Thursday, February 28

University of Mississippi Hosts Annual Food Summit, SFA to Present

This weekend, the University of Mississippi hosts the 4th Annual Sustainable Living Conference and Food Summit. From the conference wesbite:

How do we get healthy food to Mississippians from the field to the table? Policy makers and producers, join a public that is demanding healthy options. Meet author, food activist, and community organizer Mark Winne, Friday's keynote speaker. Saturday is full of the hands-on and instructional sessions in four strands: Nourishing Kitchen, Home Grown, Smart Living, and Make and Take. We have an amazing line-up of presenters and an exciting keynote speaker, Mary Berry, daughter of the world renowned Wendell Berry. Stay Sunday for one of two Field Trips: Farm and Garden, or Home and Health, where you will get to experience real-life examples of sustainable living.

Our lead oral historian Amy C. Evans is scheduled to present on Friday, March 1, as part of a session entitled "Models & Innovations: Invigorating Local and Regional Economies", during which she will highlight some of the fieldwork she's collected in the Mississippi Delta.

Go here to view the schedule of events and to register.

Follow us on Twitter (@potlikker) for live updates from the conference.

Hear the Good News: #CHSWFF is nigh!

Regret giving up fried chicken for Lent? Do not despair! The Charleston Wine and Food Festival is nigh and with our offerings of oral histories and films from South Carolina, you can indulge yourself here at the SFA blog without breaking any rules.

(Any tweeters out there? You can keep up with us @potlikker, and the official hashtag for the festival is #chswff)

If you didn't get your fix last week with our post on Bertha's, how about some locally harvested oysters from Bowen's Island Restaurant? The restaurant has been in business since 1946 and has duly earned its place as a low country culinary landmark.

Kitchen to Classroom: Grace and Gumption

Photo by Alfred T. Palmer, 1943, courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Our postdoctoral fellow, Jill Cooley, is traveling this week. This post was written by Southern Studies graduate student Anna Hamilton. Thanks, Anna!

Grace & Gumption: The Cookbook
(Katie Sherrod, editor, and Judy Alter, food editor. Fort Worth: TCU Press, 2010.)

The beauty of Grace and Gumption: The Cookbook is that it’s hard to tell when the stories stop and where the recipes begin.

Grace & Gumption: The Cookbook is a hearty follow-up to Grace & Gumption, Stories of Fort Worth Women. The text marries academic investigation with the familiar style of community cookbooks in a form that adds depth and eccentricity to the Fort Worth community. Using community foodways as a lens, Grace and Gumption offers a glimpse into women’s worlds as they navigated the shifting demands of their civic, public, domestic, and religious spheres. This compendium of recipes and stories sketches a portrait of a vibrant community of women. Actually, “vibrant community” is an understatement--what Grace and Gumption reveals is a community in which the women were—and, we might suppose, still are—the backbone.

The pages are inhabited by women from all walks of life: nuns, philanthropists, mothers, socialites, grandmothers, dancers, artists, wives, ranchers, politicians, among others. There are the women of the charitable institutions who coordinated picnics of iced watermelon, sandwiches and ice cream for hungry orphans; Lela McMath Rogers, mother of a young Ginger Rogers, who concocted inexpensive yet nutritious meals in hotels using only a hot plate, toaster and percolator; Tad Lucas, international rodeo star; Regina Stern Gernsbacher, organizer of community Passover seders that fed Jewish soldiers.

Interested in learning how to cook a squirrel? Hankering for a recipe for chili biscuits? Looking to be inspired by women challenging the status quo? This might just be your book. Whether food was a passion or a chore for the women of Fort Worth, it was a tangible expression of power—and the women in these pages were forces to be reckoned with.


Mockingbird Bakery in Greenwood, MS, Closes

"It was really hard to make sourdough in a small town like this… And then it came around, and now it’s my most-selling bread." – Donald Bender

We're sad to learn of the closing of Mockingbird Bakery in Greenwood, MS. Today is the last day for friend, oral history subject, and baker extraordinaire Donald Bender to pull a warm loaf of sourdough out of the ovens on Howard Street.

Donald, we wish you well and hope to enjoy your bread again real soon.

Wednesday, February 27

Make Us A Movie!

The Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) wants to hire you to make short, web-ready films (2–5 minutes) about Southern food and drink.

Visit our film and oral history archives to get an idea of the sort of work we already do. We want to highlight people who are now under-recognized.

This call is open to professional, amateur, and student filmmakers of all ages and backgrounds. Young filmmakers are encouraged to submit. Filmmakers whose ideas are accepted will be paid $250 upon delivery of satisfactory proof of concept. They will receive $500 upon delivery of a finished film of 2–5 minutes. We are unable to offer any equipment, editing/technological assistance, or travel expenses beyond the $750 total. 

**A satisfactory proof of concept will include ONE of the following:

- Trailer of 30 seconds to 1 minute, specific to your proposed SFA project.
- Description of your proposed SFA project, accompanied by a previously completed short film (or audio and photo combination) that demonstrates your capabilities.

Is this you?

Please begin by sending us a brief e-mail introducing yourself and your project. Do not "blind submit" large files or links to file-sharing sites without contacting us first.

Applications are due by April 1. Successful applicants will be notified by May 1. Finished films (2–5 minutes in length) are due one month from the date of project acceptance. 

To apply, please write Sara Camp Arnold at

We look forward to considering your work.

Tuesday, February 26

Director's Cut: The American Way of Eating and Applebee's "Special Salt"

"Director's Cut" is a new weekly series on our blog, chronicling the travels and musings of our director, John T. Edge. 

I got a text message from a friend halfway through Tracie McMillan’s talk last night: “So that stuff at Applebee's I thought was salt, turns out to be plastic. Just shoot me now.”

McMillan, author of The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields, and the Dinner Table, was in town the last couple of days to meet with University of Mississippi classes and give a lecture. About 400 people came last night to hear her speak.

And at least 395 of us recoiled when she revealed, in an offhand way, that the food she served when working undercover at Applebee’s, was sometimes sprinkled with white stuff that looked like salt. But it wasn’t salt. It was plastic that crumbled from the bags that Applebee’s cooks pop in microwaves and plop on plates. 


The American Way of Eating has earned critical acclaim. The Wall Street Journal called it a “moving first-person narrative.” The New York Times called McMillan “a voice the food world needs.” (Her book also earned a spot on that newspaper’s best-seller list.) Rush Limbaugh had a different opinion. He called her an “overeducated” “authorette” and a “threat to liberty.”

Though her book is set in California, Michigan, and New York, McMillan’s work—especially the first section of her book that details the plight of agricultural laborers—has great resonance in the South.

