Thursday, September 20

Kitchen to Classroom: Pass the Greens, Please!

Photo by Alfred T. Palmer, 1943. Courtesy of the Library of Congress
A weekly dispatch from our postdoctoral fellow, Angela Jill Cooley. 

This week my class read A Mess of Greens: Southern Gender and Southern Food by University of Texas professor (and SFA member) Elizabeth Engelhardt. The book explores how Southern women made political use of food to change their lives—and their region—in the twentieth century. Among other things, Engelhardt describes Progressive initiatives to alter food practices of rural women including encouraging girls to grow and can tomatoes and teaching Appalachian women to make wheat-based biscuits. In these ways, Progressivism encouraged consumerism in rural areas.

Each week, a student brings a food dish that represents the issues we’ll discuss in class. On Tuesday, Southern Studies graduate student Kate Hudson treated us to Scalloped Tomatoes and explained how it implicated many of Engelhardt’s themes. The recipe came to Kate through her grandmother, who adapted it from The Wise Encyclopedia of Cookery. Hearing about A Mess of Greens, Kate’s mother in North Carolina passed on “Grammy’s” recipe.

Southern Studies graduate students Anna Hamilton (L) and Kate Hudson.
With canned tomatoes and white bread as its primary ingredients, Kate’s dish brought the efforts of the tomato club girls and the Appalachian settlement workers into the classroom. The story behind Kate’s recipe reveals the ways by which women bonded with one another across the region and the generations by exchanging knowledge of foods, an important theme that Engelhardt explores by discussing cookbooks, curb markets, and market bulletins. Kate also pointed out that the cookbook from which her grandmother adapted the recipe emphasizes female immersion in consumer culture by promising information on all foods “you will ever want to buy, prepare, and serve” (emphasis added).

The class consensus was that Engelhardt demonstrates what food scholarship can and should be—a window into the social and political relationships that have shaped our region. With Engelhardt at the keyboard, everyone will eat their greens…and ask for seconds.

—Angela Jill Cooley

Citation: Elizabeth S. D. Engelhardt, A Mess of Greens: Southern Gender & Southern Food (Athens: UGA Press, 2011).

Click here and scroll down to access a podcast of Engelhardt speaking at the 2011 Southern Foodways Symposium on the Cultivated South. 

Recipe for Scalloped Tomatoes:

1 No. 2 can of tomatoes [per Kate, this equals ~2.5 cups or ~20 oz. Her grandmother’s handwriting reads “4 cups fresh, 1/4" dice”]
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 tbsp sugar
2 cups soft bread cubes [Her grandmother’s handwriting reads “toasted”]
1/4 cup melted butter
2 cups cooked onions and peppers [The recipe calls for 2 cups cooked spinach, but her grandmother crossed this out and wrote in the peppers and onions. Kate interpreted her grandmother’s intention as 1 cup cooked onions and 1 cup cooked red bell pepper.]

Saute onion and peppers with 1/2 of the butter
Combine tomatoes, salt, pepper, and sugar
Add onion/peppers to tomato mixture
Grease a shallow 10" casserole dish (can use a pie dish)
Arrange alternate layers of tomato mixture and (toasted) bread cubes, ending with a layer of bread on top
Pour the rest of the melted butter over all
Bake at 375 for 25 minutes, until the center is bubbling
Garnish with parsley

Recipe from The Wise Encyclopedia of Cookery (New York: W. H. Wise, 1949) as adapted by Tacie Bass Smith.