Cornbread Nation 7
The Best of Southern Food Writing
Publication Year: 2014
How does Southern food look from the outside? The form is caught in constantly dueling stereotypes: It’s so often imagined as either the touchingly down-home feast or the heartstopping health scourge of a nation. But as any Southern transplant will tell you once they’ve spent time in the region, Southerners share their lives in food, with a complex mix of stories of belonging and not belonging and of traditions that form identities of many kinds.
Cornbread Nation 7, edited by Francis Lam, brings together the best Southern food writing from recent years, including well-known food writers such as Sara Roahen and Brett Anderson, a couple of classic writers such as Langston Hughes, and some newcomers. The collection, divided into five sections (“Come In and Stay Awhile,” “Provisions and Providers,” “Five Ways of Looking at Southern Food,” “The South, Stepping Out,” and “Southerners Going Home”), tells the stories both of Southerners as they move through the world and of those who ended up in the South. It explores from where and from whom food comes, and it looks at what food means to culture and how it relates to home.
Published by: University of Georgia Press
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In my younger, more offensive years, I used to say that Michigan was the South’s northernmost state, on account of the popularity of pickup trucks and country music. I also thought any state that started with a vowel was probably dispensable, and for proof, I would start with Alabama, Arkansas....
Come In and Stay Awhile
We Waited as Long as We Could
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The first restaurant I ever loved was a deli in Miami called Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House. A short drive away from the apartment where my grandparents lived during the winter, it opened in 1954, and maintained from then on the midcentury look of the kind of place where Frank Sinatra would eat after a show (which he did). Part New York–style deli, part diner, it had red...
The Homesick Restaurant
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In Havana, the restaurant called Centro Vasco is on a street that Fidel Castro likes to drive down on his way home from the offi ce. In Little Havana, in Miami, there is another Centro Vasco, on Southwest Eighth—a street that starts east of the Blue Lagoon and runs straight into the bay. The exterior of Miami’s Centro Vasco is a hodgepodge of wind- scoured limestone chunks...
Stuffed, Smothered, Z’herbes
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Like born-agains of any denomination—Christian, Buddhist, Weight Watchers—New Orleans converts tend to exhibit a more innocent, rosecolored zeal for their church than the flocks who’ve yawned through the motions all their lives. This is how quixotic, goateed hipsters wind up sitting knee to knee with strawberry-nosed lifers in the city’s grittiest barrooms, like...
What I Cook Is Who I Am
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My grandmother cooked every day. Her entire life. In our tiny windowless Brooklyn kitchen with just a few pots, mismatching lids, a plastic colander or two, and a fake Ginsu knife, she re-created all the Korean dishes she had learned before she immigrated to America. My grandmother never questioned her identity, culinary or otherwise. She was a Korean widow yearning...
God Has Assholes for Children
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We got to Florida late at night, groggy and stinkin’ from the ride. We pulled into the parking lot of this place called Homewood Suites; I liked it ’cause their logo was a duck. We usually stayed at Red Roof Inns, so I was pretty impressed with this place they called an extended- stay hotel. Emery and I walked around touching everything in the room, but my parents were tired...
You Have to Fall in Love with Your Pot
As told to Sara Wood by Ida MaMusu
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I grew up in Monrovia, Liberia, in West Africa, under the guidance of my grandmother. She was a chef and an entrepreneur herself, and I learned everything that I know today from her. I came to the United States in 1980 by way of a civil war in Liberia. I moved to Richmond, Virginia, in 1986, and I’ve been here since....
Around the World in Eight Shops
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All it took was a small sign on a strip mall on Polk Street in Pineville: “Elsa’s
American, Asian, and International Food Mart.”
When historian Tom Hanchett spotted it, he scurried to what he calls “my good friend, Google.” Within a couple of minutes, Hanchett had learned a new word—sari-sari, a Philippine variety store. And he had new evidence...
That’s Your Country
As told to Sara Wood by Argentina Ortega
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My name is Argentina Ortega. I am sixty- two years old, and I started this
bakery in August 2005. My sons are my partners.
I was born in a little town in El Salvador called Sensuntepeque, Cabañas. I was there until I was thirteen, and then I moved to the city to study in a Catholic school, and I used to live in the school. And then I went to the...
Friends and Families
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As big as Texas, as big as the world. That’s Houston. Especially now, since its character—and foodscape—is being shaped more and more by a growing infl ux of Asian immigrants. And that’s why Chris Shepherd has insinuated himself into the lives and work of a handful of Asian restaurateurs and chefs. To learn. To grow. Just like Houston....
The Perfect Chef
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Before I got in my car and drove to three different states to find him, before I began tracking his whereabouts on the Internet and running down leads that had been passed to me by people I had never met, before I had to admit that I had become a little crazed in my pursuit and that this was about more than just him, but about me, too—before all that, Peter Chang was simply...
Provisions and Providers
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The house at 40 Congress Street wouldn’t have been my first choice for lunch. It sat on a weedy lot in a disheveled section of Asheville, North Carolina. Abandoned by its previous owners, condemned by the city, and minimally rehabilitated, it was occupied—perhaps infested is a better word—by a loose affiliation of opportunivores. The walls and ceilings, chicken coop, and solar...
