Monday, June 24

Boxed Lunch: A Portrait of Sally Bell's Kitchen in Richmond, VA

We're just back from Richmond, Virginia, where we celebrated Women at Work in RVA for our annual Summer Symposium. It was an incredible few days, and we look forward to featuring some highlights from the trip here soon. First, though, we want to share with you the wonderful new short documentary fim that premiered on Friday at the Valentine Richmond History Center. Boxed Lunch by Nicole Lang and Christophile Konstas is a portrait of family-owned Sally Bell's Kitchen in downtown Richmond, open since 1924.

For a recap of the weekend as told by SFA members and staff in attendance, search Twitter for the hashtag #SFARVA.

Thursday, June 20

Drinking Wine with Thomas Jefferson

Photograph courtesy of The Random Oenophile.

Meet Marie Stitt, who will be guest-blogging for us about Southern wine culture. A native of Birmingham, Marie received a BA in Art History from Rice University and an MA in Gastronomy from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Bra, Italy. She now lives in Charleston, South Carolina, where she works as a portfolio manager for Grassroots Wine. You can follow Marie on Twitter at @MarieStitt.

Marie Stitt (l), hard at work with her boss (and SFA board member) Harry Root.
 Marie calls her SFA blog posts—of which this is the first—"A Mini-Series on Southern-Infused, Wine-Soaked Movers and Shakers." It's only fitting, she explains, to begin with a lesson on Thomas Jefferson (or "TJ," as she affectionately calls him). And this post is especially timely as we're in Virginia this weekend for our Summer Symposium, where we will be serving and sipping—what else?—Virginia wines!

It is, in truth, the only antidote to the bane of whiskey. —Thomas Jefferson on wine

Like many things wonderful and Southern-born, wine in the south can be traced back to Thomas Jefferson. Besides writing the Declaration of Independence, founding UVA, overseeing the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition, serving as Secretary of State, VP, and third President of the US, Thomas Jefferson was also a wino. If the term “wino” conjures any negative connotations I hope that you’ll dispel them now, because, when applied to Thomas Jefferson, this term means oenological connoisseur; it means impassioned viticulturist and patron saint of American wine growing. He was truly a lover of good wine and believer in its abilities to improve the quality of life; he was a drinker, an importer, and a wine advisor to George Washington. Jefferson's vineyard at Monticello was one of the first planted in the U.S., in 1774.*

As you can see, I kind of have a thing for TJ.

You see, he was not only a founding father of these United States (and inventor of the swivel chair), but also of American wine culture. Viewing wine growing as an integral part of the agrarian ideal he imagined for the fledgling nation, Thomas Jefferson famously said, “Good wine is a necessity of life for me,” a quote which has been borrowed by the California-based wine merchant Kermit Lynch and appears on the back of every bottle he imports to the US.

Don’t get me wrong, booze crossed the pond before TJ's time. But beer, cider, and of course, whiskey, were the real players in pre- and post-Revolutionary America. The first commercial brewery in what is now the United States opened in the 1600s. Despite the competition, the visionary gourmand Thomas Jefferson was committed to the idea that Americans should drink wine for health and pleasure. One day, he believed, the U.S. would rival Europe as a producer of his favorite beverage.  I like to think of Jefferson as the original back-to-the-land, food-and-drink-loving homesteader. Basically, TJ was a hipster.

Photo courtesy of

Although Jefferson’s attempts at planting a vineyard at Monticello ultimately failed, he continued to hone his wine expertise and personal cellar and pioneering the American wine industry. Although the vast majority of wine in America is now grown on the west coast, it began here in the South. Today all 50 states produce wine, and this can be traced back to Thomas Jefferson, the Virginian, the Southerner who introduced wine to America.

* (Since this is a foodways blog and all, I might add that it was also Thomas Jefferson who basically invented what we now know as mac and cheese—a dish that fuses traditions from Southern Italy and the Southern U.S. and epitomizes soul food as an example of cultural overlap in relation to diaspora cuisine and whose boxed and powdered form eventually probably fed many a late-night, bleary-eyed UVA student. In 1802, Jefferson even served a version of macaroni and cheese at a state dinner. But that's another story for another time.)

Amy's Notebook: Virginia is for Lovers—and Clogging

The sign for the first site of the Carter Family Fold, which is now a museum. A larger performance hall now sits next door.
Photo by Amy Evans

With the SFA World Headquarters located in Mississippi, sometimes Virginia can seem like a far-off land. Sometimes it feels like we don't pay enough attention to Old Dominion. Sometimes it's easy to forget the work we've already done there. But there's one fieldwork trip I made to Virginia that will not soon fade into memory: the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons.

