This blog features news on local food finds, tales from home cooks and inspiration to help you have fun in your own kitchen.
Home Cooking with Jennifer Brooks Lane
Home Cooking is a regular feature on The Front Burner that offers a peek at how home cooks around the Fredericksburg area work in their kitchens. If you’d like to answer our questionnaire, download it here and return your responses to email@example.com with a digital photo of yourself, or pass it along to anyone you think would like to participate.
Name: Jennifer Brooks Lane, proprietor, with her husband, Chris Lane, of GreenHearts Farm in Caroline County
Tell us who you are and why you cook.
I’m a cook who has been cooking since I could read. My very first memory is of food at 11 months old. My grandparents raised pigs on their 25 acres in Reva, Virginia when I was a small child and after dinner was over and the corn kernels where mostly eaten off the cob, my father picked me up out of my high chair and tucked me into his jacket, with my little head poking out. We walked down from the house with my little blond curls bobbing up and down and I can remember seeing my older brother’s feet flying down the hill with corn cobs in his hand. We got to the ricky-ticky shed and fenced in area and my brother climbed up the cattle gate. He lobbed a corn cob or two over the fence I and I did my best at tossing to the happy pigs behind the gate.
I had the most delicious childhood imaginable because I had full reign in the kitchen. My grandmother on my father’s side was a gourmet chef and each meal was an international delight full of exotic flavors and a completely artistic presentation at each family gathering. My grandmother on my mother’s side grew up in Clover, Virginia on a tenant farm until she married Wyatt Ashby Mills, who was from a farming family in Lynchburg, Virginia. When they married and moved to Reva, they bought enough land to farm, raise pigs and four wonderful children, including my momma, Sue Brooks.
At 15 years old, as soon as I obtained my learner’s permit and a check book, I did most of the family grocery shopping and preparing the foods. The Brooks family of Culpeper, Virginia kept dinners in the formal dining room every evening and dinner was served promptly, by myself and my sister Julie, at 6:30 pm. Blessings were said, the food was in 3 courses and old business and new business of the day were discussed using mild manners and the master of ceremonies is my father, David Brooks. He sits at the head of the table and we children fall in line, very proper like. You would not leave the table until you asked to be excused or if you were switching out salad plates for dinner plates. I LOVED it!
I wrote my first cookbook the summer of 1999 when I was 16. It is a very crude compilation of my favorite vegan recipes because during that time, there was hardly an Internet, I don’t remember going to a Borders, and our local bookstore carried the Joy of Cooking, which of course I had to have.
I have written five cookbooks since. When most young people were out and about doing social things in the summer time, I was sitting at home on a laptop, hunched over, writing a cookbook at 18 years old. I did that every summer until my sophomore year at Longwood University. I was writing a Cajun cookbook and got so into it that I flunked most of my classes and had to go home. I think I threw that cookbook away. I’m quite sure I did.
My latest cookbook, the GreenHearts Farm electronic cookbook is to me, magical. It is a vegan, gluten-free cookbook that travels all around the world looking for the tastiest way to enjoy a restricted diet due to allergies, ideals or neurosis. I have my very own line of spices that I use in everything and they are so very versatile. It would take a lifetime to show case them properly, which I plan to do on a daily basis on my website. I pair my spices with local fare that can be found at nearby farmer’s markets for those wishing to eat a locavore diet.
Describe your cooking style in three words.
Local ingredients from the market, BANG! spice, with a dash of flare!
How did you learn to cook?
I learned to cook from my grandmothers and by reading copious amounts of cookbooks from cover to cover.
Grandma Mills is as Southern as the day is long. She has one recipe book from clippings and scribblings from decades past. I can’t even read them. She doesn’t even look at them either. The pencil marking is so old. I told her, when I was about 18 that I wanted her to will it to me. I don’t think she understood how serious the request is from me. She just throws a cup of this into that, and adds a dot of butter and sugar to this and fini! Fried chicken, biscuits with freezer jam, green beans with bacon and corn pudding is on the table.
My Grandmother Woellner was a gourmet cook. She would take me on trips to buy beignet mix at 13 years of age, taught me to sew, get on stage and act her heart out, paint a picture with charming words and dazzle you with a smile. Oh she was grand.
Favorite cookbook would have to be my antique Joy of Cooking cookbook from 1947 given to me as a wedding present from one of my oldest and dearest friends, Millie, Melissa Freakley.
What is one dish on your menu this week that you’re excited about?
Deep fried Samosa Cornucopia’s. I love them. I make a big pot of tomato chutney during the summertime with the bumper crop of tomatoes from the GreenHearts garden. It’s a day long process but when it is finished I can and freeze it to be enjoyed all year long. I make huge batches of samosas, for which I can find most of the ingredients at Farm To Families indoor market and the spices, well, I love spice, knowing where it comes from, how it is harvested, the health benefits, how to make medicinal cordials with them, you know everything fun!
What is one thing that must be in your pantry at all times?
Dried: I have to have mustard seeds, curry powder, cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger, dried peppers and all of my fixin’s for my BANG! spices. I don’t think I could cook a meal without BANG! It just wouldn’t taste the same anymore.
Fresh: Onions, potatoes, garlic, ginger root, apples and greens.
What one kitchen gadget could you not live without?
My spice grinder. I don’t know where I would be without one. Such flavor to be had when you grind something yourself. It’s one way to razzle-dazzle your food.
It’s 6 p.m., the people in your household are hungry and you just walked in from work and need to get something satisfying on the table as soon as possible. What’s your favorite thing to whip up in this situation?
Oh, just for fun, fresh popped corn, the old-timey way my Grandma Mills did it. Just 2 Tbsp. oil and ¼ cup popping corn in a pot and shake till done. Sprinkle on my SHEBANGARANG! And serve it on cones made of brown wax paper. Takes about five minutes and they are staples in my pantry.
It’s a snowy Sunday, you’ve just done the grocery shopping and have the rest of the day to spend in the kitchen cooking a meal that will bring comfort. What’s for dinner?
I just want dessert. SHEBANG! Rice pudding and Fresh Hot Cocoa with real cocoa powder on the stovetop and local milk. Then ceremoniously, sitting down to watch It’s a Wonderful Life and enjoying every bite of pudding and every sip of cocoa. That’s a happy thought indeed.
What is your favorite dish to make for pot-luck dinners?
My BANGARANG! Black Eyed Peas
1 package dried black-eyed peas, cooked to package directions
2 (14 oz) cans of diced tomatoes or 6-8 fresh, diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp. oil or butter
1 chopped onion
3 cloves minced garlic
3 – 4 Tbsp. BANGARANG! Signature Seasoning
2 Tbsp. sugar
fresh copped cilantro
Cook BEP’s according to package directions. Drain and set aside. In a large pot or skillet, heat your oil to medium and cook your garlic and onion until translucent. Add the BEPs, BANGARANG!, tomatoes and sugar. Cook while stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in a bunch of cilantro leaves and enjoy while warm.
Do you have a favorite food source in the Fredericksburg region?
In the Fredericksburg region my favorite place to go with my sister, Julie, is to Sammy T’s and sit outside at the little bistro tables, wear our sunglasses. I get to pretend that I’m hip and forget all about my chores on the farm while we split their falafel salad. Sometimes there is a young man outside who plays the saddest, sweetest songs on a violin, while people pass by with shopping bags or their college sweetheart. There is a certain energy and hurried excitement in the downtown area that sits well with my soul.