From the era of enslavement, through sharecropping, to the present day, the South has long undervalued agricultural labor. At the same time, we live in a place that valorizes the land, paints stewards of the land as noble folk, and portrays foods cooked from crops and animals raised on that land as somehow ennobled.

McMillan’s book asks readers to rethink the algebra of labor that puts food—good food, bad food, not enough food, or too much food—on our plates. She offers a new way to glimpse our food system. A way to go incognito in the farm fields. A way to explore the grocery. A way to think about how restaurants disperse our calories—and our daily recommended allotment of plastic.


Monday, February 25

TONIGHT: Annual Lebanese Dinner at St. George Orthodox Church in Vicksburg, Mississippi

Tonight is the 53rd Annual Lebanese Dinner at St. George Orthodox Church in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Mary Louise Nosser, who is featured in the video above, will be there, wearing her polka-dot apron and making sure everyone gets their fill of kibbe and pastries, just as she's done for the past 45 years.

Mary Louise is a native of Vicksburg. Her parents, John and Effie Nosser, immigrated to Vicksburg from the Mount Lebanon region of Syria (now Lebanon) just after World War I. In 1924 John opened a small grocery store on Washington Street. A year later, he married Effie, and they started a family. Mary Louise remembers growing up in a vibrant Lebanese community, with mom-and-pop grocery stores on every corner and traditional Lebanese feasts every Sunday.

Mary Louise lived in other parts of Mississippi for a time, but she moved back to Vicksburg in 1968 when her mother died. Less than a decade earlier, St. George Orthodox Church started welcoming the greater Vicksburg community to an annual Lebanese dinner in an effort to raise funds for a new building. Mary Louise started helping with the dinner as soon as she returned to town.

The annual Lebanese dinner at St. George Orthodox Church is so popular that the congregation welcomes more than 3,000 people through its doors each February. Tonight will be no exception.

In case you happen to be in tor near Vicksburg this evening, go here for more information on tonight's supper.

Go here to visit our Delta Lebanese oral history project.

March 1 Application Deadline for SFA Oral History Internship

Interested in gaining experience in the field of oral history and spending some time at SFA World Headquarters in Oxford? If you're a current student, we invite you to apply for our 2013 Oral History Internship. The application deadline is this FRIDAY, MARCH 1.

In addition to learning the ins and outs of conducting fieldwork, interns also gain experience in creating audio and multi-media pieces. Last year's intern Sara Wood used existing interviews to create the audio piece featured above, which we broadcast as part of our year of barbecue programming.

Visit our Internship page for information on how to apply.

Meet Guest Blogger Penny De Los Santos

Meet Penny De Los Santos, a food and travel photographer who will be guest blogging for us for the next couple of months. We've enjoyed getting to know Penny through our annual Southern Foodways Symposium, and we've admired her work in Saveur, National Geographic, and many other print and web publications.

Here's an introduction to Penny, in her own words:  

"I began photographing as a way to understand my own diverse cultural background and identity. 

I was born in Europe to an American military family that eventually settled in small-town Texas. With generations of family history tied to the Texas-Mexico border, my family heritage inspired my curiosity about culture.

From the historic all-male dining clubs of Spain's Basque Country, to Jerusalem’s most suicide bomber besieged markets, photographing food culture has been at the heart of my work.

I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively throughout the U.S. and to over 30 countries on photography assignments.

When I am not traveling, I live in New York City’s Soho neighborhood with my dog, Nigella."

Penny's guest blog posts will give us a behind-the-scenes look at her travels and her sources of inspiration. We look forward to sharing her work with you. Check back later this week for her first post.

Finally, we invite you to get to know a little bit more about Penny by watching her 2012 TEDxAustin talk about food and human connection. As she explains, "Food connects us like nothing else I have ever seen…. Food is the most honest and simple expression of who we are." 

Remembering Paul McIlhenny, 1944–2013

Photograph by William Widmer for the New York Times
The SFA was sad to hear of the death of Paul McIlhenny this weekend. McIlhenny was chairman and CEO of the McIlhenny Company, makers of Tabasco brand products. 

Photo by Brandall Atkinson

The company has been a generous supporter of the SFA for many years, co-sponsoring projects such as the Southern Boudin Trail, the Southern Gumbo Trail, and the Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition.

Our thoughts are with the McIlhenny family and everyone on Avery Island, Louisiana. We are grateful to Paul McIlhenny for his support of the SFA, and we will miss him.

Friday, February 22

Southern Six-Pack

SFA heads to South Carolina next week to pitch a tent in Marion Square Park for the Charleston Wine+Food Festival.  So, forgive us if we've got Charleston on our minds. Oh, and if you're in town for the festival, stop by the SFA tent. We'll offer you a glass of something from Fullsteam, Mountain Valley Spring Water, or Royal Cup and invite you to sit and visit for a while.

1.  Have you heard? Matt and Ted Lee have a new book coming out, The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen. Eater's got the interview. And the Lee Brothers have a few stories to tell about the extraordinary artisans who populate the Charleston food scene. Folks like Peter Alexandre, shad fillet-er extraordinaire.

2.  While we're on the subject of fish, short of catching it yourself and watching Mr. Alexandre bone it in front of you, trust Oceana. You've got no idea what you're actually eating.

3.  The one where Robert Moss had an imaginary conversation with Alan Richman and then published it. Alan Richman named the 12 Best Restaurants of 2013. (And, we're kind of giddy because the South got some serious love on this list, like 41.2% or even 50% depending on your feelings about Washington, DC.) Robert Moss wasn't as giddy when he realized that he and Mr. Richman have almost nothing in common. Except Mike Lata.

4.  Fatter living through chemistry. It's not your imagination, that potato chip really is addictive.  It was designed to be.

5.  Better living through vegetables. Here's a hand-illustrated guide to 400 varieties of vegetables pressed with vegetable based inks.

6.  The Oscar that really matters and the one they won't give out on Sunday night: Best Dinner Party Scene. 

The Art of Tamales: Richard A. Lou's "Stories on My Back" Exhibit at Mississippi State University

Detail of Richard A. Lou's installation at the Visual Arts Center Gallery, Mississippi State University
Photo courtesy of Visual Arts Center Gallery

"Richard A. Lou: Stories on My Back" is an exhibition currently on view a the Visual Arts Center Gallery at Mississippi State University.