The kitchen at the Carter Family Fold
Photo by Amy Evans

In 2009, our programming theme was Music & Food. I hit the road for Hiltons to visit the birthplace of country music and speak with relatives of A. P. & Sarah Carter—relatives who cook cornbread and soup beans and coconut cake to serve to the people who come to celebrate the music that the Carter Family made famous. My experience at the Fold was unlike any field work assignment before or since. It was a trip of firsts:

It was my first time conducting 9 interviews in a single day (which I do not, by the way, recommend).

It was my first time to be given recipes in support of a project (handwritten on recipe cards, I might add).

It was my first time to spend 15 hours in one place, documenting the space and the people who inhabited it over the course of a single day.

It was the first time I ever clogged. Appalachian-style clogging, to be precise.

And it was the trip on which I learned I was pregnant with my daughter, Sofia.

Clogging at the Carter Family Fold
Photo by Amy Evans

We took a group of SFA members back to Hiltons a few months later for what we used to call our annual field trip (we now call it our Summer Symposium). I was reunited with my dancing partners, but I didn't do much clogging. I was six months pregnant, so waddling was the best I could manage. Instead, my friends at the Fold sat me down and plied me with plenty of cake and offered me handmade gifts for my new baby. 

Flo Wolfe and Rita Forrester at the Carter Family Fold
Photo by Amy Evans

And here we are, back in Virginia. Our Summer Symposium starts today in Richmond. I hope there will be dancing.

Wednesday, June 19

Women at Work in RVA: Kendra Feather, Martha Crowe Jones & Marcyne Jones

Our Summer Symposium kicks off in Richmond, Virginia, tomorrow, June 20, and we'd like to introduce you to some of the wonderful people we'll celebrate over the course of the weekend. Since our new website isn't ready to show off just yet, we're sharing the interviews from our latest oral history project here. Every day leading up to the Summer Symposium, we'll feature two more stories from Women at Work in RVA.

* * *

"Looking back, I didn’t know any better to be scared. I didn’t have a credit card. I don’t think I even had a car. I had no money. But I just worked every day, and it gave me an identity. And then early on, we got lots of accolades, so there’s a reason to hang in there. People like this. Okay, let’s keep going."

Ipanema Cafe, The Roosevelt, Garnett's & WPA Bakery

Kendra Feather moved to Richmond from rural Pennsylvania to attend college at Virginia Commonwealth University. She supported herself by waiting tables at Third Street Diner and Bidder's Suite. When Bidder's Suite went out of business, Kendra was presented the opportunity to buy the building and start a restaurant. At the age of 28, without a solid investor or even a car, she seized the moment. In 1998, she opened Ipanema Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant. Opportunity showed up on her doorstep again more than 10 years later. In 2009, she opened Garnett's, a cozy lunch place named after her grandmother in the Richmond neighborhood known as The Fan. Two years later, Kendra kept going. She partnered with chef Lee Gregory to open The Roosevelt in Church Hill. Just one year later and a few blocks away from The Roosevelt, she opened WPA Bakery (Well-made Pastry Alliance) with David Rohrer. In an industry than can tend to be a boy's club, Kendra's blazed her own trail. Each restaurant is a unique destination that she imagined and created without being anywhere near the kitchen.

"Passing it down, that’s where you want it to stay. Because the new people walk in, and they will have their ways of wanting to do things. But I think maybe if you sold it to somebody and went back a year later and bought potato salad, I bet you two cents it wouldn’t taste the same."  ~Marcyne Jones

Sally Bell's Kitchen

If there is one thing Richmonders can count on, it's the boxed lunch from Sally Bell's Kitchen. Sarah “Sallie” Cabell Jones met Elizabeth Lee Milton at the Richmond Exchange of Woman's Work in the early twentieth century. The Richmond Exchange, one of many such organizations found across the South, started in 1883. It allowed women to earn money selling goods, wares, and food in order to help them become self-sufficient. Sarah and Elizabeth opened Sally Bell's Kitchen (then called Sarah Lee Kitchen) in 1924 on Grace Street, directly across from its current location, at a time when it was exceptionally rare for women to have their own business. Elizabeth eventually left the business, and Sarah took over for the next several decades. In the 1960s, Marcyne Jones, who married Sarah Cabell Jones' son, Hunter, took over the business after mother-in-law retired. Like the recipes from Sarah Cabell's little green notebook—the potato salad, the mayonnaise, the icing for the cupcakes—the business has remained in the family. In 1985, Martha Crowe Jones, Marcyne's daughter-in-law, took the reins. Today, several of the women working in the kitchen have been with Sally Bell's for decades. And generations of customers continue to stand in line for their famous five-item boxed lunch.

