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

Women at Work in RVA: Ida MaMusu & Argentina Ortega

Our Summer Symposium kicks off in Richmond, Virginia, on 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.

* * *

"Being an African woman in a business of my own, I wanted to make 'African' real special, and I decided to add another 'N' and another 'E' on the word 'African' and make it 'Africanne', which is a female African woman in business."

Africanne on Main

In 1980, Ida MaMusu fled war-torn Monrovia, Liberia, and came to the United States. Her grandmother, Ida Williams, was originally from Reston, Virginia, and went to Liberia as part of the American Colonization Society, a movement sending freed slaves back to Africa. Under her grandmother’s tutelage, Ida learned the art of cooking, sometimes without even going near the kitchen. When Ida MaMusu fled the war, she had no choice but to leave her entire family behind. She arrived in Richmond in 1986 and worked for the next decade to bring her two children and parents to the United States. After opening Braids of Africa on Broad Street in 1996, Ida found herself not only doing hair, but cooking meals for her customers. Inspired, she opened her first restaurant space next door in 1998, eventually moving to a smaller, better-located space on Main Street. Ida’s grandmother always told her that the things she learned from her were not hers to keep—that she must pass them on to keep her memory alive. In 2002, Ida started Chef MaMusu's Cultural Cooking School to pass her knowledge on to young girls.

"I just wanted to survive and have an independent life. That’s what I wanted to have because over there it’s just the men—the men, the men, the men, and you have to do what they say. They don’t let you achieve your dreams."

La Sabrosita Bakery

At the age of 19, Argentina Ortega left Sensuntepeque, El Salvador, and moved to the United States for a better life. Shuttling back and forth between El Salvador, Southern California, and Houston, she took baking classes and began earning a living working in a bakery. On the side, she sewed handmade draperies. In 2005, Argentina settled in Richmond to be with her three sons: Mario, Eduardo, and Jorge Dawson. With a small business loan, she purchased La Sabrosita Bakery, a tiny space on Holy Street. At the time, the bakery had a poor reputation with only a handful of clients. Working day and night, she turned the business around, making the deliveries herself in her little car, driving hours beyond Richmond to Fredericksburg, Williamsburg, Norfolk, and the Eastern Shore. Gradually, she built an incredible reputation and customer base. In 2009, her sons' construction business slowed to a halt, so the four became partners and opened in a larger space on Midlothian Turnpike, where the business sits today. Her customers hail from all corners of the world, and hundreds of deliveries are made each week, stretching beyond Virginia into Washington, Maryland, and North Carolina. Argentina no longer makes deliveries herself; a small fleet of semi-trucks makes them for her.

A Spoken Dish Explores Cooking, Family, and Community

Eleven-year-old Osha Love Lowery of Jackson, MS, is one of the voices in A Spoken Dish.
It’s a simple question: What food tradition in your life reflects time or place or evokes a specific memory?

In interviews throughout the South, Whole Foods documentarian Kate Medley asked this question of farmers, home cooks, professional chefs, writers, artists, and children. The resulting project, A Spoken Dish, captures heartfelt stories about a wide range of subjects including the Civil Rights Movement, Hurricane Katrina, the Great Migration, traditional hog killings, magic pickling rocks, Southern spaetzle, paw paws, gumbo, and more.

A joint endeavor from Georgia Organics, the SFA, and Whole Foods Market, A Spoken Dish is a storytelling project dedicated to celebrating and documenting food memories and rituals from people across the South.

We invite you to visit A Spoken Dish, where you can watch the first 20 of these stories right now. More will be rolling out in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for news right here on the SFA blog. We also invite you to share your own food stories on social media with the hashtag #aspokendish—click here for more information.

Below, watch Geno Lee, the fourth-generation owner of the Big Apple Inn in Jackson, Mississippi, talk about his restaurant's connection to civil rights history. It's a timely story: earlier this week (June 12) was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights Medgar Evers of Jackson, Mississippi.

Thursday, June 13

2013 Richmond Summer Symposium: The Bibliography

As anticipation for next week's summer symposium in Richmond grows, we present the SFA's recommended reading. Happy reading and see you there!

Academic and General-Interest Books

Campbell, Benjamin. Richmond’s Unhealed History, Richmond: Brandylane Publishers, 2012.

Kliman, Todd. The Wild Vine: A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine, New York: Clarkson Potter, 2010.

Potterfield, T. Tyler. Nonesuch Place: A History of the Richmond Landscape, Charleston: The History Press, 2009.

