Okra Soup

Charleston cuisine often blends African American, Native American, and European traditions. Okra soup is distinctively Charlestonian, a dish that resembles a gumbo, but is simpler to prepare.

The following recipe has been handed down in Theresa Singleton’s family for four generations. Serena Mitchell North (1888-1963), Theresa’s grandmother, taught it to her daughters. Serena learned it from her father, William Mitchell, who worked as a chef at the St. John’s Hotel, once a renowned eating establishment in old Charleston.

Okra Soup

  • 3 quarts water
  • 1 large meaty beef soup bone
  • 1 large ham hock
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 lbs. fresh okra, chopped fine
  • 8 fresh medium tomatoes, peeled (Or 2 16 oz. cans of peeled whole tomatoes)
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • salt
  • pepper

Bring water to a boil. Add soup bone and ham hock and cook on medium heat until meat separates easily from the bone (about two hours). Add okra, peeled tomatoes, bay leaf, onions, thyme, salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer for another two hours. Add more water if needed. Serve with hot cornbread or pour over rice. Serves 8-10.

Mark Bograd – How I got here

BogradsI was born into the furniture business– third generation on my father’s side, fourth generation on my mother’s.  I grew up thinking that I was like a member of some kind of medieval guild destined to marry someone in the furniture business (I didn’t).  I sold my first bedroom set at twelve, the only sale my father was upset I made.  Though I grew up in this business, I wasn’t fated to be in it.  However, I do think that running @Bograds is a culmination of the varied work experiences I have had.

Straight out of college, I managed a small gourmet shop and catering operation in Washington, DC.  I had applied to be a baker, but they thought I’d make a better manager.  They never tried my Coffee Toffee Pie.  It remains the best interview meal I ever had (Restaurant Nora).  I walked the corridors of power in Washington with sandwiches for K Street law firms and hors d’oeuvres for political fundraisers.  It was my first taste of retail.  It showed me the value of service and honed my interest in quality and fine food.

I left to go work at the Smithsonian Institution, working in the bowels of the National Museum of Natural History as a research intern on Near Eastern archaeological materials.  I eventually left to pursue graduate studies in Anthropology and Historical Archaeology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  Happily, there I met my non-furniture wife, Jean.

Archaeology is about a lot of things, but its primary source material is objects.  A friend of mine commented that she thought my interest in objects grew from growing up in a business with them.  I knew what a Chippendale chair looked like from a young age.  It also imparted in me a sense of the power of things- the strong emotional connection we can make with a grandfather’s chair, a first car, etc.  I still remember coveting a Don Wright highboy that was in the basement of the Paterson store and a wing chair that was ahead of its time in the 1970’s with a leather interior and houndstooth fabric on the back.  It was Ralph Lauren long before Ralph Lauren and it sadly took a long time to sell.

Jean and I left Amherst with newly minted Master’s degrees and went back to the Smithsonian.  She worked on exhibits and I went back to research.  I worked for Theresa Singleton, a curator who specialized in African-American archaeology.  I developed a side interest in museums themselves, with the ways museums present information or the past to the public.  Theresa and I worked on a small exhibit at Natural History about colonoware, a kind of ceramic pot often found at plantation archaeological sites.  Colonoware, simple earthenware cooking pots, shows the cultural interactions of whites, African-Americans and Native Americans in southern plantation society.  The exhibit brochure included a recipe for okra soup, one that was passed from generation to generation in Theresa’s family.  Here we go, the power of objects again.

Jean and I left the Smithsonian for Massachusetts; she to go work for the Children’s Museum in Boston and me to be the Curator of Lowell National Historical Park, an urban park in the National Park Service system.  This too, had roots in my youth– spending time at the store in Paterson, learning the story of the first industrial city in America, working the soda booth at the Great Falls Festival.  Paterson has a storied industrial and labor history, one that was mirrored in many ways by Lowell.

