Editor's note: The Southern Foodways Alliance delves deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of Southern food. Bernie Herman is the department chair and George B. Tindall Professor of American Studies and Folklore at UNC-Chapel Hill. He lives in Chapel Hill and on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. He wrote this essay for the place-themed issue #52 of the SFA's Gravy quarterly.
The Bayford Oyster House extends over the shallows of Nassawadox Creek, abutting the channel where the tides of the Chesapeake Bay ebb and flow. The heart of the two-story wood building, erected around 1902, serves seasonally for shedding soft-shell crabs. During the rest of the year it functions as a storage area, stacked with soft-shell crab floats, blue plastic drums crammed with gill nets, and the flotsam of fish and eel traps, blue-crab and peeler pots, floats, line, and salt water–worn hand tools. The creek side of the oyster house fronts a working dock where watermen land their catch. The landward side abuts the one-story shucking hall and office, added when the business was in full swing through the mid 1960s, before disease struck the oyster beds and shucking operations closed. The old post office and store stands next door, remembered by Bayford denizens for its bear-paw sandwich of hard cheddar and rag bologna on a sugar-glazed bun.
Editor's note: The Southern Foodways Alliance delves deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of Southern food. Sheri Castle is the author of "The New Southern Garden Cookbook." She wrote this essay for the Appalachian-themed issue #51 of the SFA's Gravy quarterly.
This is a story about pinto beans. But first it’s a story about my mountain people and one of our curious traditions.
The Appalachian Mountain South is to the rest of the South what bourbon is to whiskey: It is distinguishable from the rest, yet part of the whole. That includes our food, which is rooted in our geography. Like the rest of the rural South, mountain people traditionally ate off the land. Unlike the rest of the rural South, my people live up and back in one of the oldest mountain ranges on the planet, where the landscape and climate are quite different. On a map, we’re in the South. In practice, we claim our own place.
Editor's note: The Southern Foodways Alliance delves deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of Southern food. SFA oral historian Amy C. Evans leads us along the Mississippi Delta's hot tamale trail.
Better known for its association with cotton and catfish, the Mississippi Delta has a fascinating relationship with tamales. The history of the hot tamale in this area reaches back to at least the early part of the twentieth century. Reference to the Delta delicacy appears in the song “They’re Red Hot,” which was recorded by legendary bluesman Robert Johnson in 1936. But there is an even earlier reference in the song “Molly Man,” which was recorded by the Reverend Moses Mason under the name Red Hot Ole Mose in 1928.
But how and when were hot tamales introduced to what has been called “the most southern place on earth”? More importantly, why have they stayed?
There are as many answers to that question as there are tamale recipes. In restaurants, on street corners, and in kitchens throughout the Delta, this very old and time-consuming culinary tradition has remained, while so much of the Delta – and the South as a whole – has changed.
5@5 is a food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.
Editor's note: Brothers Matt Lee and Ted Lee recently both hosted and cooked at the James Beard Book, Broadcast, and Journalism Awards ceremony. Their latest book, "The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen" won an International Association of Culinary Professionals award in the American cookbooks category, and the duo are about to launch Cookbook Boot Camp, a two-day intensive workshop for professional chefs and others eager to publish cookbooks of quality.
Like many regions of the country, South Carolina's Lowcountry experienced a cold, hard winter that seemed like it would never end. And it wreaked more than a bit of havoc on the ingredients we forage for - and typically find abundant - come Spring. Something about their being less plentiful made us realize how much we love them and wish they had a bigger platform, a more prominent venue, leagues more supporters.
It’s exciting to have farmers in the South digging deep into seed banks, finding heirloom grains and legumes that haven’t been tasted for decades. But we’d also like to shine a light on these five naturalized plant ingredients that already grow in abundance and are often overlooked. So this is a call to action to chefs in the South - and elsewhere - to get hip to the brilliance of FREE FOOD.
5 practically free ingredients we wish more Southern chefs would use: Matt Lee and Ted Lee
Editor's note: The Southern Foodways Alliance delves deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of Southern food. Silas House is the author of five novels, three plays, and one book of nonfiction. He is the NEH Chair of Appalachian Studies at Berea College. He wrote this essay for the Appalachian-themed issue #51 of the SFA's Gravy quarterly.
Dot’s Grocery, owned by my aunt, was the community center of tiny Fariston, Kentucky: a therapist’s office, sometimes a church, and—always—a storytelling school. Everyone gathered there to gossip and to seek the sage kitchen wisdom of Dot. She kept a Virginia Slim permanently perched in her fuchsia-lipsticked mouth and latched her steely blue-eyed gaze on her customers while they spilled their guts and sought her advice. A few times I witnessed prayer services there. The epicenter of a largely Holiness community was hard-pressed to escape that, after all. There were always the big tales, swirling around like the twisting smoke of the regulars’ cigarettes (in my memory, all of them smoked, everyone).
Looking back, the stories are what matter the most. But when I was a child in the 1980s my favorite things were: the cakes-and-candy rack, the old-timey Coke cooler with the silver sliding doors on top, and the huge jar of pickled baloney that sat on the counter next to the cash register. Beside it were a loose roll of paper towels, a box of wax paper, a sleeve or two of Premium saltines, and a large Old Hickory–brand knife.
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