From the press release:

Stories on My Back is a three-dimensional multi-media installation that combines photography, found objects, and sound. With his work, Richard A. Lou questions and initiates discussions about race and celebrates the multicultural background that the world shares. To do this, Lou oftentimes references his own Chinese and Hispanic heritage as a visual way to introduce the viewer to ideas of cultural identity.  The artist explores his family’s history, which is connected to the history of Mississippi. Lou’s father, Lou Yet Ming, was a “paper son” from Canton Province, China, and he also grew up in the Mississippi Delta in Coahoma, Mississippi…Lou’s grandfather ran a grocery store in Coahoma, MS, during the early 20th Century and into the mid 60’s. 

Lou uses found objects in his multi-media installation including a large number of corn husks, referencing his connection to the culture of tamales.

Stories On My Back will be on view January 15 to March 23, 2013 at the Visual Arts Center (VAC) Gallery, 808 University Drive, Starkville, Mississippi.  The artist, Richard A. Lou will be speaking to the public about his work on March 7, at 3:00pm in Giles Hall, Harrison Auditorium – MSU Campus. A gallery reception will also be held Thursday, March 7 from 6:30pm until 7:30pm at the VAC Gallery. Both events are free and open to the public. For more information call 662-325-2973.

* * *

For more on tamales in the Mississippi Delta, visit our Mississippi Delta Hot Tamale Trail.

For more on Chinese immigration to the Mississippi Delta, visit our Chinese Grocers oral history project.

Thursday, February 21

"American Way of Eating" Author Visiting UM

On Monday, February 25, the SFA and the Center for Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Mississippi will co-host a lecture by Tracie McMillan, the author of the The American Way of Eating. This event, which will be held at 7 pm at the Gertrude Ford Center for the Performing Arts, is free and open to the public. We are all very excited and hope that you can join us if you're in Oxford on Monday.

In anticipation of McMillan's visit, SFA intern Emilie Dayan offers some thoughts on the book:

In an effort to rationalize the ever-trending foodie movement and its obsession with “$9 organic tomatoes,” McMillan couldn’t help but wonder: What about the rest of us? Why do working Americans eat the way we do? And what can we do to change it? Thus began a year-long journey as an undercover, minimum-wage worker on a California farm, at a Detroit Walmart, and in a Brooklyn Applebee’s kitchen. 

Working alongside migrant Latino garlic-picking crews, stocking produce at Walmart, and expediting orders at Applebee’s vicariously through McMillan, the reader is exposed to the bleak reality of our country’s food industry. McMillan is an engaging storyteller, balancing deeply personal details of her own experiences with data that supports her broad conclusions. Over the course of the book, she convincingly argues that farm-workers’ wages do not account for rising food prices, food deserts exist despite a plenteous food supply, and that America’s general lack of wholesome and nutritious diets is not the result of ignorance but rather of inaccessibility.

At the end of her year-long chronicle living off of minimum wage, she writes, “everyone wants to eat good food…either eating well needs to be easier, or the terms of my life need to be more forgiving.” In her conclusion, she offers policy recommendations geared towards addressing one of our country’s greatest negligences: ensuring that its people can “eat well, not just through the agriculture it practices, but through the wages it pays, the work and education it provides, and the rules it keeps.”  Yet, her book should not be mistaken for a utopian reverie. The American Way of Eating is a thoughtful, powerful investigation into an industry that affects everyone. 

Thirsty Thursday: A Little Likker (and leg) Humor

Kitchen to Classroom: "Getting into Good Trouble Since 1960"

Photo by Alfred T. Palmer, 1943. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. 
"Kitchen to Classroom" is a weekly dispatch from our postdoctoral fellow, Angela Jill Cooley. 

Photo of John Lewis courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives website.
Today is the 73rd birthday of John Lewis, an activist who, among other things, helped desegregate our nation’s restaurants. In the late 1950s, Lewis joined the Nashville Student Movement, a civil rights organization committed to nonviolent passive resistance. Lewis studied the history, philosophy, and methods of nonviolence. “You have to do more than just not hit back,” he recalls. “You have to have no desire to hit back.”

Lewis (l) prays during a demonstration in 1962. Photo courtesy of John Lewis for Congress.

In early February 1960, in response to the Woolworth’s sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina, the Nashville Student Movement stepped up its plans for a full-scale, nonviolent assault on segregation. Thirteen days following Greensboro, Lewis sat at another Woolworth’s lunch counter—this one in downtown Nashville. Lewis’s 2012 re-election campaign slogan, “Getting Into Good Trouble Since 1960” is a reference to the more than forty arrests he has faced during his career, beginning with the sit-ins.

Photo courtesy of John Lewis for Congress.

In 1961, Lewis joined the Freedom Ride from Washington DC to New Orleans to test desegregation in interstate travel. Several Freedom Riders signed their wills before leaving, but the twenty-one-year-old Lewis, a newly minted college graduate, had nothing to bestow. When one of the two buses was firebombed near Anniston, Alabama, several riders were injured. (Lewis was not on board; he had left for a job interview in Philadelphia with a Quaker service organization and planned to re-join his fellow demonstrators in Birmingham.)

As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Lewis epitomized the organization’s youthful nonconformity during the March on Washington by attempting to speak against the civil rights bill pending in Congress. Most activists praised the bill—it became the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and among other things desegregated the nation’s restaurants. Lewis, however, had spent three years at the vanguard of direct action campaigns and characterized the bill as “too little and too late.” He agreed to change his speech at the urging of older activists, but this incident exemplified the generational divide that marked the civil rights movement.

Lewis has been a U.S. congressman from Georgia's 5th district since 1987.

Learn more about John Lewis and the Nashville Student Movement by reading Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement.

Wednesday, February 20

It's a Wrap! "A Spoken Dish" Films in Jackson

L-R: Emilie Dayan, Kate Medley, and Sara Camp Arnold. Photo by Reagan Hodge
You don't have to be a white-tablecloth chef to tell a great story about food, family, and favorite recipes. That's what inspired Kate Medley to create "A Spoken Dish," a collaborative video project between Whole Foods Market, Georgia Organics, and the SFA. Kate, a native of Jackson, Mississippi, and a graduate of the UM masters program in Southern Studies, is now a multimedia storyteller for Whole Foods. Based in Durham, NC, she frequently travels throughout the South, the Mid-Atlantic, and beyond to share the stories of the farmers, ranchers, fishermen/-women, and artisans who supply Whole Foods.

In "A Spoken Dish," Kate turns her lens on men and women in Durham, Atlanta, and Jackson, and asks them to tell her about their favorite dishes, recipes, ingredients, and food memories. Her subjects include farmers, chefs, educators, musicians, artists, restaurateurs, waitresses, grocery store employees, and passionate home cooks. The series of short film clips will debut online in the late spring.

