2017-08-04 / Features

The Good Food Life

Anne Quinn Corr has spent most of her life immersed in the food culture of Central PA — cooking, writing and teaching — and we’ve all eaten it up.
Maggie Anderson

Anne Quinn Corr’s career — one that spans 30 years and many food-related ventures, from catering to writing — all hinged, in the beginning, on a single cookie.

While helping a friend cater a wedding, the mother of the groom, Margaret Downsbrough, asked Corr what she did for a living.

“I said, ‘Well, I have two babies so that’s mostly what I do, but I’d like to do small dinner parties for people.’”

After the wedding, Downsbrough took Corr up on her idea and invited her to Windswept Farms.
“We cooked their lamb, we made pies with their apples,” Corr remembers. “We used all the vegetables from the farm and it went very well.”

Dinner party guests Jim and Barbara Palmer were so impressed with that meal that when Bryce Jordan first came to town in 1993, they knew who to call for catering.

“It was a small party with 10 people,” says Corr of the Palmers’ party to welcome Jordan, and everything went smoothly until dessert.

“It was peach melba with fresh local peaches, fresh raspberry sauce, Creamery ice cream and a cookie. I’m serving the last two, the guest of honor Bryce Jordan and Jim Palmer. And I’m short a cookie. Barbara Palmer’s reading my face and saying, ‘What’s wrong?’ and I’m looking down at their white shag carpet to see if there’s a fallen cookie.

“I said, ‘I’m embarrassed to say this, but I’m short a cookie so either Jim or Dr. Jordan is not going to get a cookie.’ And after much laughing and guffawing, Bryce said, ‘Oh, give Jim a cookie, he needs it more than me.’”

Though the understanding crowd made the new business owner feel better about the miscount, Corr knew that a caterer is only as good as the last impression — and dish — made.

“I excruciated over that all weekend and then on Sunday I made Bryce his own batch of Texas pecan bourbon shortbread with a basket of fresh nectarines and peaches and a little note of apology. And that launched my business.”

Before her sidestep into catering, Corr had worked in a different segment of the food industry. Growing up in Philadelphia, she started working at the local Stouffer’s restaurant at age 14. Her mother worked there, and Corr enjoyed the seasonal menus and introduction to fine dining.

“My dad was a very fussy eater,” she says. “He ate a hamburger every day for lunch. His idea of vegetables was French fries or a corn fritter. He didn’t allow onions to be cooked in the house. He ate one tomato a year. And he died at 62 of diet-related diseases, so that was kind of a driving force for me.”
Corr remembers the very first thing she cooked, as a 9-year-old. “My mom had one cookbook — I think it was Fanny Farmer — and I cooked chicken cacciatore and my dad wouldn’t try it. He said, ‘Why would you ever put chicken with tomatoes?’”

But Corr did have one family member who reveled in food. “My grandmother was Polish and we would go out to Ohio in the summers and she had a garden. We wrestled the onions out of the ground. We’d pick berries and she’d make jam. She’d make pancakes that we filled like crepes, and we cracked walnuts to make nut bread. So it was all about the food when I was at my grandmother’s.”

Corr’s own life quickly became all about the food. After the small dinner party for Jordan, the phone started ringing. “And I was like, ‘Uh-oh, I don’t have a kitchen,’” she says.

So her husband John built her a catering kitchen at their house on Edith Street. At the same time, Corr, who had graduated from Penn State with a degree in English, was still interested in writing, so she pitched then-editor of the Centre Daily Times Bill Welch a food column idea.

“He said, ‘Write three articles and then I’ll take a look at them and then we’ll talk.’ I wrote reviews of the Golden Wok, the Autoport and Margie’s Kitchen down in Belleville. And he called me and he was so gracious — he just said, ‘We could never run a restaurant review column in this town, but I like your style. Would you like to start doing features?’ And I did. So that was kind of coinciding with a time when there was an awareness about food and an appreciation that was growing, and I just rode that wave.”
Paul Kendeffy, the chef at Carnegie Inn Fine Dining, says Corr has written about him multiple times, and each time is a special treat.

“She started writing about me back when I was at Zola,” he says. “The thing about Anne is when she writes about chefs and food, she knows what she’s talking about. She’s kind of on the same level professionally as everybody she’s writing about.”

Since 1985 until just last year, Corr’s column in the CDT — for a long time called “Well-Seasoned” — covered every part of the local food scene, from the farmers who have been growing food for generations to the newest restaurant opening.