*We also commissioned a short documentary film on Sally Bell's Kitchen, which will premier at the Summer Symposium. We'll share it online soon.

Tuesday, June 18

Women at Work in RVA: Deborah Pratt, Clementine Boyd Macon & Tanya Cauthen

Our Summer Symposium kicks off in Richmond, Virginia, this Thursday, and we'd like to introduce you to some of the wonderful people we'll celebrate over the course of the weekend. Since our new website isn't ready to show off just yet, we're sharing the interviews from our latest oral history project here. Every day leading up to the Summer Symposium, we'll feature two more stories from Women at Work in RVA.

* * *

"Anybody can go wherever they want to go. But I found oysters took me where I needed to be." ~ Deborah Pratt

Oyster Shuckers, Rappahannock River

Sisters Deborah Pratt and Clementine Boyd Macon grew up in a family of eight children in Middlesex County, Virginia, situated on the Chesapeake Bay, where the oyster industry is part of the landscape. Their parents met and fell in love in an oyster house. Most of the family shucked oysters for a living, but Deborah swore she'd never join their ranks. That is, until the night she asked Clementine to teach her how to do it because she needed a job. They sat together on Clementine's back porch, and she showed Deborah one of the tricks of the trade: open from the lip, not the hinge. In the early 1980s, Deborah and Clementine left their kids on the soccer field to compete in an oyster-shucking contest in Urbanna. The contests—and awards—keep coming. They alternate between championships: Deborah wins one; Clementine wins the next. They both hold several state and national titles. Deborah has placed in the international oyster shucking competition in Galway, Ireland, four times. Today, both their sons are moving quickly behind them, shucking faster and steadier, perhaps one day taking their crowns.

"I had been cooking for fifteen years, and I just wanted to open a butcher shop. So I figured if Julia [Child] could become a culinary icon, I could open a little butcher shop. And it kind of just gave me that extra little oomph that I needed to kind of say, you know, 'You can do this.'"

Belmont Butchery

With her father in the Navy, Tanya Cauthen and her family moved every couple years, all over the world. But many of her childhood summers were spent on her grandparent's 200-acre farm in Alachua, Florida, where Tanya felt a natural affinity toward the livestock and landscape. In the early 1980s, her family settled in Virginia when her father went to work at the Pentagon. Tanya moved to Charlottesville to attend the University of Virginia, where she studied aerospace engineering and worked as a line cook for beer money. Later, she attended the American Culinary Federation apprenticeship program, finished the 3-year program a year early, and left for Switzerland to work as a journeywoman (a term for a person who's completed culinary training and has some knowledge, but still has much to learn).  She returned to Virginia, this time to Richmond, to be near her sister, Karen Cauthen Miller. Tanya worked as a chef at The Red Oak and the Frog and the Redneck before starting her own catering company, Capers Catering, with Karen. She grew frustrated because she couldn't get quality cuts of meat. The problem: Richmond didn’t have a professional butcher. Tanya knocked out a business plan overnight. Nine weeks later, in 2006, she opened the doors of Belmont Butchery. The focus of the butchery is organic and humanely raised meat. Tanya connects her customers to small family farms and teaches them the value of understanding where food comes from and how it should really taste.

Monday, June 17

In Memoriam: Dot Domilise of Domilise's Po-Boys in New Orleans, 1922-2013

Dot Domilise behind the counter at Domilise's Po-Boys in New Orleans
Photo by Sara Roahen, 2006
Beloved po-boy queen Dorothy "Dot" Domilise passed away last Friday, June 14, in New Orleans. She was 90 years old. 

Miss Dot was a fixture behind the counter at her family's business, Domilise's Restaurant, where she served po-boys for more than 70 years. We honored Miss Dot in 2006 with one of our Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition awards. And, of course, we collected her story. 

Below is an excerpt from her 2006 interview. Visit our NOLA Eats oral history project online for more.

*  *  *

My name is Dorothy Domilise. I make sandwiches.

I was born on Aragon Plantation in Thibodaux, Louisiana. And later in life moved to Franklin, Louisiana, where I lived a greater part of my life until I got married in 1943, and my husband Sam came back from New Guinea after World War II. That’s when I lived here totally.

Well, my in-laws had the restaurant. They sold sandwiches but not—you know, for people hanging around and things like that. It was not too many people buying sandwiches in those days. Po-boys weren't a big deal until the Riverfront really opened up, and people were employed along the Riverfront and more wharfs were being built.