I Had a Farm in Atlanta
John T. Edge
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The van is white, like all the others, with four rows of vinyl bench seats and door handles that rattle when we crest speed bumps or brake to stops alongside clutches of dumpsters overfl owing with debris. Other vans, parked in the blacktop lots that encircle the Indian Valley apartment complex on the northwestern fringe of Atlanta, are taped with precise blue script. Chin...
The Price of Tomatoes
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Driving from Naples, Florida, the nation’s second-wealthiest metropolitan area, to Immokalee takes less than an hour on a straight road. You pass houses that sell for an average of $1.4 million, shopping malls anchored by Tiffany’s and Saks Fifth Avenue, manicured golf courses. Eventually, gated communities with names like Monaco Beach Club and Imperial Golf Estates...
Working in the Shadows
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Early the next morning I drop off my application with the guard and head into the city of Decatur[, Alabama], fifty miles east, to check out another poultry plant, this one owned by Wayne Farms. I’m less interested in this plant as I would prefer a completely rural experience, but since I’ll be giving up my rental car soon—I have enough funds to cover only a week’s use, after ...
The Celebrity Shepherd
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My fl ight from Atlanta to Los Angeles is boarding in fi ft een minutes, but I
answer the call. “Besha!” Craig Rogers’ voice comes through the line, loud
and smiling. “How are you, dear? It’s your own personal shepherd!”
“Your own personal shepherd” is a term Craig Rogers uses a lot, and he has become the personal shepherd to enough chefs up and down the East...
The Triumph of Jamie Oliver’s “Nemesis”
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It was all I could do not to scarf the entire stromboli, neatly packaged for me in a Styrofoam clamshell, while in the car. The dough was soft . The balance of ham and mozzarella, just right. And so, only about half was left when I parked on Third Avenue, the main drag in Huntington, West Virginia, and off ered a bite to some friends....
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Since Jody Meche’s wife is working late and since Jody and I will be out frogging until midnight or so, we need to get enough calories into Bryce, the couple’s fourteen-year-old, to hold him until his mama gets home. Thus it is that my introduction to the art of frogging takes place in the drive-through line of the McDonald’s in Henderson, Louisiana, about twenty- five miles...
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When I called the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to ask about
pig- hunting regulations, the lady who answered the phone said, “There
“You need a hunting license; a five-day will cost you forty-eight dollars.”...
A Taste for the Hunt
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The greatest meal of my life involved a Triscuit.
At the age of eleven, you see, I came into possession of a .177-caliber Crosman air rifle. The rifle shot mushroom-shaped lead pellets, and if you pumped the rifle a dozen times or so, to the point that a pneumatic/mechanical explosion felt dangerously imminent, it shot them pretty hard. One afternoon, bored...
Eat Dessert First
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The Arkansas Delta is the mirror image of the Mississippi Delta on the other side of the river; together, the two are known simply as “the Delta.” The area is defined by a deposit of black alluvial soil formed over thousands of years in the shared floodplain of the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers and encompasses some of the nation’s most fertile farmland. With its history of cotton ...
Anyone and Everyone Is Welcome
As told to Francis Lam by Sue Nguyen
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My name is Sue Nguyen; I’m thirty-two years old. I’m the owner and operator
of Le Bakery Café.
I was born and raised in San Diego—I say raised, but actually I grew up in Biloxi, so I consider myself a Biloxian....
Five Ways of Looking at Southern Food
The Great Leveler
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I have been trying really hard to think of something new to say about Southern food, a subject that I (along with a host of other people) have written a whole lot about.
I have written about funeral food and pimiento cheese factions and George Jones versus Jimmy Dean sausage. I have attempted to prove the superiority...
The Post- Husk Era
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A lot has happened in the Charleston dining world since last summer. Of course, one could make that statement every year. Old restaurants close their doors and new ventures take their places. One chef gets tossed out of a noted kitchen, and another is lured away from a rival to fill the vacancy. This time around, though, it’s more than just the usual turnover in an ever-changing...
Mother Corn and the Dixie Pig: Native Food in the Native South
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Native food is in the news. Every day. All over the country, except in the South, farmers, chefs, environmentalists, and food writers are excited about Native food and foodways. That excitement usually comes from a “discovery” (or rediscovery) of the many virtues of old “slow” foods in the now hip vernacular—local, fresh, and seasonal foods that are good for you, good for...
Every Ounce a Man’s Whiskey? Bourbon in the White Masculine South
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In a 1975 essay bluntly and beautifully titled “Bourbon,” Walker Percy asserts that “the pleasure of knocking back Bourbon lies in the plane of the aesthetic but at an opposite pole from connoisseurship.” For Percy, it is Bourbon’s aesthetic condition rather than its chemical composition that makes the drink so distinctly appealing. “Knocking it back neat” serves a transportive...
The South, Stepping Out
When the Queso Dripped Like Honey
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The first time I ate queso was at a cast party for a high school play. I’d been dieting for months, a lonely stretch of rice cakes and Lean Cuisine, and now unencumbered by the pressure of six hundred eyes staring at me from auditorium seats, I could chow down....
