Bread for a hungry lawyer is a good thing. Bread for everybody is better. Can’t do without bread especially crackling bread (crackl’n bread) and corn bread both culinary staples of the ‘Deep South’ (the South). I hanker for cornbread just like I do frozen Margaritas! Nobody makes frozen Margaritas in Australia like they do in the southern USA.
I don’t miss the iced tea though and, yes, I tried them all. With lots of ice and little ice, in big cups and little cups, in tall glasses and short glasses, sweetened and unsweetened, minted sweet julep tea, citrus sweet, with squeezed lemons. You name it I tried it.
The image above is Southern cornbread done in a cast iron skillet. This is exactly how I cooked it in the USA all those years. I still prefer using cast iron pots and pans for cooking. I gotta say my cornbread-making became a fine art. I knew exactly how much oil to add to the pan and exactly how hot to get it in the skillet before pouring in the savoury cornmeal batter to give the cooked bread the tasty crusty crust. Gotta have that crust! I sometimes added chili for a spicy cornbread or bacon pieces for crackling cornbread. I also fancy plain cornbread when cold and spread with butter.
The hot cornbread is often eaten with pinto beans and fried okra and was a staple for many people where I was. Yummy too.
My mother-in-law, a true Southerner raised in Alabama on down-home Southern food not unlike that depicted in Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ (Mockingbird), made pinto beans like nobody’s business not to mention pecan pie. Oh, god, that pecan pie!
Indeed my mother-in-law “tawked suthern”. A woman of substance with a true Southern drawl, drawing out vowels often making one syllable words into two. Like melody to my ears without words ‘cos I couldn’t understand a word she was saying when I first arrived in the South. I needed a translater (usually my partner). After a while I got used to her drawl – to a point.
“Shoot” she’d say, “Aah’ve bin wait’n for ya’ll. Aah don’t know nuth’n an ah caint tolk lak ya’ll but aah sure as can cook a mean pot o’ them ol’ beans, fry up some okra in bre-ad crumbs and make a dang ol’ pot of bre-ad. Git over here ya’ll and trah some!“
It was like a foreign language speaking to some folk in the South. For a while, the uttering of words and phrases in Southern meant having to suddenly re-program my listening skills to figure out what was being said. Ultimately, I got used to the Southern accents and had no problems with communication, all except the back country twangs.
There is something restful and relaxing about the slow and friendly Southern drawl. But, hey, it wasn’t only the accent of the South. I was dealing with Southern colloqialisms, terms, sayings and jokes!
And don’t get me started on other habits like chew’n baccy and spitt’n it! Best I save my experiences of truck driv’n tobacco chewin rednecks for another day.
All I say is that when you are a fresh faced Aussie girl just arrived in the deep South and you are confronted by a redneck dressed in, say, camouflage or camo, with a Confederate flag in his truck, a gun rack of guns in his truck, a sticker that says “pussy” on his truck and is look’n down at you as he spits tobacco at your feet, you freeze as you try not to cry while figuring out what to do next! But, wait, these interesting facts and stories I save for another day. I see I’ve digressed.
But never mind the spoken word. My mother in law’s pinto beans were the best. Souped up at first, thickened later and often cooked with bacon pieces. Delicious. And she loved fried chicken! I first touched on my experiences with Southern cuisine here.
And so, on the topic of food and writing I thought I might take a light hearted culinary journey of sorts, you know, take a peek at food depicted in certain writings on law and literature. It could be law in literature and/or law as literature. It maybe be in fiction. It maybe in fact, in historiography. It maybe the food of the time the book or document was written.
So I’m looking at the gastronomy depicted in the American classic ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, a novel we all know, set in Alabama. Trust me, it is not hard to find Recipes for Food in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Here are some Recipes inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird and here and here.
Why start with this book? As some of you know by now, in the early 80s I fell in love with a Southern American gentleman, a true blue native of Hunstville, Alabama, born and bred there. I relocated from Australia to the USA. Yep, packed my bags and there I was, an Aussie ex-pat in the deep, deep heart of the old South.
I immersed myself in that distinct Southern culture with all the love and enthusiasm I could muster. There I was living and working in the heart of Civil War country, Confederate country, mainly Cherokee country around there. My mother in law (RIP) was Cherokee.
