Abe's Bar-B-Q courtesy of the Southern Foodways Alliance
As part of our recent oral history workshop, participants were asked to create blog posts--short pieces in response to any part of their time spent in Oxford. This is the last post in the series.
* * *
Growing up as a third generation northern transplant listening to the matriarchs of my family recant stories (almost always around food, of course) of my great-grandmother, who moved from Meridian, Mississippi, to St. Louis in 1921, I never would have imagined there was so much more for me to learn about the food of Mississippi (and the South) and the cultural landscape as well. The SFA’s Gathering the Stories Behind the Food oral history workshop gave me a more personal perspective of the larger narrative of Southern identity and culture through its food. My initial expectation was to learn to conduct interviews, but as the week progressed, the oral history workshop helped me to connect to and make meaning of the past.
One of my favorite parts of the workshop was the glimpse of the wide array of work the SFA conducts. The project most indelible in my mind was the Delta Lebanese. The project caused me to reevaluate what I know about southern foodways and culture. Until last week, I was not familiar with the story of late nineteenth century Middle Eastern immigrants to the Mississippi Delta. Pat Davis, owner of Abe’s Bar-B-Q in Clarksdale recants in his interview with Amy Evans Streeter that in the late thirties Clarksdale was referred to as Little Lebanon, a time when kibbe balls were popular even so with the non immigrant Deltans. At that moment, I realized the magnitude of significant contributions that the SFA makes giving perspective to the popular textbook narrative.
My second aha moment was when I had no clue about the relationship of tamales, immigrants, and the Delta. I was delighted to have had my first and second tamale at Soulshine Pizza Kitchen in Oxford’s town square. They were heavenly! I must now begin to include tamales in my arsenal of Southern cuisine as I learned they are just as deeply woven in the Delta’s food cultural fabric as they are in Latin America’s.
Heritage Preservation, Georgia State University – Atlanta, GA