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Owning It: For Nebraska Women Entrepreneurs, Unique Investment Challenges
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A good recipe to replicate
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Preston Love Jr and Big Mama's Kitchen & Catering Announce the formation of the "Hungry Club"
Report on local restaurants in North Omaha from WOWT Channel 6
22 January 2008 Press Release Grand Opening
Click here to listen to Big Mama's interview on OCKG's Blog Talk Radio Show
Published Wednesday | August 1, 2007
Fried prune pies and other food for the soul
BY NICHOLE AKSAMIT World-Herald Staff Writer
Patricia Barron answers the door of the Benson-area home where she and her husband have lived for three decades, despite eggings when they were among the neighborhood's few black families. She recognizes the face instantly. "Oh, yeah! I know you," she says, ticking off the connections. "You know Pookie, right? He's my brother. And Baby Ray?" Then come the stories and the do-you-remembers about growing up near 25th Avenue and Indiana Street. "That alley, you know, they used to call it Baby Ray's Alley. Because if you walked in it, he'd beat you up. He got a lot of whuppings for that."
And this is how it goes during Native Omaha Days, the every-two-year event that draws thousands back to Omaha. It's like a giant neighborhood reunion for anyone with ties to north Omaha or the city's African-American community. For Barron, a caterer planning to open a soul-food restaurant, the stories invariably mingle with memories of the food she and others used to eat and serve at home, at church and in the cafes and groceries along North 24th Street in the 1960s:
Crispy fried chicken at Butler's Night Owl Steakhouse or Raybon's Cafe. Lunch meat cut to the weight you wanted - by a woman who could eyeball it - at Nancy's Grocery. The Live Wire Cafe's shrimp-in-a-bag: battered and fried, served in a paper bag with two saltine crackers and hot sauce. "When you put it in the bag, it does something to it," Barron says. "I don't really know what." Sugar-glazed fried prune or apricot pies at Irene's Cafe.
Although most of historic north Omaha's restaurants closed decades ago, native north Omahans remember when you could get:
Sweet potato pie at Carter's Cafe, 2510 N. 24th St. and, later, 2515 N. 24th St. - Except for a short break in the mid-1970s, Lucy Carter operated the restaurant from 1948 until her death in February 1982. She retired in November 1974 but returned to work within a year. Spare ribs, chitterlings and mustard greens at the The Fair Deal Cafe, 2118 N. 24th St. - Charles Hall served up big, affordable plates of soul food from 1953 to 1992. Fried prune pies at Irene's Cafe, 2418 N. 24th St. - The cafe, popular in the 1960s, was open for about 30 years. Desserts such as fried apricot and prune pies were popular.
Other good eats along North 24th Street in 1967:
• Butler's Night Owl Steakhouse: 2422 N. 24th St.
• Live Wire Cafe: 2208 N. 24th St.
• Moss Cafe: 1837 N. 24th St.
• Northside Cafe: 1426 N. 24th St.
• Raybon's Cafe: 1810 N. 24th St.
• Skeet's Bar-B-Que: 2201 N. 24th St. (still open, now as Skeet's Ribs and Chicken)
Compiled by World-Herald librarian Jeanne Hauser and staff writer Nichole Aksamit
Sources: World-Herald archives and Omaha city directories
Big breakfasts and desserts - like the dense delicious pound cake and light, lush sweet potato pie - at Carter's Cafe. The cookies, pies and jelly cakes (squares of yellow cake topped with any jelly that didn't set up properly) Barron would make for neighborhood kids who'd do her chores - washing the floors and dishes of her mom's house - in exchange for sweets. Her own grandmother's pinto or navy bean (yes, bean) pies or tasty greens - leftover collard or mustard greens perked up with honey and vinegar. Chitterlings, laboriously cleaned and cooked pig intestines, at church suppers or the Fair Deal Cafe. Fried fish and spaghetti on Fridays, when fish was fresh at the market and folks got paid. Summer block parties with feather bones and other meats cooked over an open fire, nuts and fruits shipped from relatives down south, and a little mesquite smoke on the crosswind to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
The thread behind it all? Making things from scratch and making the most of what you had. "The food that you get today is not food you got 30 to 40 years ago," Barron says. "Folks like myself remember when everything was made from scratch. And you ate eggs and bacon and real food - not dried and frozen and reconstituted food. I think people are searching for that again, and that connection with their childhood." It's why Barron wrote down family recipes, and even thought to compare notes with families who ran some of north Omaha's once-popular but now-closed cafes. It's why she will serve some of those dishes this weekend as a fundraiser at her church, Northside Family Christian Center. It's why she hopes to launch a restaurant called Big Mama's Kitchen later this year. And it's why she shares recipes for a few of her Native Omaha Days favorites here:
Grandma's Bean Pies
3 cups sugar
¼ pound unsalted butter
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons cornstarch
5 well-beaten eggs
3 cups cooked navy beans or pinto beans, mashed through a food strainer or puréed in food processor
2 cups evaporated milk
1 teaspoon lemon extract
5 drops yellow food coloring
Two uncooked 8-inch pie shells
Heat oven to 350 degrees. In medium bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Add cinnamon and cornstarch and blend well. Add eggs. Beat to blend. Add beans. Beat to blend. Add milk, extract and food coloring. Blend well. Pour into pie shells and bake until filling has set well (when it no longer jiggles at the center), about 50 to 55 minutes.
