Wednesday, November 29

WILLIE MAE SEATON INTERVIEW PART OF "NEW ORLEANS EATS"

For nearly fifty uninterrupted years, Willie Mae Seaton presided on Saint Ann Street in New Orleans' Seventh Ward, first as the bartender at Willie Mae's Scotch House and then, following an expansion, as the establishment's chef. At one point in its history, the Scotch House topped out at five employees, including Willie Mae's late daughter Lillie, but the proprietress eventually scaled back. "I don't like no big, big restaurant," she explained. Just prior to Hurricane Katrina, Willie Mae's son, Charles, and her grand-daughter, Kerry, tended to the 28 customers the restaurant could accommodate at one sitting, while Willie Mae herself, at 89 years old, fried chicken to a stunning crisp, seasoned red beans with garlic and pickle tips, and simmered okra and tomato into summery gumbos.

Go here to read the interview.
Go here to help rebuild Willie Mae's Scotch House.

Tuesday, November 21

NEW ORLEANS EATS: TELL US A STORY

In an effort to document and celebrate our nation's love affair with New Orleans food, Tabasco and the SFA want to hear from you. Tell us your seminal New Orleans food story. Your first taste of oysters Rockefeller. Your initial encounter with gumbo.

Call our digital voicemail service at 888-841-6153 and share your defining memory of dining in New Orleans. You can also share those memories by sending an email to nolaeats@earthlink.net.

Once we have assembled a tasty selection, we'll post them online as part of New Orleans Eats, An Oral History Project. Windows users can sample our first batch of interviews here:
mms://130.74.84.77/omo/cmp/nolaeats.wma

Monday, November 20

HOLIDAY TRIM FOR THE SCOTCH HOUSE


This past weekend, volunteers worked at the Scotch House to make it ready for Ms. Seaton's return over the holidays. A crew of SFA members and local volunteers labored Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. This weekend's work was truly transformative: the tile in the bathroom is almost complete, the baseboards and molding are finished and sealed, and ceiling fans are in place. Her front doors even have a fresh coat of paint.

Ms. Seaton came by to visit around 3 p.m. on Sunday and was delighted with the progress she witnessed. As is customary, she promised every volunteer that she'd fry them a plate of chicken just as soon as her doors reopened.

The restaurant side of the Scotch House still needs significant work, but we're fortunate to have received a truckload of donated kitchen equipment from friends in South Carolina. Work to install a grease trap will begin soon, and once the kitchen's vent hood is in place we'll proceed quickly to install appliances and ready the restaurant for a December opening.

At the very end of the day on Sunday, volunteers moved furniture into the front living room and added a chifferobe and some night stands to the bedroom. Though there's still work to be done, the place is beginning to look like a real home. Crews will continue to labor throughout this week. We'll look forward to turning on the power and finishing up last details with the trim. Locals are making arrangements to help Ms. Seaton move her personal items from storage over the holidays.

A few volunteers took a rest on the living room couch just before leaving. It was an amazing feeling to sit in a finished living room on Sunday afternoon, nearly a year after we made the initial commitment to rebuild.

Thanks to all those involved for painting, tiling, sawing, cleaning, sanding, donating, and cooking. Whatever your project entailed this weekend, or this year, know that you're appreciated.

To see photos from the weekend, visit Leslie Kelly's blog:
www.whiningdining.com

As you consider your end-of-year donations, please note that dollars are still needed to fund the completion of this project. A generous benefactor has offered loan support to see the construction through to its end, but we still need to raise $65,000. Please send donations payable to the Gulf Coast Renaissance Fund to GCRF, c/o Southern Foodways Alliance, P.O. Box 1848, University, MS 38677.

Sunday, November 19

ORAL HISTORY LECTURE IN HUNTSVILLE, AL

On November 14th, SFA oral historian Amy Evans gave a presentation on SFA oral history projects and how to conduct fieldwork to high school students at The Randolph School in Huntsville, AL. Thier teacher, Jennifer Rossuck, has incorporated foodways into her english curriculum. Students study works such as Babbette's Feast, Like Water for Chocolate, and Fast Food Nation. In the spring Ms. Rossuck's students will be resonsible for a final project, for which she hopes they will turn to oral history. If the class accepts this challenge, we look forward to including their work in our online archive. We'll keep you posted on their progress.

PHOTO: Amy Evans (second from left) with students at The Randolph School.

Saturday, November 18

SFA AT THE SHA'S ANNUAL MEETING

Fred Sauceman, Mary Beth Lasseter, and Amy Evans represented the SFA at the Southern Historical Association's annual meeting held in Birmingham this year. SFA films and oral history projects were well received, as were the yummy brownies from Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Q. Thanks to all who stopped by our booth.

Wednesday, November 15

ARKANSAS NOG-OFF DECEMBER 8

HISTORIC ARKANSAS MUSEUM will host its Second Ever Nog-off, a friendly eggnog competition featuring historic and old family recipes. The festivities will be held Friday, December 8, from 5-8 p.m. Last year's winner was Arkansas Gazette founder William E. Woodruff's light and fluffy eggnog with the nogs of Nicholas Peay and Virginia Mitchell tying for second place. Those interested in submitting an historic recipe or an eggnog story should email the museum at info@historicarkansas.org. Historic Arkansas Museum is located in downtown Little Rock and is an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage. www.historicarkansas.org

Tuesday, November 14

FRUITCAKE LADY MARIE RUDISILL PASSES

It is with great sadness that the SFA shares news that Marie Rudisill passed away on November 3.

