Southern Food Blog

Colonial Foodways
by Jean Worts

The meeting of the Powhatan tribe and the English settlers centuries ago at what is now known as Jamestown marked the birth of American culinary traditions.  The first colonies established by the English, Spanish, and French began the intermingling of European traditions and food ways with those of the Native Americans all along the Atlantic coast in early settlements.  Although the settlers brought with them various foods and animals, they soon found themselves interacting with New World foods.  This interaction changed their diet and highlighted the stratification of wealth among the settlers.  Aboard the ships of European settlers were “horses, cattle, goats, sheep and chickens, as well as pigs; they brought apples, turnips and cabbage; they brought wine, brandy, rum and malt brew”—the rest was provided by the New World (Egerton 11).

The first settlers to colonize America were primarily male, but when African slaves and women began arriving ashore, the colonies were quickly transformed into a permanent living community, rather than one used simply for trade, and the focus on the social aspect of living was intensified (Egerton 13).  As Spanish settlers scoured the Caribbean setting up base camps for exploratory adventures, the first permanent settlement in the United States emerged in St. Augustine, Florida in 1565 where cooking techniques—barbacoa— and cooperative live stock raising with the Pueblo Indians shaped the nature of the Spanish settlements (“Spanish” 1).  Perhaps the most important was the adaptation of barbacoa as a means to slowly smoke meats into what we now refer to as barbeque. 

Throughout the colonies, foods were beginning to take on a distinct nature as influences from European settlers, African slaves, and Native Americans were seen throughout the kitchen.  In the English colonies “most cooking was done in the open fire place in pots and kettles brought from Europe;” while the upper class used several of these for each meal, the poor lower class would have only one pot or kettle to cook a meal in, decreasing the quality and substance involved (Egerton 14).  Without refrigeration to preserve foods, colonists had to rely on smoking or salting their meats and eating only the available fruits and vegetables in season.  These foods were prepared using many of the same cooking techniques we use today, including frying, roasting, baking and boiling—and the content of what was consumed still lines our grocery shelves: beef, lamb, pork, chicken, fish, vegetables, and baked goods, with seasonings like sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg used liberally (Crew 1).  Lynn Olver, an International Association of Culinary Professionals member, explains, “The ingredients used by Salem cooks in the 1690’s would have been a combination of ‘New World’ foods (corn, clams, squash, beans, cranberries, potatoes), local fare (mollusks, fish, wild game, fowl/birds, domesticated hogs, apples, nuts, berries, onions, cheese, eggs) and imported goods (tea, coffee, sugar, rum, citrus fruits, spices, and flavorings)” (Olver 6). The most popularly consumed food was meat, and often several meat products were served within the same course of multicourse meals.  All parts of the animal were consumed, and “they considered animal organs, like hearts and brains, tasty delicacies” (Crew 2).

As colonial dining evolved in the early stages of settlement, meals became more of a social event in direct proportion and as a reflection of wealth.  Breakfast was taken early in the day for the poor before the day’s chores were to begin—for southern planters, it was served after the morning chores as a leisurely meal (Olver 3).  Dinner was the social, large meal eaten at midday and supper was often a small evening snack of leftovers from the day’s previous meals if it was eaten at all (2).  Alcoholic beverages were consumed with each meal, including breakfast which usually consisted of a cider or beer coupled with a bowl of porridge that was prepared the night before and cooked slowly through the night or a cornmeal mush with molasses (3).  While breads were eaten throughout the day, they were most certainly served at breakfast. 

As the biggest meal of the day, dinner was served as several courses. Lynn olver documents, “the first course included several meats plus meat puddings and/or meat pies containing fruits and spices, pancakes and fritters, and the ever present side dishes of sauces pickles and catsups… soups seem to have been served before or in conjunction with the first course (3). Other courses comprised of stews with vegetables and pork, and desserts of fruits, cakes, custards, and tarts; these assortments were plentiful in a two course dinner for the financially comfortable in the late 1700’s (3).  The small meal of supper would typically consist of bland potatoes and an alcoholic beverage.  For the southern planters, eggs would be consumed as “delicacies” as a special side dish with supper or dinner (3). Most Virginians fell into the lowest stratification of society and “prepared basic soups and grains porridges… supplemented with whatever meats and vegetables they could obtain” (“Food ways” 1).

Food, in America’s formative years, was a primary indication of social status and wealth.  Those that could afford to would prepare elaborate, labor intensive meals to entertain guests and show off their affluence.  John Egerton describes southern cuisine prior to the Revolution as “remembered in the history books and cookbooks primarily as the cuisine of the upper class” (Egerton 14).  Women would direct the servant-cooked meals in the kitchen in higher society, but even in the middle class, there existed only a small portion of whites that did not have servants.(“Food ways” 1).  Many of these traditions and food stuffs are still prevalent in American cuisine today highlighting the transcendence of European and Native American influences in the colonial era that have created what now exists today as our culinary tradition. 

Works Cited
Crew, Ed. "The official site of Colonial Williamsburg - Colonial Food ways." Colonial Williamsburg Official Site. 17 Apr. 2009   <>.

Egerton, John. Southern food at home, on the road, in history. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina P, 1993.

Olver, Lynn. "The Food Timeline: history notes--Colonial America and 17th & 18th century France." Food Timeline: food history & historic recipes. 17 Apr. 2009         <>.

"Spanish Colonization in the North." Travel and History. 23 Apr. 2009 <>.

Hog Killing
by Kaitlin Schlosser

Pork has been an important part of the Southerner’s diet since colonial times.  The hog was a way for Southerners to not only provide for their own family but for others as well.  The hog was an important source of food because the entire hog was useful in some form or another.  “The animal [hog] did not offer its owner milk or the ability to carry burdens, but nearly all of the pig was edible or useful in some manner of cooking: hams, ribs, head (for souse), feet, internal organs (intestines for chitterlings), and lard or fatback (as grease or seasoning)” (Bass).  This is a prime example of the utility of the entire swine.

Hog killing was a profitable business, and it has always been prominent in the South (Bass).  They were open range animals, and they initially outnumbered people, hence their popularity in the food chain (Thompson).  As hogs ranged freely across the land, eating an assortment of nuts found on the forest floor, farmers quickly learned that the taste of the creature was sacrificed.  For instance, if a hog were to eat numerous chestnuts, their meat would have a sweet taste but would be essentially useless for white lard.  Additionally, if a hog were to eat acorns, their taste was bitter and the consistency of their fat was altered.  Therefore, farmers would bring the pigs that were going to be slaughtered down to the farm anywhere from a week to a month beforehand.  They would be fed a steady diet of corn and this allowed for the familiar taste of pork that everyone knew and loved (Wigginton 189).

The slaughtering of a hog would typically take place in late November.  This time was better because the weather was becoming colder and would stay that way.  Because freezers were virtually unheard of, the cold weather was important to farmers in order to keep the meat while it cured.  Everything was done at the home of the farmer, and the process was a grueling one (Wigginton 189).

On the day of butchering, scalding hot water was prepared for the hog.  There were a few different ways of preparing this water.  Some people had a cast-iron bowl that was approximately four feet in diameter that would be set into a stone furnace.  The bowl would be filled with water first, then the farmer would build a fire in the furnace.  The bowl would be placed inside, allowing ample time to heat the water as the hog was killed.    Other people would have an oil drum that was tipped on its side and filled halfway with water.  Heated rocks would be set within the water in order to warm it up.  Lastly, others would simply heat water on their stoves and pour it over the carcass of the swine directly (Wigginton 190).

The killing of the hog was a quick process.  It was typically killed by a swift blow to the head with either a rock or an axe head, or the swine was shot in the back of the head or between the eyes.  As soon as this was done, the jugular vein was immediately cut open in order to help drain most of the blood from the body.  When the bleeding had slowed, the swine’s carcass would be placed into the hot water then rolled over in order to loosen all of the hairs lining its body.  In order to remove the hair, one would either pull it off or scrape it off with a utensil such as a knife.  This process was continued until all of the hair was removed from the carcass.  If the hog was left in the water for extended periods of time, the hair would set in the body and become harder to remove (Wigginton 192).

Once the hair was removed, the hog’s hamstrings were exposed and a singletree was placed behind the exposed muscles in order to tie the hog onto a pole that was placed securely in the forks of two other trees.  This would leave the hog dangling with the stomach exposed.  At this point, hot water was poured over places that had not yet been cleaned to remove all other debris.  Once this was finished, the neck was cut at the base of the head and all the way through.  After this incision was made, the farmer would twist the head of the swine off and set it somewhere else.  The rest of the blood was now drained from the body (Wigginton 192 – 196).

Once the remaining blood finished draining, an additional cut was made down the underside of the pig.  It went from the crotch all the way up to the throat.  The farmer must be careful not to cut the membrane holding the intestines.  Next, the farmer would follow the following procedures.  “The large intestine was cut free at the anus, the end pulled out and tied shut, the gullet cut at the base of the throat, the membrane holding the intestines sliced, and the entrails allowed to fall out into a large tub placed under the carcass. The liver was then cut up and set aside to soak for later use.  Also set aside and saved, in most cases, were the lungs, heart, and kidneys.  The valves, veins, and arteries were trimmed off the heart, the stomach and small intestines retrieved from the entrails, and all were drained, washed, and set in water to soak while the cutting continued” (Wigginton 196).

As soon as this process was completed, the hog was untied and taken down in order to cut up the meat.  Depending on the size of the group helping, people may be enlisted to do a number of things.  For instance, one group of people may begin slaughtering a second hog, another may start to prepare the entrails and organs since these needed to be used promptly, and yet another group would cut up the carcass of the hog that had just been removed from the tree.  Two pots would be prepared at this point.  One was a “sausage pot” that would hold the trimmings of lean meat and the other was a “lard pot” that would hold the trimmings of fat (Wigginton 196).

The most common way of cutting up the carcass of the hog was to remove the fat that held all the intestines together, known as leaf lard, and throw it into the “lard pot” in order to turn into lard and cracklins later.  As the swine was still hanging, an incision was made down the entirety of the back and into the backbone.  The hog was then placed onto a hard surface where its body would be cut into slabs of meat.  The tenderloin was the first section to go, followed by the two sections of rib cage.  The rest of the pig remaining would be cut up accordingly.  Traditionally, the backbones and ribs are usually canned.  The tenderloin would be cooked at once, along with the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and head.  The sausage would immediately be ground up (Wigginton 196 – 197).

One can easily note that pork has been a key ingredient in southerners’ diets, for the hog could easily feed multiple families.  All parts of a hog were useful in some form or fashion.  In a time where self sustainability was important, the swine was a profitable business that kept numerous families going.  Pork continues to be a popular meat in the South today due to its long history, and it will continue to be so.

Works Cited
Bass, S. Jonathan. "'HOW 'BOUT A HAND FOR THE HOG': THE ENDURING NATURE OF THE SWINE AS A CULTURAL SYMBOL IN THE SOUTH." Southern Cultures 1.3 (1995): 301-320. America: History & Life. EBSCO. [Tarver Library], [Macon], [GA]. 20 Apr. 2009 <>.

Thompson, Michael D. "'EVERYTHING BUT THE SQUEAL': PORK AS CULTURE IN EASTERN NORTH CAROLINA." North Carolina Historical Review 82.4 (2005): 464-498. America: History & Life. EBSCO. [Tarver Library], [Macon], [GA]. 20 Apr. 2009 <>.

Wiggington, Eliot, ed. The Foxfire Book. New York: Anchor, 1972. 189 – 198.

Church Food
by Allison Doerr

Both food and religion are very important in the South, so important that in her essay on Religion and Food, Corrie Norman claims, “church food is southern food in the South” (3).  There are many different ways in which we can see food and religion coming together in the South.  These can be seen in stories in the Bible, in the Church services, and in the activities of the congregation away form the services. From religious based rituals to community based rituals, “food is highly symbolic, and food rituals exist in most religions” (Norman 2).  These rituals create a stronger since of community in the church congregation by bringing people together to both prepare and eat the food.