Richardson, Selden. Built by Blacks: African American Architecture & Neighborhoods in Richmond, VA, Richmond: Dietz Press, 2007.

Smartt, Elizabeth Thalhimer. Finding Thalhimers: One woman’s obsessive quest for the true story of her family and their beloved department store, Manakin-Sabot: Dementi Milestone Publishing, Inc., 2010.

Tyler-McGraw, Marie. At the Falls: Richmond, Virginia, & Its People, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994.

Williams-Forson, Psyche. Building Houses out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.


Lewis, Edna. The Taste of Country Cooking, New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2006. (Originally published in 1976).

Randolph, Mary. The Virginia House-Wife. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1984. (Originally published 1824).

“Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Pie” (a documentary about Edna Lewis by bbarash productions, LLC) (watch it here).

Richmond Magazine. Southern Food Issue, November 2011.

Lang, Nicole. “RVA Eats.” (Blog) The Southern Foodways Alliance.

Sorensen, Leni. “The View from Indigo House.” 

Wood, Sara. “Women at Work in Richmond.” A Southern Foodways Alliance Oral History Project. 

New Greenhouse Film: Prairie Farming

We are pleased to share a new Greenhouse film with you. Prairie Farming is a portrait of a rice, soybean, and crawfish farm outside of Eunice, Louisiana, narrated by third-generation farmer Luke Duplechin.

Budding filmmaker Carly Viator is proud to put her Cajun heritage on the big screen:

I was born to a Cajun family in a small town north of Nashville, TN. Music and nature have always been something our parents kept us close to. We relocated to their homeland of south Louisiana in 2009 and I have been captivated by the culture. It has inspired to learn French and more about the history, food, etc., which led me to explore other cultures, as well. I am graduating in December from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette with an emphasis on television and film production. Most of my work gravitates towards music, culture, nature, and the simple pleasures in life. I hope to continue creating and travel as much as possible. 
If you're hungry for more—and we bet you will be—visit the SFA's Vimeo page to watch all of our short films. These include the four new Greenhouse Films (five more are on the way!) as well as more than 30 short films by SFA filmmaker Joe York.

Women at Work in RVA: Stella Dikos, Katrina Giavos & Tiffany Gellner

Our Summer Symposium kicks off in Richmond, Virginia, on 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.

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"It was almost like a shock. But little bit at a time, you go to the grocery store and you buy ingredients, and you make the dishes that you left behind. And then, slowly, you get into the habit of eating food from another culture." -Stella Dikos


In the 1950s, at the age of 19, Stella Dikos arrived in Richmond from Greece via an arranged marriage. Her husband Starvos Dikos opened The Village, a local institution near what was then the Richmond Professional Institute, now known as Virginia Commonwealth University. Stella learned how to make dishes her customers loved and, in return, she introduced them to the dishes she left behind in Greece. In 1983, Stella convinced Starvos to open her namesake restaurant on Harrison Street and Grace Streets. After closing and re-opening another Stella’s on Main Street, she closed once more. Richmonders continued to ask her when they could eat with her again. In 2011, six months after Starvos passed away, Stella's opened a third time on Lafayette Street. Stella is known in Richmond as a culinary legacy, a woman who worked day and night to put the American dream into motion. She paved the way for her daughter, Katrina Giavos, who, along with her husband and business partner Johnny Giavos, has opened 13 other restaurants around Richmond.

"I try to make sure that [the staff] is happy, and I want things to be fair, you know...because I was on the other end. I’m not just the manager and owner. I wait tables and bartend here also."

The Magpie

Baltimore native Tiffany Gellner was in high school when she moved to Virginia Beach with her mother, Melanie Palma. Melanie was artistically inclined but worked as a waitress and bartender at a place called San Antonio Sam’s to support their small family. Tiffany began her long restaurant career as a hostess there, working alongside her mother, but moved to Richmond at the age of 22 with the intention of attending art school. Instead, she spent the next decade waiting tables and tending bar in several Richmond restaurants including Amici's, Bandito's, and Star-lite. After marrying Owen Lane, who spent close to a decade cooking in Richmond restaurants, the couple took the leap to start a place of their own. Tiffany and Owen opened the Magpie in 2011. Situated in the historic industrial Carver neighborhood, the restaurant seats only 34 people including the bar. While Owen takes care of the food, Tiffany wears multiple hats in the front of the house: manager, server, and bartender.

Wednesday, June 12

What Do Southern Food and Crime Have in Common?