Makes two pies.
Note: You can substitute cooked, puréed carrots or butternut squash for beans.
Irene's Fried Pies
9 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
3 cups shortening, cut into small cubes
2 cups cold water
Thick fruit filling of choice (see below)
Canola oil for deep-fat frying
Mix together flour, sugar and salt. Add shortening and cut in with a pastry cutter until evenly distributed. Drizzle water over mixture and continue mixing with a fork until dough comes together. Form dough into small balls (about the size of an egg, or 2 ounces by weight) and roll out into circles (about 5 inches across). Put two level tablespoons of filling on one half of each circle. Using a pastry brush dipped in water, wet the edges of the dough. Then fold the dough to form a half-circle. Crimp edges together with a fork to seal. Poke a few small steam holes in the top with a fork.
Heat oil to 350 degrees in a deep-fat fryer or a large Dutch oven. Fry a few pies at a time until they are golden brown, five to seven minutes, depending on your fryer. Cool on wire racks.
Makes 40 pies.
Note: Dough balls can be frozen, individually wrapped, for six months.
1 pound prunes, soaked in water overnight
½ cup sugar, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Place prunes in a large pot over low heat with water just to cover. Simmer until prunes are soft and tender and water is cooked out. Allow to cool. Remove stones from prunes and place fruit in food processor with sugar and cinnamon. Pulse just until you have a thick, somewhat chunky purée. Don't overmix, or prunes will lose their color. Taste and add more sugar if needed. This makes filling for about two dozen fried pies.
10 ounces dried apricots, soaked
in water overnight.
½ cup sugar, plus more to taste
Place apricots in a large pot over low heat with water just to cover. Simmer until apricots are soft and tender and water is cooked out. Do not cover, or apricots will turn dark. Place fruit in food processor with sugar. Pulse just until you have a thick, somewhat chunky purée. Taste and add more sugar if needed. This makes filling for about two dozen fried pies.
- Adapted from recipes provided by Patricia Barron
Published Wednesday | May 16, 2007 in the Omaha World Herald
“Grandma's food inspires dream of new restaurant”
BY NICHOLE AKSAMIT World-Herald Staff Writer
Patricia Barron grew up in north Omaha. She called her grandmother Big Mama. And every Sunday, Patricia and her relatives gathered at Big Mama's for dinner, the biggest and best meal of the week.Patricia Barron hopes to open Big Mama's Kitchen at 24th and Hamilton Streets.
On the table, they'd find dishes like greens and corn bread, pinto and navy beans, black-eyed peas. Oven-fried chicken, baked catfish. Smoked chicken, ribs and feather bones. Macaroni and cheese, squash and cabbage cooked five ways. Chicken, seafood and catfish gumbos. Sweet potato cheesecake and pudding, pound cakes, kolaches and fried pies.
Inspired by those memories and hoping for a return to family-style eating, Barron hopes to launch a restaurant called Big Mama's Kitchen along 24th and Hamilton Streets, near the historic heart of north Omaha. "Everybody has a Big Mama," said Barron, an independent cake decorator and caterer who's now a grandmother herself. "In the African-American community, that's what grandmothers are called. That's our theme: It'll be like having dinner at Big Mama's house."
Barron, who grew up just a few blocks away from her proposed restaurant, is working with the Omaha Economic Development Corp. to negotiate the lease of two bays in a strip mall at 1500 N. 24th St. She also is working with an architect to finalize the restaurant design and trying to find a banker who'll lend money to match the $100,000 she's already put together ($75,000 in cash and equipment and a $25,000 grant) for startup. Her plans call for a restaurant that seats 40, serves African-American and American food family style, and is open for breakfast and lunch on weekdays and for breakfast, lunch and dinner on Fridays and weekends.
"I'll be cooking the things that my grandmother cooked and things I was raised on," Barron said. "It's all either baked, boiled or broiled. Lots of vegetables, lots of things from scratch, lots of food you just don't see anymore." Barron said that she'd like to open in time for Native Omaha Days in early August but that a September opening is more likely.
Despite talk about north Omaha revitalization, finding lenders hasn't been easy, Barron said. She said three bankers have turned her down, pointing to high failure rates among new restaurants, implying she's too old to start a business, and questioning her long but scantily documented track record: a lifetime of cooking and 30 years of catering. Barron said the area needs a good sit-down restaurant, and Big Mama's could even serve as a launching pad for other north Omaha business successes.
"A full-service, sit-down restaurant in the north Omaha area has tremendous potential," said Ken Johnson, economic development manager for the City of Omaha. While there are a couple of small soul-food restaurants well north of Cuming Street and a few sit-down restaurants closer to 72nd Street and Sorensen Parkway, Johnson said most other restaurants in north Omaha are fast-food or takeout businesses. And with the nearby Cuming Street corridor now home to new offices and businesses ranging from banks to insurance companies, there's a steady supply of daytime workers who have little choice but to leave north Omaha for lunch.
"We hope we can find a lender that would put this deal together," Johnson said. Barron said she's determined to get it going. "I just want to do this," she said, "in north Omaha.
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