to. It’s like the one job you can get in New York. You can. There are a lot of people who come from different countries and different immigrant cultures, and they they bake and some of the best bakers I know were not trained. They just could watch you and do exactly what you did and surpass you. And I, of course, had the luxury of having an Ivy League education and friends and connections that I could leave. They don’t. And so I I did realize that that. Set me apart. I could they could look at me. You know, it’s like this wonderful West African man. They’re like, hey, you know, Joe. It’s like, people look at us as the same. They like what you guys are, you know, is you guys are like the same. And I’m like, no, we’re not. You know, they come here, they have all these skills, and then yet they still have to reprove themselves and learn another language. And I was like, we’re not the same. I’m not going to Senegal to bake or do anything else. So it’s it’s been an interesting trajectory, especially now as it comes to moving down here and really being permitted by my lovely husband, wonderful husband to dream and to settle a little bit and see what I wanted to do again.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:29:21] Let’s crack eggs. And the last thing I do. Let’s put it when I put a tiny bit of nutmeg, it gives it sort of the, you know, something, something. So before we mix, I’m going to prepare my pan. I’m gonna also use a little bit of parchment. It just makes it easier to remove the cake.
[00:29:59] [rustling of parchment paper in cake pan].
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:29:59] This should be good. It will be ready for our batter when we’re done. Let’s mix it. I’m just gonna bring the eggs over now and we’ll start creaming our butter, sugar and orange zest together.
[00:30:21] [stand mixer increasing in speed].
Jen Nathan Orris [00:30:21] It’s looking fluffy.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:30:22] Looking fluffy and creamy.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:30:26] The great thing about using the wholegrain flour is that it gives us this sort of wonderful color. It’s not like my mom’s, which is very yellow and she uses cake flour, which is like bleached and got little bit of corn starch in it or tapioca search. And all of those things inhibit gluten formation. The bleach in particular. But I can’t. I mean, and it tastes great. I can’t not say it doesn’t taste good.
[00:31:00] [tapping of cake pan on countertop].
Jen Nathan Orris [00:31:00] Taping the air bubbles out?
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:31:04] Yeah, that was a little tap. And now it gets to go in the oven.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:31:08] 325 with the oven. Preheated. In the center. Timer goes.
[00:31:19] [stove timer beeping].
[00:31:19] Let’s do an hour and check it.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:31:24] You wanna sit down for a minute?
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:31:27] Yeah, let’s sit down.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:31:28] The cake is still in the oven and it will have to cool for quite a while after it comes out. But Joe is prepared. Earlier this week, he made his mom’s version of the family pound cake and he saved me a slice. We savor the sweet, moist cake that’s just bursting with citrus flavor. And then we talk about whether it’s best to stick with tradition or if it’s a good thing when family recipes evolve.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:31:50] I also pull out the first pound cake recipe published in the United States in 1881. And we learn about Mrs. Abby Fisher, a woman who was born into slavery and went on to write recipes that still stand the test of time. Don’t go away. We’ll be right back.
[00:32:08] [break music].
Jen Nathan Orris [00:32:08] Skillet is brought to you by you. Skillet is a listener powered podcast. We’re not trying to sell you mattresses or toothbrushes, we just want your help funding the essential parts of the show, like the food we cook with. Guests on the show usually buy ingredients in advance because they know how to track down produce and spices that are sometimes hard to find. Of course, we don’t want them to foot the bill or to exclude anyone on a budget, so we reimburse them at the end of the taping. That’s where listener donations come in. It’s kind of a big moment. Passing your donation on to the guest. I tell them that a listener donated the money and sometimes we talk about how important it is to give and receive support.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:32:50] This week’s listener food sponsor is Whitney Lacefield. Thanks, Whitney, for contributing the flour, eggs, butter and sugar the Joe Bowie baked with today.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:32:59] I’d love for you to be the next listener food sponsor. Go to www.skilletpodcast.com and give it the 20 dollar level. We appreciate donations of all kinds. Every dollar helps his passion project stay pure and reach more people. Thanks, friends. On with the show.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:33:17] Welcome back to Skillet, a podcast about food and memory. I’m a dancer-turned-baker Joe Bowie’s house in Columbia, South Carolina. We spent a really beautiful afternoon in the kitchen and while the cake we made today is cooling, I get to dig into a slice of tradition that Joe baked earlier this week – his mom’s prized pancake recipe.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:33:41] That is so good. So what is the citrus is going on in there?