Willie Mae Seaton Takes New York
Lolis Eric Elie
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Why had they seated her so far from the stage?
She will be 89 come July. Didn’t the organizers have her biography right there in front of them? Even if they hadn’t seen the holes cut in her work shoes to accommodate the gnarly bunions of her feet, they could have guessed that a long walk...
Mississippi Chinese Lady Goes Home to Korea
Ann Taylor Pittman
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Music blares from a doors-open car about twenty yards away from where a woman dances in an open, grassy spot. The tune is a Korean folk song, twang and strings and a tinny singer, and the petite dancer glides across the grass as wind whirls the trees about. She is wearing a...
An Oyster Named Dan
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I’d like to say I knew he was special from the first. The fact remains I had just eaten eleven of his brothers and sisters, finding them delicious but interchangeable. There he lay then, on a shimmering palette of rock salt, ready to be splashed with mignonette sauce and slurped as a gluttonous aft erthought....
Coconut: The Queen of Cakes
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From the day I was born until the autumn of 1991, I baked only one cake. Cakes seemed pointless, bulging, huge, and bloated. They delivered so little sensory pleasure compared with their incalculable calories, their massive weight and volume, their off-the-chart glycemic index. Cakes were effeminate, woman’s work, and surely politically incorrect....
The Vicksburg Lebanese Supper
As told to Amy Evans by Mary Louise Nosser
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My name is Mary Louise Nosser.
When my daddy came to this country from Lebanon, he was twenty-two years old, and it was August 27, 1920. And he said he arrived in Vicksburg at eight-thirty in the evening with fifty-five cents in his pocket....
Soul Food? What Is That?: (From Simple’s Uncle Sam, 1965)
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“You heard, didn’t you, about that old colored lady in Washington who went downtown one day to a fi ne white restaurant to test out integration? Well, this old lady decided to see for herself if what she had heard was true about these restaurants, and if white folks were really ready for democracy. So down on Pennsylvania Avenue she went and picked herself out this...
We Shall Not Be Moved
Jessica B. Harris
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If the period of the Civil Rights movement began with traditional African American cookbooks extolling the virtues of greens, macaroni and cheese, neckbones, chitterlings, and fried chicken, it ended with a transformation of the diet of many African Americans. By the end of the decade and throughout...
The Brixton: It’s New, Happening, and Another Example of African American Historical “Swagger-Jacking”
Stephen A. Crockett Jr.
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Last month, the corner of Ninth and U got a British resident—a kind, threefl oor chap: the Brixton. It’s the new happening restaurant and bar on the former Black Broadway, appropriately named aft er a multicultural section of London that lost the gentrifi cation battle in the 1990s....
Southerners Going Home
I Placed a Jar in Tennessee
John Jeremiah Sullivan
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In the yard of the house I grew up in—I’m looking at it right now on Google Maps, satellite and street views open in simultaneous windows (plus a real estate site that’s telling me it wasn’t even a full half acre of land)—there grew three fruits. The man who’d built the house was a priest. Our priest, actually, at St. Paul’s Episcopal downtown. He baptized me. His name was Fallis,...
A Love Letter to North Carolina’s Red Bridges Barbecue
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Dear Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge,
It’s been ten years since I last ate at your fi ne establishment, but I can still see the teal blue vinyl that covers your booths and chairs. It’s a shade of blue that belongs to a diff erent era, which is appropriate, as so do you. And of course, I can smell the hickory smoke and the sharp jabs of vinegar that accompany...
The Missing Link: Donald Link Opens Second Cochon in Lafayette
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Donald Link barely gave the chickens a chance to stop sizzling before he put his
hands around them, subjecting each to a tactile examination that looked like
nothing so much as a quarterback blindly feeling his way to a football’s seam.
One of the chickens looked like wild game, its flesh darkened by injected Cajun spices vivifi ed by the flames in the wood-fired oven behind it. The...
Of Pepperoni Rolls and Soup Beans: On What It Might Mean to Eat like a West Virginian
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In the end, it took New York City to make me a West Virginian. There is the technicality of my birth, in Morgantown, West Virginia, my only home until age twenty- two. But I spent those years eating pepperoni rolls and waiting to move to Manhattan, where the mountains are hard, refl ective steel and pepperoni is a pizza topping....
Pasquale’s Hot Tamales
As told to Amy Evans by Joe St. Columbia
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My name is Joe St. Columbia. I was born October 30, 1938.
It all began with my grandfather, Peter St. Columbia, coming to America in 1892, and leaving my father, who was a newborn baby—leaving his wife and baby in Sicily. He stayed in New Orleans maybe a few months, cutting sugarcane down there to make some money. Daddy said Grandpa earned...
Remembering Pitmaster Ricky Parker
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They buried Ricky Parker yesterday. A few miles down the road from the cinderblock pits where he cooked whole hogs for more than half his life, from the sliding glass window where he sold sandwiches, from the creosote-stained door where he hung the SOLD OUT sign every aft ernoon to let the latecomers know not to bother, they gathered to say they were sorry, to say good- bye, to say that...
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The Southern Foodways Alliance
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Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2014