Story and Photos by Cynthia Calvert
Winston-Salem, North Carolina, serves a culinary experience that highlights its deep Moravian roots.
The Moravians, originally from Eastern Europe, settled in central North Carolina more than 250 years ago, and founded Salem.
To the north, the town of Winston was officially established in 1851. In 1913, the “twin cities” became Winston-Salem, so it is fitting to have a trio of culinary treats celebrating this heritage.
Our first culinary experience was breakfast at Mary’s Gourmet Diner, which is run by Mary Haglund and her two daughters in the Downtown Arts District. The restaurant serves meals from fresh, locally-sourced organic ingredients, in a historic bank building of the 1920s circa, showcasing local art. In its heyday, the building's location was across the street from the Big Winston Warehouse, where tobacco farmers sold their wares.
In the Downtown Arts District are cute shops, restaurants, distilleries and many old buildings renovated and re purposed. The R.J. Reynolds building, which was the prototype for the Empire State Building, is now The Kimpton Cardinal Hotel, which is the first Kimpton hotel in North Carolina. Recently completed, it features 174 guest rooms and 35 suites, plus The Katharine Brasserie & Bar, 6,400 square feet of meeting space and ballrooms.
Winston-Salem’s self-guided Moravian Culinary Trails highlights the very popular Moravian Cookies, the savory Moravian Chicken Pie and the authentic buttery Moravian Sugar Cake.
Moravian Sugar Cake
So, what is Moravian Sugar Cake, exactly? A tasty sweet cake, made with plenty of sugar, cinnamon and butter. It is traditionally served as an Easter morning breakfast treat, but is an excellent coffee cake year round. It’s said the Moravian men chose their wives by how big their thumbs were. Prospective wives would roll dough and put thumbprints in to pour in the sugar and butter. The bigger the thumb print, the bigger the butter pockets!
We took a tour of Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookies, where all the cookies are made by hand, according to co-founders Evva and Travis Hanes.
“We’re survivors,” said Travis Hanes. “Christmas starts with us in January. The most popular is the ginger cookie, which has great shelf life. We have 100 ladies making the ginger cookies, which truly is a German cookie. Years ago our family made these. We are the only ones that still make the cookies by hand. It’s the most enjoyable business anyone could be in. My wife learned how to make them from her mother. ”
Travis' wife, Evva Hanes, is a seventh-generation Moravian and their daughter, Ramona Hanes Templin, is now president of Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookies.
The Moravian ginger cookie is said to be Oprah’s favorite!
The Hanes say the ginger cookie is the hardest to make because it has molasses in it. In addition, their cookies come in three designs: scallop, heart and round. At Easter they create chicks and rabbits, and at Christmas they make trees and bells.
The history and early philosophy of the Moravians is deeply rooted in the belief that hard work and determination brings forth transformation and innovation. They desired that both freed and enslaved African-Americans should always be able to worship alongside them, until laws were passed to the contrary.
Winkler's is another popular bakery that serves Moravian cookies. We wandered the old streets, admiring the living history all around.
Visitors can see history in action in Old Salem as the active site goes on for several blocks. There is a wealth of family activities, with plenty of docents dressed in costumes. They are situated in the various buildings and spend the day working, cooking and gardening as the early settlers did. They stop to interact with guests. The Old Salem Museums & Gardens are located in the historic district, where the Moravians settled in 1766. The city leaders rallied to save Old Salem in 1950, when the museum was started. We made pumpkin cakes the old way, cooked in the hearth, with guidance from docents.
Old Salem kicked off a yearlong celebration of its 250th anniversary in January 2016. History, science, food and music are experienced here during fun activities and events! They are very excited for their 250th celebration!
Moravian Chicken Pie
We enjoyed lunch at The Tavern in Old Salem, a family-operated restaurant that was built in 1816 as an annex to the original tavern built in 1784. It’s said that George Washington slept here for two nights. He was intrigued by the Moravians, and the fact that the tavern had indoor plumbing.
The menu features mix of traditional Moravian dishes, including Moravian chicken pie. Executive Chef Jared Keiper and his mom, Pastry Chef Lori Keiper, like to use a touch of cornmeal in their flaky crust, which becomes the perfect receptacle to host the towering, hand pulled chicken breast with creamy chicken gravy – a delicious favorite!!
Other culinary delights
Winston-Salem is a city of culinary innovators as this is where both Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and Texas Pete products were born.
We took time out to sip and sample at Small Batch Beer Co. and met owner Tim Walker. This brewery is located in Old Salem across from the M.C. Benton Convention Center. They specialize in micro brewing and utilize locally sourced ingredients, creating one-of-a-kind seasonal beers. In April they offered up a recipe of beer called “Salem Lot 93,” based on a recipe dating back to the 1700s.
“We did a one-barrel batch of Salem Lot 93, and it sold out in 2 hours! We got an old German recipe, researched it and used native hops to create the exact same beer. It came out really well – it was a sweeter beer, thicker and more carbonated,” said Walker.