The first place where we can see food and religion coming together is in several Bible stories and teachings that center around meals and food practices.  An example of one of these teachings is in the practices of Lent.  In the true following of Lent, one is to fast during the entire season. In some cases this fasting is taken to mean not to eat during the daytime, while others will only eat one meal each day. Many people decide to instead fast from one particular food during Lent.  However, Catholics and similar denominations refrain from eating meat on Fridays no matter what, even extending beyond the season of Lent ("Food culture and religion").  The most important Christian food ritual recreates Christ’s Last Supper. During this meal, Jesus ate bread and drank wine, and he told his disciples to continue to do “in remembrance” of him.  This translates into the celebration of Communion.  In the Catholic, Episcopalian, and Lutheran churches, the Eucharist is taken every week, and they also believe in the transubstantiation – the belief that the bread and wine are literally transformed into the body and blood of Jesus when they are consumed. Many southern Protestant churches observe Communion less frequently. This change is significant because is deemphasizes the importance of the religious food ritual. 

The emphasis in Baptist and Methodist churches seems to be shifted instead to the food rituals of church dinners.  In the South, the first thing that most people think of when they here the phrase “church food” are the Sunday afternoon suppers or Wednesday night family dinners at their own church.  These meals tend to be potluck or covered dish affairs.  Church dinners create a stronger sense of community in the Church congregation are somewhat reminiscent of the Last Supper.  Norman explains that “the covered dish supper laid out for everyone to help themselves to food taken from the same pots and eaten at communal tables symbolically relates to the supper at which Christ and his disciples shared common dishes” (3).  In this way, we can again see how emphasis has been shifted from the religious ritual, Eucharist, to the community ritual centering around food in the protestant churches.

There are a few different ways in which the stereotypical church dinner originated.  One of these origins is the evangelical camp meetings of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  These meetings lasted from all day to all weekend.  The members would eat picnics of food that they had prepared at their homes, and brought with them.  Usually the meal would be prepared from ingredients that were grown or raised by the family or in the community.  This would add to the sense of community in two ways depending on where the ingredients were from.  If they were from a certain families’ own garden or farm, then they would be bringing their unique product to the table for everyone to enjoy.  If they used ingredients from various members of the community, then the dish or meal would literally be a blend of different elements of the community.  This blending would also bring the people together and strengthen the feeling of community.  As time moved on, people continued to have picnics on the church grounds, however it became encouraged to bring enough to share, and then possible to cook meals at the church (Norman 1).  These church potluck suppers create a strong sense of community, which can be seen in the homecoming and other large celebration meals where in “one mill village [the] church has only 60 members today; but over 300 ‘came home’ to its recent homecoming celebration” (Norman 5). 

African-American churches also incorporate food and fellowship into church services.  Psyche Williams-Forson explains in Building Houses out of Chicken Legs that, “ having spent most of the entire day in church, […] many congregants would not have the time to travel home and back to make it to the late evening service.  Because most of the country churches were also devoid of any form of kitchen facilities, women would prepare the meals at home and, during a break in the service, would spread their meals on blankets and other coverings to serve”  (136).  The act of preparing these meals together and the signifying (back and forth banter) that goes on between the women preparing the food is a way of creating a stronger community among the women in the kitchen.  The meals prepared by this smaller community “allowed worshipers to enjoy not only the fellowship of the spirit but also the fellowship of the members whom they would see only during these occasions” (136). 

Food plays many and a wide variety of roles in church life.  It is important in following and staying connected to one’s own religious faith by following teachings concerning food, such as Lent and Communion.  However, it is also significant in personal lives.  Church food allows people to develop a stronger since of community as a whole, and to find their place in that community.

Works Cited
"Food culture and religion." Better Health Channel. Jan. 2009. 22 Apr. 2009 <>.

Norman, Corrie E. "Religion and Food." The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture 7 (Sept. 2007). Southern Foodways Alliance. Center for the Study of Southern Culture. 26 Mar. 2009 <>.

Williams-Forson, Psyche A. Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

Farmers' Markets
by Carrie Coburn

Americans’ attitudes toward food have changed radically in the past fifty years. In Georgia, for example, we have transformed from a largely agrarian society to one where many children grow up unaware of how our food is produced. In recent years, we have seen a push back towards localism and organically grown produce. With the development of the local food movement in America, farmers markets have become increasingly popular because they provide many benefits to both the local community and small farmers. There are many different types of farmers markets in the U.S., all with different regulations about the products being sold and not all farmer markets require that food be locally produced or organically grown. Markets similar to those found in the United States can be seen in countries all over the world. Shopping at a local farmers market can be a beneficial solution for those of us who are not blessed with a green thumb or acres of farm land.  

Agriculture remains Georgia’s largest industry, contributing 15 percent of the state’s employment and 12 percent of the value added in Georgia’s economy. There are currently about 50,000 active farms in the state, 65% of which are small farms that produce less than $10,000 per year in sales (Flatt). Yet, many small farmers still struggle to make a living. Restaurants and grocery stores no longer turn to locals for farm fresh products. The American consumer has no concept of “out of season” produce. Regardless of the time of year, nearly any fruit or vegetable is available in the local grocery store. Our globalizing world allows us to easily ship produce across the country and around the world: we have mangos from Jamaica, asparagus from Peru, oranges from California, and even apples from New Zealand. As these fruits and vegetables rack up frequent flyer miles, they also have a tremendous impact on the environment. According to Steven L. Hopp in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, “Each food item in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1,500 miles…If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week” (Kingsolver 5).

Farmers markets are not a new creation, but they have been booming in popularity all across the country. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the total number of farmers markets in the United States in 2008 was 4,685, double the number in 1998. The state of Georgia alone has well over 40. Farmers markets provide an outlet for farmers to sell their farm fresh products to the public. They can be state, city, or community operated, and each market has their own rules regarding who can sell and what can be sold. These markets benefit both the farmers and the local community by giving customers access to excellent fresh produce at an affordable price. At most farmers markets, the produce is locally grown, often organically, and picked when it is at the peak of the season, when they taste and look the best. An added bonus to buying directly from the farmer is that the prices are often significantly cheaper than grocery stores or supermarkets. Without the costs related to shipping and packaging, customers receive better quality food at a wholesale price. It is also extremely easy to locate a farmers market anywhere in the US through the U.S.D.A’s website or in Georgia through the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

 In many countries around the world, open air markets are the norm. A weekly market day is a normal occurrence in cities and towns across the globe. France and other European countries are well known for their street markets. Paris has about 80, each selling its own assortment of unique wares, attracting all different types of customers. Some markets are known for their fish, cheese and bakeries, others for their organically grown food and ecologically correct products (Fayard). Prices vary from market to market based on the quality of the products being sold.

The number of increasing farmers markets in the U.S. indicates a change in the American mindset toward food. Many people have begun turning to local farmers to provide them with good quality, fresh produce. By doing so, we are strengthening our local communities and providing support to small farmers in Georgia and across the nation. I believe that taking advantage of farmers markets will provide many benefits for the future as well, hopefully encouraging more sustainable farming practices as well has reducing our impact on the environment.

Works Cited:
Fayard, Judy. "Open-Air Markets." France Today 22.5 (June 2007): 8-10. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Tarver Library, Macon, GA.  30 March. 2009

Flatt, William. “Agriculture in Georgia: Overview”. New Georgia Encyclopedia. University of Georgia, 2004. <>.

“10 Principles of a Successful Farmers’ Market”. Farmers Market Federation of New York.

“Farmers Markets”. US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Service.

Subsistence Farming
by Kathryn Doornbos

[whitemediaspin+march+21+2009.jpg]Just a two-weeks ago the Obama’s made headlines by planting the first vegetable garden on White House grounds since WWII. Reporters could have remarked about the historical significance of the first African American First Lady sinking a shovel deep into a property that was built and, for many years, sustained by slave labor. But most didn’t. They focused upon the novelty of the garden itself (New York Times). It is remarkable that such an event is newsworthy to begin with. Since when did planting a vegetable garden warrant a front page article of the New York Times? Such media attention speaks volumes about how far removed American culture is from agriculture. Somehow, the concept of growing and cultivating sustenance for your family has become extraordinary.

Subsistence farming wasn’t always this novel. In fact, for the vast majority of agricultural history it was the most direct and simple means to feed one’s family. Ever since humans settled in the Nile River Valley people sustained themselves from what they could grow on their own land, it was a matter of life or death. Eating food that you are not intimately attached to by means of killing, cultivating, or foraging is a fairly new concept in the spectrum of history. In the American South, the trend towards agribusiness in lieu of subsistence began during Reconstruction. Before that time, rural families provided the vast majorities of their foodstuffs for themselves. Subsistence farming served as an alternative to share-cropping for some, but in most cases it was practiced because there was no other choice.  In this era the average farmer supported 3-5 individuals with their food production. By the mid-1930s, the average farmer was supporting approximately 25 individuals. Today a single farmer supports an astounding 200 people (Institute). (This number takes into account only food products grown in the United States. If we were to factor in the globalized farming market, one farmer would support as many as 800-1000 people). In less than two centuries, we have drastically changed the nature of agriculture and our means of sustainment. Certainly, this change have fostered a new era of convenience and variety. But what have we lost in the transition?

Principally, we have lost cultural awareness of the origins and means by which our food is produced. Subsistence farming requires a family to live in harmony with their surroundings, working with the earth to cultivate a relatively constant supply of sustenance. It requires acute knowledge of the place where one lives and consistent, dedicated physical labor in order to flourish. Our grocery fueled lifestyle antagonizes all that subsistence supports. We defy the laws of seasonality and freshness by carting fruits and vegetables thousands of miles from farm to supermarket. We forget the man hours and nuances required to raise a vine-ripened tomato. We can disengage from the places where we live and, instead, rely upon the mythical notion that place is irrelevant. As Barbara Kingsolver points out at the beginning of her novel, the fact that a place like Tucson, Arizona, a city surrounded by a desert whose water is supplied by a pipeline, even exists is testament to our disengagement from the importance of place (Kingsolver 32). For eons cities flourished only where the perfect combination of fertile land, ample water, and protective landscapes collided. Today we coax them out of nothingness. Maybe that’s okay, but I find it disconcerting.

On a more philosophical level, we have lost a degree of personal sovereignty. We are independently and culturally so deeply invested in large-scale agribusiness that, I can safely say, the majority of Americans wouldn’t know how to grow, forage, or kill their own food. Culturally, these skills are stigmatized as unnecessary and primitive. Personally, they rank as markedly uncomfortable compared to the ease of air-conditioned supermarkets and drive-thru restaurants. Fair enough. But at some point convenience subsides to helplessness. As one of the three necessities for existence (water and 02 completing the triage) food is a critically important aspect of life. Yet most of us have relinquished the responsibility and knowledge of its production to some ‘other’ person(s), whom in most cases, we have no personal connection with. We take for granted that tomorrow there will be produce in our grocery stores and kitchens without personally ensuring that it occurs
Of course, growing one’s own food is a time consuming, labor intensive, and difficult business that America people could not possibly undertake with any success… or is it? Historical evidence says otherwise. In the 1943, with food shortages taking hold and a war at looming, Eleanor Roosevelt called on Americans to plant Victory Gardens as she herself planted one on the White House lawn. In a single season, 25 million home gardens were planted and 40% of the produce that American’s consumed was grown in these very gardens (Chicago Tribune). Partial subsistence is easily customized for just about any living and socio-economic position you might occupy. In the weeks following the new White House garden, national seed companies have seen sales increase by “25-30%” compared to last year (CNN). Perhaps, as a nation, we are realizing that, in the spirit of a well-known Cree proverb, “we cannot eat money.” Subsistence farming shouldn’t be extraordinary or news-worthy; it should be an everyday practice in maintaining a connection with the food we eat, the place we live, and the last shreds of personal sovereignty society affords us.

Works Cited
Kingsolver, Barbara. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. New York: Harper Collins, 2007.

