We came back from Louisiana and Mississippi with a lot of great foods, books and stories. How can you not when going to such a rich place? Rich in history, rich in cultures, rich in the value they place on the people that have created the history and culture.
On our way from Vicksburg, MS to Oxford, MS, in the pouring rain, we made a detour to Greenville, MS to eat tamales at Doe's Eats Place. We had NO idea what to expect, other than fabulous local-style tamales. Somewhere back in the 40's a Mexican man shared his tamales with the local folks, and a phenomenon was born. Some folks make them with corn husks, like Miz Elizabeth
Scott, honored at SFA and recipient of the Ruth Fertel Keeper of the Flame Award. The folks at Doe's wrap their tamales in paper before steaming them. When you order them, they are sold by the half dozen or dozen. We got ours to go (they are only open for seating at night) and ate them in the car with the classic accompaniment of soda crackers. YUM. The rental car smelled like those tamales for the rest of the trip!
We landed at the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium in Oxford, Mississippi on Thursday and were treated to the experience of being in a live radio show audience. The Thacker Mountain Radio
show broadcasts every Saturday night on Mississippi Public Broadcasting. This show really took advantage of the folks in town for the symposium. We heard several stories from the Kitchen Sisters.
We were also treated to stories, fables and ramblings from the likes of Roy Blount, Jr. If you aren't familiar with this delightful man, a real story teller, you MUST seek out a book or two. He is a real gem.
In between the
radio show and the catfish dinner, Farmer Chef Jeff and I ran over to our favorite southern-style restaurant for a snack, Ajax Cafe. We were looking forward to a nice little dish of their smoked catfish pate, but alas, they have foolishly removed it from the menu!!! How can we be appeased??? Well...we could always get a side dish of their fabulous vegetables. Hmmm...so we did! We almost got in a fight over which veg sides we would order and finally agreed upon: squash casserole, broccoli and rice casserole, butter beans and turnip greens. OH MY GOD...sublime!!!
The conference included such varied topics as Savage Barbecue, an oral history of the Plate, along with the State of the plate, with discussions on Fried Chicken, Greens, Cornbread and Coconut cake. Mind you, this is all presented in a very scholarly yet playful way. This discussion/presentation was followed by the State of the pour, including demonstrations on how to make and pour a proper Sazerac.
Later that night we all hopped on to the freezing double decker buses that haul us out to the amazing Taylor Grocery for Fried Catfish, hushpuppies, french fries and coleslaw...and all the tea you can drink! For those so inclined, there is a limitless supply of Jack Daniels, one of the many sponsors of the symposium.
The next day started rather early but it was so worth getting there on time. The invocation was presented by an amazing poet, Kevin Young
. I can't begin to explain the power of his words. I told him that I would like to post one of his poems and but first I need to send him an email telling him which one I would like to post. Honestly, if you have even the slightest inclination, PLEASE find one or more of his books and treat yourself to a day filled with rapture. He is that good.
We listened to: One opinion on the State of American Food History, by Professor Sandy Oliver
; Someone's in the Kitchen with Dinah: Gender and Food, by Professor Psyche Williams-Forson.
We also heard from Professor Bernard Herman
- Thoughts on Class and Consumption; followed by Professor Charles Joyner
and his talk on the Creolization of Southern Foodways.
Don't get the idea that this was a dry/boring day of just sitting. NONE of this was EVER boring! We had wonderful meals prepared by the likes of Eddie Hernandez and Mike Klank, who prepared Nuevo South Fiesta, the melding of Mexican and traditional Southern ingredients: The Tabasco Hot Links lunch with hot links from Elgin, Texas and then boudin from T-Boy Berzas, sides from Steven Barber; the Taylor Grocery catfish dinner, the Viking Range lunch prepared by Hugh Acheson, Edward Lee, and April McGregor; and then the all Pig dinner from Donald Link, Frank Stitt, Ed Mitchell, Steven Barber and Sean Brock.
We were treated (yes, yet another treat!) to a drum and fife ensemble. I will add the name once I find it...the young lady playing the flute/fife and leading the drumming procession is the granddaughter of the man that started this tradition in Mississippi. The sound of the drums and flute woke up my heart...I found myself on the edge of tears and many folks were swept up into the rhythm and were dancing with wild abandon. It was incredible.
Before the incredible Saturday night pork fest, we were at a book signing reception. Farmer Chef Jeff and I did some serious damage there (and at a couple of other stops along the way) but I just couldn't pass up having my books signed.
We were a little surprised, okay, VERY surprised that the featured speaker the next morning, the last day, was none other than Alice Waters. Alice is credited with bringing the concept of seasonal and locally grown to the US after traveling around France after college. She has had very good luck with hiring chefs, such as Jeremiah Tower, Paul Bertolli and David Lebovitz. She presented her plan of the Edible Schoolyard to the gathered clan of SFA and she came off a bit like Alice in Waterland. I believe in teaching kids how to grow vegetables, in teaching them how to eat properly to avoid a disaster of an obese population, but I kinda have to draw the line when Alice thinks is it is the sole responsibility of the schools to teach kids about food. What about the parents? What about other parts of the community, such as farmers markets, their churches, the community at large. Okay...enough of my soap box. Needless to say, it provided a lively discussion at brunch!
I will close with a picture of my button haul. I found these buttons tucked away in a bin in the antique store in Pontchatoula.
Labels: Ajax Cafe, David Lebovitz, Doe's Eats Place, Fried Catfish, Jr., Keeper of the Flame Award, Kitchen Sisters, Poet Kevin Young, Roy Blount, SFA, Smoked Catfish Pate, Taylor Grocery