“Considering she’s pretty much our only real food writer, I think everybody can’t wait til she gets around to write about you,” says Kendeffy. “You feel a little bit special. When she did the story about the chef’s table [at Carnegie in State College Magazine], it’s the single reason why it exploded.”

Corr began writing for State College Magazine in addition to the CDT in the mid-2000s, switching off every other month with Kim Tait. Around the same time, the two were also involved with the local chapter of Slow Food USA, a movement focused on food that is good, clean and fair for all — an idea that has largely entered the mainstream today.

“My life was food,” says Corr. “I was never lacking a story.”

In 1993, the Corrs moved to their current house in Boalsburg, where John again converted the garage into a catering kitchen for his wife. “We were thinking about looking for a commercial place, but that would have changed the whole dynamic,” she says. “I really liked having it at home — the kids were home and grew up with all of this activity.”

It soon became even more activity when Corr was asked to join the nutrition department at Penn State. Former department head John Milner approached Corr at an event she was catering, and when she saw the Foods Lab, she was sold. “I remember he took me over there and it was a summer day but it was so blue and cool and calm and air conditioned and not like my kitchen at all.”

She taught her first class in the fall semester of 1996 and quickly realized what she could bring to the table. “They had students doing taste evaluations of water with different levels of salt in it, to see when they could apprehend saltiness. It was terrible. So I added a culinary spin to it.”

Mike Green, a professor in the department who recently retired after serving as interim head, says Corr’s work in the foods lab influenced both students and faculty. “Anne became our staple foods lab person,” he says. “She ran all the different food labs we had and became an integral part of the program. As she grew into that role, she took the lead to integrate the department, starting cultural lunches where everybody brought dishes from different countries. That became something we did at least twice a year that was very important.”

Corr taught Basic Food Preparation as well as Food, Culture, and Health Trends, a higher level course that delved into global culinary traditions.

“It was a fantastic course,” says Green. “She took students around the world and showed them how different cultures met their nutritional needs with unique diets.”

Corr liked her work introducing students, many of whom wanted to work in the nutrition field, to the basics of cooking. “I felt that I was doing something really useful. I met so many wonderful kids over the years. I’m still in touch with them.”

But the accomplishment Corr is most proud of came some years into teaching, when Green popped into the Foods Lab between classes with an idea. “He said, ‘We should have a cooking camp.’ I really didn’t want to give up my summer, but the camp was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

“At first she was very reticent,” says Green. “But then she just took it on. She came in and took over all those food labs and created a mark for herself. The summer camp was just the cap on that.”

After a challenging first year in 2001, Corr and her team worked out the kinks to create a weeklong day camp in which children ages 11-13 learn to cook in the foods lab on campus. And it’s still going strong — Corr’s grandson, Santana, attended Cook Like a Chef camp in July.

“It’s great how much that program has spread,” says Corr, who started different versions in South Carolina and Louisiana, where she experienced her first “food desert,” the term used to describe an area with limited access to nutritious food. “I think to reach that many young people and to demystify cooking and make it accessible to them, that’s probably my most important thing.”

In 2000, amid multiple jobs and a hectic life — “I was writing, I was catering. I had three kids. I had a full-time job.” — Corr put together a cookbook, Seasons of Central Pennsylvania, published by the Penn State University Press and featuring many of her past CDT columns. It’s a nearly comprehensive overview of the local food scene at the time and of the flavors of Pennsylvania, old and new.

The book is a paean to Pennsylvania, organized by season and featuring recipes that use local ingredients. But the book is also an ode to all the people Corr has known throughout her career: two recipes from Barbara Lange, a friend and, for a brief year, co-owner of Q’s Café in the former Encore Bookstore; a cake recipe from Leslie Shallcross, the friend who enlisted her help for catering the wedding that launched her business; and, of course, three recipes from the Confers, longtime owners of The Gamble Mill in Bellefonte and good friends of the Corrs.

“The biggest influence in the early days of the catering business was Courtney Confer,” she says. “He knew the local food landscape much better than this city girl. I had many questions, and he always knew the answers. The best ham is from Hostermans in Centre Hall. You can get rabbit at O.W. Houts. I asked, ‘What is ham pot pie anyway?’ He said, ‘Come on over and mother will make it for you.’ I credit him with grounding me in the local food traditions and I am grateful for all he shared.”

All those local bites are celebrated in the cookbook, which is still available in paperback, and Corr says there are some recipes she’d never update.

