Between Hurricanes Florence and Matthew and the holiday season quickly approaching, my feelings of homesickness and love for my NC friends and family have only grown in this time of hardship. Eastern NC has been hit particularly hard and it only makes me reminisce about the boundless southern hospitality gifted to me from Quinn and Paten (better known as the Soul-Full Sisters) and their loving parents down in Duplin County last fall.
We took off early on a Saturday morning with empty stomachs in anticipation of eating our way through the places near and dear to the Carlton family’s hearts and bellies. On our way into town, we dropped in to grab breakfast biscuits from The Country Smoke House (“The Smoke House” to locals) featuring the famed Westwater Country Ham. I’m not a traditional buttermilk biscuit fan, so these flat biscuits were right up my alley as they were perfectly fluffy, yet flat enough to encapsulate the scrumptious fillings without crumbling everywhere.
We chatted for a bit with Mama and Daddy Carlton while our breakfasts settled before jetting off to our next stop. The Country Barn, formerly the “Bulk and More,” had the yeasty, fresh baked bread smell wafting through the air to entice us inside to taste what was fresh out of the oven. The store boasts scratch made Amish treats from breads to cakes and house churned butter along with any pantry needs from dry spices to soup mixes. I ordered the spicy turkey sandwich with all the veggie fixin’s piled between two slices of their homemade cheddar jalapeño bread. The bread was so good I bought an extra loaf to bring home!
At this point, we were practically rolling into our next stop, The Country Squire. This DuCo institution has been around for over 50 years and is known as a special occasions spot. We started out with a wine tasting and some nibbles on their famous Squire Cheese (grab the addicting recipe here). We followed this up with a tour of the grounds with some historical notes and ghost stories from the owner, Iris Lennon. Her Scottish brogue only made the spiritual sighting tales that much scarier!
We were tickled pink to not only visit the aforementioned country ham haven, Westwater Country Ham, but to receive a personal tour and company story from Bart Smith. Bart is the manager and son-in-law of the late Henry West, founder of Westwater Country Ham back in 1971. Bart was kind enough to let us snap many photos and gave us all plenty of country ham to take home to enjoy. Their country ham is unlike any other I’ve tasted. While most country hams just taste like a salt lick, Westwater Country Ham has the saltiness along with the complexity and depth of flavor of a great ham coming through. One of the things I’ll remember most is basking in the smell of the country hams curing in the ham house. If you’ve ever smelled country ham – you know what I mean! It’s musty and distinct in the best possible way.
Last, but certainly not least, we wrapped up our fabulous food day in Beulaville with a home cooked dinner by Mama Carlton. Her Bolognese was simmering all day, chock-full of meat, veggies and spice. Not a bad way to end our day in DuCo.
This food and scenic tour of Duplin County with the Carlton family was unbelievable. The sense of community, love and kinship is evident in the smiles that greeted us at every stop. Paten, Quinn and their family took so much care to plan out our day in order for us to receive personal touches at each of our stops. If that’s not Southern Hospitality, I don’t know what is. I’m looking forward to my next trip down east to fill it with the many other gems Paten and Quinn pointed out along our tour. You can bet I’ll be ready with an empty stomach!
Where do you stop to eat in DuCo? Let me know by leaving the details in the comments below so I can check them out next time! Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog and check in for my regular posts over on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.