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Eat Drink Delta

A Hungry Traveler's Journey through the Soul of the South

Susan Puckett

Publication Year: 2013

The Mississippi Delta is a complicated and fascinating place. Part travel guide, part cookbook, and part photo essay, Eat Drink Delta by veteran food journalist Susan Puckett (with photographs by Delta resident Langdon Clay) reveals a region shaped by slavery, civil rights, amazing wealth, abject deprivation, the Civil War, a flood of biblical proportions, and—above all—an overarching urge to get down and party with a full table and an open bar.

There’s more to Delta dining than southern standards. Puckett uncovers the stories behind convenience stores where dill pickles marinate in Kool-Aid and diners where tabouli appears on plates with fried chicken. She celebrates the region’s hot tamale makers who follow the time-honored techniques that inspired many a blues lyric. And she introduces us to a new crop of Delta chefs who brine chicken in sweet tea and top stone-ground Mississippi grits with local pond-raised prawns and tomato confit. The guide also provides a taste of events such as Belzoni’s World Catfish Festival and Tunica’s Wild Game Cook-Off and offers dozens of tested recipes, including the Memphis barbecue pizza beloved by Elvis and a lemon ice-box pie inspired by Tennessee Williams.

To William Faulkner’s suggestion, “To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi,” Susan Puckett adds this advice: Go to the Delta with an open mind and an empty stomach. Make your way southward in a journey measured in meals, not miles.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

Eating and Drinking Venues by Chapter

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pp. ix-xii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xiii-xvi

Many people contributed to the creation of this book—a three-year endeavor with more unexpected twists and turns than the mighty Mississippi. ...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-12

It’s easy to become mesmerized by the strange and haunting landscape of the Mississippi Delta—as much by what you don’t see as by what you do. You know when you’ve arrived. The highways narrow, billboards and streetlights disappear, and the gently rolling hills dissolve into tracts of farmland as flat and wide as a calm, dark sea. ...

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1. Memphis: Gateway to the Delta

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pp. 13-64

The double arches of the Hernando de Soto Bridge swoop dramatically over the Mississippi River like a monogram on the Memphis skyline. Most people around here know this link between Tennessee and Arkansas simply as “the M bridge.” ...

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2. Tunica and Environs: Las Vegas of the South

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pp. 65-76

In the northern part of what was once the poorest county in the nation stands a castle trimmed in neon surrounded by a moat. A faux drawbridge leads into a shopping mall–size atrium that reverberates with the plink-plink of hundreds of slot machines. ...

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3. Clarksdale: Cradle of the Blues, Crossroads of Cultures

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pp. 77-100

When I asked the gentleman who answered the phone at the Riverside Hotel if he had any nonsmoking rooms available that evening, he told me what I needed to know. “If you don’t smoke, then it’s a nonsmoking room. If you do smoke, then it’s a smoking room.” ...

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4. Como: Hill Town with a Delta Rhythm

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pp. 101-108

Como’s depot disappeared with the cotton commerce after the Great Depression. Gone are the days when this hill town on the edge of the Delta could claim more millionaires per capita than any other Mississippi town. ...

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5. Tallahatchie County: Wild and Mysterious

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pp. 109-118

Tallahatchie County stretches from the fecund flatlands in the west to the undulating eastern hills. In the old days, it could take weeks to traverse the swamps and woods to get from one town to the next, thus two county seats: Charleston in the east, Sumner in the west. The cultural divide is also evident. ...

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6. Cleveland and Environs: Home of the Fighting Okra

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pp. 119-150

The Blues Highway, aka Highway 61, stretching from Memphis to Vicksburg, becomes the main thoroughfare of Cleveland, a lively little town midway between the two cities that is home to Delta State University. Founded as a teachers’ college in 1924, this campus of four thousand boasts a music institute, performing arts center, ...

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7. Greenville: Athens of the Delta

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pp. 151-170

Greenville lies on the eastern bank of Lake Ferguson, an oxbow lake formed when the Mississippi River changed course. Several floating casinos are docked along its waterfront, where crowds gather for concerts, picnics, and fishing tournaments. But driving through the city, you may not even notice the water; ...

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8. Leland: Imagination Flows along Deer Creek

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pp. 171-180

Leland, a town of five thousand about twelve miles west of Greenville, proudly touts itself as the birthplace of Kermit the Frog. Muppets creator Jim Henson spent the better part of his boyhood here. While his agronomist father studied soybeans for the nearby USDA research center, Henson collected frogs and snakes and lizards along the mossy banks of Deer Creek, ...

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9. Sunflower County: Homegrown Legends

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pp. 181-202

Sunflower County is the longest county in Mississippi, a narrow, fifty-six-mile swath of flatland as deep into the Delta as you can go. Drive it top to bottom and you can view every archetypal snapshot of the region from your car window. Cotton, corn, soybeans, rice, and catfish all grow in abundance. ...

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10. Greenwood and Environs: From Cotton Capital of the World to Home of the High-Tech Range

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pp. 203-224

The entrance into Greenwood via Grand Boulevard is, indeed, grand. For miles and miles you drive southward through endless farmland and swampland along Money Road, which eventually becomes a short bridge that crosses the Tallahatchie River. Suddenly, you’re on a wide street lined by towering oaks and impressive homes of diverse architectural styles, ...

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11. Humphreys County: The Catfish Capital

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pp. 225-232

Catfish is the undisputed king in Belzoni. Images of this bottom feeder-turned-restaurant staple are everywhere. Wildly painted fiberglass mudcats pose in front of businesses all over downtown. A whale-size catfish sculpture rests in a shallow pond near the Catfish Capitol, a museum and visitors center. ...

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12. Yazoo City: Half Hills and Half Delta

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pp. 233-242

In his 1967 memoir North toward Home, Willie Morris succinctly describes Yazoo City, the town where he grew up: “half hills and half delta, only forty miles from the Mississippi, as the crow flies.” When you see the giant clouds billowing from the smokestacks of the fertilizer plant along Highway 49, you know you’re getting close. ...

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13. Vicksburg: Red Carpet City of the South

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pp. 243-272

Vicksburg (population: 25,000) bears little resemblance to the downtrodden towns that dot the alluvial plain upriver. The terrain is rolling and steep. Antebellum mansions—notably absent elsewhere in the Delta—stand regally behind terraced lawns. ...

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Epilogue

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pp. 273-274

There’s no signpost proclaiming where the Delta ends. But at Vicksburg’s Catfish Row, the murky waters of the Mississippi and the Yazoo merge at last, marking the unofficial southern terminus of a remarkable region. ...

Resources

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pp. 275-278

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About the Recipes

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pp. 279-280

The recipes I selected were culled from many more that I tested in my home kitchen. Together they present, to my way of thinking, a composite of the character and diversity of the people, places, and social customs I have observed throughout the Delta. ...

Selected Reading

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pp. 281-284

Photo Credits

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pp. 285-286

Index of Restaurants and Places of Note

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pp. 287-290

Index of Recipes

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pp. 291-294


E-ISBN-13: 9780820344935
E-ISBN-10: 0820344931
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820344256
Print-ISBN-10: 0820344257

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 75 color photos, 1 map
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Cooking, American -- Louisiana style.
  • Cooking, American -- Southern style.
  • Delta (Miss. : Region) -- Guidebooks.
  • Cookbooks. -- lcgft.
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