The mere mention of southern cuisine conjures up mind-images of moss covered cypress alongside lazy dirt roads. A tale set in the South, without the smells, tastes, and devotion put into its dishes would feel like half a tale. It's as essential as the characters and scenery.
In my novel, The Clock Of Life, there are a few southern "flavor" firsts for the protagonist, Jason Lee, not the least being, moonshine.
I brought it up to my lips. “This stuff smells like my mama’s nail polish remover.”
“Just drink,” Samson said.
Not one second after I took my first swig a fire hit the back of my throat, then roared through my chest and settled like smoldering embers in my belly. “Tastes bad as it smells,” I said between chokes.
“This stuff’s made for the kick, not the taste. Try not to taste it.”
I wiped my eyes with my sleeve. “White lightnin ain’t for sissies.”
“No, it ain’t, but this here’s better’n white lightnin. It’s my pa’s own brew. Calls it Mr. J’s Black Thunder. Get it, black for white, thunder for ligntnin?”
“Course I get it.”
I breathed in the humid air to cool my throat and looked at the river again, doing its own thing, paying no attention to us. My mind raced ahead, looking forward to more nights like that one. The feeling of freedom is a powerful thing.
And there's the colorful patchwork-quilt of simple yet soulful offerings that pack the kitchen during the wake.
Food for the grieving covered every surface of the kitchen. Cast-iron pots of chitlins and hog maws boiled on the stove. The counter, usually tidy and scrubbed clean by Mrs. Johnson, was packed with mounds of fried chicken and catfish piled on platters. Dozens of wooden spoons were wedged in crusted casseroles of macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes smothered in marshmallows, and large bowls of every kind of gumbo you could imagine.
Two women came in carrying bowls covered with foil. The older one had a long, stretched-out face and arms skinny as chicken bones. She set her bowl next to a pot of red beans, peeled back the foil, and pulled out one of her red Kool-Aid pickles. The other one did the same with her pickled watermelon rind.
But, the sweet, succulent star, woven through the story is Amalgamation Cake
“I think I’ll take ’em an Amalgamation cake,” Mama said. “A little employment insurance. Somethin to sweeten ’em up. It can’t hurt.”
“Funny name for a cake. What’s it mean?”
“Amalgamation means combinin things that don’t usually go together, for the better.”
So began her Friday evening ritual of baking two cakes. The first thing she did was remove the handed-down recipe card from its place in her mother’s cookbook and set it on the counter. She had no need to read it but kept it there anyway.
Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Nancy!
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