“'Recession gardens trim grocery bills, teach lessons” CNN April 1 2009

“Obamas to Plant Vegetable Garden at White House” March 19th, 2009 New York Times.

“Establishing Land-Grant Universities” Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University
of Florida

“2009 Victory Garden” March 1st, 2009. Chicago Tribune.

Aunt Jemima
by David Loos

Aunt Jemima has been a prominent symbol in American culture for more than 115 years.  In 1889, Christ Rutt and Charles Underwood of the Pearl Milling Company developed the first pancake ready-mix. They used Aunt Jemima as their logo. Tina Gianoulis explains that the image preceded the product:  “Based on the pre-Civil War stereotype of the fat, jolly, no-nonsense black ‘aunt jemimamammy,’ the character of Aunt Jemima was first introduced in a minstrel show in the late 1800s called ‘The Emigrant.’“  Gianlouis suggests that “the image of the kind and funny black mammy was comforting and safe to many white consumers.”   Aunt Jemima Pancake Ready-Mix was paired with the soothing image of a mammy figure, and the overwhelmingly popular image aided the growth of the Pearl Milling Company, which was eventually renamed the Aunt Jemima Mills Company in 1914.

Disappearing boundaries of time, space, and money allowed many families across the nation to acquire certain commodities, such as Aunt Jemima products, that would make the average American’s life a little easier.  The first ready-mix was made from wheat, corn, rye, and rice flour.  The ingredients’ availability, cheap production costs, and bulky supply provided families with a simple source of sustenance.  However, critics have argued over the cultural implications of the Aunt Jemima products for about as long as the product has been in existence.

In Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs, Psyche Williams-Forson emphasizes how black women were not “a threat to white men’s virility and white women’s bodies, a white man’s own desires for black and white women’s bodies notwithstanding” as opposed to a black man in a domestic setting that could be in direct contact with vulnerable white women (38).  She further analyzes “how power can be present in even the most mundane objects of our material lives” (49).  Her insights provide a basic understanding of the empowering historical connotations that were applied to many images, especially Aunt Jemima, and how these implications led to contradicting and oversimplified definitions of the African American community as a whole.

John Stuart, President of the Quaker Oats Company, purchased the Aunt Jemima Mills Company in 1926 as a strategic marketing move that would further enhance the company’s ability to supply the increasingly fast-paced nation with more convenience products.  “One of Aunt Jemima’s more important historical functions,” Doris Witt explains, “has surely been to obscure just such ideological contradictions stemming from the exploitation of assembly-line labor in the development of US consumer capitalism-the exploitation, moreover, of a heavily immigrant female labor pool whose boundaries were policed though the continual renegotiation of the color line” (38).           

Nancy Green, Anna Robinson, Aylene Lewis, and Gladys Knight were all spokeswomen for the Aunt Jemima products, and they all represented physical manifestations of the figurative connotations that have been applied to Aunt Jemima as a “mammy” figure.  In a way these women have caused the historical implications of Aunt Jemima as an exclusively racist figure to be a persistent ideology in American culture in the late 19th and the 20th centuries.   A subtle theme can be applied to the Aunt Jemima figure: the white superficiality of power over blacks and the depth of black superiority in the plantation kitchens.  This is an example of the historical context that has resonated through the ages and sustained itself through the representative “mammy” spokeswomen for Aunt Jemima products. 

In 1937, the Aunt Jemima symbol was copyrighted as a trademark by the Quaker Oats Company.  After the symbol was trademarked, numerous advertisements and campaigns were launched to promote the Aunt Jemima products.  Some advertisements “began ‘showing kids and moms making not just pancakes but, ‘Aunt Jemimas’” (The Quaker Oats Company).  Nearly all of these advertisements depicted only whites in domestic settings, but the images still captured the recurring power struggle between whites and blacks simply by the lack of an African American in the ad regardless of the fact that these white families were relying upon Aunt Jemima for sustenance. 

Doris Witt explains how the connotations the Aunt Jemima symbol implied began to change in the 1960s.  African Americans began to change their view of the icon and drew strength from a masculine and rebellious Aunt Jemima.  The changing perceptions of Aunt Jemima generally led to ambiguous meanings being interpreted by the icon, and subsequent years of African American outrage at the persistence of this image would cause the Quaker Oats Company to update the symbol.  In 1989, Aunt Jemima got a total makeover by removing her headband, adding pearl earrings, making her a fashionably thin woman, and hiring Gladys Knight as the new spokeswoman.  This image alteration “a response from the Quaker Oats Company who knew many African Americans viewed the image as an insulting glorification of slavery,” (Gianoulis) and the company wanted to appease an outraged African American community.  Aunt Jemima’s head was adjusted into a more upright position in 1992, and this alteration can be interpreted in many different ways, but not many critics have elaborated upon it due to the significance of the major change three years earlier.

There is a persistent metaphorical battle that has been centered around the image because this one image has continually illustrated “the ways black people disrupted the hegemonic cultural assumptions that tried to define them” (Williams-Forson 69).  The Aunt Jemima icon serves as “an ideal medium for examining the confluence of social relations, where the values, traditions, mores, and enduring historical linkages of black life are cultivated and preserved” (Williams-Forson 91).  While many critics have stated that the image of Aunt Jemima is inherently racist due to the historical context that must be applied to it, most Americans would probably view the Aunt Jemima logo as a familiar brand of food that simply tastes good.  But by countering the interpretations of Aunt Jemima as a racist icon, the prejudiced undertones of the African American history are ever-present in the different interpretations, or lack thereof, of the iconic “mammy” figure.  While historically conscious consumers may attempt to ignore the discriminating context forever intertwined with Aunt Jemima, the persistence of this “mammy” image only serves to reinforce modern stereotypes of African Americans.

Works Cited
Gianoulis, Tina. "Aunt Jemima." Bowling, Beatniks, and Bell-Bottoms: Pop Culture of 20th-Century America. Eds. Sara Pendergast and Tom Pendergast. Vol. 1: 1900s-1910s.  Detroit: U*X*L, 2002.  2 pp. 5 vols. Gale Virtual Reference Library.  Gale.  March 6, 2009.  <>.

The Quaker Oats Company.  "Aunt Jemima's Historical Timeline."  Our History.  2009.  The Quaker Oats Company.  6 March, 2009 < aj_history/>.

Williams-Forson, Psyche A.  Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs.  University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

Witt, Doris.  Black Hunger:  Soul food and America.  University of Minnesota Press, 2004.

Leah Chase
by Erin Garner

Leah Chase is the executive chef and, with her husband, co-owner of Dooky (pronounced ducky) Chase restaurant in New Orleans, Louisiana. She is known as the Southern chef of New Orleans and has fed tourists, celebrities, political leaders and New Orleans residents in the fifth ward for over sixty years. She has also authored three cookbooks and has been featured in many others. In 2000, she hosted a national PBS cooking show, “Cooking with Leah.” Her restaurant is famous for many things: its place in civil rights history, the art collection inside, and, of course, Leah’s Creole cooking.

She was born in Madisonville, Louisiana, a rural area near the northern leah chase side of Lake Pontchartrain in 1923. Because the town had no Catholic high schools for black children and Chase’s famiy wanted her to attend a Catholic school, she moved to New Orleans at age 14 to live with an aunt and attend high school at St. Mary’s Academy (Grayson). After graduation, she worked at Colonial Restaurant in the French Quarter—her first taste of the restaurant business. She married Edgar “Dooky” Chase II in 1945. Shortly thereafter, she started working at his parents’ restaurant, first as a hostess. She gradually assumed more responsibility in the business, altering the menu to better reflect her Creole heritage (Global Gourmet, History Makers).

Dooky Chase restaurant began as a stand selling homemade po’boys and lottery tickets. By the time Leah began working there in 1946, it had become a sit-down establishment. Though the restaurant boasts her husband’s name on the door, Leah does all the cooking and Dooky keeps the books (Global Gourmet). However, she has had no classical training as a chef—her recipes are only inspired by her family’s meals and her Creole heritage. She does not measure her ingredients, cooking instead by relying on the look and texture of her dishes. Despite her lack of training, she is considered one of the best chefs in the nation, particularly in the South. She does not delegate much in her kitchen, preferring to be as hands-on as possible.

One of Chase’s signature dishes at Dooky Chase is gumbo z’herbes, served once a year on Holy Thursday. Traditional gumbo z’herbes recipes are meatless because of Catholic Lenten traditions, and the gumbo is rarely served outside of Lent. Chase’s, however, contains several types of meat. Recipes for gumbo z’herbes call for anywhere from five to fifteen different types of greens (Chase’s uses nine), but traditional cooks always use an odd number of greens to bring good luck. Simpler recipes are quite different from traditional gumbo, and many do not call for any sort of thickening agent, such as okra, roux or file. Some are not even served with rice (McGreger). The gumbo z’herbes at Dooky Chase, however, includes file and is served over rice. Though her recipe breaks traditions, Chase is largely responsible for keeping gumbo z’herbes alive. Before she started preparing the dish in her restaurant, the tradition had nearly disappeared from Louisiana’s culture. Many who still prepare it are older people, like Chase herself. 

Dooky Chase is home to artwork from many notable African-American artists, many living in the New Orleans area. Chase began her art collection by simply hanging posters of fine art prints around her restaurant in the 1970s (MacCash). When she first began collecting original works, Chase would often trade meals for paintings. As her collection and her restaurant grew, she transitioned to paying artists with money instead of food. She has served on the boards of directors for several New Orleans arts and cultural establishments and is a lifetime trustee of the New Orleans Museum of Art. She has even spoken before Congress in favor of greater funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. Some art critics and other collectors have said the collection at Dooky Chase is the best collection of African-American art in the country.

More impressive than the art collection, however, is Dooky Chase’s history as part of the civil rights movement. During the 1960s, activists groups would gather to talk about the civil rights movement and eat Creole cuisine at Dooky Chase. People of different races would come to the restaurant and talk about strategy—where should they hold their next sit-in? How difficult would it be to protest in a certain location? Though such meetings were illegal, the restaurant was so popular that police left the situation alone. Though Chase did not participate in the meetings, her role in the civil rights movement was an important one: preparing food to serve to activist groups while they met (Shaban). Many civil rights leaders, including Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King, Jr., along with countless other lesser-known activists, dined at Dooky Chase during the height of the civil rights movement. The restaurant continues to be a political meting ground (Jenkins).

African-Americans were a lucrative market during the age of segregation—restaurants serving blacks were rare. Few blacks dined out; many did not even really know what restaurants were about (Jenkins). Restaurants like Dooky Chase, serving both whites and blacks, were even rarer. Chase’s restaurant was ahead of its time according to social regulations (not to mention laws prohibiting integrated dining). She built a reputation for herself as a civic leader, a position that brought her surprising popularity among even the wealthiest circles of whites, who became her patrons in the post-civil rights era (Elie). Dooky Chase was one of the first New Orleans restaurants to surpass cultural barriers that pushed people away from certain establishments.

Chase has also served notable guests, including Duke Ellington (who convinced Chase to serve his favorite beer, Heineken), Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, and President Barrack Obama during his presidential campaign (Global Gourmet). For her community involvement with the arts and her role in the fight for civil rights, Chase has earned several prestigious awards, including the Loving Cup Award in 1997 from the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Outstanding Woman Award from the National Council of Negro Women and a series of NAACP awards.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in September 2005, Dooky Chase filled with five feet of water. Because the restaurant is a historically significant part of the city and a special place for many residents, other members of the New Orleans restaurant community helped 86-year-old Leah reopen her restaurant. Other restaurateurs hosted a benefit in the French Quarter to raise money for Dooky Chase to reopen, complete with Leah’s gumbo. Their efforts raised over $60,000 to help the Chases reopen their establishment in 2007. The Southern Foodways Alliance was responsible for much of the fundraising, and Starbucks donated $150,000 toward the renovations (Severson).

In 2007, Chase served a meal to President George W. Bush, a gesture not well received by many in the New Orleans community. Many New Orleans residents, including Chase herself, were living in FEMA trailers in neighborhoods still devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Many felt as though the federal government had not taken enough action toward rebuilding the city and saw Chase’s service to the president as a betrayal.