Ms. Rudisill was the 2001 winner of the Jack Daniel Lifetime Achievement Award. She was the author if Sook's Cookbook: Memories and Traditional Recipes from the Deep South and the aunt Truman Capote, though most people knew of her from appearances as the Fruitcake Lady on the Tonight Show.

To read more about Marie Rudisill's lifetime of achievements, visit
http://www.southernfoodways.com/hall_LArudisill.shtml

The St. Petersburg Times obituatory is online:
http://www.sptimes.com/2006/11/14/Pasco/Beloved__Fruitcake_La.shtml

Thursday, November 2

GET WILLIE MAE HOME FOR THANKSGIVING

We'll host our FINAL volunteer work weekend in mid-November. Won't you join us?

We plan to have Ms. Seaton back in her home for the Thankgiving holidays. And her kitchen should be up and running the first week in December. It's a tremendous final push on the rebuilding project, and we need your help.

WORK DAYS:
November 17-19, 2006; Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m.-Noon

SKILLS NEEDED:
Any/all. If you're a warm body, we can use you. And if you're a warm body with construction experience, then we can definitely use you to be a team leader!

HOW TO VOLUNTEER:
E-mail sfamail@olemiss.edu. Once the volunteer schedule is settled, we'll send you a program packet with more detailed information.


AND NOW, AND UPDATE FROM JOHN CURRENCE ON THE PROJECT:

November 2, 2006

Dateline: St. Ann and North Tonti

Eight weeks have passed since I last updated and things are continuing to plod along. There is good news, there is extremely good news, there is ok news, and--unfortunately--there is a tiny bit of bad news.

Shortly after I last wrote a number of us made the trek to our fair capitol for the opening of Johnny's Half Shell, at which Ann Cashion and her partners generously offered to co-host a fundraiser for the project. Kerry Seaton Blackmon (Willie Mae's great granddaughter) escorted Willie Mae and she spread her inimitable cheer around the room and, as usual, endeared herself to everyone. Her spirits were good, but she is obviously much more frail than she was a year ago at this time.

We returned to New Orleans shortly afterward on two different trips. In mid-September we did some inish work on the framing and the sheet rock started to go up. The first weekend in October, New Orleans was invaded by about 500 Junior League volunteers from all over the country and 50 showed up early on a Friday morning to help with some of the preliminary painting. The paint army scraped and sanded most of the outside and got it covered with primer and a first coat of paint. Because the inside was only fully completed on the residential side, we concentrated on those walls and they were sanded and primed before the weekend was through.

In the "extremely good news" category: A group from Charleston, South Carolina popped up on the radar with a promise to help with equipment needs and followed with a cash donation as well. Two days ago John Egerton, Jr. and I unloaded a brand new stainless steel hood vent section at the Scotch House, and it should be hung in place in the next few days. The truck full of equipment should follow in about 3 weeks.

The group who did our sheet rock work has been retained to help with the rest of the job. They will be starting in the next day or so with work on the floors. A hardwood laminate will go down on the residential side with some tile replacement in Willie Ma''s kitchen, and a terra cotta tile floor will go in throughout the restaurant side. Once this is finished, we can start on the trim and final painting. What this means is that one more volunteer weekend could put us at a great advantage (and save us a little $$$$$).

The "ok" news i referred to so long ago is that we are still about $60,000 short of what we need to finish, so I implore everyone to beat the pavement and help us push this through the last little hurdle we have to get over. Cash flow is not a problem. An anonymous soul close to the project has agreed to help keep the project in the cash it needs to get finished, but it is not a donation. It's only a service... so we have that going for us.

The good news is that we have made a firm decision to push the project through to its end as quickly as possible. We have decided we can get Willie Mae back in the house the weekend before Thanksgiving. There is lots of work to do between now and then, but we are confident that the work can get done between the efforts of the contractor and one last volunteer weekend. To have her home by Thanksgiving has some obvious symbolic implications and I am comfortable with this deadline. For everyone who is interested and able, we will meet on St. Ann Friday, November 17, and work until Willie Mae is sitting comfortably on her day bed. This will be followed, two weeks later on Friday, December 1, with the opening of the restaurant. This is final and, again, I am confident we can achieve this deadline. But it will mean some hard work and a fundraising push.

It was great to see many of you at the symposium a couple of weekends ago, and very reassuring to know that we are still in your minds. With any luck, we should be eating Willie Mae's fried chicken some time in early December and I hope to see everyone there. I honestly cannot imagine anything more glorious.

We'll keep everyone in the loop. One thing we need to consider is furnishing for Willie Mae's house. As it stands right now, there is nothing: no bed, chest of drawers, refrigerator, washer, dryer, etc. We seek donations of items that you can deliver or ship. I will also be spending the entire week after Thanksgiving weekend, before the opening, trying to make sure we finish all of the detail work to get the restaurant ready and will take any help I can get. I have opened enough restaurants not to idealize this opening, so come on!

With my thanks,

Johnny Snack

john currence
chef/owner
city grocery restaurant group
152 courthouse sq.
oxford, ms 38655