My mother-in-law had diabetes very, very bad. And that’s how I got involved because they were both not well people, you know, and, well, I didn’t come out here until after I had my first child. That’s when I came. Before then I was working you know—away. Not in here. My mother-in-law and father-in-law did all that, and there was a lady that was a real good friend of theirs that did most of everything for them. That’s how close—they weren't relatives but real good friends. They just really took care of the place. My husband was not interested in this at all. To me, it was just, you know, another day and something you had to do—you did it. I got used to it.

Oh, the menu's been more or less the same except at one time we didn’t sell meatballs. And one time we didn’t sell turkey. And more or less the same except—and barbecue. At one time we didn’t sell barbecue. So it was just a little ordinary menu.

Our most popular po-boy? I have to say it’s between the shrimp, the oyster, and the roast beef. You’d have to pull a straw.

Women at Work in RVA: Catherine Via & Velma Johnson

Our Summer Symposium kicks off in Richmond, Virginia, this Thursday, and we'd like to introduce you to some of the wonderful people we'll celebrate over the course of the weekend. Since our new website isn't ready to show off just yet, we're sharing the interviews from our latest oral history project here. Every day leading up to the Summer Symposium, we'll feature two more stories from Women at Work in RVA.

* * *

"We were poor, but we had love. But we weren't poor, though. I think any time you get all you want to eat and some clothes to wear, you ain't poor. You’re rich and don’t know it. So remember that."

Retired Crabber, Payne's Crab House (Closed)

In 1933, a massive flood on Tangier Island, which sits in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, sent Avery Payne and his family to Urbanna, a coastal town due east of Richmond. A crabber all his life, Avery spent his days out on the Rappahannock River. In the 1950s, Avery purchased J.W. Hurley & Son Seafood on Urbanna Creek and changed the name to Payne's Crab House, where the family sold both hard- and soft-shell blue crabs. Growing up, Avery's daughters, Catherine Via and Beatrice Taylor, spent their summers working alongside their father. In 1977, Payne died of a heart attack while working on the river. Together, Catherine and Beatrice kept the business going in order to keep their father's memory alive. Each morning, Catherine rose early to tend to the crabs. Beatrice would take to the river, dropping and pulling peeler pots. Beatrice was the only woman in Virginia with a commercial crabbing license. The business became a centerpiece of the town, and the family was so respected that Beatrice later became Mayor of Urbanna. In 2012, Catherine and Beatrice retired and Payne's Crab House closed. Today, three of Catherine's four sons operate crabbing and oyster businesses nearby.

“You have to help people because you don’t know who is going to have to help you.”

Mama J's Kitchen

Velma Johnson, known to everyone as Mama J, is a native of Richmond. She grew up in the West End neighborhood among 14 brothers and sisters and learned to cook from her mother, Elise Roland. Her father, Willard Roland, was head cook at the Life of Virginia Insurance Company’s cafeteria. Mama J spent 17 years as a deputy sheriff to earn a living, catering on the side. In 1999, she resigned from the department to run her catering business full time. Mama J hoped to find an event hall to use as a home base for her business. Instead, she opened a restaurant. Mama J’s son, Lester Johnson, found a building on 1st Street in Jackson Ward, a historic neighborhood once known as the Harlem of the South. They opened Mama J's Kitchen in 2009. The restaurant is down the street from where Mama J went to church as a child. It’s in the same building that used to house Troy's Department Store, the place where Mama J got the white gloves, socks, and barrettes she wore to Sunday School. Today, Mama J cooks the same dishes her mother made, and she treats her customers like family.

Friday, June 14

Southern Six-Pack

1.  The secret to Jeremy Jackson's grandmother's famous strawberry cake was hidden in plain sight in the "library of Jello" she kept in her pantry.  Jeremy seeks culinary redemption by adding actual strawberries to the recipe.

2.  Dogs and citrus. Who knew?

3.  So, bourbon is named for Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Louisiana not for Bourbon County in Kentucky.  Bummer.

4.  It happened on Farish Street.  Geno Lee talks Medgar Evers, the Freedom Riders, and the Big Apple Inn in Jackson, Mississippi.

5.  Rappers rap about what they love.  In the wake of the Jelly Roll/Waffle House scandal, it must be noted that the bigger the rapper, the greater the love -- of food.

6.  Turn on the closed captions and prepare to have your carnivorous heart absolutely destroyed by a three year old South African boy.

