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. Kat Kinsman is the managing editor of CNN Eatocracy. She wrote this essay for the place-themed issue #52 of the SFA's Gravy quarterly.
Angela H. pulled me aside in the lunchroom to tell me that everyone thought my family was poor. This was news to me. So far as I could tell, my sister and I didn’t look anything like the barefoot, swollen-bellied children on the sides of the UNICEF cartons into which we slipped spare pennies. Nor did anyone attempt to gift us with sacks of half-eaten sandwiches, the likes of which our Grandmother Ribando said starving Armenian children would be most grateful to have. (Clean your plates, girls. Clean your plates.)
I pressed her for evidence and she relished the words, tumbling them around in her mouth like a disc of butterscotch before spitting them out on her Jell-O dish: “My mom says it’s weird that your mom wraps your sandwiches in Saran Wrap instead of a Ziploc. And why do you always have carrot sticks and a couple of potato chips when we all have cookies? Did your dad lose his job or something?”
I bought my lunch for the rest of sixth grade, making sure to spring for the chocolate milk instead of white—extra nickel be damned (and sorry, faraway UNICEF urchins). It’s not that I especially enjoyed the grey-meated burgers and leathery green beans slopped on my plate by a rotating cast of conscripted parents, but I loathed the notion that my peers thought they could infer anything personal from my lunch tray.
Editor's note: The Southern Foodways Alliance delves deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of Southern food.
One Sunday morning in 1981, I came home from church and my soul was on fire. Not because anything exceptional had transpired during the 10:30 service, but because of the way my house smelled when I walked in the side door. My dad was making Indian dishes for the first time. Whatever was happening in that kitchen was weird and wild, and it twined into all my senses, drawing me toward the simmering pot and away from everything else I'd understood as food in my nine years on Earth thus far.
My mother had made most of our meals up to that point — dutifully, methodically and not unkindly, but as a means to an end, getting her husband and two daughters fed. Though she cares greatly for the communion of the dinner table, the artistry of its contents doesn’t especially concern her. It’s not a failing on her part at all — just a seed that had neither been planted nor encouraged to bloom by first-generation American parents who were grateful to have anything to eat at all.