Yesterday, we met Kate at Brown Elementary School in Jackson, Mississippi. We chose the school as our filming location in part because of its Food Corps program, which includes a school garden and a nutrition-education classroom component for the students, 99% of whom come from low-income families.

Our interview subjects were:

Inez Birthfield, waitress and cook at CS's restaurant since 1978; namesake of the beloved Inez Burger
Cleta Ellington, avid home cook, painter, and editor of a community cookbook for the Jackson Catholic Diocese

Geno Lee, fourth-generation owner of the Big Apple Inn restaurant, known for its pig-ear sandwiches

Katy Simmons Prosser, head of marketing for Simmons Catfish in Yazoo City

Carol Puckett, longtime SFA member (and former board member) and culinary professional

Anna Richardson, Food Corps teacher at Brown Elementary and Rowan Middle School; a Minnesota native getting her first taste of the South

Jesse Robinson, blues musician; longtime resident of Jackson; currently collaborating on a CD of Brazilian poetry set to music 

Nick Wallace, chef at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Jackson (formerly the King Edward Inn)

Diane Williams, professional storyteller and fiber artist well as three bright, eager students from Brown Elementary and Rowan Middle School: Whitney (age 7), Osha Love (11), and Calla (11).

Camerawoman Raegan Hodge films sixth grader Osha Love with a carrot from the school garden.
 A huge thank you to our film subjects, our camerawoman, Raegan Hodge, and to the administration Brown Elementary School!

We look forward to sharing the finished film clips with you on our blog and social media later this spring.

Vote for Joe!

Our filmmaker Joe York is a finalist in the documentary category of the Saveur Video Festival. Watch Asleep in the Wood, Joe's short film about the Van Winkle family bourbon dynasty, and then click here to vote.

Tuesday, February 19

Carolina on My Mind: A #CHSWFF Primer

For those of you going to the Charleston Wine and Food Festival next week (and for those of us turning green with envy because we can't--like myself and others who are holding down the fort at the SFA World Headquarters), you've probably got a little Carolina on your mind. To prepare ourselves for next week's festivities, we thought we might share with you some of our favorite pieces on the great state of South Carolina. If we can't be there in person, we can still be there in spirit...and twitter. The official hashtag for the festival is #chswff.

To whet our appetites for Charleston before the big event, let us take you to Bertha's Kitchen. Baked chicken, fried pork chops, barbecued pigs feet, cabbage, okra soup, red rice, and mac and cheese are just a few of the choices. The daily lunch special is just $4, and the place is managed by Bertha's three daughters. Arrive early, before the line wraps out the front door.

Monday, February 18

Director's Cut: Kibbe on the Docks and Feasting at Feltus

"Director's Cut" is a new weekly series on our blog, chronicling the travels and musings of our director, John T. Edge.

I travel for work. A lot. When people ask what it’s like to live in a small Mississippi town and work at a relatively small university in that town, I often tell them that I’d like it a lot better if I got to stay home. When I travel, I miss too much. This past week, I mostly stayed home. And I got to hear two really interesting talks.

At a brown bag lunch here in Barnard Observatory, home of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, Jimmy Thomas delivered a paper called “Mississippi Mahjar: Lebanese Migration to the Mississippi Delta and its Impact on Race Relations.” Among other stories, Jimmy talked about the earliest report of a Lebanese immigrant to Mississippi, Elias Naseef Fattouh, who disembarked at the port of New Orleans in 1884.

“Elias knew he needed to make contact with other Syrians,” Jimmy said, “so he stood on the dock and repeatedly cried out, “Kibbe, kibbe, kibbe!!!” Kibbe, Jimmy told us, is considered the national dish of Lebanon, a mixture of ground lamb, bulghur wheat, and spices. Anyone who had lived in Mount Lebanon or Syria would have understood his cry, Jimmy said, an observation confirmed by SFA oral histories of Lebanese in Mississippi.

Potsherds found at the Feltus mounds near Natchez, MS.

Later in the week, I attended a job interview talk by Megan Kassabaum, who is finishing her doctorate in anthropology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She spoke of the native people who constructed four earthen mounds at the Feltus site in Jefferson County, Mississippi, during the Coles Creek period (AD 700—1200.)

She shared new theories about mound building, about how the act of building mounds was imbued with ritual, and about how feasting figured in that ritualistic behavior. Citing the presence of black bear and monster garfish remains, and the discovery of a large depression that likely functioned as a barbecue pit, she, like Jimmy, made a convincing case for me to hang out more at home.

Friday, February 15

Southern Six-Pack

A meteor hit earth this morning. A US Senator asked actual questions during a Congressional hearing. And, it's opening week for SEC baseball.  We likely all need a six-pack. Right now.

1.  The Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, or the Pen Faulkner Award, all are nice awards if you can get them but, none come with a supper as good or a drink as smooth as the Crook's Corner Book Prize. Stop wasting time on Facebook. Write that novel.

2.  Troubling (and hopeful) news in the world of pig manure. It seems that the high levels of antibiotics needed to keep factory farm pigs healthy are likely contributing to our antibiotic resistance. On a brighter note, someone might have figured out how to turn pig poop into power.

3.  "Official Washington" doesn't serve fried whiting. That's fine. That means there's plenty to go around.

4.  Bon Appetit named The 20 Most Important Restaurants in America. The South was not ignored.

5.  So, here's some bad news from the world of whiskey. Maker's Mark is watering down its whiskey in an effort to keep up with demand. Planning on a "Make Mine Neat" protest?  Be careful.  That kind of talk will cost you.

6.  Meet Florida Man.  The world's worst super hero.  But, God love him, he's real.  And, thanks to Florida Woman, he'll never be lonely.

Are You Our Next Southern Foodways Postdoc?

We have been so lucky to work with our current postdoctoral fellow, Jill Cooley, and we will be very sad to see her fellowship end after this semester. The University of Mississippi is now hiring for the next Southern Studies/Foodways postdoctoral fellow. If you think you would be a fit, we look forward to considering your application!   

The University of Mississippi seeks a postdoctoral teaching fellow and adjunct assistant professor in Southern Studies for 2013–14.

The successful candidate should have a PhD by the time of appointment and should study the relationship between foodways and cultural life in the American South. Teaching responsibilities will include two courses—a Southern Studies course entitled “Foodways and Southern Culture” and a second course related to foodways in his/her discipline, i.e., history, English, sociology, anthropology, or another liberal arts discipline.

The postdoctoral fellow will also work to expand connections between the Southern Foodways Alliance—a documentary- and outreach-focused institute within the Center for the Study of Southern Culture—and various academic programs of the university.

Candidates must complete an online application at

Candidates should also attach to the online application, or send by mail, the following supplementary materials: a letter that outlines research and teaching interests, a syllabus or plan for teaching a foodways course, a vita, and a chapter-length writing sample.

