Egerton assembles more than four dozen previously published pieces by writers such as Nikki Giovanni and Roy Blount Jr., offering the same serendipitous delights as time spent on a front porch of a summer evening enjoying good food and good talk.
This is the first volume in what is to be an annual series, and, divided into sections of People, Times, Things, Places, and Southern Foodways, it’s a beguiling mix of food lore, encounters with memorable characters, and, of course, the place itself, from swampy bayous to the rolling hills of Appalachia. The selections stem from Town and Country, Food & Wine, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and elsewhere, but they all reflect an abiding affection for things southern, especially the food—from boiled peanuts to Scuppernogs (a native muscadine grape) and, of course, barbecue. It is a subject that evokes passionate debate about, say, the virtues of a mustard-based versus a tomato-based sauce, or even bitter family feuds. In “A Confederacy of Sauces,” Jack Hitt relates how in South Carolina, a politically liberal brother has taken advantage of a boycott of his reactionary brother’s mustard-based barbecue sauce to put his own version in stores. The writers introduce characters like nonagenarian Moonshiner Coe Dupuis; Leah Chase, the cook at the famous New Orleans restaurant, Dooky Chase; and Dori Sanders, a peach farmer and writer. They visit farms where watermelons are grown, they stalk wild hogs, and they eat dinner in a Texas prison, where the incarcerated chef has a reputation as a great cook. There are tributes to southern food writers like Craig Claiborne and Eugene Walter, as well as memories of canning, family reunions, and Thanksgivings at which, alongside the turkey, there’s macaroni and cheese—“a vegetable in the South.” Others debate the merits of iced tea, which in this region is always sweetened; and explore the origin of vegetables like okra and sweet potatoes, as well as the influence of African-American traditions on white cooking, particularly in the way greens are cooked.
A delicious feast, as well as a thoughtful celebration of regional culture.