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:33:45] That lemon. That’s a lot of lemon zest and a little bit of lemon extract.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:33:51] That is really delicious.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:33:53] Thank you Mama Bowie or daddy, momma and daddy’s cake. Everybody’s cake.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:33:59] It is everybody’s cake.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:34:02] So it’s interesting how this recipe has evolved from your dad to your mom and now you’re doing it your own way. Do you think there’s like a right way to make a recipe or is that a good thing as recipes kind of evolve and are passed down?
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:34:16] I feel like I love the fact that different people do different things. I’m glad that we’re not all the same. Of course, there are people who come up with ideas that are universally loved, but I’m perfectly happy to have a little niche of baking things that I like and that people like. So I believe there should be evolution. I hope there’s evolution, evolution is everywhere. And even if you try to avoid it, it’s all evolving and expanding anyway. You can you can you can go along with it or be dragged by it. I adore harkening back and knowing where your roots are. I really think that’s important to know from where you’re growing. But it is growing. You know, it is growing from here. It is not meant to only be here. If it were, then we would be stuck. So I like it with baking, with living. I particularly like something that, you know, is important in my family that other people like. That’s what’s great to me. It’s like and this is my version and that people in my family like my version as well, is really, really nice to me.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:35:20] So I did a little research on pound cake and it’s a British food originally, but I was trying to find the first recipe that was published in the United States. It was published in 1881 by a woman named Abby Fisher. She was a former slave who made it out to San Francisco and became really famous for her pickles and her preserves, her jams and her cakes. And so everyone wanted to know, how do how do I make her food? She couldn’t read or write, so she dictated a recipe book to her friends in San Francisco. And it was one of the first published pound cake recipes in the United States. And the book is now in the Library of Congress. And I have a digital copy. Would you like to see it?
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:36:07] Sure!
Jen Nathan Orris [00:36:07] OK.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:36:11] You know when I was sort of weighing things out and I was doing everything so precisely. My grandmother had standardized her recipes. She didn’t use measuring cups. She had a cup, a tea cup which was broken, I think was broken. But that was her’s. So it was consistent because she only used that cup to make things or this spoon to make, you know. So that’s how she measured things. So it was I mean, if she were to see this now, she’d be like away with that.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:36:40] How cool is this?
Jen Nathan Orris [00:36:41] So this is the copy from the Library of Congress. It’s called What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking Soups, Pickles, Preserves, etc..
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:36:50] Oh, my God.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:36:51] So that’s the cover.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:36:52] Where was she from?
Jen Nathan Orris [00:36:53] She was originally from Alabama and then wrote this book in San Francisco. So you can see she’s got a gold cake and a silver cake and they’re both pound cakes.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:37:04] Cool. Wow. She’s powdered sugar. Yeah. You know, she did something that rubbing butter and sugar together is basically creaming, oh, my God. She used yeast.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:37:18] The best yeast.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:37:18] The best yeast powder. And this one uses the whites of the eggs. But, you know, it’s like it’s pretty straightforward.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:37:27] I think it’s a beautifully written recipe.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:37:28] Yeah, it is actually. It’s pretty much. She’s used sweet milk, which back then, probably had all the fat and the cream. Wow. Stir whole, hard, and fast till light and then she uses lemon and juice.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:37:46] It’s kind of like your recipe.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:37:47] It really is.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:37:50] So you mentioned the word to rub the sugar in the butter. I noticed that, too.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:37:55] Yeah, you can. You can do that. I mean, I’ve done that with cookies before, but usually I’m rubbing the zest into the sugar to sort of make like a paste. You know, you’d get the oils out a little bit more. But that is so cool because even though she didn’t have a Kitchen Aid, so even like whipping egg whites and stuff that takes, you know. Come on. I know I’m too wimpy to do that stuff now.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:38:19] And so I just think it’s amazing that she used like a wooden spoon and just her strength to make this pound cake.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:38:26] And that the recipe pretty much is unchanged. I love that she got credit for her recipes.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:38:32] Yeah. If you look it up, if you do a deep dove on Google, she is credited. Everywhere you look.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:38:37] I love that. That’s not something I would have expected.
[00:38:38] [timer beeps]
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:38:46] Let’s do a quick check.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:38:48] It smells really good.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:38:51] I think it is done. Yeah.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:38:54] That’s beautiful.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:38:58] The nutmeg comes up more as it bakes because you don’t smell it much in the flour but you smell it now.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:39:04] So you spent much of your adult life in New York City. But I’m talking to you now from your home in Columbia, South Carolina. How did you end up here?
