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Mess of Greens

Southern Gender and Southern Food

Elizabeth S. D. Engelhardt

Publication Year: 2011

Combining the study of food culture with gender studies and using per­spectives from historical, literary, environmental, and American studies, Elizabeth S. D. Engelhardt examines what southern women’s choices about food tell us about race, class, gender, and social power.

Shaken by the legacies of Reconstruction and the turmoil of the Jim Crow era, different races and classes came together in the kitchen, often as servants and mistresses but also as people with shared tastes and traditions. Generally focused on elite whites or poor blacks, southern foodways are often portrayed as stable and unchanging—even as an untroubled source of nostalgia. A Mess of Greens offers a different perspective, taking into account industrialization, environmental degradation, and women’s increased role in the work force, all of which caused massive economic and social changes. Engelhardt reveals a broad middle of southerners that included poor whites, farm families, and middle- and working-class African Americans, for whom the stakes of what counted as southern food were very high.

Five “moments” in the story of southern food—moonshine, biscuits versus cornbread, girls’ tomato clubs, pellagra as depicted in mill literature, and cookbooks as means of communication—have been chosen to illuminate the connectedness of food, gender, and place. Incorporating community cookbooks, letters, diaries, and other archival materials, A Mess of Greens shows that choosing to serve cold biscuits instead of hot cornbread could affect a family’s reputation for being hygienic, moral, educated, and even godly.

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

I volunteer with a leadership group for at-risk girls in West Virginia. Whether we are dining around a campfire or at a picnic table, no meal at High Rocks begins without a round of “gratefuls,” in which anyone is free to offer thanks to anyone or anything that happened during the day. Having grown up around a southern table whose meals started with a blessing, gratefuls feel ...

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INTRODUCTION: Whose Food, When, and Why?: Longing for Corn and Beans

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pp. 1-20

In the 1760s, ancestors on my mother’s side of the family landed in Philadelphia and started down the Trans-Allegheny trail, heading for South Carolina. By the 1790s, they had moved up into the North Carolina mountains to a series of communities in Transylvania and Henderson counties—Quebec, Toxaway, Brevard, Hendersonville. Most of them never left. They worked in ...

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CHAPTER ONE: Moonshine: Drawing a Bead on Southern Food and Gender

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pp. 21-50

Many foods at the turn of the century were suspect, according to the United States government. For instance, the same laws that tightened the regulation of alcohol and created what would be the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also targeted non-licensed and adulterated butter and cheese, as well as any number of patent medicines. Yet, the one we remember, ...

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CHAPTER TWO: Biscuits and Cornbread: Race, Class, and Gender Politics of Women Baking Bread

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pp. 51-82

Imagine you were a young mother in the rural southern mountains before the turn of the century. You did not have much ready cash on hand, but you did have a family to feed. For years, your easiest solution was to put together a pone of cornbread while you were finishing the rest of the meal. It served well to sop up the potlikker in the bowls of beans or greens; it was ...

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CHAPTER THREE: Canning Tomatoes: Growing “Better and More Perfect Women”

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pp. 83-118

Shortly after Jane McKimmon began demonstrating bread making on the margins of farmers’ institutes in North Carolina, Marie Samuella Cromer sat in the audience at a 1909 teachers’ meeting in South Carolina. A rural schoolteacher in the western South Carolina town of Aiken, Cromer heard a speech about Dr. Seaman A. Knapp’s boys’ corn clubs that were ...

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CHAPTER FOUR: Will Work for Food: Mill Work, Pellagra, and Gendered Consumption

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pp. 119-164

When Marie Cromer raised her hand to propose founding a tomato club for girls in 1909, she made the suggestion to counter putting girls in a chrysanthemum club. To Cromer, flowers represented mere domesticity, daintiness, and leisure time—something fun and distracting for whiling away the hours—but not something helpful to the disempowered rural girls she was ...

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CHAPTER FIVE: Cookbooks and Curb Markets: Wild Messes of Southern Food and Gender

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pp. 165-192

We have finally arrived at the mess of greens in the southern food and gender story—and I propose we meet it on its own terms rather than force it into order.1 It takes on Granny Starkweather’s recipe collection and other cookbooks and adds in Elliott’s curb market memories, each of which will be supremely messy. The phrase “a mess of,” meaning a serving of food, a portion of a dish, ...

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CONCLUSION: Market Bulletins: Writing the Mess of Greens Together

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pp. 193-204

Cookbooks and curb markets continued across the twentieth century and into our own. From the 1930s to today they have been simultaneously places of containment and exclusion on the one hand, and possibility and potential on the other. To conclude our exploration of moments in the southern food and gender story, we turn to one final example of mess writing, one final ...


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pp. 205-234


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pp. 235-258


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pp. 259-265

E-ISBN-13: 9780820341873
E-ISBN-10: 0820341878
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820334714
Print-ISBN-10: 0820334715

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 5 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 794700458
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Mess of Greens

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Southern States -- Social conditions -- History.
  • Southern States -- Social life and customs.
  • Women -- Southern States -- Social life and customs.
  • Food -- Social aspects -- Southern States -- History.
  • Cooking, American -- Southern style -- History.
  • Food habits -- Southern States -- History.
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