Leah Chase wears many hats—chef, business owner, civil rights leader and art collector, among others. She is an unofficial ambassador for the city of New Orleans and one of the city’s most loved residents. Her legacy is large, and she is famous beyond the culinary world. For over 60 years, she has been serving up some of the best food in Louisiana and much, much more. 

Leah Chase’s Gumbo Z'herbes
1 bunch mustard greens
1 bunch collard greens
1 bunch turnip greens
1 bunch watercress
1 bunch beet tops
1 bunch carrot tops
1/2 head of lettuce
1/2 head of cabbage
1 bunch spinach
3 cups onions, diced
1/2 cup garlic, chopped
1 1/2 gallons water
5 tablespoons flour
1 pound smoked sausage
1 pound smoked ham
1 pound hot sausage
1 pound brisket, cubed
1 pound stew meat
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
1 tablespoon file powder
Clean greens under cold running water, making sure to pick out bad leaves. Rinse away any soil or grit. The greens should be washed 2 to 3 times. Chop greens coarsely and place in 12-quart pot along with onions, garlic and water. Bring mixture to a rolling boil, reduce to simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes.
Strain greens and reserve liquid. Place greens in bowl of a food processor and puree or chop in meat grinder. Pour greens into a mixing bowl, sprinkle in 5 tablespoons flour, blend and set aside.
Dice all meats into 1-inch pieces and place into the 12-quart pot. Return the reserve liquid to the pot and bring to a low boil, cover and cook 30 minutes. Add pureed greens, thyme and season with salt and pepper. Cover and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally until meat is tender, approximately 1 hour. Add water if necessary to retain volume. Add file powder, stir well and adjust salt and pepper if necessary.
Serves 8 to 10 over steamed rice.
From the Associated Press.

Works Cited:
Allen, Carol (from the New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture). “2000 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner—Leah Chase.” Southern Foodways Alliance.

Elie, Lolis. “A New Orleans Original.” Gourmet.

Grayson, April. “Oral Histories: Leah Chase.” The Southern Gumbo Trail.

Jenkins, Nancy Harmon. “Leah Chase, New Orleans; A Lover of Food Who Nurtured a New Orleans Institution.” Cooks on the Map.

“Leah Chase Biography.” The History Makers.

MacCash, Doug. “Two New Orleans restaurateurs share a taste for fine art and food.” The New Orleans Times-Picayune.

McGreger, April. “Where the Wild Greens Are.” Grist.

Severson, Kim. “Getting Back to New Orleans.” Diner’s Journal: The New York Times Blog on Dining Out.

Shaban, Bigad. “Leah Chase proud of Obama’s election; remembers restaurant’s role in civil rights movement.” WWLTV: Louisiana’s News Leader.

“Special Feature: Leah Chase, Dooky Chase’s Star Chef.” The Global Gourmet.

by Jay Hood   

Following the ratification of the 13th amendment, the South experienced the sudden creation of an un-employed work force of 4.5 million former slaves, most of whom were illiterate and had no skills other than agricultural cultivation. After the Civil War, southerners still relied on agriculture as their primary source of economic sustenance. Southern landowners employed former slaves along with poor whites to work the land as part of a system that disenfranchised the uneducated laborers by exploiting their ignorance of contract law. By hiring themselves and their families to a land owner, laborers inadvertently tied themselves to the land in an almost inescapable cyclical system of debt. These individuals became what are generally known as tenant farmers. Charles Aiken explains that “three basic types of farm tenants existed in the Southern plantation regions during the century following the Civil War—cropper, share, and cash. A cropper, also called a sharecropper, owned no farm implements or work stock. All that a sharecropper contributed to the production of a crop was labor, including that of his or her family” (Aiken 29-32). Sharecropping quickly supplanted slavery as the South's source of cheap, expendable labor, and the majority of the victims were newly freed slaves.

The system of sharecropping seemed to be a simple way for a destitute farmer to provide for himself and his family. The system appealed to landless laborers because “under customary rental agreements the landlord and the sharecropper split the crop fifty-fifty. Each also paid for half of the fertilizer, insecticide, ginning, and other production costs” for whatever the sharecropper would need to work the land (Aiken 32). Rather than growing food for his family, however, the sharecropper would be required to exclusively grow cotton or another cash crop. If not, “landlords could exploit their right to refuse to renew the lease at the end of the season as a means of exerting pressure on sharecroppers” (Royce 182). At the end of the year, the sharecropper would harvest his crop and give it to the landowner to take to market and sell, and the laborer would receive anywhere between one half and one third of the remaining sum, after the landowner subtracts the cost of supplies. Frequently, the cost of supplies and food purchased in the landowner’s commissary would exceed the value of the cropper’s share. This drove many families into a cycle of inescapable debt, tying them to the land like the slaves they were intended to replace.

This cycle, sometimes called peonage, became increasingly common after cotton declined in value. Having sold for 43 cents in 1866, by 1882 cotton had fallen to 10 cents per pound. Cotton in and of itself is difficult to grow, requiring a long frost-free period, plenty of sunlight, moderate rain fall, and fairly nutrient rich soil. Soil depletion, drought, and poor farming practices significantly reduced the yield per acre. But cotton remained the South's most valuable crop until the boll weevil entered America's cotton belt just prior to the 1920s. Within a few years, the pest cost the South 13 billion dollars in lost crops.

Before the emergence of sharecropping, slaves and other laborers typically ate the same kind of food every day: some kind of corn based food, such as cornbread or cornpone, salted pork or fat back, and molasses. This meager diet provided the workers with barely enough calories to perform the backbreaking manual labor demanded of them.  Slaves frequently developed severe vitamin deficiencies and other associated health problems. If there was any group of people who ever came as close to slavery without ever actually being enslaved, it was the sharecropper. Not only was the sharecropper anchored to the land by his contract with the land-owner, but his diet was effectively the exact same as that of slaves. Although they were farmers, most sharecroppers produced very little produce for their own families, so sharecroppers and their families were susceptible to nutritional disorders.

Many sharecropper children became afflicted with pica disease known as Pellagra. Pellagra is a vitamin deficiency disease caused by dietary lack of niacin (B3) and protein, especially proteins containing the essential amino acid tryptophan. Because tryptophan can be converted into niacin, foods with tryptophan but without niacin, such as milk, prevent pellagra. Some of the symptoms of this disease include:
* High sensitivity to sunlight
* Aggression
* Red skin lesions
* Insomnia
* Weakness
* Mental confusion
* Ataxia, paralysis of extremities, peripheral neuritis
* Diarrhea
* Eventually dementia

Given the sharecropper diet of cornmeal, salted pork, and molasses, most children were without the essential vitamins and minerals required for healthy bodily development or a strong immune system. Sharecroppers, who usually did not have cows of their own, would have to purchase milk on credit from a merchant or from their contractor. Whenever the child of a sharecropper became afflicted with pellagra, it would often result in one of two things for the sharecropper's family: the death of the child, or even greater debt (Ngan).

The greatest victims of sharecropping as an institution were not the laborers, but their children. Often made to work in the field with their picfathers and mothers, these undernourished and drastically undereducated children became a part of this cycle of destitution. Without any knowledge of any practice beyond farming, the children of sharecroppers would all too often become sharecroppers themselves. They grew up in shacks where they slept in close proximity to their siblings and parents, without privacy, warmth, or cleanliness. The building would likely consist of little more than a large, single room, with bed, table, fireplace, and, if the family was fortunate enough, a stove. An outhouse, more similar to a latrine than anything else, would be the family's restroom.

As a cultural institution, sharecropping all too effectively demonstrates the way in which poor, desperate people can be victimized by the dubious and wealthy into a system of debt peonage that makes any sort of improvement in the lives of the impoverished impossible. Along with slavery, sharecropping is an example of the ways in which the greed of a few can lead to the suffering of many.

Works Cited:
About Sharecropping. The University of Illinois. February 28. 2009.
Aiken, Charles. The Cotton Plantation South. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1998.

Encyclopedia of Alabama: Sharecropping and Tenant Farming in Alabama. February 25, 2009.Encyclopedia of Alabama. February 28, 2009.

Evans' Images for “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”. University of Virginia. February 28, 2009.

Pellagra (vitamin B3 or niacin deficiency). March 18, 2008. Vanessa Ngan. New Zealand Dermatalogical Society Incorporated. March 18, 2009.

Royce, Edward. The Origins of Southern Sharecropping. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993.

Farm Security Administration Photographs
by Carl Lewis

“Eat something––even if you’re not hungry––because you never know when you might get hungry, and you don’t know what it’s like to be hungry” my great-grandmother Nonnie used to tell me as a boy. Even as a stubborn and picky kid of the consumer-driven 1990s, I dared not question Nonnie. She knew what she was talking about. Nonnie had suffered through her fair share of hunger growing up as the eldest daughter of a penniless Georgia sharecropper in the Depression-era South, and I’d heard all the family stories to prove it.

Nonnie’s story is nothing unique, however. It’s just one of the thousands of stories of a vast epidemic of southern rural poverty in the 1930s that left one-third of the nation “ill-housed, ill-clad, and illnourished," in the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's second inaugural address. The economic crisis in the South was not simply a product of the Great Depression. External factors, including the growth of farm tenancy and sharecropping and widespread infertility of the soil caused by the irresponsible long-term growing of cash crops, put families across the South in dire economic straits. In fact, by 1920, more than 80 percent of southern farmers were left farming someone else’s land, making very little money doing it (Godden 10).

For the better part of the early twentieth-century, mainstream America mostly overlooked the South’s economic problem. Instead, Americans generally bought into what historian Sidney Baldwin calls the “agrarian myth” that “tended either to deny the existence of poverty altogether, or to explain it away” (Baldwin 22). In simpler terms, most Americans mistakenly held the opinion that “the South did not have poor people; it had farming people, and farming people could never truly be poor” (Ownby 1). As books documenting rural poverty like Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath became popular on a national level, however, the region’s widespread impoverishment came into clearer focus. Diagnosing the South as the “nation’s number one economic problem” (Godden front cover), F.D.R. formed the New Deal agency called the Resettlement Administration in 1935, which was later renamed to the Farm Security Administration in 1937. The Administration’s primary goal was to put the South back on its feet by making loans to individual farmers and constructing planned suburban communities (“FSA-OWI: About the Collection” n. pag.).

To document the progress of the Administration’s various revitalization efforts, the FSA commissioned a team of roughly twenty photographers, led by Roy Stryker, assigned on location across the South. As FSA photographer Arthur Rothstein later recalled, "It was our job to document the problems so that we could justify the New Deal legislation that was designed to alleviate them" (Poska I). In a short matter of time, however, the project’s balance shifted from this intended bureaucratic purpose towards the loftier goal of “introducing America to Americans” (Gorman 3). In other words, Stryker and his unit took on a social mission to rid the South of tenancy and ignorance by calling the nation’s attention to the problem. As photographer Jack Delano reflected, “There were many wrongs in our country that needed righting, and I for one believed that my photographs would help to right them” (Kidd 27).

Most of the more than 164,000 black-and-white photographs taken by the FSA from 1935-1942 depict the immense poverty, hunger, and destitution of rural sharecroppers and tenant farmers. Capturing a seemingly objective condition through a subjective lens, FSA photographers were in fact artists whose pictures told a story. Dominated mostly by photos of white southern families barefoot in ragged clothing, surrounded by filth and debris, eating only cornbread and biscuits, the primary goal of the FSA file was to highlight the immense poverty of rural people. The 1936 portrait of the family of Floyd Burroughs, an Alabama cotton burroughssharecropper, perfectly depicts the image of destitution that characterized most of the FSA collection. Pictures like this one of the Burroughs family seemed to offer a cry for help directed towards the rest of the country.

