Tifton Gazette

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July 5, 2014

Huff loves smell of the kitchen

TIFTON — Polly Huff used to wear high heels and get manicures.  Now she goes to Tractor Supply to hoist a 50-pound bag of goat food into her vehicle for a ride to her 10-acre farm where her chickens, fiber goats, dairy goats, heirloom turkeys, four rescued dogs and two cats await.

Is this the same person who grew up outside Chicago with the belief that people who had gardens and animals were “quaint?”

“My life has certainly changed,” Huff, the assistant director and curator for the Georgia Museum of Agriculture and Historic Village at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, said. “I think that’s because of my experiences in cooking, growing things, having a family and a combination of other things.”

Huff and her husband, Charles, and their 16-year-old daughter, Elizah, live on a certified wildlife sanctuary in Tift County.  Her husband teases her that every animal on their farm “has a name, a place to live, and the ability to retire with dignity” without the thought of ever being sold, being sent to the animal shelter or winding up as Thanksgiving dinner.  

There’s no question as to her favorite room in their house.

“I love the kitchen,” Huff said.  “I love the smells, the sharp knives, the chopping block and the good, heavy pots.  I enjoy the prep work and wearing the apron embroidered by a friend’s mother. I love cooking for others.  You might say cooking is my love language. I express myself through food.

“Eating the food I cook is not my favorite part.  The preparation of the meal is where I get most of my joy.  I love playing with my food, inventing and re-inventing dishes and finding unusual uses for ingredients.”

Huff has been a vegetarian for three years and for the past six months she has been off grains after discovering that she is allergic to corn, wheat, rice and soy.  That’s one big reason why she enjoys home grown food so much.

“To me, growing the food is part of the process,” Huff said.  “Food is a lifestyle.  I enjoy the process of growing it or sourcing it, preparing it and then serving it on dishes made by the hands of potters I know to our friends and family.”

As a part of her ABAC duties, Huff liaisons with the weekly Wiregrass Farmers Market located adjacent to the Peanut Museum at the museum’s Country Store. When she’s not serving food from the family farm, she picks up food items from the market or her favorite store, Publix.

But as much as possible, she likes to serve food to friends and family grown on the Huffs’ property.

“A friend of mine joked once that a plate of ravioli at my table meant that they were eating a piece of pasta handmade by me, stuffed with eggs I collected from the coop the night before and cheese I made that morning,” Huff said.  

But that’s not all.  Huff milked the goat which produced the milk which became the cheese.  Wait.  There’s more.  Huff even helped to birth the goat.  It’s the Huff “Circle of Life.”

In her spare time, Huff thinks about…food.  

“Cooking is a part of my daily routine,” Huff said.  “I can’t imagine going a day without cooking.  It’s just something I have always done.  I have been cooking for as long as I can remember.”

Surprisingly, Huff doesn’t have a favorite dish but she is influenced by food writers Michael Pollan, Georgia Pellegrini, Georgeanne Brennan, Ina Garten and Laura Calder.

“I like any dish that is fresh, rustic, authentic and satisfying,” Huff said.  “My favorite food changes with the season.”

Huff even persuaded her family to take a food vacation with her three Thanksgivings ago.  They drove eight hours to Allan Benton’s mountainside home near Madisonville, Tenn., because Huff had read about him in a book, “Food Heroes.” Yes, she also reads about food.

“When we drove up, all you could smell was smoked pig—in the best possible way of course,” Huff said.  “He does everything himself and it’s all done by hand.  He had hams that had been curing 26 months.  He selects his pigs from local farmers and just lives and works in a block building on the side of a mountain.

“Here’s a man who has chefs flying in from all over the place just for his hams and at that time he didn’t even have a website. He does now. We carried him some cheese and some goat’s milk.  He was so humble.  We bought a couple of packs of bacon and he gave us a basket filled with a lot of other things.”

Traveling eight hours for a slab of bacon doesn’t sound like fun to most people but for Huff it was a trip she’ll treasure for a lifetime.  When she travels, she is always on the lookout for unusual restaurants and markets. Her perfect date is a stroll through a farmers’ market.

A lifetime love affair with cooking could lead to a career as a chef.  Not for Huff.  She’s just not interested in going to a restaurant every day.  She much prefers her own pantry and kitchen.

Huff began the ABAC phase of her life 14 years ago in the Arts Connection office.  Now she coordinates the museum’s art gallery, oversees the “Bottles and Brushes” program, works with the farmers’ market and handles a veritable plethora of other tasks and events.  

Huff hosted Tifton’s first slow food supper club dinner on the family farm and has written food pieces for local magazines and newspapers.  She has also taught cooking classes and has been involved with several families as a private cook and food consultant.

Now she’s searching for the perfect cookbook.

“I have an affinity for well written cookbooks,” Huff said.  “Other people buy T-shirts when they travel.  I bring home food souvenirs.”

 

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20140726 John Gamble.JPG

John Gamble (right) is joined by John Reid at the Tiftarea YMCA Saturday.

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