Speaking about food…Cornbread Nation

This is a series of books produced by the Southern Foodways Alliance and published by The University of North Carolina Press. There are, at last count, 7 volumes, each one devoted to a specific topic that is Southern food- or cooking-related. I found copies of Volumes 1 and 3 at the Florence Public Library (I own 1-7), so I am re-reading these books and getting reacquainted with the content, not to mention understanding why Southern cooking is so fascinating, besides being just so darn good.

Volume 1 was the introduction to the series, and contains writings (even poetry!) by a collective of chefs, famous authors, food historians, journalists, and covers a broad range of topics from family histories about meals to an interview with Ms. Edna Lewis. You can almost taste the food as they appear in each article, and sometimes you can even picture the scene through the author’s eyes.

Volume 3 , “Foods of the Mountain South” is about the food of the Appalachian South, including Kentucky and West Virginia–think the Foxfire series of books. I remembered reading in the Washington Post about the ramp festival in WVa, and just reading the selection by Mary Hufford makes the allure and the lore of the ramp (a strong-scented relative of the onion) more personal, I guess for lack of a better word, and not lofty, especially since we drove through these two states in November on a road trip back from Harrisonburg to Florence. I understand it better now.

When I purchased each of the seven volumes, I devoured the book’s contents eagerly, mostly because I was fascinated by Southern food culture. Now that I am living here in Alabama (the Heart of Dixie), and I am exposed to a different way of life and eating, it all makes sense. And the weird thing is, I feel like I’ve come home to a familiar place even though I’m not even a Southerner (let alone a native-born one). But it sure feels nice.

Don’t get the idea that I am romanticizing the whole idea of Southern cooking, because it’s not purely the home cooking that we think about–there is the history of race relations (think Civil War and the slaves), the barbecue controversies and styles (I have to find the article which mentions that one of the best-known barbecue joints in Memphis is owned by a Jewish family), and even the integration of new ethnic cultures into the mix (Vietnamese and Mexican, for example). A lot of think about and a lot to eat.

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