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What This Chef and Farmer Learned From His Nana

Matthew Raiford honors his heritage and expertise with lessons from his grandmother

Chef Matthew Raiford works in his garden
ANDY ANDERSON

Our land has been in my family since 1874: 40-plus acres in Georgia. My children are the seventh generation to have planted, harvested and eaten from a crop off this land. We raise our own chickens, and we grow potatoes, peppers, arugula and more. We feel very fortunate, very blessed that we’re able to carry on this legacy. There are so many people who can’t do that.

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closeup of Egg Pie with cheese and vegetables
Scott Suchman; Food stylist: Lisa Cherkasky

Nana’s Egg Pie

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • Olive oil spray
  • ½ teaspoon pink Himalayan salt
  • ½ teaspoon salt-free vegetable-pepper seasoning blend
  • 1 dozen large eggs
  • 2 cups coconut cream
  • 4 cups stale bread, cut into cubes
  • 2 cups spinach leaves, roughly chopped or torn
  • 1 large portobello mushroom cap, sliced (½ cup)
  • 1 small onion, finely diced (½ cup)
  • 1 bell pepper, seeded, stemmed and diced (½ cup)
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, seeded, stemmed and diced (¼ cup)
  • 1 tablespoon basil, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup crumbled feta
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, sliced

1. Heat oven to 375°F. Spray a 10-inch cast-iron skillet with olive oil.

2. In a small bowl, combine salt and vegetable-pepper blend. In a large bowl, whisk the salt-and-pepper mix with eggs and cream.

3. Gently fold the bread cubes, spinach, mushroom, onion, bell and jalapeño peppers, basil, parsley and ½ cup feta into eggs. Pour egg mixture into skillet, and top with remaining feta and the tomatoes. Let sit for 15 minutes.

4. Bake egg pie for 40 minutes, until firm and golden, rotating halfway through.

5. Remove egg pie from the oven, and let rest for 5 minutes before serving. Serve on its own or with oven-­roasted potatoes.

Nutrients per serving: 490 calories, 15g protein, 54g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 24g fat, 295mg cholesterol, 500mg sodium

But when I was 18, I left home and swore I’d never come back to the South. I joined the Army for 10 years. Then I went to culinary school to study French cuisine and became an executive chef in Washington, D.C.

As my parents and grandparents were getting older, though, less and less of the farm was being cultivated. Every time I’d go home to visit, my nana would ask my sister and me, “What we going to do with all this land?” In 2010, for some reason, I told her, “We should go back to farming it.” My nana asked, “Did you say ‘we,’ baby?” I said, “Yes, ma’am, I did,” and she said, “Great. Get started.”

She gifted my sister, Althea, and me 12 acres of land, and we’ve been at the farm ever since. Nana didn’t stop growing her almost quarter-­acre garden until she was nearly 90. When she passed at 96, she was still helping us out at the farm.

That woman was a force of nature. Her name was Ophelia. She was a wonderful cook, and one of her signature dishes was her egg pie, a recipe I’ve adapted. She’d whip the eggs, sauté up all the vegetables, slide the pan into the oven, and less than 30 minutes later, breakfast would be ready. One slice has all the nutrients that you need to get through the morning. And all of it’s fresh and unprocessed, which is what the body needs. It’s also a beautiful dish to serve to guests, especially during the holidays. It comes together quickly.

When I was little and Nana served egg pie for breakfast, I’d go back immediately for seconds. But now I’m an adult, so I have to adult. I have to eat my piece and say, “OK, I’ve got to get back to work.”

Matthew Raiford, 55, is the author of  Bress ’n’ Nyam: Gullah Geechee Recipes From a Sixth-Generation Farmer. He lives with his wife, chef  Tia Raiford, in Brunswick, Georgia.