The framing and nature of many of the more prominent photos in the collection suggests they were obviously staged. Most FSA photographers had little problem exercising this sort of artistic freedom. They felt the nobility of their mission justified it. As Kidd argues, “most seemed to have felt that the benign nature of the New Deal’s rural uplift programs coupled with their own sincerity of purpose were adequate justifications for their work” (Kidd 29). Often, FSA photographers only paid attention to the most shocking of situations, so as to dramatize the depravity of the rural condition. Again, photographers felt this was a reasonable creative license since they were, after all, giving “voices” to those whose plight had largely gone unnoticed. Some scholars have criticized the photographers’ actions, however, claiming that any “voice” whatsoever given to southerners only came from the photographer, or “ventriloquist,” dictating what that voice would be (Kidd 30). Further, photographers for the FSA tried so hard to capture the essence of southern poverty––often merely to impress Stryker––that they failed to take into account the lived realities of their subjects. Siobhan Davis notes that they “neglected the experiential and regional diversity of those they imaged” (Davis 49). Not unlike what Ernest Matthew Mickler did with his unlicensed use of a picture of a farm woman on the cover of his cookbook White Trash Cooking, FSA photographers simply assumed rural southerners had no problem being photographed in their depraved conditions when many of them held serious reservations about the FSA’s documentary work. As Kidd puts it, they were often “unwilling specimens and reluctant icons” (Kidd 31). In fact, in at least one instance, the subject of an FSA photograph spoke out against the  unpermitted use of her image in a negative and inaccurate light. Mrs. Reed, the woman captured in photographer Dorothea Lange’s famous “Migrant Madonna” portrait, reedfiled suit against the Curtis Publishing Company in 1939 for the publication of her image in the Saturday Evening Post (Kidd 40).

Conspicuously absent from much of the FSA’s collection are pictures of African-Americans. While the collection does provide a brief glimpse into black southern life during the 1930s, it focuses much more heavily on white poverty than it does black life. In her book Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs, Psyche Williams-Forson points out that even when African-Americans are portrayed in FSA photographs, the manner in which they are presented often plays into racial stereotypes. For example, a search of the FSA’s collection on the Library of Congress website yields only 23 results for the term “negro eating.” When the term “negro cooking” is entered, however, 138 results are returned. The considerable amount of pictures of African-Americans preparing food in comparison to consuming food perpetuates the stereotype that blacks belong in the kitchen, not the dining room. To compound the problem, only a small handful of the FSA photographs accomplish anything in the way of speaking out against racial injustice and violence. As historian Nicholas Natanson comments, “If the shadow of poverty hung heavily over blacks in the FSA file, the shadow of terror was all but nonexistent” (Apel 155).

However one wishes to view the FSA file––as either exploitation and overgeneralization or beatification and idealization of the southern underclass––one thing remains true: The images captured by the Farm Security Administration provide a lasting portrait of a people in hardship, a portrait that still contributes to many popular conceptions today.

Works Cited
Apel, Dora. Imagery of Lynching: Black Men, White Women, and the Mob. New Brusnwick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004.

Baldwin, Sidney. Poverty and Politics: The Rise and Decline of the Farm Security Administration. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968.

Davis, Siobhan. “Not Readily Visualized by Industrial Workers and Urban Dwellers: Published Images of Rural Women from the FSA Collection.” Reading Southern Poverty Between the Wars. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006.

“FSA-OWI: About the Collection.” Library of Congress FSA Database. <>.

Godden, Richard and Martin Crawford. Reading Southern Poverty Between the Wars. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006.

Gorman, Juliet. “The History of the Farm Security Administration.” Oberlin College. 2001. <

Kidd, Stuart. “Dissonant Encounter: FSA Photographers and the Southern Underclass, 1935-1943.” Reading Southern Poverty Between the Wars. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006.

Ownby, Ted. “Three Agrarianisms and the Idea of a South Without Poverty.” Reading Southern Poverty Between the Wars. The University of Georgia Press: Athens, 2006.

Poska, Allyson M. “Every Picture Tells a Story.” American Social History Project. 2005. <>.

by Eleta Andrews

The mammy archetype takes form in many mediums, but in all of them, her visage remains the same. In Mammy: A Century of Race, Gender, and Southern Memory, Kimberly Wallace-Sanders lays out a definition of the mammy, “Mammy’s body is grotesquely marked by excess: she is usually extremely overweight, very tall, broad-shouldered; her skin is nearly black. She manages to be a jolly presence—she often sings or tells stories while she works—and a strict disciplinarian at the same time. First as a slave, then as a free woman, the mammy is largely associated with the care of white children or depicted with noticeable attachment to white children” (Wallace-Sanders 6). Other common attributes include loyalty, deep God-fearing principles, and a general lack of sexuality. Significantly, this archetype rose to prominence in the mid-1850s, which was the tail-end of the antebellum period. This is significant because the survival of the mammy archetype depends greatly on distorted southern memory, rather than documented history, for its recognition to continue. The history and understanding of the mammy is most accessible through her appearances in entertainment, marketing, politics, and myth.

Most scholars place mammy’s origin in 1852, which is the publication date of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Stowe’s character, Aunt Chloe, is an early prototype of the mammy archetype. After the novel’s popularity subsided, the mammy figure begins to appear in other forms of literature. In the Nadir period (1876-1915), mammy appears on postcards and in minstrel shows. In these minstrel shows, the mammy figure becomes exaggerated and even more defemininized. By the 1930s, almost every American would be familiar with the mammy stereotype, and the films Gone with the Wind and Imitation of Life helped burn this image into the American memory. Hattie McDaniel’s portrayal of Mammy was so renowned that she received an Academy Award for her acting work. Some members of the African-American community criticized McDaniel for continually taking roles in which she assumed the mammy character, but she was famous for saying “Why should I complain about making $700 a week playing a maid? If I didn’t, I’d be making $7 a week being one” (Understanding Slavery). McDaniel’s famous quotation is a humorous, yet dark commentary on the lack of options for black women during a dark and confusing time in American history.

Louise Beavers’ role as “Aunt Delilah” in Imitation of Life is doubly significant. As an actress, she often portrayed characters classified as mammies, but in Imitation of Life, Aunt Delilah is a character who is modeled after the “Aunt Jemima” of pancake batter and syrup fame. In the film, Aunt Delilah is a maid for a white family, and the white family makes a great sum of money after marketing Aunt Delilah’s pancake flour recipe with her image. The family becomes very wealthy, but Aunt Delilah explains to the family that instead of taking her share of the money, she would rather continue to stay and work for the family This link is important because the use of the name “Aunt Jemima” is a direct appeal to the mammy stereotype. In minstrel shows, this name was frequently used in scripts for mammy characters. The pancake company began using the name and image in 1890 and hired Nancy Green as the first model depicting Aunt Jemima. The first Aunt Jemima was very dark-skinned and wore an apron and a head scarf. Over 100 years later, the company updated the Aunt Jemima image by lightening her skin, removing the apron and head scarf, adding pearl earrings, and updating her hair style.

In politics, the mammy archetype made headlines in 1923 when a Mississippi senator and a Virginia chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy suggested that a statue commemorating the black mammies of the Old South should be erected and placed in the Capitol building. This idea quickly lost favor by the majority of the legislature, but the suggestion tells a unique story about the exception of the mammy in a time of turbulent race relations. The United Daughters of the Confederacy, a social group which honors the men who fought for the Old South, wanted a statue that revered a double minority: an African-American woman. It is significant, however, that these women wanted to honor the mammy figure as opposed to any other African-American actual person or stereotype; the mammy was loyal, docile, and non-threatening, and she supposedly held together the fabric of the glorified Old South. Wallace-Sanders writes:

Her large dark body and her round smiling face tower over our imaginations, causing more accurate representations of African-American women to wither in her shadow. The mammy’s stereotypical attributes—her deeply sonorous and effortlessly soothing voice, her infinite patience, her raucous laugh, her self-deprecating wit, her implicit understanding and acceptance of her inferiority and her devotion to whites—all point to a long-lasting and troubled marriage of racial and gender essentialism, mythology, and southern nostalgia. (Wallace-Sanders 2)

The idea of the non-threatening mammy has been researched and analyzed by both African-American Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies scholars. Patricia Turner, a prominent historian, suggests that it was very unlikely that black women on slave plantations were overweight, citing food logs and types of labor. She also explains that most black women in the 19th century did not live past their 50th birthday, which nullifies the idea that mammies were common, since their old age would contradict this statistic. Turner and others like her suggest that the image of the mammy was a construction that overturned the earlier image of black women: sexual temptations for their white masters. The large number of mulatto children on plantations juxtaposed with the limited interaction between black women and large numbers of white men suggests that white plantation owners had numerous affairs with slave women. To overcome this taboo topic, black women were either portrayed as young and promiscuous or as the old, unattractive mammy figure. The mammy figure was non-threatening, so this image won favor among whites in the post-Reconstruction Era.

While many scholars label the mammy figure as a myth, the Works Progress Administration narratives suggest that, although this figure has been exaggerated, there were many slave women who took care of white children. By serving as wet nurses and babysitters, some of these women did form bonds with their masters’ children, and this pattern of black women tending white children continued for several generations. The difference is that the existence of mammies in white memory is the image that continued in entertainment, marketing, and politics, all the while becoming more exaggerated and turning one image into the myth that still exists today in pop culture.

Works Cited
Wallace-Sanders, Kimberly. Mammy: A Century of Race, Gender, and Southern Memory. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 2008. Date accessed: February 12, 2009. Date accessed: February 12, 2009.

Minstrel Shows
by Drayton Perkins

Following the Panic of 1837, Americans began to redefine the idea of entertainment. In 1843, four men created a form of comedy that would last for several decades and have a huge impact on the future of American entertainment. These men, who referred to themselves as the Virginia Minstrels, traveled the countryside performing for different audiences in blackface. Blackface performances consisted of white men and women who would cover their faces in burnt cork or greasepaint in order to appear black.  Their routine was unique at first, but soon other comedic groups picked up on it, and the art of blackface minstrelsy had its start.  A typical show had a three-part act during which several different characters would sing and dance around stage making satirical, racist remarks that instilled several stereotypes about the African American race into the minds of all Americans.

Minstrel shows appeared at about the same time as the abMinstrelsy.jpgolitionist movement. The various sketches gave the impression that slaves in the South were living idealistic lives and that they were pleased with their place in life. A main message of the performances seemed clear, “do not worry about the slaves; they are happy with their lot in life” (Watkins, 93). The performances, which often came off as reality, were in fact merely the interpretation of reality by white Americans. The song and dance comedy frequently went beyond the walls of the theater. Most of the traveling groups sold sheet music from their performance so that it could be taken into the homes of the public.  In doing so, a minstrel show had a much more widespread impact on the nation.

Several characters that would typically appear in the shows, and they all followed the same general outline of a “typical” slave family. The head of the black family was commonly referred to as Old uncle or Old darky. His counterpart within the family was the Mammy  or old auntie.  There were other small family roles played, but one of the larger roles was the character that played the Dandy. The dandy, also known as Zip Coon, was a northern black man that was trying to live and fit into the northern white society. He tried to dress himself in white attire and speak the “white language,” but he would always seem to fail and prove that he was of no competition to the white race. Another common character in almost all minstrel shoJim Crowws was the character of Jim Crow, whose name attached to the set of laws that separated the races.  “Jump Jim Crow” was a song written by Thomas “Daddy” Rice about an old singing slave.

“Wheel about, an' turn about, an' do jis so;
Eb'ry time I wheel about, I jump Jim Crow.”

It was through these performances that several common misconceptions about the African American race were introduced into the American way of thinking. Lazy, loud, musical, uneducated: these are all examples of the stereotypes that were started through the various acts of the minstrel shows. In many instances, the African American society as a whole was expected to live up to these stereotypes or risk punishment by whites. These stereotypes stuck with the African American race for a good half of the 20th century. Through the various blackface sketches, the characters introduced several misconceptions into the society as a whole. In Building Houses out of Chicken Legs, for example, Psyche Williams-Forson discusses the idea that black men were thought to be “Chicken Stealers” based on the character “Zip Coon.”