The South is the home of confederate gastronomy and the food it spawned, where antebellum plantation life, built on slavery, once thrived and a place that spawned the birth of the modern Civil Rights movement. Loved every minute of it! I first spoke about my experience with Southern gastronomy here (same link as above).
I completed my Australian Law degree at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa the College campus at the centre of the Civil Rights movement starting in 1963 when Governor George Wallace (a lawyer and circuit judge before he became Alabama Governor) stood in the school house door to block the entry of 2 black sudents folowing the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v Board of Education that segregation was unconstitutional.
At his 1963 inaugural address Wallace, an ardent segregationaist, boasted about his anti desegregation stance, “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”
Trust me, becoming acculturated to the South was never dull! While some of the funniest moments were the frequent mishaps and misunderstandings that occurred when the Southern drawl met my Australian accent, my journey through the culinary delights of the South, the Southern cuisine, was never dull, always interesting, fun and sometimes challenging.
We all know that Atticus Finch was a lawyer representing a black man charged with raping a white woman before an all white jury. The novel is set during the unrest of the Great Depression when poverty and unemployment were widespread.
While Mockingbird is a serious book about law and social justice and the ethics of the criminal defence lawyer representing the unpopular client, its insight into the food of the time can’t be ignored. Food played a big part. It is truly a book about time, place and people.
All home cooked meals in Mockingbird. No restaurant food. It was the Depression. The setting of the book helps explain:
… For parts of the deep South like Maycomb County, the Depression meant only that the bad times that had been going on for decades got a little bit worse. These rural areas had long been poor and undeveloped….
Scout’s family, the Finches, belong to the elite of local society. Atticus Finch is an educated man who goes to work in a clean shirt. The family owns a nice house and can afford to hire a black housekeeper. Still, the Finches are well-off only in comparison with the farm families who live in the same county. They, too, have little money.
…. none of the characters in this story takes much interest in the world beyond Maycomb County…..
And they almost never eat a meal in a restaurant, even a cheap restaurant. When Dill eats in a diner, this is enough to make him a minor celebrity in Scout’s eyes.
Anyway, I’m not going to re-invent the wheel on the topic of food in Mockingbird as it has been well covered, a few links I share here just to get you started.
Saluting the Culinary insight of To Kill a Mockingbirdo Kill a Mockingbird
Chocolate malted mice
Bread and butter with sugar
Cocoa / hot chocolate
Three kinds of meat (at one meal)
Hot biscuit and butter
Pork and beans
Biscuit and syrup
Cold fried pork chops
How about some Lane Cake, the cake written about by Harper Lee and that made Maycomb famous.
“Soon as I can get my hands clean and when Stephanie Crawford’s not looking, I’ll make him a Lane Cake. That Stephanie’s been after my recipe for thirty years, and if she thinks I’ll give it to her just because I’m staying with her she’s got another think coming.”
Miss Maudie in Mockingbird
“Miss Maudie Atkinson baked a Lane cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight.”
Lane Cake is allegdly a symbol of the South. While a boozy, old-school cake is now Alabama’s official state dessert I can’t say I had had heard that. The booze, by the way, the “shinny” (per Scout) is whisky (Bourbon).
What about Southern Tea Cakes, Lemonade, Biscuit and Butter (the Southern biscuit is like our scones), Charlotte Ruse, Fried Chicken, Ambrosia salad, Collard greens, Iced tea, Chitlins, Pinto Beans, Black beans, Field Peas …
What about Dinner and a Movie – To Kill a Mockingbird?
Our videographer Elena Parker — a serious food and film buff — is really good at throwing movie-themed dinner parties. She and her friends cook together, serve up, and eat while they watch.
We’ve asked her to share the menus for her favorite films with us — here’s the latest installment: American classic To Kill a Mockingbird.
So what about it? Should I become Calpurnia and conjure up a dinner party here using down home Southern food as depicted in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’? Yes, I say. Things like potato salad and ham? The open-faced sandwich of bread and butter and sugar? Crackle bread? Fried Chicken and Rolls? Pinto Beans? Fried Okra and Cornbread? Blackberry Pie? Lane Cake? The list goes on …. and don’t forget the white lightning (moonshine)!