Saturday, April 29, 2006

Edible culture society

The last meeting of the semester of the Working Group in Feminism and History was a blast. We met at Laura Edwards' house, with Marcie Ferris as guest speaker. I really wanted to hear Marcie, but I was tricked by the price of admission--a homemade dish with a story about the recipe. Or, this being academics, it was OK to bring nothing but a story about how, as an academic, you have left your cooking ways behind you, etc. etc., which is true enough for me. But it wasn't that much of a challenge, really, so I followed a more abiding academic principle: do your homework. Lots of us did. There was an amazing spread of enchiladas, cornbread stuffing, cheesecake, German chocolate cake, roasted chicken, much more including my "Mexican fudge" (which isn't what you think). Jacquelyn Hall brought her first publication: a self-published cookbook for her feminist food coop c. 1972. A grad student brought homemade white bread from her grandmother's recipe, which turned out I thought very well considering the difficulty: the grandmother's instructions said to bake for "30 min. to an hour" at "350 or 400 degrees."

Marcie grew up Jewish in rural Arkansas, among delicious but quite diverse culinary traditions. The mixture (sometimes collision) of southern and Jewish foodways ultimately inspired her dissertation, now the book Matzoh Ball Gumbo.

From the introduction:

Food is a bridge between southern culture and the Jewish experience. Their small numbers, their geographic isolation, their close ties to white and black Protestant culture, their participation in a history shaped by racial and class divisions, and the role of women in creating their culture profoundly influence the lives of American Jews in the South. The foods southern Jews eat define who they are. By choosing either to enjoy or to reject traditional southern foods like fried chicken and pork barbecue and Jewish foods like kugel and kreplach, southern Jews establish their ethnic identity. Some dishes, like peach kugel and pecan mandel bread, mix ethnic and regional flavors, while others, like chopped liver and matzoh balls, carefully follow directions from "Bubbe's" original recipe. These dishes are all familiar on southern Jewish tables, and together they evoke the multilayered, deeply flavored worlds of the Jewish South.

Earlier this month, the book won the 2006 Jane Grigson Award, and it is nominated for a James Beard award. Congratulations to Marcie, "daughter of the Dixie diaspora."

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