Three letters of recommendation should be mailed to Ted Ownby, Director, Center for the Study of Southern, P.O. Box 1848, Barnard Observatory, University of Mississippi, University, MS 38677.

The review of applications will begin soon and continue until the position is filled or an adequate applicant pool is established.

The University of Mississippi is an EEO/AA/Title VI/Title IX/Section 504/ADA/ADEA employer.

Pride & Joy Is Coming to Charleston February 27!

We're bringing Joe York's feature documentary Pride & Joy to Charleston for one night only—won't you join us?

When: Wednesday, February 27, at 5:30 pm

Where: The American Theater, 456 King Street, Charleston, South Carolina

What: The South Carolina premiere of Pride & Joy, featuring a Q&A session with filmmaker Joe York and executive producer (and SFA director) John T Edge.

Over the last decade, the SFA has collected nearly 800 oral histories and produced more than 30 short films. We have trained our lenses on North Carolina pitmasters and Louisiana bartenders. We’ve captured the stories of Alabama shrimpers and Arkansas caviar fishermen. We’ve chronicled the work of Georgia cattlemen and Tennessee fried chicken cooks.

We have not, however, made a long-form documentary, aimed at chronicling the depth and breadth of Southern food culture. Until now. Pride & Joy is that film. It stands not as the final word on Southern food, but as an introduction to how foodways offer insights on the region’s complex history and bright future.

And of course, there will be eats and drinks, prepared and served by:

Jodie Battles and Nico Romo of Fish Restaurant
Yewande Komolafe of Jim 'N Nick's
Lauren Mitterer of WildFlour Pastry
Sarah O'Kelley of The Glass Onion
Michael Shemtov and Stuart Tracy of Butcher and Bee

We're presenting Pride & Joy in conjunction with the Charleston Wine + Food Festival as a special pre-festival event. Tickets are available on the Festival's website.

Seating at the American Theater is limited, so purchase your ticket before they sell out!

Thursday, February 14

Thirsty, Frisky Thursday: Valentine's Edition

Learn why, according to Tennessee dairy farmer Earl Cruze, buttermilk is more potent than Viagra. (He said it, not us!)

Kitchen to Classroom: Planet Taco and the Global South

Photo by Alfred T. Palmer, 1943. Courtesy of the Library of Congress
A weekly dispatch from our postdoctoral fellow, Angela Jill Cooley. Follow her on twitter at @foodandrace.

The National Museum of American History is hosting “FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950–2000,” an exhibit that explores how post-war social, political, technological, cultural, and economic forces altered the way Americans accessed and thought about food. Last Saturday, as part of this exhibition, the museum featured a live webcast entitled “Taco Nation/Planet Taco: How Mexican-American Food Conquered the World!”

Gustavo Arellano with his book, TACO USA.
The panel featured OC Weekly columnist Gustavo Arellano (who also spoke at last year’s SFA Symposium) discussing his book Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. According to Arellano, the first Mexican foods to find favor in the States were tamales and chili con carne served primarily by ethnic street vendors and chili parlors. He says that as American food industrialized in the twentieth century, entrepreneurs canned these specialties, which enabled greater public access to Mexican fare.
Fish Tacos from Oxbow in Clarksdale, MS.
The panel also included Jeffrey Pilcher, author of Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food, who identifies American soldiers and surfers as the agents primarily responsible for propagating the Mexican culinary diaspora. But no cuisine remains static. When asked about the new practice of fusing Korean and Mexican fare, Pilcher astutely observed that stuffing Korean standards into taco shells now represents a way to “Americanize” food.
Mas Tacos restaurant, Nashville, Tennessee.
Although Pilcher’s thesis views Mexican-American food as a global phenomenon, this panel connects directly with Southern food traditions. As SFA Oral Historian Amy C. Evans finds on the Tamale Trail, Mexican migrant workers brought tamales to the Mississippi Delta in the early twentieth century. There, they shared food customs with African-American farmers and Lebanese immigrants. Today, Delta tamales represent these diverse ethnic food traditions of the region–truly the global South.

Gustavo Arellano, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America (Scribner, 2012)

Jeffrey M. Pilcher, Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food (Oxford University Press, 2012)

Note: Pilcher is also the editor of the recently published volume,
The Oxford Handbook of Food History (Oxford University Press, 2012), a comprehensive compendium of various perspectives of food history discussing, among other issues, politics, culture, economics, gender, nationalism, geography, pedagogy, and public history.

Wednesday, February 13

Edna Lewis Foundation Honors Legacy of Beloved Chef

Congratulations to the Edna Lewis Foundation, which has recently been awarded 501(c)3 nonprofit status. Joe Randall, a Georgia-based chef and founding member of the SFA, is the chairman of the Foundation's board of directors. "The Foundation is dedicated to honoring, preserving and nurturing African Americans' culinary heritage and culture, and to elevating the appreciation of our culinary excellence," he says. 

Edna Lewis (1916-2006), a native of Virginia, was a prolific chef and cookbook writer. She cooked in New York City for much of her adult life, but lived her last years in Atlanta, Georgia. Lewis was also a founding member of the SFA and was the very first recipient of our lifetime achievement award back in 1999.

We Saved You a Plate: Big Bad Pastry Chef

Photo by Marion Post (Wolcott), 1940. Courtesy of the Library of Congress
"We Saved You a Plate" is a weekly series showcasing an article from Gravy or Cornbread Nation, or a past symposium presentation, or a film. We serve it up, you gulp it down.

This week's installment comes from Gravy #46, featuring "5 under 35" in Southern food and drink.

Big Bad Pastry Chef
Dwayne Ingraham is making sweet waves at Oxford's City Grocery
by Vanessa Gregory

I met Dwayne Ingraham over ice cream sandwiches—basil macarons on the outside, frozen balsamic custard within—served alongside a puddle of vanilla-poached strawberries. Subtly sweet and insistently seasonal, the late-summer confection proved an ideal introduction to the twenty-nine-year-old pastry chef, who pairs French techniques with the tastes and traditions of his Louisiana birth.

Photos by Katie Williamson
John Currence hired Ingraham two years ago to reinvigorate the dessert program at City Grocery Restaurant Group in Oxford, Mississippi. What he got was a great pastry chef. What he also got was a young man with diverse tastes, born in Louisiana, schooled in Vermont; a man who loves maple syrup as much as bread pudding; a country boy whose greatest influence in the kitchen has been a Dominican woman from the Bronx.

