The Southern Foodway Alliance publishes a newsletter called ‘Gravy‘ – and the latest issue has an essay from the late, great (loved him forever) Eugene Walter of Mobile. The people of Mobile even loved Eugene so much that they had him buried at the Church Street cemetery, which has been closed for years & years & years except to a *very* select few and put him right in front by Joe Cain. Wish I could find my pic of his monument there right now, but in part, it read:
Born in the land of lizard fever,
in sweet lunacy’s county seat,
this Untidy Pilgrim of the world
lived by the credo
When All Else Fails, Throw A Party
This has been said about him before, but he really was a Renaissance Man.
Thankfully before he passed away I had collected most all of his books, cookbooks, and booklets, some of which are *very* hard to find, as well as some of his drawings, which are in a fanciful style done with inkpen. Anyway, the piece by Eugene in the Gravy newsletter is terrific, and it goes to a subject that a friend and I were talking about just the other day. She’s preparing a travel itenerary for a tourism agency and we were discussing the differences between when people say “soul food” and “home cooking”. I think sometimes people get hung up trying to differentiate styles of cooking according to shorthanded ways of looking at others.
When I read this essay by Eugene, I think he agreed.
Greens! A humble and constant presence. Not many collect ‘fencecorner greens’ any more, save in truly rural Alabama: dandelions,wild sorrel, pokeweed, all that. But in the everlasting returning cycles of life, dandelion greens have begun to turn up in the snobbiest salads at yuppie, with it, and trendsetting tables. But turnip, collard, and mustard, along with cabbage, go on forever.Nothing irritates me more than the phrase ‘soul food,’ a catchall label for simpler and more traditional Southern dishes. …Later, some smartaleck or other, with imprecise reasoning, decided to split Southern food into rural, po’ folks (mostly black) cooking and fancy, citified (mostly white) cooking. All wrong! There are as many social classes and degrees of culinary sophistication among blacks as among whites in the Deep South…(at a hunting party in Mt. Vernon, Alabama) …served up a grand repast on a table covered with comic sections from the Sunday paper. The food had been cooked in the fireplace, whether in pots hanging from hooks or sitting in the embers. The steaming mixed greens (mostly turnip and mustard) were flavored with cubes of lean bacon, onions, and one or two not so hot red peppers. They were delicate, not at all greasy, and infinitely satisfying. They had simmered on the hearth all morning and were tender but had not disintegrated.Years later I was invited by the Conrad Aikens to a private club in Savannah where a silver tureen of turnip greens was served in triumph. This time, with bits of ham and ham fat. The dish, most delicate, could have been brought forth at a Paris table with Tabasco on the side…
…and then Eugene goes on to give recipes for Wednesday and Sunday greens, both including bacon or fatback.
The Denver Public Schools got a lot of attention a couple of weeks ago over serving collards and fried chicken for the holiday. Ohmygracious! We had those food choices multiple times a *week* at my school! That’s just Southern food (if we were celebrating someone from Maine, we’d have lobster rolls and whoopie pies, right!?) for Southern people. Goodness, they were upset about it up there. If anyone ever celebrates Ginger Day, y’all please serve a selection: cheese straws, pimento cheese sandwiches (crusts removed, naturally), fried catfish, charbroiled oysters, watermelon rind pickles, aspic, fried okra, collards with plenty of pot likker for cornbread dipping, rutabagas, fried green tomatoes, and banana pudding served from Mason jars for dessert. And do invite me. We’ll all be too busy licking our fingers to get upset about anything. Remember what Eugene said:
When all else fails, throw a party