American Studies Professor Reads and Signs “A Mess of Greens” at Special BookPeople Event

1839856Foodies, scholars and bibliophiles will come together at a special BookPeople event featuring a reading and signing by Elizabeth Engelhardt, associate professor of American Studies and author of “A Mess of Greens: Southern Gender and Southern Food” (University of Georgia Press, 2011) at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20.

Special guests will include Carol Ann Sayle, of Boggy Creek Farm, and Stephanie McClenny, of Confituras. Enjoy special tastings inspired by the book along with Saint Arnold Brewing Company beverages.

About the book:
Combining the study of food culture with gender studies and using perspectives from historical, literary, environmental and American studies, Engelhardt examines what Southern women’s choices about food tell us about race, class, gender and social power.

Shaken by the legacies of Reconstruction and the turmoil of the Jim Crow era, different races and classes came together in the kitchen, often as servants and mistresses but also as people with shared tastes and traditions. Generally focused on elite whites or poor blacks, Southern foodways are often portrayed as stable and unchanging—even as an untroubled source of nostalgia.

“A Mess of Greens” offers a different perspective, taking into account industrialization, environmental degradation, and women’s increased role in the work force, all of which caused massive economic and social changes.

Engelhardt reveals a broad middle of Southerners that included poor whites, farm families, and middle and working-class African Americans, for whom the stakes of what counted as southern food were very high.

About the author:
Having grown up in western North Carolina and spent much of her life in the South, Engelhardt is dedicated to preserving Southern culinary heritage. Her other books include “Republic of Barbecue: Stories Beyond the Brisket” (University of Texas Press, 2009), “Beyond Hill and Hollow: Original Readings in Appalachian Women’s Studies” (Ohio University Press, 2005), and “Tangled Roots of Feminism, Environmentalism, and Appalachian Literature” (Ohio University Press, 2003). She is the coordinator of the Southern Foodways Alliance’s Texas branch of the Southern Barbecue Trail Oral History Collection.

BookPeople is located at 603 N. Lamar Blvd. Visit the BookPeople website for more about the event.

Fore more about “A Mess of Greens,” read Engelhardt’s Q&A.

Author Dishes Up Stories of Race, Class, Gender and Place in Southern Food

barbecue1The South has always been celebrated for its food. From collard greens and okra to heaping plates of biscuits and gravy, Southern food is as much a state of mind as it is a matter of geography.

Combining the study of food culture with gender studies, Elizabeth Engelhardt, associate professor of American studies, explores the many hidden culinary contours of Southern life below and beyond the Mason-Dixon Line.

Digging deep into community cookbooks, letters, diaries, and other archival materials, Engelhardt describes the five moments in the Southern food story: Moonshine, biscuits versus cornbread, girls’ tomato clubs, pellagra as depicted in mill literature, and cookbooks as means of communication.

Engelhardt recently sat down with ShelfLife@Texas to discuss her new book “A Mess of Greens: Southern Gender and Southern Food” (University of Georgia Press, 2011), which she will be presenting at the Texas Book Festival this Saturday at 11:15 a.m. at the Capitol. Go to this website for more details.

How can the choice of serving cornbread or biscuits say a lot about a woman’s social standing?

As I was finishing my first book on Appalachia “Tangled Roots of Feminism,” I kept running across these references to something called the “Beaten Biscuit Crusade.” This was when 9780820340371judgments about Appalachian women were based solely on whether they made biscuits or cornbread for their families. And these judgments extended to a woman’s class, morals, hygiene and even religion. Biscuit baking demonstrated class consciousness, the ability to afford specialized ingredients, marble-top counters and stoves. Cornbread, however, symbolized ignorance, disease and poverty.

What caused this rift between cornbread and biscuits?

In the late 1800s, single women with college educations from the Northeast, Kentucky and other parts of the non-mountain South were coming into Appalachia to build communities and make lives for themselves. One of the sources of tension between the newcomers and the women who had been there a long time was over education reform. But the more I looked into it, the more I realized the women who were coming into that region wanted to start by reforming the food that Appalachian women were cooking.

With the idea of helping the less fortunate, they advocated better cooking standards and public health concerns began to surface about diet-based diseases. Cornbread, which was made from locally milled corn and cooked over an open fire, became a target. Ironically the beaten biscuit recipe, which uses finely milled white flower and very little milk, may have been less nutritious than the cornbread local women were cooking for their families back in the 1800s.

How did Tomato Clubs empower young women back in the early 1900s?

In 1910, Marie Samuella Cromer, a young rural schoolteacher in the western South Carolina town of Aiken, organized a girls’ tomato club so that the girls would “not learn simply how to grow better and more perfect tomatoes, but how to grow better and more perfect women.” The tomato clubs and the women who organized them wanted southern food to transform Southern society—but not from the top down.

The girls had to plant one-tenth of an acre of tomatoes, which would provide more tomatoes than they or their families could use in a year. This forced them to learn how to can, market and sell them – and they could do whatever they want with the money. Glass jars were scarce, so they had to use big pieces of equipment to can tomatoes in tin. In order to finish a year in the Tomato Club, they had to write a report about how they harvested, presented and sold their tomatoes. It was a real lesson in technology, science and entrepreneurship.

What chapter of the Southern food story often goes unnoticed?

When we think about Southern food, we often think of abundance. But there’s also a story about lack of access, the absence of healthy eating, the vanished pieces. Back in the 1900s, pellagra – a disease caused by a vitamin-B deficiency – sickened tens of thousands of Southerners in poor communities. Described as the disease of the four Ds: dermatitis, diarrhea, dementia and death – pellagra made many of its sufferers suicidal or dangerous. It struck people in the rural South whose diets typically consisted of the “three Ms,” meat, meal and molasses. They were often described as “mill type ” or “white trash.”  Behind the stereotypes hid a hungry, tired and ill version of the South that even today is difficult to understand.