A new issue of our Gravy quarterly is on its way to the mailboxes of SFA members throughout the land. (Not a member? Join us to start receiving Gravy on the regular. Or look for it at Billy Reid stores; Highlands Bar & Grill, Bottega, and Chez Fonfon in Birmingham; and Husk Nashville.) Guest edited by the writer Jack Pendarvis, this edition tackles the theme of Food and Crime. Contributors include singer/songwriter Kelly Hogan and crime novelist Laura Lippman.

Here, we share with you a special web companion to the print issue, written by William Boyle. A native New Yorker, William now lives in Oxford, where he teaches writing at the University of Mississippi.

Mystery Train
Making and Unmaking in the Rough South
by William Boyle

A scene from Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train.

 My early notions of the South were formed by movies and music. Many of those initial ideas evolved around crime and food because I was drawn mainly to crime stories and I was always struck by scenes set in diners and kitchens. Growing up in Brooklyn, a kid fascinated with mob history (Bloodletters and Badmen was my go-to bedtime book), I already had the feeling that food and crime were twined together somehow—and my love of Quentin Tarantino movies gave me a propensity for violent dialogue delivered over meat products.

The first song I loved was Bobbie Gentry's “Ode to Billie Joe.” I heard it on the oldies station when I was in the sixth grade. Other kids were listening to Technotronic's “Pump Up the Jam,” but I had my mother take me to the mall to get a Bobbie Gentry tape. Gentry's tricky song felt like a murder ballad to me, and I loved the way the family sat around the table talking, unfolding the story for us over black-eyed peas and biscuits and apple pie. As a city kid, it opened up so many things about the South to me, not only the rituals and rhythms, but a deep and abiding sense of mystery, the very thing that propels my interests in food and crime. How is a thing made? How is it unmade?

A restaurant scene from Mystery Train.
When I moved to Oxford for graduate school a few years ago, one of my first stops was the Arcade Resaturant in Memphis, where several scenes in Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train were shot. Most people probably wouldn't call Mystery Train a crime film, but it is: Crimes occur; music swirls us into a state of boozy desperation; we're not pinned in by a formula. The scenes shot in the restaurant have a tender beauty to them, and when you go to the Arcade and get black coffee in a porcelain mug, you feel pulled into Jarmusch's lonely late-night world. Like the con artist who tries to panhandle Nicoletta Braschi's Luisa, it's crime-sweaty and poetically peculiar. Luisa, visiting Memphis from Italy, feels the stress of that rough and wonderful city. After meeting the con man, she's out on the street and is followed by three sketchy guys before dipping into the hotel that serves as the movie's central locale. Mystery Train is ultimately about outsiders—visitors from Italy and Japan—ghosting after something holy and old. Maybe that's what draws me to it as a poem to and of the South—Jarmusch, also a New Yorker, visits like one of the movie's outsiders and his senses are assaulted. The Arcade is a place of reckoning, a source of mystery, just like the dinner table that the narrator's family sits around in “Ode to Billie Joe.”

I think also of Roberto Benigni in Jarmusch's Down by Law (set in and around New Orleans), on the run, cooking a rabbit on a spit, talking about his strange mother. Jarmusch has a great sense of how to use consumption—be it food, coffee, booze—to elevate tension. His series of short films, Coffee and Cigarettes, isolates those moments: people exchange wisdom over that mystical combination of caffeine and nicotine.

A scene from Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained.

On our first night in Oxford, The Hold Steady played at Proud Larry's. Stay Positive had just come out. My wife and I didn't even unload our moving truck. We parked it in the driveway, unpacking only an air mattress and our toothbrushes, and went straight to the show. We got burgers and beers. Larry's jumped with frantic energy. “Sequestered in Memphis” got the crowd going the way only place songs can. It's a noir story dressed up as a pop anthem: a sad-sack gets suckered by a femme fatale and then tells his story. It, too, is rooted in mystery. Craig Finn, a Minnesotan by way of Brooklyn, has the same spiraling vision of Memphis (and the South) as a place of promise and persecution. “We didn't go back to her place,” the narrator sings. “We went to some place where she cat-sits. She said, 'I know I look tired, but everything's fried here in Memphis.'” Like “Ode to Billie Joe,” we're never quite sure exactly what's going on—the story's being told later. Finn's Memphis is not that far off from Jarmusch's: Desperation rules the mood. His narrator's a visitor, as well. “I went there on business!” he pleads in the end.