Amy’s Notebook: The Community of ‘Cue

Ed Mitchell, Wilson, NC, 2007
Photo by Amy Evans
As the SFA's lead oral historian, Amy Evans gathers the stories of Southern food. Each week she takes us behind the scenes of her work.

Here at the SFA, our mission is to bring people together through food—to make connections via shared experiences. After more than a decade spent documenting barbecue in the South, one thing has become clear: Barbecue isn’t about regional differences or secret recipes or stark rivalries. It’s about family.

When I interviewed Ed Mitchell in 2007 for our Southern BBQ Trail, he was a pitmaster without a pit. His namesake restaurant, Mitchell’s Ribs, Bar-B-Q & Chicken in Wilson, NC, had closed. I conducted the interview at his wife’s business, K & A Church Supply. After more than two hours talking about cooking hogs, we needed to eat. Ed and I headed down the road to Parker’s Barbecue, a North Carolina institution, open since 1954. Everyone there knew Ed Mitchell. They treated us well, and we ate like kings. I was struck, though, by the experience—by the idea that in the world of small-town barbecue, there’s room for everyone (and even fried chicken) at the table.

My lunch with Ed Mitchell at Parker's Barbecue in Wilson, NC, 2007
Photo by Amy Evans

A week or so ago, my colleague, Sara Camp Arnold, wrote a piece about the friendship between Sam Jones of Skylight Inn in Ayden, NC, and Rodney Scott of Scott’s Bar-B-Que in Hemingway, SC. Their connection transcends racial boundaries, cooking styles, and state lines. It speaks to the community of ‘cue—just what I experienced with Ed Mitchell in Wilson, NC, six years ago.

Last weekend, I was in New York for the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party. I saw Ed Mitchell, who’s been traveling north to cook whole hogs in Midtown Manhattan since the Block Party’s inception in 2002. Joining him were dozens of pitmasters from around the South. Over the course of the weekend, I heard more than a few of them comment on the powerful coming-together of friends through ‘cue. They showed it, too. I saw Justin and Jonathan Fox chopping meat at Jimmy Hagood’s rig. Amy Mills sent flowers over to Rodney Scott’s tent. The Ubon’s family shared their bloody mary mix with fellow pitmasters. People traded jokes, photos, and iPod playlists via Twitter. And the folks at Jim ‘N Nick’s urged their customers to make sure to visit Block Party first-timer Sam Jones at his rig down the street.

When Sam got back to Ayden, he posted on his Facebook page, “What a great time. This event is like a family reunion for us.”

Sam Jones (R) gives a thumbs-up at the Block Party
Photo by Sarah Jones Miller via Sam Jones's Facebook Page

“Growing up, it didn’t make any difference what the celebration was,” Ed Mitchell told me in 2007.  “If it was significant enough to be recognized, it had to be accompanied by barbecue. And that was the way things were. Good times were synonymous with family gathering and cooking of barbecue and just having a good time.”

The Community of 'Cue in NYC. Pictured bottom left: Sam Jones, Pat Martin & Rodney Scott. Pictured bottom center: Nick Pihakis. Pictured center, fourth from right: Drew Robinson.
Photo via Jim 'N Nick's Facebook page.

And so the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party is a celebration of the Community of ‘Cue. Everyone treated each other like family. We ate like kings.

* * *

POSTSCRIPT No. 1: The SFA has been part of the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party since 2003. Each year, our resident filmmaker Joe York creates a barbecue-themed film that screens at a special Potlikker Film Festival held the Friday night before the Block Party kicks off. This year, we screened Ovens Are for Pie, a portrait of McLard’s Bar-B-Q in Hot Springs, Arkansas, which will be available for viewing online soon. We also have oral history interviews with many of the Block Party pitmasters and hope you’ll visit our Southern BBQ Trail for more stories behind the ‘cue.

Melissa Hall and John T, Edge at the SFA's booth at the Block Party.
Photo by SouthernFoodways via Instagram

POSTSCRIPT No. 2: I’ve been doing this work—and documenting barbecue—since 2002. When I started, there was no such thing as social media—at least not as we now know it. But today, pitmasters are telling their own stories on Facebook and Twitter, even Instagram. Follow your favorite pitmasters to get a peek into their pits.

Pat Martin of Martin's BBQ Joint joined Instagram during this year's Block Party
Photo by PitmasterPat via Instagram

POSTSCRIPT No. 3: My contribution to the community of  ‘cue last weekend was doing the chalkboards for Jim ‘N Nick’s. If this oral history thing doesn’t work out, I think I have a Plan B.

Jim 'N Nick's chalkboard by Amy Evans via Instagram