What message do you hope your readers will take away from this book?

I hope people leave the book with a resolution to ask family members (however they define family) about their own food stories. And I hope they learn a little about what is behind the final plate on the table, the messages in every meal about who we are as women, men, people of different races and ethnicities, and people of different classes. I hope readers join me in keeping the conversation going about the collective, collaborative and changing southern food stories that are all around us.

Do you have a favorite Southern dish?

Well, it’s early fall, and I come from a county in the North Carolina mountains that is famous for its heirloom apples. This time of year, I find myself most longing for fried apples, homemade applesauce, and apple spice cake. But only if the apples have come from one of those bent, almost forgotten, but still glorious trees on the edge of an old home site, where the fireplace is all that’s left standing but the bees have done their work and the apples are ugly but amazing.

About the author: Having grown up in western North Carolina and spent much of her life in the South, Engelhardt is dedicated to preserving Southern culinary heritage. Her other books include “Republic of Barbecue: Stories Beyond the Brisket” (University of Texas Press, 2009), “Beyond Hill and Hollow: Original Readings in Appalachian Women’s Studies” (Ohio University Press, 2005), and “Tangled Roots of Feminism, Environmentalism, and Appalachian Literature” (Ohio University Press, 2003). She is the coordinator of the Southern Foodways Alliance’s Texas branch of the Southern Barbecue Trail Oral History Collection.

Barbecue, Football and Regional Pride

barbecue1

Elizabeth Engelhardt, associate professor of American studies and author of Republic of Barbecue

For many carnivorous Texas Longhorn fans, celebrating a big win just wouldn’t be complete without a mouthwatering cascade of brisket, sausage and ribs. Recognizing just how important barbecue is to football culture, the presidents of The University of Texas at Austin and The University of Alabama have wagered it on the outcome of the national title football game on Thursday, Jan. 7.

University of Texas at Austin President William Powers Jr. will ship barbecue from Iron Works Barbecue in Austin to Alabama President Robert E. Witt should the Longhorns lose. Witt will send barbecue from Tuscaloosa, Ala.’s Dreamland to Powers should the Crimson Tide lose.

Much like football, barbecue in Texas has become a source of regional pride. In “Republic of Barbecue: Stories Beyond the Brisket” (University of Texas Press, 2009), Elizabeth Engelhardt, associate professor of American studies, and 11 of her graduate students took a culinary tour across central Texas to explore how barbecue evolved into not just a hot meal, but a way of life.

On a quest to hear the stories of Texas’ uniquely smoky heritage, the team of authors set out to collect, document and preserve oral histories from the people who make barbecue happen in popular chain restaurants, legendary mainstays like Lockhart’s Kreuz Market and Driftwood’s Salt Lick, small mom-and-pops, and many other venues.

Exploring the people and places of Texas’ barbecue nation, the authors documented a vast array of themes, including manliness and meat, new technology, civil rights, small-town Texas identity and intrinsically Texan drinks such as Big Red, Dr Pepper, Shiner Bock and Lone Star beer.

Visit the Life & Letters Web site to read more about the book.

Texas Book Festival Begins this Weekend

1197052_texas_gov_house_at_austinUniversity of Texas at Austin faculty and alumni authors will share their expertise on topics ranging from the fate of Savannah during the Civil War, to mapping a career path, to the culture of Texas barbecue at the 2009 Texas Book Festival Oct. 31-Nov. 1 at the Texas Capitol and surrounding areas.

More than 200 writers will showcase their books, including a host of authors from our university. Some of the presenters include:

Author: Jeffrey Abramson, professor of law and government
Book: “Minerva’s Owl: The Tradition of Western Political Thought”
When: Saturday, Oct. 31
Where: Texas State Capitol: Capitol Extension Room E2.028

Author: Oscar Casares, assistant professor of English
Book: “Amigoland”
When: Saturday, Oct. 31
Where: Texas State Capitol: Capitol Extension Room E2.016

Author: Jacqueline Jones, the Walter Prescott Webb Chair in History and Ideas and Mastin Gentry White Professor in Southern History
Book: “Saving Savannah: The City and the Civil War”
When: Saturday, Oct. 31
Where: Texas State Capitol Extension Room E2.028

Author: Kate Brooks, director of Liberal Arts Career Services
Book: “You Majored in What?: Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career”
When: Sunday, Nov. 1
Where: Lifestyle Tent (10th and Congress)

Author: Lucas A. Powe, Jr., professor of law and government
Book: “The Supreme Court and the American Elite”
When: Sunday, Nov. 1
Where: Texas State Capitol: Capitol Extension Room E2.016

Author: Elizabeth Engelhardt, associate professor of American Studies
Book: “Republic of Barbecue: Stories Beyond the Brisket”
When: Sunday, Nov. 1
Where: Cooking Tent

Author: Mark Weston, UT Law alumnus (moderated by ShelfLife@Texas contributor Laura Castro)
Book: “Prophets & Princes: Saudi Arabia from Muhammad to the Present
When: Sunday, Nov. 1
Where: Texas State Capitol: Capitol Extension Room E2.014

The Texas Book Festival was founded in 1995 by former first lady Laura Bush to promote reading and honor Texas authors. Sessions are free and open to the public. Proceeds from books purchased at the festival benefit the state’s public libraries.

Visit this site for a full list of festival authors.