I didn't come to the South on business. I came here with Airships and Big Bad Love tucked under my arm. I carried Tarantino with me. I knew every line. No one thinks about Tarantino as a Southern filmmaker, but he is. Born in Knoxville, his notion of storytelling is decisively Southern, even though most of the action happens far away from the American South. Scenes from Tarantino movies pop around me in the air like blossoms of blood. In Django Unchained, a “Southern” that rewrites history, we're at the dinner table with Calvin Candie for twenty-three tense minutes before the Peckinpah-like gore ballet that ends the film. In Tarantino's world, everything important happens while characters are dining. Plans are hatched. Lives unravel. Making and unmaking occur simultaneously. Mystery plunks down on us like a fat moon.

Women at Work in RVA: Ira Wallace & Rachel Zell

Our Summer Symposium kicks off in Richmond, Virginia, on 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.

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"That's the thing with heirlooms. It's not just the seeds. It's the stories and the places that they came from."

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Raised in Tampa, Florida, by her grandmother, Ira Wallace grew up with lush gardens and a strong appreciation for homesteading. She left Florida after college and travelled around the world throughout the 1960s and 1970s, living on Kibbutz in Israel, farming in Scandinavia and Canada, and then working some land in North Carolina. In 1984, she settled into the rolling hills of Virginia, a place she now calls home. Ira helped found Twin Oaks cooperative farm and then, in 1993, Acorn, the current home of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Though she lives and works in Mineral, Ira travels all over the country to teach workshops about gardening, herbs, farming, and heirloom and open-pollinated seeds. She's teaching communities about seeds with stories spanning decades, cultures, and traditions. When Ira first took over Southern Exposure from Jeff McCormick in 1999, 15,000 seed catalogues went out to customers. This year, 110,000 catalogues will be mailed to seed lovers.

"My experience is their experience and not them saying, you know, 'Oh this tasted so good,' but them saying, 'Life is great and it’s great to be here.' That’s more important than the actual food."

Food Stylist, Caterer & Server

A fourth-generation Richmonder, Rachel Zell’s family was known for its business, Nathan's Custom Tailors. But Rachel had a passion for food. In her early twenties, she left Richmond to attend the French Culinary Institute in New York City. Rachel stayed in the Big Apple to work for Katy Sparks at Quilty's. After relocating to San Francisco for another opportunity, she returned to Richmond to do what she loves—at home. Rachel has served as a private chef for families in Richmond and New York and has done her share of catering. She's cooked at Patina Grill and Ipanema CafĂ© in her hometown. Today, in addition to cooking for clients and freelancing as a food stylist, Rachel also works as a server at The Roosevelt in Church Hill. She never set out with a specific career path in mind, only a mission: to connect with people through food.

Tuesday, June 11

Bill Best and the Beanstalk

Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste: Heirloom Seed Savers in Appalachia
By Bill Best. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2013.

Thanks to SFA graduate student assistant Anna Hamilton for writing this guest blog post.

Last year, I was excited to learn that I was going to be working with the Southern Foodways Alliance as part of my graduate studies at the University of Mississippi. My parents met the news with an arsenal of ideas, and my dad, who has never been shy about lobbing suggestions at me, said that I “should go right up to Berea, Kentucky, and do something about Bill Best.” Little did he know that the SFA was already a few steps ahead: one of the organization's earliest films is a portrait of Bill Best by Joe York and Matt Bruder.

My parents, alumni of Berea College, took courses from Bill Best in their undergraduate days. Best is a farmer in Berea, Kentucky and President of Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center Inc, an organization that encourages viable farming practices to ensure food self-sufficiency, diversity and knowledge in the Appalachian region.

Greasy back beans from Bill Best's seed catalog.

Best is also an ardent seed saver who specializes in heirloom tomato and bean varieties. Have you ever tasted the tender, White Creaseback bean? Or the Fat Man bean, popular in West Virginia? How about the thick-podded Greasy Back bean? Best is your man for these botanical jewels. Farmers and home gardeners can purchase packets of heirloom beans and tomatoes from SMAC’s catalog.

Right now my parents’ garden is chock-full of Best’s beans, and my dad has more greasy beans and goose beans than he knows what to do with. He’s canning and freezing as fast as he can, and preparing to set some aside as seed for next year. A neat thing about SMAC’s seed operation is that they encourage personal responsibility when it comes to saving seeds. Best welcomes first-time buyers but discourages second-timers: He wants purchasers to save their own seeds rather than relying on the catalog each year.

In Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste, Best’s new book, Best challenges us to think of seed savers as more than just eccentrics and oddballs. Instead, he says, we should regard them as necessary protectors, defenders, and democratizers of our food supply. Best recognizes a disconnect in mass-produced, mechanized beans and the “real” heirloom beans he, as well as other Appalachian farmers, cultivate. Indeed, heirloom seeds contain important genetic material for maintaining agricultural diversity. And yet heirloom seeds possess a very real cultural value as well: They are at the center of many family and community histories and stories, and empower individuals to sustain themselves. Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste is a valuable guide to the hows, whys, and whos of Appalachian seed saving.

