A Mess of Greens

A Mess of Greens: Southern Gender and Southern Food

ELIZABETH S.D. ENGELHARDT
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt46nn5c
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  • Book Info
    A Mess of Greens
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4187-3
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xiii)
  4. INTRODUCTION Whose Food, When, and Why? Longing for Corn and Beans
    (pp. 1-19)

    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 timber, tannin, and the later paper factories; kept boarders; had small general stores; and generally did what they could to survive. They helped found churches and build schoolhouses; they farmed in small ways and kept garden patches. For more than two hundred...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Moonshine: DRAWING A BEAD ON SOUTHERN FOOD AND GENDER
    (pp. 21-49)

    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, the one whose bad reputation remains intact (taboo and technically illegal), is moonshine. It may seem counterintuitive to start this book on southern foodways with a food item that for years existed largely outside the bounds of socially acceptable consumption....

  6. CHAPTER TWO Biscuits & Cornbread: RACE, CLASS, AND GENDER POLITICS OF WOMEN BAKING BREAD
    (pp. 51-81)

    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 delicious cold with sorghum or honey for a breakfast or snack; it crumbled into buttermilk for a light end-of-day meal. Then, some single women with college educations...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Canning Tomatoes: GROWING “BETTER AND MORE PERFECT WOMEN”
    (pp. 83-117)

    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 transforming southern crop yields. According to her own retelling, Cromer raised her hand to ask, “But what are we doing for the farm girls?” She was not the first audience member across the South to ask such a question; but what made Cromer...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Will Work for Food: MILL WORK, PELLAGRA, AND GENDERED CONSUMPTION
    (pp. 119-163)

    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 targeting. Cromer looked for a task that would help girls become productive members of their societies; something that might train them in leadership, responsibility, and economic self-sufficiency. Later, in retelling the story, Cromer revealed one of her inspirations for choosing the tomato...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Cookbooks and Curb Markets: WILD MESSES OF SOUTHERN FOOD AND GENDER
    (pp. 165-191)

    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, especially of vegetables, is surprisingly ancient. The Oxford English Dictionary dates its origins as a phrase to the 1300s, even while acknowledging that its use today is increasingly “US...

  10. CONCLUSION Market Bulletins: writing the mess of greens together
    (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 hidden archive. With the perspective garnered from female moonshiners in literature, battles over biscuits and cornbread, economic stores of the gardenvariety tomato, ghostly pellagrins in strike novels, and the hopeful possibility encoded in cookbooks and curb markets, we...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 205-234)
  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 235-258)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 259-265)