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:39:12] I got married to a lovely man who is a professor at the university here. And because I’d been in New York for 30 years, it was long enough. It’s a challenging city. It’s not for everyone. But I moved here because I got married. I missed my husband too much and we were commuting. I have a portable career. You have tenure and are a full professor and I have no problem moving. And he really allowed me to dream and to settle in and get my bearings here. But everyone is really worried about how I was going to survive in Columbia. They’re like, oh, my God, how are you liking it? It’s not the same as New Yorker. No kidding. Really? I thought it was the same thing. And a lot of people who said that to me hadn’t ever been to New York. And so I realized they were just going on their version of what New York has been. Well, why would you ever want to leave that to come to, you know, a small college town and live here? But I was happy to come and and be here. I didn’t know what I was gonna do. I knew that I probably could not work for anyone else. And that sounds maybe a little bit cavalier, but I realized that it meant that I probably would have to do something on my own.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:40:28] So what do you do?
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:40:29] I started a community supported bakery called Cola Bread Club. It’s weekly subscriptions. I wanted it to be very casual because I want to be able to go to my mom if she needed me or anyone who needed me. With the weekly subscriptions, you get a loaf of sourdough. There are three loves that are baked every week. And then there’s a new one fun and a wildcard item which is generally a wholegrain pastry. So it was my way to introduce people and I kept sort of hemming and hawing about starting it. And then finally, after my father died, I was like, you know, I do it.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:41:02] We’re about to embark on another big change in your life. What’s next for you?
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:41:08] Well, we are moving on to another place. Yeah, we are going to be moving back up north to Chicago. The Chicago area. He will both be teaching at Northwestern. It’s primarily because of the position that he’s been offered a wonderful endowed professor and director of a new MFA in acting program that he’s going to direct this brand new, inaugural. So we’ll begin teaching in January, but yeah, it’s exciting to be back in a blue state. Both of us knew that we wouldn’t end up here in terms of our the rest of our lives.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:41:47] What do you think might be next for you and your baking career?
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:41:51] You know, my primary thing will be teaching dance when I get there, but I’ll always bake because I have to, just kind of must or I’m not happy. And I realize that at this point in my life, I’m happiest doing both. There’s got to be a balance. And baking is a place where I find some some really wonderful peace. So I’ll keep doing it.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:42:13] I wish you all the best. Joe, I hope it’s a really good chapter for the two of you.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:42:18] Oh, so do I. Thank you so much. I appreciate it. And we appreciate your coming here.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:42:21] Thanks so much for having me. Appreciate it.
Joe Bowie Jr. [00:42:23] Of course, I would do it again if you ever wanted cake.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:42:26] I always want cake. Don’t tempt me. [laugh]
Jen Nathan Orris [00:42:37] Thanks so much to dancer and baker Joe Bowie Jr. We have a link to his Instagram page in our show notes so you can see all the cakes, cookies and breads he makes for his friends and family.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:42:48] Joe is also a co organizer of the Asheville Bread Festival, which is how we met. I took a sourdough bagel class from him at last year’s festival, and he’s a fantastic teacher, whether he’s showing you how to move your body or move that gluten. Shout out to our digital producer Rich Orris, who, full disclosure also helps organize Asheville Bread Fest. He’d want me to mention that bread fest is coming back May 2nd.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:43:14] And hanks the story editor C.A. Carlson, who’s not organizing any gluten festivals but is deeply devoted to all carbs.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:43:22] Most of all, thanks to you, dear listener. This is the second to last episode of Skillet for the season and we’re doing a big push to spread the word. We’d love it if you rated us in your podcast app and wrote a review. Post about the show on social media, tell your family around the dinner table and share an episode with a friend who likes food, podcasts or just a good story.
Jen Nathan Orris [00:43:44] Coming up next time on Skillet, we hear untold stories from James Beard Award nominated chef Meherwan Irani.
[00:43:53] [rice bag crinkling]
Meherwan Irani [00:43:57] My mom’s parents were rice farmers from the foothills of the Himalayas and that’s where this rice comes from, from the foothills of the Himalayas. Every year, sacks of this would show up like a Christmas present almost. I think it’s taken me two years to get through this bag. So you’ll see you’ll see how fluffy it gets.
[00:44:15] [water washing down drain].
Jen Nathan Orris [00:44:15] Subscribe or hit follow in your podcast app so you don’t miss the season finale of Skillet.