Writing in the Kitchen

Writing in the Kitchen: Essays on Southern Literature and Foodways

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 224
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Writing in the Kitchen
    Book Description:

    Scarlett O'Hara munched on a radish and vowed never to go hungry again. Vardaman Bundren ate bananas in Faulkner's Jefferson, and the Invisible Man dined on a sweet potato in Harlem. Although food and stories may be two of the most prominent cultural products associated with the South, the connections between them have not been thoroughly explored until now.

    Southern food has become the subject of increasingly self-conscious intellectual consideration. The Southern Foodways Alliance, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, food-themed issues ofOxford AmericanandSouthern Cultures, and a spate of new scholarly and popular books demonstrate this interest.Writing in the Kitchenexplores the relationship between food and literature and makes a major contribution to the study of both southern literature and of southern foodways and culture more widely.

    This collection examines food writing in a range of literary expressions, including cookbooks, agricultural journals, novels, stories, and poems. Contributors interpret how authors use food to explore the changing South, considering the ways race, ethnicity, class, gender, and region affect how and what people eat. They describe foods from specific southern places such as New Orleans and Appalachia, engage both the historical and contemporary South, and study the food traditions of ethnicities as they manifest through the written word.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-043-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)

    Writing in the Kitchen: Essays on Southern Literature and Foodwayswas conceived at a meeting of the Society for the Study of Southern Literature in New Orleans in 2010. David A. Davis of Mercer University and Tara Powell of the University of South Carolina had crafted a panel on Food and Southern Literature, which they asked me to moderate. Following the successful panel, ideas perking away, we moved on to that city’s Southern Food and Beverage Museum and after that to dinner. There, after some wine and some discussion, we began to focus our discussion and to think of transforming...

    (pp. xi-2)
    (pp. 3-12)

    This book began in New Orleans. We put together a panel on southern literature and foodways for the biennial meeting of the Society for the Study of Southern Literature in 2010. Because we were meeting in a city famous for its collision of ethnicities, its culture of excess, and its profusion of distinctive foodways, we felt a session to discuss the role of food in southern literature was appropriate, and the conversation in that session was heady and exciting. We moved a group of interested parties to the Southern Food and Beverage Museum to expand the discussion, and we soon...

  6. Chapter Two BOOK FARMING: Thomas Jefferson and the Necessity of Reading in the Agrarian South
    (pp. 13-28)

    Sometime during the first three decades of the nineteenth century, the old customary instruction in agriculture, the rote imitation of the practices of one’s parents and grandparents in the fields and garden, no longer insured success. Only print provided a sure pathway to sustenance and surplus. One either became a book farmer or endured a life of risk, subsistence, and privation. The turn toward letters reflected no dawning of scientific enlightenment or spread of agricultural gentility. Terror impelled it. A generation of agricultural prophets arose, proclaiming woe—men like John Taylor of Caroline County, Virginia, and George W. Jeffreys of...

    (pp. 29-49)

    Southern cuisine is the result of a four-century-long “cultural conversation” among African Americans, Europeans, and Native Americans (Ownby ix). As their lives intertwined in the early South, a convergence of cultures took place, and nowhere is this better expressed than in foodways (Breen 195, 197). The voices of several literary communities in the plantation South reflect the process of acculturation that happened as natives and newcomers produced and consumed food. This essay cannot encompass the complete chorus of voices that speak of southern food, but it will sample the four following distinctive nineteenth-century “conversations”: travelers and visitors in the antebellum...

  8. Chapter Four MARKETING THE MAMMY: Revisions of Labor and Middle-Class Identity in Southern Cookbooks, 1880–1930
    (pp. 50-68)

    The struggle to determine the proper women’s role in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition epitomized the role of domesticity in regional and race relations at the turn of the century. The president of the fair’s Board of Lady Managers, Bertha Honoré Palmer, argued that the board spoke for all women, though she neglected to appoint any African American representatives. Instead, Palmer chose to publicize the all-white board’s interregional composition, thus promoting a narrative of postwar regional—rather than racial—reconciliation.¹ Her vision for the fair was a Woman’s Building—and in particular a Model Kitchen—constructed to demonstrate advancements in...

  9. Chapter Five THE COOKBOOK STORY: Transitional Narratives in Southern Foodways
    (pp. 69-85)

    In the midst of World War I, Landonia Randolph Dashiell, under the pen name Landon R.Dashiell, published a short story that later would be picked up by William Dean Howells for inclusion in hisGreat Modern American Storiesvolume of 1921. Dashiell’s “Aunt Sanna Terry” portrays a series of interactions between an African American woman who makes a living selling food at her local rail platform and a young white woman who frequently travels there. What sets the short story apart, however, is its precise directions for brewing coffee, serving chicken, and preparing hygienic meals. Those directions work whether one...

