Homecooking With... Heather Raines
Heather Raines’ kitchen is enlivened by boys in the next room having what is a distinctly middle school conversation. Her son Zachary, 11, and his best friend Bryant, 12, buzz about cars, video games and Apple products with an enthusiasm long-gone by adulthood. Their animated chatter combines with warmth from the oven and the lowcountry scent of seafood to set the perfect tone for a holiday meal of shrimp and grits soufflé.
Heather, the manager of Hub City Farmer’s Market, prepares this dish every year for Christmas Day brunch at her Spartanburg home, where she celebrates with her parents and brothers’ families. Her brunch contribution started as a traditional shrimp and grits dish about a decade ago. When her family members began requesting a repeat performance, Heather realized she would need to adapt her original, time-consuming recipe to make more space for family activities on Christmas Day. The soufflé version she settled on can be assembled and cooked the night before, requiring only a quick reheating on Christmas morning. Zachary is pleased, since this leaves more time for pre-brunch present-opening. The adults are pleased, as well, since no flavor is lost in the adaptation.
This is typical of Heather’s approach to food; making it to suit others is more important than any culinary distinction. “I don’t know if I like cooking as much as I like feeding people,” she admits. She’s from a family of cooks, including a brother who is a professional chef, but her style is unique amongst them. It’s the creative side of entertaining Heather most appreciates: perfecting a guest list, setting the table, and arranging an inviting dining room space. “I like it to be pretty.” She serves soufflé on her grandmother’s 75-year-old china and her dining room chairs are artfully mismatched and hand-painted.
But make no mistake: Heather’s penchant for beauty doesn’t detract one bit from her cooking abilities. The shrimp and grits soufflé is robust and satisfying, an ideal segue to recliner-lounging on Christmas afternoon and a necessary savory accompaniment to “all the sweet stuff” that comes along with a holiday brunch. Her recipe is made even better by local ingredients including sausage from Old Paths Farm and peppers and onions from Jackson’s Farm. During market season, Heather does her grocery shopping at work, rotating amongst Hub City Market’s 37 vendors. She values supporting local farmers and specialty foods in her city, but she also appreciates the added flavor. (Her son does, too: “I can tell this isn’t fake sausage!” he insists.)
There’s nothing fake about a meal at Heather’s house. She lowers her eyes and smiles when she talks about her best friend (Bryant’s mother) and beams watching Zachary slice sausage (“Tuck in your fingers!” she advises). The boys evoke Heather’s bright laughter. From the effortless rapport between mother and son to the curated surroundings, Heather’s home is as authentic and enjoyable as her cooking.