Minstrel shows also had their impact on several other aspects of the American media. For many years in the early 1900s, cartoon characters resembled performers singing and dancing in blackface. In fact, it has been said that Walt Disney’s original character for Mickey Mouse had several characteristics of a minstrel performer. More recently, Spike Lee’s movie Bamboozled portrayed  blackface minstrelsy as a hilarious ratings booster for a slumming TV Network. The show, which was expected to be a failure, surprisingly turned into the nation’s most watched television show. The network soon realizes the ignorance and sense of falseness portrayed by the show and eventually stops airing it. At the very end of the movie, a long mixture of racially demeaning clips from movies of the 20th century are played across the screen, which suggests that the legacy of minstrelsy endures.

Minstrel shows had a huge impact on the American social structures. It has been many years since any such performance, and yet we still find ourselves having the same outlook on certain types of people. Through song, dance, and even cartoon shows, America portrays how easily a stereotype can be developed and perpetuated. 

Works Cited
Watkins, Mel. On the Real Side: Laughing, Lying, and Signifying—The Underground Tradition of African-American Humor that Transformed American Culture, from Slavery to Richard Pryor. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Minstrel show. (2009, February 9). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:16, February 18, 2009, from

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

Hill, E., & Hatch, J. A History of African American Theatre. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Silver, Andrew. Minstrelsy and Murder. Baton Rouge:  Louisiana State UP, 2006.

"Southern" Fried Chicken
by Jenna Jackson

Many people believe that the pactice of frying chicken comes from African Influence.Tribes from West Africa were known for frying whole chickens on special holidays. Hogs and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America by Frederick Opie tells how the African technique made its way into the southern kitchens of the New World. The Igbo, Hausa, and Mande people were three West African tribes well known for their frying techniques. Most of them seasoned the chicken and fried it in palm oil, a reddish oil that comes from the oil palm. Since most captives taken into slavery were natives to these West African tribes Opie explains, this practice of frying chicken made it through the slave trade. 

American slaves usually had rationed food, but they were sometimes allowed to keep a garden and a few chickens to supplement them. And slaves working in plantation kitchens introduced frying chicken into white southern cuisine, so the practice persisted. Since Emancipation, fried chicken has been frequently identified with African American cooking, with both positive and negative associations, as Psyche Williams-Forson explains in Building Houses out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power.

Frying chicken was once a laborious process. Killing, cleaning, plucking, preparing, and cooking a cooking took a great deal of time and energy. Local markets did not sell chicken pieced, cut, cleaned, plucked, or even dead for that matter as they do now.   As time progressed and technology improved, frying chicken became a lot easier. More often than not, chicken was pan fried in the early 20th century. Pan frying is a technical skill that requires pouring in an inch or two of grease—animal fat, or some other type of frying oil—then rotating the chicken in the hot fat until golden brown on the outside and done on the inside. This practice is tricky and calls for an expert eye. Some cooks place chicken that is golden brown on the outside in the oven after frying to finish the inside of the chicken. A sign of a novice chicken fryer is a done crust but raw middle. Edna Lewis, an African American cook born in 1916, became well known for her writings on southern cuisine. In her book, The Gift of Southern Cooking, she gives her recipe for southern fried chicken. She calls for buttermilk marinated chicken, dipped in egg, dredged in salted flour, and then pan fried in a mixture of lard, sweet butter, and ham.

Somewhere between the 1920s and 1930s deep-frying chicken became more popular. Most commercial restaurants use this method. Pan frying cannot produce more than a few pieces of chicken at a time, and requires a trained eye. Deep frying allows many pieces to be fried and one time, and since most done chicken floats, it is much more efficient to use in restaurants.  Because the term deep frying can only be traced to the 1930s, it is unclear when exactly deep-fried chicken emerged. Pressure frying is also a well-known technique, often used by fast food restaurants. It is said to be the most efficient method. When the chicken is put in the pressurized oil, it is instantly seared. The moisture from the chicken turns to steam therefore cooking the chicken faster from the inside while still producing a golden brown crust.

Black women often fry chicken on Sundays and holidays. This tradition gave the chicken the nickname the “gospel bird.”  In addition to its ceremonial significance, Psyche A. Williams-Forson asserts that chickens provided some economic stability for black families, as well as a source of protein.  A great example of the financial support chicken could provide is the women who sold fried chicken to arriving train passengers in Gordonsville, Virginia. These women are seen as some of the first black female entrepreneurs. Freed slaves and their descendents use of fried chicken for sale marks the beginning of this dish’s rise to the main entrees in southern food.

What exactly constitutes for "southern" fried chicken is a question few people can answer. The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink defines southern fried chicken as “Chicken parts that are floured or battered and then fried in hot fat. The term southern fried first appeared in print in 1925.” With the information I have compiled, it is hard to define “southern fried chicken” precisely. Is it as simple as chicken fried here in the South? Or should it be defined by the old recipes slaves used initially years and years ago? In my own opinion, I believe that southern fried chicken encompasses a lot of factors. It is more than just the chicken itself. It is the greens and cornbread that surround it. It embraces its roots in Africa and accepts the turmoil of slavery. Fried chicken is a product of more than just fowl and oil, but of tradition and history. Chicken that is made for the nourishment of a loved one, to celebrate a holiday or to sell for economic survival is essentially southern fried.

Works Cited
Auchmutey, Jim “Dueling Drumsticks: Pan-Frying vs. Deep-Frying: Traditional Southern method of using big skillet is losing out to the hot oil vat.”  Atlanta Journal Constitution Online. 18 Oct 2007. 8 Feb 2009. <>
Auchmutey, Jim. “Origin of Fried Chicken a Mystery.” Atlanta Journal Constitution Online. 18 Oct 2007. 8 Feb 2009.

Lewis, Edna and Scott Peacock. The Gift of Southern Cooking:Recipes and Revelations from Two Great American Cooks. Knopf Publishing Group, 2003

Olver, Lynne.  “Meat & Poultry”. The Food Timeline. 25 Jan 2009. 8 Feb 2009. <>

Opie, Frederick Douglas. Hogs and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America. Columbia University Press, 2008.

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

Plantation Kitchen
by Eva Walton

If the old adage that the “kitchen is the heart of the home” is true, then for the Plantation South, the big house kitchen was the heart of a society. Without the plantation kitchens, and the black women and men who ran them, the Old South could not have existed. In many ways, the plantation kitchen provides a window into the inner-workings of the plantation society through which one may view the complex relationships of the issues of race, class, and gender as they became entangled with one another in front of an open-hearth fire. The plantation kitchen became a distinct society within the white, male-dominated Antebellum South where mastery was held in black, female hands. The product of this power was the creation of a cuisine which has become the single most recognizable and palatable characteristic of the modern American South.

The Plantation South existed from roughly 1820 to the start of the Civil War in 1860. Most plantations were located in what is known as the “Black Belt” region of the American South. Running from the Mississippi Delta to the South Carolina low country, the “Black Belt,” was the region in which the majority of African American slaves labored in fields of cotton, tobacco, and rice. Away from the fields and “separated from the Big House by only a few yards of boardwalk under foot and a lean-to shelter overhead” (Walker 40) was the plantation kitchen. As a general rule, most plantation kitchens were built away from the main residence for protection from fires. The placement of the kitchen as its own physical entity also secured that “the odors, noise, and activity” of the bustling societies “did not filter into the Big House proper,” comments southern historian Eugene Genovese (542). A plantation kitchen could not have operated without the close proximity to and plentiful stock of a smokehouse, the building that would have housed the meats that had been ordered in bulk by the mistress of the house and cured to last over long periods of time. Within the walls of these two buildings, slave women and men used skills learned through oral tradition and careful apprenticeships to create dishes which would, in later years, come to set the standard for authentic “southern food.”

Working in the plantation kitchen, although often more a more secure and comfortable existence than working solely in the fields, was no simple endeavor. Cooks in the kitchens, though slaves, “might be highly—or even professionally—trained, or they might have learned at the side of an older cook, possibly their own mother” (Fox-Genovese 158). The kitchens ran on a hierarchy of power, with the chief cook expecting “swift obedience from her helpers, especially from her own daughter [and]…few had patience with dropped dishes or flies in the dessert” in the preparation of the three daily meals and the occasional feast for the family and guests in the big house (Fox-Genovese 157-58). The well-oiled machines that they were, “the kitchens threw up much noise and bustle, quarrels, confusion,” all under the watchful eye and skilled hand of the chief cook. Representative of the cook’s unique power on the plantation, Genovese notes that it was not uncommon to hear the “crack of Mammy’s whip across the back of a stupid, slovenly, or incompetent helper” come from the kitchen door (Genovese 542). Fox-Genovese comments on the status of the cook in the plantation society stating, “cooks were respected by the black as well as the white folks” and that often the chief cook was regarded to by masters as their “right hand bough” and were “looked up to” by all the slaves on their respective plantations (Fox-Genovese 160).

As master craftswomen and craftsmen, plantation cooks handled the technology of the kitchens with skill and ease. As a general rule, most cooking was done in a large open-hearth fireplace sometimes with sticks of wood up to “twelve feet long” (Fox-Genovese 160), although a rare exception was a planter wealthy enough to furnish an iron cook stove for his cook’s purposes. Inside the fireplace, a multitude of cast-iron pots were hung above the fire by iron hooks and cranes connected to a firmly placed pot rod. Using the hooks and cranes, cooks could adjust the heat of the pots to the dishes accordingly. Other tools used regularly in a plantation kitchen were Dutch ovens, spider ovens, fruit presses, butter churns, grinding stones for cornmeal and flour, and a standard large wooden table for the preparation of biscuits, pies, meats, and cakes (Walker 40).
The real magic of the plantation cooks was not found in the use of technology, but rather in “imaginative spicing.” In combining herbs, peppers, oils, and spices brought from the West African coast and the Caribbean during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and Middle Passage, cooks “mastered its art, and transmitted their preference to the whites via their command of the Big House kitchen” (Genovese 543). The “genius” of plantation cooks’ spicing allowed for common foods such as pork, collard greens, black-eyed peas, cornbread, and hominy to be served to the gentility of the Plantation South with as much pride and prestige as any imported seafood, specialty-made desserts, or foreign delicacies.

The plantation kitchen was a slave woman’s arena of power in a white planter or mistress’s world. In the memoirs of antebellum women, it is rare to find extensive passages on the plantation kitchens simply because white women rarely visited the kitchens, other than to unlock a cupboard or check stock of supplies. This allowed for a unique connection to grow between black women, power, and plantation kitchens the effects of which yielded a distinctive and divine cuisine, but present greater questions on race, class, and gender which have yet to be fully explored. Answers to these questions may reveal the profound racial and historical truths in a slave child’s statement to her white Mistress that “‘Doan you know Mammy is boss ef dis hyar kitchen. You can’t come a fussin’ in hyar” (Fox-Genovese 159).

Works Cited
Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth. Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of The Old South. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1988.

Genovese, Eugene. Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made. New York: Pantheon Books, 1974.

Walker, Margaret. Jubilee. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1966.

African Foodways
by Ashley Wilkerson

People of several regions of the United States eat African and African American related foods during social and religious events. As a result of the slave trade, West Africans were forced to migrate to the South. They brought many aspects of their culture that have played a crucial role in the development of southern cuisine. The perceptions of endless fried chicken, nonstop peach cobbler, and never-ending pork originate from the West Africans’ ability to adapt from a culture filled with abundance in meats and vegetables to one based on throwaway foods.

Interior of slave kitchenThe diversity and roots of African American cuisine or soul food can be traced back to 1619, when the first Africans were sold in the New World. Over the next two hundred year more than half a million West Africans were shipped to the New World. Before their long, gruesome, and tortuous voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, West Africans were a considerably well nourished group of people, eating plenty of okra, yams, and millet—a whole grain rich in vitamins and protein similar to wheat—and they also consumed an abundance of fish, chicken, lamb, and goat.