“My copy is beat up,” says Corr, who has the first copy ever printed. “I use it all the time. That’s the sign of a good cookbook.”

But for Corr these days, the sign of a good cookbook is not overall readership or sales but use by one particular person: her granddaughter Lilah. In 2015, Corr published a free iBook titled What’s Cooking?!, which features recipes and stories from Corr’s trip to Colorado, where her son, Joe, and his family live.

That first volume was quickly followed by Bread & Braids and Pies Pies Pies! in 2016. After multiple trips out west, the granddmother felt what she calls the “G-force” more strongly than ever and rented a house just down the street from her granddaughter for the winter. After a few months back in State College, she’ll head out west for an even longer stay.

“I have a million plans,” Corr says about what she’s calling her “third act.” She talks about an after-school cooking class for kindergartners or wine school dinners with John. After all, a chef and a wine salesman make a pretty good pairing.

“We have had a great life,” says Corr. And of course it’s not over yet, but the focus has shifted. After all, what’s better than a grandmother who teaches you everything she knows — and for Corr, that’s a lot — about loving food and cooking with love. •SCM

Roasted New Potatoes with Sage
Lemon Blueberry Pudding Cake
Serves 4 to 6

Olive oil
Kosher salt
Potatoes, small ones that will be just one or two bites when they are cut in half
Small fresh sage leaves to match the size of the potato halves

Preheat oven to 400°F. Drizzle olive oil over a glass Pyrex pan or heavy sheet pan to coat it. Sprinkle with salt. Slice potatoes in half and place the ribbed side of a sage leaf on the cut side. Place the potatoes cut side down on the pan and cook until tender and starting to brown, about 30 minutes or so, depending on the size of the potatoes. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
½ c. sugar
4 eggs, separated
Grated zest from 1 lemon
Juice from 2 lemons
¼ tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. flour, divided
1 c. milk
2 c. blueberries, rinsed and air dried

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, then add the sugar gradually, beating until well-dispersed. Add the egg yolks and beat well. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice and salt and mix well. Sprinkle 3 Tbsp. of flour over the batter and the remaining 1 Tbsp. of flour over the blueberries. Toss to coat the berries.
Mix in the flour and then drizzle in the milk, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
2. Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Using the whip that you beat the egg whites, whisk the whites into the lemon batter. Fold in the flour-coated blueberries and pour into an ungreased soufflé dish or casserole.
3. Place the dish in a larger container and add boiling water until it comes halfway up the outside of the pudding container. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the top is delicately golden brown and puffed. Serve the pudding cake warm, room temperature or chilled.

Red, White and Blue Fruit Salad
Makes 14 1-cup servings
Baked Trout with Anchovy Sauce
Serves 2

8 c. cubed seedless watermelon
6 c. blueberries
6 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
3 Tbsp. orange juice
3 Tbsp. lime juice
2 Tbsp. light olive oil
1 tsp. honey
1 bunch mint, plus extra for garnishing

Combine the watermelon, blueberries and feta in a large bowl. Mix together the orange juice, lime juice, olive oil and honey, stirring to dissolve the honey. Remove the leaves from the mint stems and chop. Pour the dressing over the fruit and cheese, add the mint and toss together. Serve very cold, garnished with extra mint leaves.

2 whole trout
¼ c. dry white wine
Dill or tarragon sprigs

1. Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Line a baking tray with aluminum foil, leaving long ends on either side. Rinse the fish inside and out and pat dry with paper towels. Measure the thickness of the fish at the widest point. Place the two fish on the baking tray upright in the swimming position with the belly spread out. The head of one fish should be even with the tail of the other fish for even heat distribution. Tuck fresh sprigs of dill or tarragon under the belly of each fish. Pour the wine over the two fish and put another sheet of foil on the top, crimping it very tightly so that no steam escapes.
2. Bake for about 10 minutes per inch. At the end of the cooking time, press through the foil to determine if the fish is cooked enough. The flesh will feel firm. Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Carefully unwrap the foil and remove fins and skin. Allow to cool for a minute and then remove the cooked fillets from the bone and place on a heated serving tray. Serve with Anchovy Sauce.

Anchovy Sauce for Trout

¼ c. olive oil, best quality
1 tin anchovies, finely chopped
    (or 2 Tbsp. anchovy paste)
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. capers

In a small saucepan, combine oil, anchovies, garlic and lemon juice and heat for a few minutes until the sauce is smooth. Add capers and remove from the heat. Drizzle while still warm on warm trout fillets.

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