"I showed up this kid fresh out of culinary school, and she broke me down," Ingraham says of pastry chef Jackie Caraballo, who mentored him at two Las Vegas restaurants. "She would stand by my shoulder and just bark, "This is your job, and if this is what you love to do, you really have to do it."

Ingraham was born into a family of good cooks in Boothville, a tiny town in the extreme southeastern reaches of Louisiana, one of those spots where the Gulf of Mexico seems poised to swallow the land. Bayous and bays suggest Cajun Country, but Ingraham's family and neighbors felt more culturally connected to New Orleans, where they frequently traveled to shop and eat po-boys.

As a boy, he learned the Louisiana repertoire. His grandmother was locally renowned for stuffed mirlitons and stewed eggplant, cooked down with shrimp and pickle meat and served over white rice. His mother baked a mean sweet potato pie. His father was a crack red beans and rice cook. And his grandfather made a stout bread pudding with bourbon sauce.

The Ingraham family did not kowtow to gender roles in the kitchen. "Mother didn't like to get up early in the morning, so she made us self-sufficient at a very early age," Dwayne says. "The first thing I definitely learned to do was breakfast." By the age of five, Ingraham was working the oven, baking sweet potato pies.

After high school, Ingraham enrolled at the University of Southern Mississippi, where he studied speech communications. "One day, I literally woke up in the middle of the night and said, 'You know, I might as well do something I enjoy. I'm twiddling my thumbs here in college for years trying to figure out what to do. I love to bake—why don't I go to culinary school?'"

Vermont turned out to be a lot like home. People ate pies. Lots of pies. And they greeted each other by name in the grocery store. The New England Culinary Institute, in Montpelier, was a perfect educational match. Dwayne recalls, "I knew from the very first time that I rolled my croissant dough that this was for me."

At NECI, Dwayne discovered that he is a perfectionist. And he learned that the ranks of pastry chefs are well-populated by cooks attracted to routines, methods, and measurements. "I don't like to fail in life," Ingraham says. "And I like to have all the tools I need to succeed."

That approach is yielding impressive results. This winter's jumbled-sounding chocolate roulade—with coffee cream, flambéed bananas, chocolate sauce, Chantilly cream, and salted peanuts—initially threw John Currence for a loop. But it made sense once he tasted it, and the "Funky Monkey"—named after a coffee drink Dwayne fell for in Las Vegas—made the menu.

So have some family favorites. "I put my mother's sweet potato pie on the menu last fall at the Grocery," Ingraham says. "The only difference is I made a marshmallow fluff to put on top."

Ingraham's dream is to someday open his own place in Oxford. He wants to serve the kind of elaborate Sunday brunch he fell in love with at culinary school. "That complete buffet style," he says. "Where somebody's making your omelets fresh, right there. There's a pastry section with miniature petit-fours and petite pastries and a showpiece that pulls you in, somebody doing cherries jubilee and bananas foster, flaring up right in front of you."

I, for one, am hoping for macarons.

Vanessa Gregory is a writer and an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi.

Tuesday, February 12

How Far Would You Go for Gumbo?

Photo by Mark Peterson, courtesy of
As you've probably noticed from the Tweets, Facebook updates, and Instagram pics posted by friends who are having a much wilder Tuesday than you are (no, we're not bitter), today is Mardi Gras.

In New Orleans, beads are the big prize. But what about in Cajun Country? There, groups of friends and family perform a traditional courir de Mardi Gras, where they go from house to house on foot or horseback, collecting the ingredients for a community gumbo. At each house, the costumed participants ask for chickens, rice, vegetables, sausage, or money, usually performing a song or dance to sweeten the request.

If you want to learn more about the Cajun Mardi Gras festivities, check out Dance for a Chicken, a 1993 documentary by Pat Mire. Watch it here:

Finally, for a small taste of Cajun Mardi Gras with a big dose of fantastic Cajun music, watch Dry Wood, filmmaker Les Blank's 1973 documentary about the Cajun fiddler Bois Sec Ardoin and his family. As an added bonus, Dry Wood includes some scenes of a traditional boucherie, or hog killing. You can almost taste the head cheese!

Happy Chinese New Year!

Yee's Food Land in Lake Village, Arkansas. Photo by Kevin Kim

"I can't tell you how many times I've been in New York and Chinatown and San Francisco, and everywhere I go they would tell my sister, "Bring your brother back in here.  We love the Arkansas accent that he has on a Chinese accent."  So I get a big kick out of that."--Joe Dan Yee

Hanging above the checkout lanes of Yee's Food Land, you can find an aging photograph of three generations of the Yee family.There is the father and mother who started the store back in the early fifties and the children who run it today. For over sixty years, the Yees have owned and operated a grocery store in the Arkansas Delta town of Lake Village. The town may have changed around them, but the Yees still pride themselves on the same hometown service that has kept them in business for so many years.

What has also remained unchanged is the family's commitment to preserving their Chinese heritage. Both Joe Dan and his siblings can speak Cantonese, something his parents insisted they learn growing up. And twice a day you can find them all eating a hot, multi-course Chinese meal (all prepared by his sister, Xing) in the back of the their store. Joe says his mother, who is 96, wouldn't have it any other way.

While China and the American South each have histories steeped in custom, the century-old link of immigration between our two countries has given birth to newer and shared traditions. Our oral history collection of Chinese grocers in the Arkansas and Mississippi deltas tells an important history of immigration. They also speak to the formation of a unique food culture in these areas.

Monday, February 11

News from SFAWHQ: Meet Emilie!

Meet Emilie Dayan, our new office intern. She's helping us with a little bit of everything this spring, summer, and [we hope!] beyond. Emilie has lived in Oxford for most of her life. She graduated from the University of Mississippi in 2011 with degrees in French, Economics, and International Studies. Emilie then spent a year and a half working in Paris before returning to Oxford and—much to our delight—landing at SFA World Headquarters.

We asked Emilie a few questions so that you can get to know her.

What are your favorite foods? 

My absolute favorite food is a Moroccan tagine: couscous, apricots, almonds, and lamb that has been slow-cooked all day...YUM. I'm also a sucker for popcorn. Especially the half-popped kernels at the bottom of the bowl.

What do you like to cook? 

My favorite thing to cook is ratatouille—so easy, delicious and healthy! I always serve it with a fried egg on top and and cornbread on the side. (My father's side of the family is from Provence, so this is my French/Mississippi heritage at its best!)

What's your favorite drink? 

Gin and tonic. Lots of lime.

When you were living abroad, did you discover any surprising connections between France and the American South?

Surprisingly (or maybe not...) the most remarkable similarity I've discovered between France and the American South is that these are the only two places I have ever been where people are always contemplating either: their last meal, the meal in front of them, or how much they can't wait until their next meal (sometimes even thinking all these things at once). In both France and the American South, there is a deep appreciation for the relational aspect of food and the bonds sharing a meal with others can create.

