Monday, October 01, 2007

The book on Southern food

The book on Southern food
We professional Southerners are apt to applaud when folks who write about the South get things right. The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, co-edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris in 1989, was a monumental work about the South – and a monument by weight. You’ll get a hernia if you tote one around for long.
The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture,like the original published by UNC Press, takes a different form – individual volumes devoted to single topics -- religion, geography, history and so on. The seventh in the series has just come out: Foodways, and its writing include several pieces by the Observer’s food writer, Kathleen Purvis, in my book one of the best in the business. She writes on funeral food and Carolinas barbecue. Talk about culture!
These are the kinds of books you can pick up and read all you need to know about a topic in just a couple minutes. The entry on moonshining was especially informative – with a short tangent about the proof of moonshine (“Proof originally denoted a spirit’s ability to dampen gunpowder yet sustain a flame.” I didn’t know that).
It also knotes that moonshine’s reputation for quality “suffered a ruinous decline during the national prohibition against alcohol (1920-33) when artisan distillers putting out small-batch spirits for steady local markets were displaced by novice opportunist distillers making bad hooch, by scurrilous bootleggers selling outright poison, and, finally, by interstate whisky syndicates that introduced sugar as a major ingredient to cash in on a sustained liquor-guzzling frenzy.”
Whew! My head is spinning already.
I also liked the section on deviled eggs and the need of every Southern woman to have a supply of deviled egg plates (I think my sister had eight or nine of them at one time).
And I appreciated the mention in the section on pimento cheese of the Mouli grater. It noted that modern pimento cheese makers probably use a food processor or a fork to blend their cheese, but not in our household. My wife makes the world’s best pimento cheese – absolutely the best – and it starts with sharp cheddar run through the handheld Mouli grater.
Sure, you can grate it in a food processor or mash it with a fork, but that risks bruising the cheese. Wouldn’t want that to happen, now would we?

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Southern food?

Equal parts starch, grease, sugar, and salt. Is it any wonder that the most obese states, the states with the highest rates of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and the like are in the South?

If I never see a bowl of grits or smell collard greens again it will be too soon.

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