A travel blog sprinkled in literature and served up with a dollop of foods from around the globe.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Eating the American South

Studying abroad at the University of North Carolina, I was fully prepared to gain the “freshman 15”, the obligatory 15lbs you would undoubtedly gain from gorging at the dining hall on biscuits, yams, fried chicken (fried anything!) and macaroni cheese.
After taking a course at Roehampton, entitled Reading the American South, the theme of food amongst the African-American Southern community showed immense weight. The sharing of food stretches beyond sustenance, it is a way to show support and emotion where words may fail. What strikes me most about the cooking in the American South is the power food has for comfort, as in Bosnia, food is a way to show community in the wake of atrocities. 

   In Zora Neal Hurson’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), the plot follows a woman named Janie who goes to great lengths to create a healing soup for her sick husband. Similarly in Kathryn Stockett best selling novel The Help (2009) food is a thing of pride and comfort. Set in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1960s, the novel portrays an account of African-American maids working for white families. In the novel and in Mississippi in the fifties and sixties, laws on segregation were put in place to separate whites and blacks. Jim Crow laws were put into practice from 1890 to 1965 promoting a “separate but equal” status for African-Americans. This meant separate housing, schools, churches and even books. What struck me most whilst reading The Help and other books surrounding the segregation in the American South was that it was the black maids and cooks fed their own families as well as their employers, consequently in a time when white women winced their noses at sharing a bathroom with their black maids, they were entering complicity into participating in familial rituals with black women by eating food cooked by the same hands. This is a comforting thought, it is also humbling to see how, now fifty years after the dissipation of the Jim Crow laws, the food, is what remains. The food made by black hands is now cooked throughout the American South. In the 2009 film “The Help” based the novel, Minnie, played by Octavia Spencer claims that “Frying chicken always makes me feel a little better about life.

  One afternoon back home in Kent with deadlines looming I tried it out to relieve a bit of stress by taking Minnie’s advice and frying some chicken. IT WORKS,  throw out your Prozac and pick up a brown paper bag with chicken and seasoning in and give it a big old shake, you can feel your worries sliding off you. The frying itself is therapeutic too watching the skin take shape reminded me of dripping sand through water on the beach.

Chicken: Drumstick, Thigh or breast Pieces
Seasoning: (play around with quantities depending on how much chicken you have)
Flour (1 cup)
(Approx 2 tsps each)
Garlic salt
500mg Lard
Place chicken in brown paper bag with seasoning and shake until your hearts content (or until all chicken is evenly covered) A TIP: Put your chicken in a bowl of cold water in the fridge 15 minutes before frying to lock in the flavours of the meat. After heating lard for 5 minutes on high heat, place chicken and cook until skin becomes crispy, turning regularly. Make sure juices run clear to ensure the chicken is cooked.
Serve with fried green beans and biscuits AND ENJOY some comforting soul food!
Cooking, for me, has always been a form of anesthesia for the soul, when eating the food of the American South, I can feel the gravitas of the social significance that this cuisine represents which speaks volumes for the heterogeneity of cuisines inside the United States. The microcosm of one household in Kent, England sitting down to a home-made dish of fried chicken and experiencing its magical effects proves something that I have been trying to explore throughout my blog. The importance that, as well as people travelling and experiencing food, food must also travel; it is the responsibility of the worldly gourmands to enable this with respect and appreciation.

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel. New York: Perennial Library, 1990. Print.
Stockett, Kathryn. The Help. New York: Amy Einhorn, 2009. Print.

1 comment:

  1. Hiya, I found this very interesting to read and acquired knowledge I hadn't had before. I also love eating chicken, fried chicken at that so this is something I would definitely try to cook. Great blog post!