I learned something else in Lowell curating collections and developing exhibits.  I learned about the importance of production, not just consumption.  Lowell had a working weave room, where visitors could see cotton toweling being made on power looms.  All too often, we buy products without thinking or caring about how they are made.  This is unfortunate.  There is a dignity and value in labor that is often not appreciated.  There are stories and faces behind the things we buy, whether simple cotton cloth, a sofa, or a dining table.  I like dealing with family businesses where I can for this reason.  There is an integrity to the products they make that is often and sadly not replicated in larger factories.

While in Lowell, our first son, Evan, was born.  I had always been interested in the furniture business, but I guess I needed to explore my dilettante side first.  I’m glad I did.  Jean and I decided that this was a good time for me to go into the family business and resettle in New Jersey.  Shortly thereafter, our second son, Ben, was born.

Since I’ve been back, the store has had its ups and downs.  Thankfully, we are on an upswing now.  My experiences all coalesce here @Bograds.  Fine food and fine living go together; we sell furniture we hope will be meaningful to people’s lives.  Exhibit and design are similar, trying to create impact and communicate who we are through the furniture we buy… the way we decorate.  We tend to intellectualize furniture here @Bograds.  We do it because we love the things we sell and long to tell the stories of the objects and makers we carry.

Live Edge Tops

blog2 (2)I grew up in the furniture business, so perhaps it is no surprise that I’ve also grown up with a love of the look of wood.  Design matters, no doubt, but there is something innate about the beauty of a finely finished wood table.  I sometimes refer to a table with an interesting top as a “wood person’s table”.  I am beginning to see the power of wood in the reaction others have had as we added three new live edge tops to the floor.

Live edge tops are tree slabs, 2-3″ thick cuts of tree trunks.  They are as varied as people, coming in all colors and sizes.  At the same time, they are not perfect.  There are knots and inconsistencies in the grain; sometimes splits.  Some have bark on, others are cleaned smooth.  While they can come from any wood, we are currently showing tops in Black Walnut, Sycamore, Curly Maple, Hickory, and Cucumber Magnolia.

Live edge tops and tables are pretty hot in the furniture market these days, but many suppliers are looking for the opposite of what we prize.  They want consistency, not uniqueness.  This is the difference between Formica and the granite yard; between mass production and fine art.

Our slabs come from our supplier Abner Henry.  They have been buying slabs for years; building relationships with mill yards to ensure that they get the pick of best live edge tops.  They make sure the tops are seasoned for at least two or three years to make sure there is no warp in the wood.  You can see the range of slabs atwww.ahupdates.com (need to confirm web address).

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You buy a live edge top the way you buy a fine piece of granite.  You choose your slab and cut it, if desired, to fit your project.  If there is bark on the edges; it can be taken off.  The tops are covered with a conversion varnish; cut or stripped edges just need to be resealed.

The beauty of live edge tops is that they also inspire creativity.  Their use for dining and cocktail tables is obvious, but what about for counters and kitchen islands, headboards, mantels, or doorways?  Abner Henry offers an array of bases and we are currently working with our partner, Custom Steel, to develop a series interesting and customizable bases for dining and occasional tables.


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The Bograds Digest – Furniture, Food, and Good Living

Retail stores are very much reflections of their owners and @Bograds is no different. We love fine furniture and love to talk about it (sometimes interminably). Anyone who knows our family also knows we share that passion with something else –a love of fine food.

Some years ago, when we published a magazine called Joe, my father wrote an article for the second issue entitled “Joe Bograd 4F.” In it he detailed his four loves “ma femme (his wife), family, furniture and food!” he followed that declaration with a review of five area restaurants. It was probably the most popular article in the magazine. My father happily recounted seeing someone at one of the restaurants with a copy of his review and delighted when the restaurant owners commented on the new business his reviews had generated. I in turn try to be an active Yelp and TripAdvisor reviewer with I hope are thoughtful reviews of stores and restaurants.

The Bograds Digest is a natural continuation of these efforts. The title represents another long held family love… the love of language. What better venue for us to discourse on furniture and food than within a pun. We plan to include posts on design and restaurants, furniture and cooking. We hope you enjoy reading it.