What do you like about working for the SFA so far, or what are you looking forward to?

The people are the best part about working for the SFA. Our office is such a dynamic and creative place.* I always look forward to coming to work. After having spent the past couple of years in Europe, I am so happy to have the opportunity to work in a place where everyday I learn more and more about the place I've always called home—the American South—but that I didn't fully appreciate until I lived abroad.

*We didn't even tell her to say that!

Beyond New Orleans: Down the Bayou

[Above, Nick Collins of the Collins Oyster Company]

In advance of tomorrow's Mardi Gras holiday (okay, let's be honest, NO ONE is doing any work in New Orleans today!), we venture southeast of New Orleans to Bayou Lafourche and Grand Isle
The people of Bayou Lafourche and Grand Isle, Louisiana, live and work smack dab at the center of nature—an aerial view of the area shows more water than land, and Grand Isle is definitively the end of civilization, tapering off into the Gulf of Mexico. They also live at the heart of our country’s most expansive oilfield. Steel structures crisscross the horizon, helicopters hum overhead, and drawbridges lift to allow crew and supply boats an easy path down the bayou to service and stock rigs in the Gulf. To the outsider, this intermix of oil and wilderness appears odd. Even ugly. But from the perspective of the bayou Cajuns (their more landlocked kin, the prairie Cajuns, live around Lafayette), the oilfield and nature coexist in harmony, the financial gains from the former funding good times in the latter.

We conducted these interviews six years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita wrecked the area, and roughly a year and a half after the deadly and devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill. These events are some of the worst natural and manmade disasters this country has endured to date. Timing being what it is, the interviews tend to dwell on the hurricanes and the oil spill.

But even in the future, once these most recent trials are mere memories, they will serve as metaphors for the hardships that people who live and work so close to the land and water—and the oil—perpetually face.

To check out more of our Down the Bayou oral histories, click here.

Friday, February 8

Southern Six-Pack

The University of Ole Miss won National Signing day.  That sort of fax machine dominance calls for a six-pack!

1.  Speaking of winning, Dodge won the Super Bowl commercial war by a landslide.  This week saw opinion pieces focusing on the lack of women and the lack of minorities in the ad's images, a  newly imaged version which reflects the true diversity of America's farm workers, and a parody illuminating all that is wrong with agribusiness. 

2.  Benne seed, the powerhouse heirloom patriarch of the nearly flavorless sesame seed family, is making a comeback in the Southern farm and in the Southern larder.  Benne seed oil isn't far behind.

3.  Emu meat is a nutritional powerhouse, low in fat and high in omega 3 fatty acids.  Emu oil is a  skin care powerhouse, which can cure anything from eczema to acne.  I shared both of those details so I could share this:  Texas A & M University has a Fats and Oils Program.  With a newsletter called Fats and Oils News.

4.  Here in Zone 7, daffodils are blooming which means the gardeners among us are starting to think seed and spring planting.  The organic gardeners among us want us to know, organic gardening isn't just about how you raise the plant.  It's about the seed too.

5.  Your reusable shopping bag might be trying to kill you.

6.  Give your Valentine a gift made in the South.  And, by that I mean, give your Valentine a gift.  Trust me, it matters.

Kitchen to Classroom: Sitting In and Standing Up

Photo by Alfred T. Palmer, 1943. Courtesy of the Library of Congress
A weekly dispatch by our postdoctoral fellow, Angela Jill Cooley. 

The Greensboro Record, Tuesday, February 2, 1960.
 Last Friday, February 1, marked the 53rd anniversary of the sit-in at the Greensboro, North Carolina, Woolworth’s lunch counter—an event that triggered a youth movement dedicated to achieving civil rights. For this reason, it seemed appropriate this week that my class read Coming of Age in Mississippi, the memoir by civil rights activist Anne Moody.

Moody became involved in the Civil Rights Movement while a student at the historically black Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi. Her memoir tells the story of her impoverished childhood in the staunchly segregated Mississippi of the 1940s and 1950s. Even before the famous sit-ins of the 1960s, Moody’s story reminds us about the tenuous nature of food access for many African Americans who grew up in the South.

Persistent poverty meant that Moody and her siblings rarely had sufficient quantities and varieties of healthy foods. Their hard-working mother could rarely afford to feed them anything more than dried beans and cornbread. In grade school, Moody feared that her lunch of biscuits and peanut butter marked her as poor. She was embarrassed that her mother could not afford to purchase loaf bread.

In college, Moody fought against the system that maintained black inequality and poverty when she participated in the lunch counter sit-in at the Jackson Woolworth’s. Her courage at the counter, in the jail, and in subsequent voter registration drives inspired a city and state even as it imperiled her own safety and well-being.

If you are interested in learning more about the Sit-in Movement or the desegregation of our nation’s eating places, I’ve compiled a short bibliography of relevant literature. You may also want to visit the website of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum located on the site of the Greensboro Woolworth’s store.

Selected Bibliography:
Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC & the Black Awakening of the 1960s (published 1995)

GreensboroVOICES Collection, Oral History, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Melody Herr, Sitting for Equal Service: Lunch Counter Sit-Ins, United States, 1960s (2010)

Benjamin Houston, The Nashville Way: Racial Etiquette and the Struggle for Social Justice in a Southern City (2012)

Rodney L. Hurst Sr., It Was Never About a Hotdog and a Coke: A Personal Account of the 1960 Sit-in Demonstrations in Jacksonville, Florida and Ax Handle Saturday (2008)

Jerome Lagarrigue, Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins (2007)

John Lewis, Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement (1998)

Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi: The Classic Autobiography of Growing Up Poor and Black in the Rural South (1968)

Iwan Morgan and Philip Davies, editors, From Sit-Ins to SNCC: The Student Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s  (2012)

M. J. O’Brian, We Shall Not Be Moved: The Jackson Woolworth’s Sit-In and the Movement It Inspired ( 2013)

Cleveland Sellers, River of No Return: The Autobiography of a Black Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC (1990)

Miles Wolff, Lunch at the 5 & 10 (1970)

King Caked Out? Try a Sno-Ball

First thing's first: a New Orleans sno-ball is not a snow cone—a pre-frozen, rock-hard concoction like those sold from ice cream trucks and concession stands elsewhere. As each of our New Orleans Sno-Balls oral history subjects attest, New Orleans sno is a product of locally made, carefully stored, and expertly shaved-to-order ice. The sugary syrups that color and flavor a New Orleans sno-ball are equally important to the final product, and each sno-ball maker protects his own syrup recipes. In fact, a majority of the recipes at Hansen’s Sno-Bliz in Uptown, Williams Plum Street Snowballs near Riverbend, and Sal’s Sno-Balls in Old Metairie have survived several generations of ownership.