You can purchase heirloom seeds and find out more about Bill Best and the Sustainable Mountain Agricultural Center Inc at

Kitchen to Classroom: Eating in the Archives, Part 2

Kitchen to Classroom is a weekly dispatch from our postdoctoral fellow, Angela Jill Cooley. We'll miss Jill when she moves on next month—she has accepted a position as an assistant professor of history at Minnesota State University-Mankato. We look forward to welcoming our 2013–2014 postdoctoral fellow, Zac Henson, at the end of the summer. 

Click here to read "Eating in the Archives, Part I."

This second post on researching food history focuses on documents at the National Archives location near Atlanta. You may be familiar with the National Archives on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. There, tourists can view the original Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, and Bill of Rights. What you may not know is that the building housing our nation’s founding documents is only one of the many locations maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

The NARA facility in Morrow, Georgia—located just a few miles south of Atlanta—houses federal records from eight southeastern states. A few years ago, I went to Morrow to research food conservation in Alabama during World War I. Afraid of shortages when the nation entered the war in April 1917, Congress passed the Lever Food Control Act. Among other things, the Act created the United States Food Administration to regulate the nation’s food supply. The records of this wartime agency provide insight into how food became a way for America’s civilians to fight the war on the home front.

The Food Administration used posters and public education campaigns appealing to American patriotism to encourage food conservation. NARA maintains records of these efforts in Alabama at its Morrow location. In one document, Alabama Governor Charles Henderson issued a proclamation declaring the last week of October as “Food Registration Week.” Considering the important role that women played in preparing and serving food, Henderson requested that housewives sign a pledge to avoid waste.
A Food Administration project in Mobile, Alabama, 1918.

The state records include correspondence between Richard M. Hobbie, U.S. Food Administrator for the state of Alabama, and Mary Feminear, the state’s Home Demonstration Agent, discussing the accomplishments of Alabama’s women. Feminear reported that schools across the state held classes to educate women in gardening, bee keeping, animal husbandry, and food preservation. Alabama also participated in “wheatless” and “meatless” days. Smith’s Bakery in Mobile encouraged wheatless meals by sponsoring a Victory Bread recipe contest. Victory Bread included any loaf prepared with a wheat substitute, such as corn, rice, or potato flour.

Click to enlarge.

In one of the more interesting documents, the Ku Klux Klan forwarded a letter to the Food Administration accusing a Gadsden man of hoarding flour and sugar. (Did you know that the Klan had letterhead?) Federal and state propaganda described such stockpiling as unpatriotic. The Klan gave state officials this ominous warning: “If some one does not look after [this case of hoarding], then we will have to make him a visit.” The Klan re-emerged during World War I as a xenophobic and racist organization with a great deal of power in Alabama politics. This letter reveals how the Klan made political use of food conservation efforts to express its hyper-nationalist views.

Monday, June 10

There's a Dish for That

Deviled Egg Platter from

Emily Wallace guest-blogs for us about food, art, and design. You can check out more of her work here

"Dish" is in many ways a perfect moniker, able to conjure both a specific food and container—two things often inextricably linked. Where, for instance, would deviled eggs be without scalloped trays to keep them in place en route to church suppers? (I know the answer to this: scattered across the backseat of a car.) John W. McKee Jr. and John W. McKee Sr. described a similar situation in their 1988 patent application for a plastic deviled egg container, explaining, “deviled eggs are easily damaged and mutilated by the jarring forces encountered in transportation.”

By then, ceramic and glass versions had been in circulation for quite some time. An earlier patent from 1938 depicts Arthur J. Bennett’s design for an ornamental, glass deviled egg platter, though the application’s title suggests the container might also be used for “similar articles.” One has to wonder: What—in shape or content—is similar to a deviled egg?

Scan shelves, pantries, antique stores, or wedding registries. There are endless other items, including glassware and tools, intended for specific provisions. Check out a few of these iconic designs and be grateful.

 Charles Bougourd de Lamarre of Biloxi, Mississippi didn’t want you to cut your hand while opening an oyster (he hoped to dissuade the formation of bruises and corns, too).

Carl Bomeisler of New York City wished for you to have stylish handles on your corncob.

And Timothy C. Brown and William O. Waterhouse of—where else?—Louisville, Kentucky offered you a touch of equestrian chic for your mint julep. Cheers to that.