Last week, coming back to Auburn from visiting my parents in Jernigan, my son and I stopped by Butch Anthony’s Drive-thru museum. Butch has added a piece of art in homage to Billy Reid and the Southern Food Alliance’s unofficial motto, “Make Cornbread, Not War.” It set my mind to thinking about a lot of things — including cornbread. I never would have dreamed forty years ago that my friend Roger and I would be discussing cornbread decades later in a restaurant in Columbus last summer. When we were young, we talked mostly about books and movies, currents events, the dramas going on around us in graduate school, or exciting dreams for the future.
The conversation started when Roger asked, “Do you think these hushpuppies have sugar in them?” He continued that his mother, when she was living in an assisted living facility, wouldn’t eat the cornbread in the dining room there because she could taste sugar in it. “The cooks here must not be from the south,” she had stated as she refused her serving of bread.
My own mother never put sugar her recipe, either. It wasn’t until I tasted sweet cornbread in Savannah that I knew sugar was even an option.
I’ve learned that people take their cornbread seriously. Apparently, grocery stores in the south have sold out of White Lily meal and flour around the holiday season because so many people insist that their Thanksgiving dressing and Christmas cakes be made only with White Lily. I’ve read that native southerners who moved north have been known to pack suitcases with White Lily products to take back with them because they can’t easily find them in some states.
And then the J. M. Smucker Company bought White Lily. In 2008, the Knoxville plant, the last location left in the south, moved to the Midwest. The change caused quite the uproar among southern cooks who claim the products just aren’t quite the same. Smucker’s has received some emotionally charged, X-rated letters from serious cooks.
Food can be a comfort in trying times. Certain writers and filmmakers have suggested that, when made right, food has magical powers – Like Water for Chocolate, Ramen Girl, Chocolat. Simply Irresistible, and Mistress of Spices come to mind.
Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to slicing an heirloom tomato to enjoy with hot pepper, potlikker, and scalded cornbread. I embrace the Southern Food Alliance’s suggestion that we “make cornbread, not war.”
Marian Carcache welcomes
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