The diet these slaves took a drastic turn when they reached the plantation. Slaves were forced to renounce their natural dietary needs in order to survive plantation life by eating the less desirable parts of the pig, which consisted of chitterlings, feet, tail, and jowls, while the master and mistress of the plantain ate the loin which was considered “high on the hog.” Despite these scarce conditions, enslaved Africans learned how to “make do” with what they were given. Foods that white people may have considered waste were transformed into decadent and scrumptious works of culinary art by slaves in kitchens composed mostly of hearth fireplace and cast iron pans. Leftover pieces of pork were used to make souse, crackling cornbread, and add flavor to various types of greens, peas, and beans. Liquid leftover from cooking greens, commonly known as potlikker, would be used as soup and stock. Eggs, cornmeal, and seasoning were added to leftover fish and fried in to make croquettes.

These and other culinary customs of slaves made for large meals that were the center of social and religious events such as potluck dinners and Sunday dinners. In my home, food is usually the center of any family affair because it provides conversation and comfort. There isn’t anything more enjoyable than routine Sunday dinners that include my grandmother’s creamed corn, oven roasted raccoon meat, fried chicken cooked in previously used vegetable oil, stewed hog mawls, and spicy souce. These foods not only feed our bodies, but they also feed our souls. The slaves’ implementation of “making nothing out of something” is mostly responsible for the evolution of what most Americans consider southern cuisine and debatably, soul food.

African foodways, particularly West African cuisine, have had a great influence on southern cuisine. Foods that play a crucial role in West African diets have similarities with foods that are considered southern. Historical evidence suggests that the Igbo and Mande were among the largest ethnic groups to arrive in colonial Virginia and the Carolinas. The Igbo people were distinguished for their superb yam cultivating skills and for their use of palm oil for frying. Their use of yams and palm oil to make dishes like yam foofoo was later replaced with making sweet potato dishes and pan frying with pig fat to make fried chicken and cracklings. In addition, they substituted grits for millet porridge. Lobster, crabs, crawfish, fish, and okra also have similar uses in the South and in the Igbo tribe because they are major ingredients in African foods and pivotal in southern Creole dishes such as gumbo and jambalaya.

Similar to the Igbo, the Mande people adapted their cooking techniques to the New World. Mande women were experts at deep-frying, and they used every portion of the chicken in their unique cuisine. They would traditionally serve fried chicken with greens and dumplings. This practice has many similarities to the traditional Sunday dinner of an African American family. The innards of the chicken would later be used to make soups similar to enslaved women’s creation of souce, a soup consisting of leftover portions of a pig. The African-American tradition of eating chicken, particularly fried, on special occasions, originates from the Igbo and Mande who ate poultry as a part of religious ceremonies.     

After nearly four hundred years, the techniques and recipes that enslaved Africans used to create fulfilling dishes are still used in many African American kitchens today. My mother and grandmother, for example, use salt pork to add special flavor to various vegetables. The recipes of my African ancestors continue to play a special role in modern American foodways.

"African Americans, Diet of - Origins of the African-American diet: the aftereffects of slavery." Internet RFC/FYI/STD/BCP Archives. 25 Jan. 2009 <>.

Opie, Frederick P. Hog and Hominy: Soul Food From Africa to America. New York: Columbia UP, 2008.

"West Africa: Definition from" - Online Dictionary, Encyclopedia and much more. 06 Feb. 2009 <>.

Peaches ["Eat a Peach" original song by Daniel Groce]
by Daniel Groce

The mention of the word peaches arouses a delicious aroma of memories, summer days, and pleasant times. Whether eating peaches in a cobbler, with pork tenderloin, as ice cream, or with plain sugar, it is easy to reminisce about younger days while enjoying peaches. But the history of peaches and their cultural implications for the South reach much farther than a memory.

There are three different families of peach—clingstone, freestone, and semi-freestone—that are used for different purposes, some for canning some for eating whole. There are conflicting claims on the exact origin of peaches, but most researches believe peach cultivation began in China, centuries before the birth of Christ. In fact, peaches are mentioned in many ancient Chinese writings including those of Confucius. The United States Department of Agriculture found a species of wild peaches in China, the only country known to have them. While some scientists believe Persia may have been the birthplace of peach cultivation, the aforementioned evidence suggests otherwise. The Persians did, however, bring peaches to the Romans, who in turn brought them to the Spaniards in the sixteenth century and to the English and French in the seventeenth century. Also, the botanical name for the peach, prunus persica, means Persian apple in Latin (Gould 8).

Interestingly, in Chinese folklore and Taoism, peaches represent luck and immortality. Even today, the Chinese give the peach as a birthday gift to symbolize luck for the upcoming year. Similarly, many Chinese women put peach leaves in their hair during their weddings. Contributing to the positive connotation of the peach, farmers in Georgia viewed peach country as a kind of Eden, putting bible verses on peach crates that are still seen today (Bryant).

The peach probably came to America shortly after the pilgrims did, either from the Spaniards (Egerton 183) or the English (Gould 4). Many governmental reports of agriculture often referred to the peach and its abundance in the New World. As one governor put it, “In some places, peaches are so common and plentiful that the country people feed their hogs with them” (Gould 8). The peach industry took off shortly after the Civil War, during Reconstruction. Many farmers in the South were encouraged to diversify their cash crops, contributing to the rise in popularity of crops such as peaches, onions, and apples. Further, when the boll weevil ruined a large amount of cotton in the South, farmers had little choice but to turn to peach production to make a living. This convenient crop grew easily in the South, took up little space since one tree would yield many peaches, and was popular around the nation. Fair states, “As J. C. Bonner demonstrated in his 1947 scholarly article in the Georgia Historical Quarterly, the rise of the commercial peach industry in Georgia in the decade following 1850 was phenomenal” (129).

It was so popular, in fact, that the peach and other crops in Georgia created a need for an improved transportation route to Atlanta and out of the state. The infrastructure improvements and road systems made it easier for a farmer to grow peaches, ship them to Atlanta to be packed, and distribute them all around the nation. Also, improvements in technology made it more convenient to grow a crop like the peach. Before, the peach would spoil in a few days, but with the help of refrigerated trucks that could carry the fruit, farmers had an incentive to grow more than just cotton. With the improved transportation routes, peaches and other agricultural products like them propelled southern industry to national exposure. The development of the wooden barrel also aided in shipping peaches to northern states (Fair 131).

Georgia currently ranks third in production of peaches, behind South Carolina and California. While Georgia grew 140 million pounds of peaches and sold thirty-five million dollars worth in 2001, the peach has little influence on the present-day southern economy. Globalization allows the peach to be grown year round. In countries like Chile and Mexico, the peach can be produced and sold at a cheaper price than it can in the United States, thus contributing to its decline in economic benefit. After the Civil War, most peaches came from the South, normally near the consumer’s home and were only produced in warmer months. Now, peaches grown in South America are available almost any day of the year.

So, why is Georgia still referred to as the Peach State if is not greatly affected by peach production? The Secretary of State’s office states, “Georgia is known as the ‘Peach State’ because of the growers' reputation for producing the highest quality fruit” ( The peach was named the official state fruit of Georgia in 1995. In many ways, the success of global efforts to produce fruits and other items that paint pictures of what it means to be southern, southern distinctiveness is waning. The idea of a peach grown only a few miles from the store it is sold at is romanticized, not necessarily the reality that it once was. Because of this, the south’s reputation is shifting from a stereotypical dinner plate to a slower, peaceful way of life. While the peach does not bring in a large amount of revenue to a region of the United States that has advanced since the days of reconstruction, its cultural implication lives on as a savior to starving farmers.

Peaches are used to make a wide variety of dishes, including (but not limited to) peach cobblers, peach pies, peach ice cream or yogurt, baked peaches, grilled peaches, boiled peaches, peach preserves, peach wine, peach pork loins, peach tea, sangria, and peach compote. No matter how you prepare them, peaches have contributed to a southern culture and economy based on pleasant food and agriculture. While their direct economic influence may be waning, the cultural impact of peaches will live on.

Bryant, Ruth. “Georgia Peach Study.” TED Case Study.

Egerton, John. Southern Food. (Chapel Hill: the University of North Carolina Press, 1993).

Fair, John D. “Parnell and Peaches: A Study in the Historical Construction of Historical Myth” in The Alabama Review.

Gould, Phillip. Peach Growing. (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1918).

by John Buckner

When Europeans reached the New World in the 1600s, they faced many struggles, but the most obvious and critical issue was food. The Native Americans introduced them to maize, or corn, which helped the early settlers survive. Since then, corn has continued to be an essential element of the southern diet.
Corn can be ground into mealand mixed with water and salt to create simple yet nutritious bread. Though the natives ground the corn with handheld tools to produce cornmeal, later Europeans set up gristmills that could produce larger quantities faster. “Gristmills, or the essential basics of such, have been around since the Romans,” said Mike Buckner, a miller in middle Georgia who operates his family’s eighty-year-old gristmill. Buckner added, “The process hasn’t changed that much, the mill just makes it faster. Round stones are turned using the power of water to crush the corn into meal for cooking.”        

Cornmeal is commonly used to produce cornbread, but in the early years the bread produced was not quite what we think of today. Natives showed the Europeans how to grind the corn and make flat bread that would have likely resembled a griddlecake or a thin pancake. The mixture of water, cornmeal, and salt could be cooked on a flat rock heated by fire. Cast-iron skillets soon replaced the heated rocks, and over time cooks moved from hearth cookery to woodstoves. By the 1800s, some cooks would use baking soda to make the bread rise when baked.   However, the flat, unleavened bread remained a staple, appearing in such forms as Johnnycake, journeycakes, hoecakes and lace bread.       

Johnnycake is probably the oldest term used to describe the flat cornbread and, though the name’s origin is disputed, it is “possibly a corruption of Shawnee cake (from the Shawnee Indians) or 'journey cake' because it was easily prepared by travelers, or possibly based on some long forgotten Indian word by way of 'jonakin' or 'jonikin” (Hoecake). The term hoecake is believed to have originated from slaves or agrarian workers who would use a hoe as a flat surface on which to prepare the bread; “this baking process is a facsimile of how African women in Angola and São Tomé had baked corn bread wrapped in banana leaves in the cinders of fires” (25). Buckner states, “I haven’t ever heard of that being done around here, but it wouldn’t surprise me; cornmeal could have easily been taken to the field in a gourd or jug, mixed with water from a nearby creek and cooked on the hoe which would have polished clean from constant use in the soil.” Further, he states, “using all the tools available for as many purposes as possible was common practice and if a hoe could be used to prepare food, it probably was. After all, such methods were practical and meant less time away from the field.”  Cooks in the home could also quickly fry lace bread, a cornmeal slurry cooked extra crispy in lard or grease, which creates a lacy appearance around the edges.

Edna Searcy, a 95 year-old daughter of sharecroppers andEdna Searcy granddaughter of slaves did not say whether she remembered ever cooking hoecakes directly on a hoe, but she said the term was used to describe the bread even when cooked on the stove. Though, “we mostly ate pone bread,” she said. Pone bread is yet another simple but common bread enjoyed by mainly poor people. Cornmeal, salt, and water are mixed to create a thicker substance than that used for hoecakes. The dough is then kneaded and molded into a shape comparable to a hockey puck and cooked. The term pone may have come from Native Americans who inhabited the Chesapeake Bay region and who were “well known for their bread, called ponap” (20). For many like Searcy and other rural poor people, it was common to use the fireplace and cast-iron cooking pots with lids on which hot coals could be placed to create a small oven for baking bread.

Searcy also said that it was not uncommon to make ashcakes. An ashcake is essentially the same as pone bread but instead of being cooked in a pan, ashes in a hot fireplace would be brushed out of the way to expose the hot floor on which the bread could be cooked, hence ashcake. With a slight chuckle, Searcy said, “you couldn’t spit in the fire like you can now, you might have to cook bread in it later.” When I asked her if the bread was good, she said, “you had to brush it off, but it was sho-nough good.” Pone bread and ashcakes might also have cracklins, bits of crispy pork skin, added for flavor.

