So this might be as good a time as any to introduce you to Okracast, an oral history project of the Southern Foodway Alliance. These stories go a lot further, and deeper, than overcooked vegetables and gravy slathered on everything.
The Alliance also publishes the region’s best food writing in a series of books called Cornbread Nation, collections of essays, poems and recipes that celebrate a culinary history of which grits is only a part. (Feel free to buy me any volume.)My own south Florida childhood adds fried mullet and swamp cabbage to the table of comfort foods, as well as green field peas and watermelon.
But the region boasts of bar-be-cue and a variety of greens along with ethnic influences from Cajun to Cuban. European, native American and African influences are very strong. It makes my mouth water to think about it.
That’s because we are never more at home than when we enjoy the culinary comforts of our childhood. These memories are rich and rewarding, evoked by tastes and smells more primal than our more educated or experienced palate can ever discover.
For Katie it might be hard crusted bread from a German bakery. She doesn’t eat much bread. But sometimes, the taste of her grandmother’s bakery-bought bread shows up on a table somewhere, and with real butter proves irresistible.
I eat fish whenever I can, looking to recover those moments when my grandfather or dad was frying fresh saltwater fish with some hush puppies, serving it with a side of stone ground grits. And I’m talking fresh as in we just caught it off the sea wall.
To travel home is often an expedition into our culinary identity. For me it’s looking for smoked mullet or boiled peanuts. And the loss of such desire by any of us is a great loss; it is to surrender our taste for the convenience of fast food and franchises where everything tastes the same.
To go home is to go to the table, looking for something good to eat. These moments, at a holiday dinner or a roadside dinner, start and end with grace. We are seldom so thankful.
Such moments are the image and the shadow of the marriage supper of the Lamb, a biblical picture of restored fellowship and unfathomed delight. I imagine a great Southern potluck with fried chicken and little sandwiches made of white bread and pimento cheese.
But insert your own picture. And share your own culinary comforts below.
I’m sure the angels will be serving food that tastes like home.