As you might expect to find in a subtropical city, New Orleans’ flavored ice tradition dates back to a time when vendors shaved the ice by hand and carried just a small selection of flavorings. “Tee Eva” Perry remembers choosing between just strawberry, spearmint, and pineapple syrups to flavor the coarse scraped ice at her neighborhood stand. Then, in the 1930s, two sno-ball pioneers—George Ortolano and Ernest Hansen—independently built the city’s first electric ice-shaving machines. While a version of the Ortolano machine is still produced and sold by George’s descendents at the company SnoWizard, Ernest Hansen built his machines primarily for personal use. His legacy is in the family sno-ball stand, still run today by his granddaughter, Ashley Hansen.

Ortolano, Hansen, Eisenmann, Dennery—tied to New Orleans’ first sno-ball machines and extracts, these names are spoken again and again in our interviews. They are the people who helped turn New Orleans into what Bubby Wendling at Southern Snow Manufacturing calls the world’s sno-ball Mecca.
In spite of the sno-ball’s nostalgic appeal, flavor innovation is rampant. You’ll hear Claude and Donna Black talking about concocting Plum Street’s new king cake flavor. Steven Bel’s customers at Sal’s are stuffing orange dreamsicle sno-balls (a recent addition) with soft-serve ice cream. Bubby Wendling makes a novelty buttered popcorn extract. And Dylan Williams goes entirely new-school by flavoring his sno with minimally sweetened fresh-fruit juices.

These interviews, which you can find here, only scratch the surface of New Orleans’ sno-ball culture, which is as varied and deep as the city’s neighborhoods. But one sentiment, one word, arose during nearly every one, at least where the sno-balls themselves were concerned: “Fun.”

Thursday, February 7

Thirsty Thursday: Big Easy Cocktails

In honor of Mardi Gras next week, we are taking this blog post to New Orleans.  The Big Easy is not only ground zero for Fat Tuesday celebrations but also the American cocktail.  In 1838, Antoine Amadee Peychaud played around with brandy, bitters and an egg cup (called a coquetier in French, some maintain this is the origin of the word cocktail), and the American cocktail was likely born…in New Orleans. Almost 170 years later, the Big Easy still serves this concoction known as the Sazerac. The drink itself has seen a few changes, but one thing remains the same: New Orleans is ground zero for the cocktail.  Much has been written about this liquid history, and many are familiar with the establishments that offer one libation or another with names like the Hurricane, the Ramos Gin Fizz, the Mint Julep. But not a lot of attention has been paid to the folks who combine all of the proper the ingredients and pass them across the bar. The men and women of New Orleans who carry on these traditions and serve the thirsty masses are the keepers of this history. Whether it’s the tableside performance of the Café Brulot or simply popping the cap off of an Abita, these folks are good at what they do, and they have been doing it for a long time. Cocktail recipes are recorded in books, but the history of drinking in New Orleans is standing just on the other side of the bar.

Michael Smith, featured in the oral history above, is the drink-mixing, dancing and singing wizard at the Columns Hotel and has been voted Best Bartender five years in a row.  For more oral histories of New Orleans bartenders, click here.  Make sure to try out these drink recipes during the festivities next week!

Wednesday, February 6

We Saved You a Plate: A Cardinal from the Ashes

Photo by Marion Post (Wolcott), 1940. Courtesy of the Library of Congress
"We Saved You a Plate" is a weekly series showcasing an article from Gravy or Cornbread Nation, or a past symposium presentation, or a film. We serve it up, you gulp it down.

This week's installment comes from Gravy #46, featuring "5 under 35" in Southern food and drink.

A Cardinal from the Ashes
The Mauney brothers make award-winning gin in a shuttered textile mill 
by Jed Portman

The Mauney brothers don't talk much. Going through the notes from our interview, I see the underlined interjection "DAD" often, in all the places where their father helped to push our conversation along. The Mauney brothers have no lack of projects to talk about. I think of what a high school teacher said to me after a mild-mannered relative of hers got caught dropping rocks on cars from a highway overpass: "You've got to watch out for the quiet ones. They're always up to something."

Alex and Charlie Mauney—thirty-one-year-old twins and direct descendants of W.A. Mauney, who founded their hometown of Kings Mountain, North Carolina—began fiddling with alcohol four years ago, making wine in their parents' garage. Before long, they became interested in hard liquor. They formed a business, Southern Artisan Spirits, and set out to make gin, their unaged spirit of choice.

Photos by Jed Portman

The brothers tested a wide range of botanicals in ten-gallon batches of white liquor. "We worked on the flavor for a year," Alex says. "Buying ingredients. Increasing them. Decreasing them. We probably went through close to a hundred test batches." They call the product of their experimentation Cardinal Gin, for North Carolina's state bird. It's layered with the flavors of eleven botanicals—roughly twice the number in your typical gin—including cloves, frankincense, grains of paradise, orange peel, and spearmint.

Alex and Charlie rented space in a family-owned hoisery mill, a shabby place on the outskirts of town. Charlie left law school. Alex kept his day job with an engineering company and helped distill on nights and weekends. Southern Artisan Spirits was three people then: Alex, Charlie, and father Jim, who'd been downsized out of his job in 2008. Alex moved over to SAS full-time about a year ago. Besides that, not much has changed.

Cardinal Gin won the Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition this year (the only American gin to do so), and now sells in five states. It is still produced and marketed by two brothers and their dad.

"Right now, we can handle it," says Jim, "but of it gets any bigger—and it's going to get bigger—we're going to have to start hiring people."

Late in my visit, as we sipped G&Ts, chilly air blew through the old loading-dock door. The brothers joked that gin-making might now be Kings Mountain's newest industry, a replacement for textiles. While small-batch gin may not yet be the go-to tipple in working class Kings Mountain bars, the brothers say that their hometown—the first in the state to vote itself dry, in 1874—has shown nothing but support for the young business. And bartenders up the road in Asheville pour Cardinal with pride.

Now Alex and Charlie are working on a new project. It has something to do with the tall, boxy still in the corner—the only one of its kind, designed by the brothers with help from distillation experts—and the heirloom Bloody Butcher corn that a farmer is growing for them in nearby Shelby, North Carolina. The details are still coming together, but it's true: The brothers, quiet as they might be, are always up to something.

Jed Portman is a Charleston, South Carolina–based writer and editor. You can follow him on Twitter at @jdportman.