“For those of us who live to eat, these are hopeful times.” ~John T. Edge
A week ago, I was given a gift by a new friend, a copy of Oxford American. He told me about it awhile ago before one of our East Nasty runs, saying that within the pages of this magazine was some of his favorite writing. The latest issue was about food and after seeing that 1- I love food and 2- I love to write about food, he thought it would be right up my alley.
After two weeks, and not being able to find a copy for sale, last weekend as I hobbled back to my car after the 20 mile run that did me in last weekend, I found something pinned beneath my windshield wiper. It was a copy of the Oxford American.
Honestly, is there any better gift than a loaned book/magazine from someone who has handpicked that title with you in mind?
“Oxford American: The Southern magazine of good writing, proudly published from the University of Central Arkansas.”
“With guest editor, John T. Edge,” the cover went on to reveal. Interesting. Now, I hate to admit it but I had no idea what to expect from a literary magazine published in Central Alabama about Southern cooking. I don’t like grits, I have never had collard greens and won’t touch fried green tomatoes (you can tell that my knowledge of “southern” food is hardly developed) and didn’t particularly care to read about them. However, I have long been a fan of John T. Edge, from his column in the New York Times, NPR’s All Things Considered, and guest spots in Gourmet to his books, and since it had come highly recommended, I decided to take a bite.
Eat dessert first right? That’s my motto. The first course was an article my friend marked for me titled, People of the Cake, by Diane Roberts. I was smitten. The writing was brilliant, mouthwatering and refreshing.
Article by article, I devoured the whole thing.
How silly of me to scoff and think as a girl who grew up in Pittsburgh, raised on bagels, pasta, pirogies and subs, I wouldn’t enjoy this. I loved this magazine for the very same reasons that I have come to love the South. These essays weren’t just about food, they were about the people and stories behind them. These writers masterfully wove religion, rich tradition, cooking, humor and grace together in a way only a Southern writer could.
“If the recipe says fresh coconut, don’t you dare use that stuff in a bag. Suffering for your cake builds character. (We are Presbyterians after all.)” -Diane Roberts in People of the Cake
These writers reminded me not just why I have loved cooking, but writing.
I read the articles a little slower and enjoyed it a little more, experiencing trademark Southern hospitality as these writers welcomed me into their world:
-Warwick Sabin exposes the dark side of Southern cuisine as fresh local food becomes a luxury item forcing many to go for the mass produced affordable calories instead of fresh produce that are the building blocks of Southern food.
-Jack Pendarvis writes about his favorite local hang with the best food around- Chevron, the one south of the courthouse responsible for serving up chicken on a stick, and how it was ruined once the secret got out. We’ve all been there, I bet you are thinking of your favorite place right now, just like I am, that you only tell your closest friends about for fear it will ruin the magic.
-Mamie Morgan recants her and her boyfriend saving all their spare change to go to one of their favorite restaurants on New Years, with chef Kevin Gillespie, and how certain chefs and their food much like bands and their music, speak to us. What chef speaks your language?
These stories join others about the array of people and personalities that make up a restaurant, tales of homemade beef jerky, geophagy, or in layman’s terms- eating dirt, the mysterious origins of New Orleans cuisine, and even an ode to Oregano.
Nashville’s own Olive Sinclair is featured as well as a brewery in Durham, North Carolina who’s mission is to “brew farmhouse ales that celebrate the culinary and agricultural heritage of the South.” But these deserve their own posts so I don’t want to spoil it.
All of that said, I will be subscribing to Oxford American soon and I encourage anyone who loves good writing to do the same. Reading the Oxford American prompted me to do some cooking this weekend when I wasn’t sitting out in the sun so I’ll post those tomorrow. Until then, I leave you with Diane Roberts’ mother’s recipe for Sour Cream Pound Cake, “the cake she’d make for people who do nice things.” Now if that’s not Southern, I don’t know what is!
-2 sticks of butter, softened
-3 cups white sugar
-8 eggs, seperated
-1 cup sour cream
-3 cups cake flour
-1/2 tsp salt
-1 tsp baking soda
-1 1/2 tsp good vanilla extract
-Preheat oven to 325.
-Grease a tube pan and sugar the edges.
-Cream butter and two cups of sugar until fluffy. While that’s beating, use hand mixer to mix egg whites.
-Add third cup of sugar and continue whipping until they form stiff peaks.
-Add egg yolks, one at a time, to butter and sugar. Beat well.
- Sift the flour, salt, and soda together.
-Add, alternating wet and dry ingredients, the flour mix and the sour cream. Mix well.
-Add vanilla, then fold in the egg whites.
-Bake 60-90 minutes until skewer comes out clean.
-Cool 10-15 minutes and turn out on a plate.