    (pp. 86-104)

    In Willa Cather’s last novel,Sapphira and the Slave Girl(1940), food and food service are a major subject and subtext throughout. The book literally begins at the breakfast table where “Henry Colbert, the miller, always breakfasted with his wife,” and it ends in the kitchen (7). It is set in 1856, on a small northern Virginia plantation where the major source of income is a mill, much like the plantation of Cather’s maternal great-grandparents, Jacob and Ruhamah Seibert, who are prototypes for Sapphira and Henry Colbert, the slaveholding owners of the place. As Henry and his wife sit at...

    (pp. 105-123)

    A potato may not seem an especially poetic vegetable, but it claims special poetic status among the songs of the early Americas. We come upon this potato in an old Creole slave song that dates back to the time when Indians and Africans gathered in a place called Congo Square, just on the edge of the newly forming city of New Orleans. The song follows the sound of thebamboula—an African dance that takes its beat from a confluence of tango rhythms that pulsed throughout the historic Atlantic world. Its lyrics are composed of a single repeated phrase:Quand...

  12. Chapter Eight A MATTER OF TASTE: Reading Food and Class in Appalachian Literature
    (pp. 124-142)

    In 1888, Charles Dudley Warner, an editor and writer, colleague of Mark Twain, and patron of Sarah Orne Jewett, traveled through parts of Appalachia. He later published a narrative about his experience in which he commented that “it should be said that before the country can attract and retain travelers, its inhabitants must learn something about the preparation of food” (77). Lee Smith’s upper-class Richard Burlage fromOral History(1983), a novel set in the early part of the century, seems to share Warner’s opinion because he writes, “The food [in the mountains] is abominable” (112). Progressive-era missionaries Katherine Petit...

  13. Chapter Nine INVISIBLE IN THE KITCHEN: Racial Intimacy, Domestic Labor, and Civil Rights
    (pp. 143-158)

    In the homes and lives of middle-class white southerners through the middle of the twentieth century, black women were both ubiquitous and invisible. Other than field work, domestic labor was the occupation most readily available to black women, and generations of black women, from the earliest days of slavery to the last days of the civil rights movement, worked in the homes of white families. Many white children formed powerful maternal attachments to their black domestic workers that rivaled, if not displaced, their attachments to their actual mothers. Black domestic workers provided food, childcare, domestic stability, and maternal presence for...

  14. Chapter Ten EATING IN ANOTHER WOMAN’S KITCHEN: Reading Food and Class in the Woman-Loving Fiction of Ann Allen Shockley
    (pp. 159-178)

    As a human activity, food habits, rituals, behaviors, and choices, along with the reasons behind them, are fundamental to understanding social interactions. In literature, food practices—including the acquisition, preparation, presentation, and consumption of food—help to define characters, illuminate cultural and regional specificities, and shed light on the development of women’s identities. Some writers deliberately employ food themes as a literary device for both visual and cultural impact. Others use food incidentally as part of the ongoing, natural flow of the narrative. Still others do none of this. Rather, they use food in their literary work to mark time...

  15. Chapter Eleven CONSUMING MEMORIES: The Embodied Politics of Remembering in Vietnamese American Literature of the U.S. South
    (pp. 179-195)

    Since Marcel Proust first consumed his famous madeleine, food has been powerfully linked with the enigma of memory. As Proust claimed, food has the power to revive “lost time,” to awaken nostalgia, and to resurrect involuntary memories. Drawing on food’s mnemonic function, this essay analyzes the complicated interplay between food’s consumption and trauma’s assimilation in two novels by Vietnamese American writers: Lan Cao’sMonkey Bridge(1997) and Monique Truong’sBitter in the Mouth(2010). In foregrounding cultural similarities between the U.S. South and the Global South, these novels process complicated questions of historical trauma, diasporic identity, national and regional identity, cultural...

  16. Chapter Twelve THE ECONOMICS OF EATING: Native Recipes for Survival in Contemporary Southern Literature
    (pp. 196-213)

    In his introduction to an American Indian–themed special issue ofSouthern Cultures, editor Harry Watson ends with the reminder that “‘Native American’ is as southern as succotash” (5). Unfortunately, for most southerners, that realization generally comes as a side order rather than the main dish, and as metaphor or memory more than reality. The Native American roots of southern heritage are frequently recognized (or invented), while the still-thriving indigenous branches of the regional family tree are far more rarely and incidentally acknowledged. Indeed, in the South more than anywhere else in the nation, it is commonplace and desirable to...

  17. Chapter Thirteen “GNAW THAT BONE CLEAN”: Foodways in Contemporary Southern Poetry
    (pp. 214-228)

    Sociologist John Shelton Reed suggests inMy Tears Spoiled My Aim(1993) that one can “do worse” than to ask a southerner what “southern” means (53). The work of Reed, historian James Cobb, and other intellectual southwatchers suggests that young southerners’ sense of regional identity is increasingly ahistorical and defined most clearly by cultural markers such as fashion, music, sports, and food. Yet, to entertain the idea of these markers as coverings for the “cultural nakedness” Cobb ascribes to the post-agrarian, post–Civil Rights era South, in some ways masks these choices’ taproots in the region’s racial and agricultural economic...

    (pp. 229-232)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 233-245)