Though such terms as ashcakes and hoecakes are less common, people still enjoy cornmeal and the bread that it yields. Today, cornmeal mixed with salt, eggs, baking power and baking soda and cooked in a well-greased pan creates a delicious treat that has evolved from the crude dish that sustained early settlers and subsequent generations of southerners. Cornbread technology, however, has evolved slowly until very recently. Now, many premixed concoctions appear in grocery stores, and many southerners eat commercially-baked wheat flour breads instead of cornbread. But the traditional allure of cornbread endures.

Works Cited
Buckner, Mike H. "Fielder's Mill." Personal interview. 25 Jan. 2009.

"Hoecakes, Hoe Cakes." Food References Website. Ed. James T.Ehler. 25 Jan. 2009.

Opie, Frederick D. Hog and Hominy: Soul Food From Africa to America. New York: Columbia UP, 2008.

Searcy, Edna. "Ashe Cakes and Pone Bread." Personal interview.

Southern Louisiana
by Jeanette Crawford

Maida Owens, a writer and New Orleans native, states that “in order to fully understand a cultural feature, one must understand the context in which it exists.” This statement seems to hold true in terms of the evolution of food within Southern Louisiana. It is shortsighted to say that Louisiana is culturally diverse; Louisiana possesses a degree of cultural complexity that surpasses most countries. Southern Louisiana’s ethnic culture has been built upon French explorers and settlers from France, French exiles from Acadia and the Caribbean, Spaniards from the Spanish reign, African slaves, and finally English, Irish, and Scottish settlers. Also, to add to the ethnic diversity, Southern Louisiana already had Native Americans contributing to the culture during this ongoing influx of immigrants. These waves of immigration, as Maida points out, shape every cultural aspect of the area.

After establishing the influx of immigration in Louisiana, one can gather a better understanding of the evolution of food within this melting pot of culture. Broadly speaking, there are two main food groups of Southern Louisiana: Cajun and Creole. From an outsider’s perspective, one may not be able to distinguish the difference between Creole and Cajun food because most foods are shared in each genre. Although these two food labels may seem synonymous, they are distinguished by their origin.

Cajun cuisine derives from an influx of French exiles from Acadia, Canada into South Louisiana. Because these immigrants were poverty stricken, they were forced to live off of what was available. Cajun food contained locally available ingredients due to the family’s financial limitations. Furthermore, because this food contained locally available ingredients, the cuisine was considered very rustic. Preparation was simple and was geared towards feeding a large family. Typically a supplementary duty within any Cajun family was farming. Feeding a large family, all of whose members did physical labor everyday, required a large amount of food. The authentic Cajun meal typically has three dishes. One pot was dedicated to the main dish, which usually contained some sort of meat needed for protein. The two side dishes were designated for grains and vegetables, depending on what was plentiful at the time. As one can see, the development of Cajun food developed out of necessity. This necessity can been seen through common Cajun dishes such as boudin, which is a type of sausage made from pork, pork liver, rice, garlic, and green onion; chitlins, which are the rectum and intestines of a pig cooked in any fashion; and Jambalaya, which is almost anything served over rice. (Tidwell, Bayou Farewell)

In light of food being a necessity, food was also a community event for Cajuns. Events like a Crawfish Boil, where Cajuns boil crawfish, potatoes, onions and corn over large propane cookers were and still are common. Lemons and muslin bags filled with a mixture of bay leaves, mustard seeds, cayenne pepper and other spices are added to the water in the Crawfish boil for seasoning. There is also a traditional pig-slaughtering party, or boucherie, where Cajuns gather to socialize, play music, dance, and of course slaughter a pig. Even today, this event takes place in some rural parts of Southern Louisiana.

Although Cajun food originates from a necessity for food, Creole food has its roots in cultural blending. French and Spanish settlers brought this style of cooking to Louisiana. And, although Creole cuisine was founded in soups and sauces from the French, it was grafted with a variety of tastes from the Spanish, Native Americans, and Africans. Rima and Richard Collin sum up this division in their New Orleans Cookbook published in 1975 by stating, “In wealthy New Orleans homes most of the older cooks were blacks, whose ancestors had contributed to some of the earliest important Creole dishes, such as gumbo. Those black cooks had an inherited love of spicy food and were adept at preparing old dishes.” Although the French are acclaimed for the creation of the Creole dish, the underlying artists, known as the cooks in these wealthy homes, added their own finesse to what we know today as Creole food.

One food that crosses this Creole/Cajun barrier line is gumbo. And, more importantly, gumbo reflects a cultural blending, known as Creolization. This dish is closely associated with Southern Louisiana and it meshes African, European, and Native American cultures. The word, gumbo, itself, originates from the African Bantu word for okra, nkombo. Gumbo, usually defined as a soup-like dish featuring two or more meats or seafood and served with rice, is often attributed to the French bouillabaisse, a French soup dish, but a preference for soups in Africa seems to have contributed greatly to this food tradition. Also, Native Americans added File, which is ground sassafras leaves, to the conglomeration of ingredients known as gumbo. (McDonald, Mardi Gras, Gumbo, and Zydeco: Readings in Louisiana Culture)

Gumbo not only tastes good, but it can also reveal a vast amount of historical information as well. By analyzing the different ingredients within gumbo, one can get a sense of where the gumbo was made and even what kind of family made it. For example, seafood gumbo is more common on the coast because seafood is more plentiful there. If one was to find duck, venison, or squirrel in their gumbo, one could assume that it came from the back country of Louisiana, and, moreover, that a hunter was a part of the family that made it. If there is a scoop of potato salad in the gumbo, one could assume that the chef had German influence. If meatless gumbo, or gumbo z’herbes, is on the menu, the family likely has Catholic roots, as the dish is common during Lent.

To appreciate Southern Louisiana’s food fully, one must keep in mind that Cajun and Creole food are a result of three hundred years of continuous sharing and borrowing among the many cultural groups. The French contributed sauces and breads; Africans contributed okra, barbeque, deep fat frying, and a preference for hot spices; Germans contributed sausages and brown mustard; Caribbean immigrants contributed bean and rice dishes; Native Americans contributed file and a fondness for corn. This melting pot of culture contributed to the evolution of food known today within Louisiana. Another quote from Maida Owens seems to sum up this account of the evolution of food. She states, “One distinction about food in New Orleans and in South Louisiana is that food is regarded as far more than just mere sustenance. Food is relished. . . No matter where you are in Louisiana, the food traditions of families and other cultural groups reveal information about the people. It might be settlement patterns, historical connections, migration patterns, ethnicity, religious or simply family traditions” (Owens, Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana)

McDonald, James C. Mardi Gras, Gumbo, and Zydeco: Readings in Louisiana Culture. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2003.

Owens, Maida. Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana. University Press of Mississippi and the Louisiana Division of the Arts, 1997.

Spitzer, Nicholas R. The Smithsonian Institution's 1985 Festival of American Folklore. 1985.

Tidwell, Mike. Bayou Farewell : the Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana's Cajun Coast. New York: Vintage Books, 2003.

New Year's Day
by David A. Davis

Several cultural and religious traditions observe holidays to mark the beginning of the New Year. In China, New Year, usually celebrated in late January or early February according to the Gregorian calendar, is the most important holiday, and it is marked with parades, firecrackers, festivals, and special foods. In September, Jewish people celebrate Rosh Hashanah, “the head of the year,” by blowing the shofar, sharing blessings, atoning for trespasses, and sharing food. Christians do not observe the New Year as a sacred holiday, but New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day have become common secular holidays.

My family, like many southern families, celebrates New Year’s Day with black-eyed peas and collards. According to tradition, these foods bring good luck and wealth for the coming year. Some southerners insist on including hog jowls, and one story suggests that the jowl represents a wallet and that the greens and peas represent paper money and coins.  Especially strict followers of the superstition recommend eating exactly 365 peas for luck each day of the year. At least one pea should be left on the plate, too, to leave luck for others.

South Louisianans tend to eat red beans and rice on New Year’s Day, but most southerners eat their peas in the form of Hoppin’ John, a mix of peas and rice. This dish has its own peculiar mythology. One theory for its origins, according to The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink refers to the custom of inviting guest to eat with “the request to ‘hop in, John.’” An equally bizarre theory ascribes to the ritual of having “children hop once around the table before eating,” and the most outlandish cites a crippled minstrel character, called Hoppin’ John. The most likely explanation for the dishes’ unusual etymology is that the phrase is actually a  corrupt form of “pois a pigeon,” the French phrase for pigeon peas. Since the dish is common throughout the Creole Caribbean, this theory seems plausible but far from conclusive.

The dishes’ linguistic history becomes complicated when we consider its anthropological history. James E. McWilliams explains that “some scholars identify it as a strictly West African dish carried to the colonies by slaves from the Congo. Others plausibly suggest an Islamic origin, noting that Senegalese and Nigerian Muslims cooked hoppin' John with jerked beef rather than verboten pork. Yet another popular theory highlights the influence of the Seminole Indians, as runaway slaves living among the Florida Native Americans may have adapted the dish to Seminole practices, particularly with respect to the incorporation of beans” (131). The convergence of culinary traditions in the South has led to a large number of foods that combine disparate foods and techniques, blending European and African approaches into a uniquely southern cuisine.

Most theories about the southern practice of eating peas and greens on New Year’s Day place its origins in the Old South. One hypothesis suggests that the meal would be the last meal among a slave family before members would begin a new period of hired labor. Many farmers in the antebellum period would rent slave laborers from their owners for terms that ran from New Year’s Day until Christmas Eve. Slaves would return to their homes for a week at Christmastime, and the New Year’s meal would be their final one together. Another theory suggests that peas, which were often planted as fodder for grazing animals, were one of the few abundant foods remaining after the Civil War. The war destroyed much of the South’s food distribution system, so southerners were forced to eat foods previously intended for animals. Attributing a hope for prosperity to the food may have added some dignity to the humble food. Both of these theories play into southern mythology, but the more plausible explanation is much more practical. The simple fare would be available through the winter: peas could be stored dried and greens could grow into the winter if covered or could be preserved in a hill of dry sand.

Both peas and greens flourish in the southern climate. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both cultivated peas on their plantations in Colonial Virginia, and George Washington Carver promoted peas, as well as peanuts, as a viable crop to both revitalize fields depleted by cotton and to augment the meager southern diet. Greens enjoy an extremely long growing season in the South, especially in the sandy soil along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. Southerners tend to prepare greens by boiling them for an extended period with salted pork, which produces a strong sulfurous odor and a rich broth, known as pot likker—itself an important indigenous cuisine. Non-native southerners frequently describe greens as an acquired taste, and collards themselves have gain a certain degree of cultural significance. They are often mentioned in song, such as the blues standard “Them Greasy Greens,” and the jazz pianist Thelonious Monk sometimes performed while wearing a collard leaf as a boutonniere. Some superstitious southerners believe that a collard leaf hung over the front door of a home can ward off evil.

Beyond the southern tradition, the association between specific foods and the New Year is surprisingly common in Western cultures, many of which have migrated to the United States. On New Year’s Day, Mexican families eat menudo, Polish families eat creamed herring, Dutch families eat apple fritters, Italian families eat sausage and lentils, Austrian families eat pink marzipan pigs, German families eat round rolls called wecken, Swedish families eat cabbage, and Hungarian families eat stuffed cabbage rolls. Almost all of these people the sharing of traditional foods reinforces communal bonds and signifies hope for the coming year.

Brooke Butler, “Greens” in The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Vol. 7 Foodways, edited by John T. Edge, (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2007) pp. 171-172

Shaun Chavis, “Black-Eyed Peas,” in The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Vol. 7 Foodways, edited by John T. Edge, (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2007) pp. 125-127

John F. Mariani, The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink (New York: Lebhar-Friedman, 1999)

James E. McWilliams, A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America, (New York: Columbia UP, 2005)

Schrambling, Regina, “Good Luck Foods: A New Year’s Tradition,” Historical Preservation 36.6 (1984): 54-57.

John Thorne, Serious Pig: An American Cook in Search of his Roots, (New York: North Point Press, 2000)