Archives for posts with tag: south

This semester I taught an online graduate level course on American culture to a mixed nationality group – two students from the University of Hawaii studying abroad in Tongji, China, and four students from Tongji who are about to study abroad in Hawaii at UH next year. Food became a way for us to talk about the similarities and differences in histories of colonialism and contemporary experiences with families, relationships, celebratory customs, and dining out within the US and between the US and China. The discussion was also a way of celebrating the friendships that the students had made, and to share in their excitement of venturing to Hawaii next year.

After discussing the importance of food and rituals for Thanksgiving, I assigned a small food studies project. First the Chinese students read an essay by Rachel Laudan on food in Hawaii that focuses on the archipelago’s food culture as a mix of agricultural, colonial, and multi-ethnic influences. Next, students wrote a response putting Hawaiian food into conversation with their own assumptions about American food (since none of the Tongji students had been to America and neither of the Hawaiian students had really been to mainland America). You can read more of Laudan’s work on Hawaiian food in her book The Food of Paradise. Additionally the two US students wrote a longer critical analysis of their family’s food culture, focusing on how race, gender, class, ethnicity, nationality, and other factors influence what their family eats, where they shop, where and how they dine, and how students’ own food preferences might differ from their parents’.

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One of my most favorite Hawaiian foods has been Spam musubi. You’ll find these in plastic wrap often near the counter of a 7-11 for about $2. The Spam is sometimes cooked in sweet Hawaiian teriyaki sauce that contrasts the overpowering saltiness of the canned meat, is balanced by the ever so slightly savory rice, and is held together by the seaweed wrapper. These make excellent beach food snacks if you’re on the go, are cheap and easy to make at home, and can be adapted! I’ve had excellent versions with egg inside or fried shells outside, in fancy food trucks and at the gas station. In this Texas-style adaptation, the musubi includes pickled cactus and Dr. Pepper Unagi sauce: http://www.star-telegram.com/living/food-drink/article79844007.html

Second, students were asked to share a picture and recipe for an essential dish served at an important family celebration. Taken together, that class meal included the following items:

  • jiaozi, pork and cabbage dumplings
  • Mahi Mahi green bean casserole
  • zongzi rice dumplings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waaJ_prlZNk
  • pecan pie
  • braised prawns
  • and cold oven pound cake
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Zongzi – some amazingly fantastic street food in China

Additionally another student from China shared a list of foods typically served in his family at a spring festival:

Appetizer

Braised Plate (Beef/Oxtongue/Gizzards/Chicken Wing Tips/Chicken Claw)

Salad Dried Bean Curd with Coriander

Steamed Chicken with Chili Sauce

Main Course

Glutinous Rice Meatballs

Stewed Meatballs with Brown Sauce

Steamed Weeverfish

Boiled Chinese cabbage

Braised Pork With Preserved Vegetable

Stewed Duck in Beer

Steamed Pork with Rice Flour

Braised Pork Feet

Hot Pot with Pig Blood and Tofu

Soup

Steamed Fish Cake Soup with Cuttlefish, Chicken and Tendons

Stable Food

Dumplings

Rice

Dessert

Milk Bun

Spring Roll

Fried Corn Cake

With my southern background, I mostly geared our conversations toward the kaleidoscope of American culture – prodding students to identify and analyze why common assumptions about American culture (like frontier films or fast food) are both grounded in fact and not representative of the whole country. I sought to prove to the Tongji students how, due to gender, class, race, and region of origin, how my experiences in the South differed from those of my Hawaiian-born students, revealing many different sides of American culture. And now that we have a collective epic family meal, we have something to plan for next fall when the students are feeling homesick for China and excited for touring the US.

Today I want to share my contribution to the collective class meal – the South Georgia cold oven pound cake.

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Cold oven pound cakes have a crunch top layer on top, and can be identified from other traditionally moist pound cakes from their intentionally busted crackly tops.

Food in the South is either and all together, sweet, salty, and fatty (fat is a whole food group down here). An example of salty would be dark leafy collard greens boiled in broth with salty ham bits. An example of sweet would be sweet potato casserole, which is boiled sweet potatoes mixed with sweetened condensed milk and brown sugar, topped with toasted marshmallows. And example of fatty would be biscuits made of lard and covered with butter after baking. An example of sweet and salty and fatty would be our barbecue which often includes salty smoked pork or fatty ribs covered in like a brown sugary sauce.

You can tell we have high, high rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, but it doesn’t really sway us. My grandmother is nearly blind and can barely walk due to health problems. She takes insulin for her diabetes – and yet she still eats half a slice of pie after taking insulin. This doesn’t mean that everyone eats this way in the South, as my parents reacted to this by raising my siblings and me to eat low fat or sugar free foods that were often processed – perhaps just as unhealthy as the full fatty Southern versions.

Frequently at a Thanksgiving my family would serve turkey, cornbread stuffing (like a slightly soggy savory bread casserole dish), gravy and cranberry sauce (not actually a sauce but more like a cranberry-flavored gelatin that is super sweet and slightly sour and what you’re supposed to dip the stuffing and turkey in), sweet potato casserole, collard greens, and maybe some other additions like homemade macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, a light broccoli salad, and/or a green bean casserole.

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Traditional Southern-style cornbread dressing is soggy, made from baked corn bread that is crumbled into silt and covered with cooked veggies, cooked eggs, and broth. Don’t forget the poultry seasoning – the distinct flavor of this dressing.

We’d always have at least one type of bread – usually a sweet store-bought roll. And for dessert we’d serve pumpkin pie, maybe pecan pie, and pound cake, although there might be other additions. Generally you eat dinner at about 4:30/5 and then eat a second plate at about 7:30ish whenever your food has settled enough to eat more. And then a 9:30ish dessert sampling. By the end of the night, you should be walking funny or grunting from the discomfort of eating so much. It’s a masochistic ritual.

These are all very normal southern foods but a family favorite connected with my hometown is my grandma’s special cold oven pound cake which is the recipe I’d like to share for this course. To be frank, it’s called a pound cake because historically it included a pound of sugar, a pound of butter, a pound of flour, a pound of eggs… And it tastes pretty much like a cake version of a shortbread cookie which is made of those ingredients. Normally pound cakes are pretty moist and dense, but the cold oven technique popular in Southwest Georgia where I’m from requires you don’t preheat the oven but put it straight into a cold oven when you go to bake it, creates an effect in which the outside of the cake is crunchy. Some people think it makes it too dry. I think they’re crazy and can’t stand pound cakes that are too soggy. This is clearly a preference thing, and because I grew up with only one type of pound cake, I favor the Southern style.

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Recipe for cold oven pound cake taken from Paula Deen (who is from my hometown, is a world-renowned Southern cook, and is known in American popular culture for making super fatty food and being racist to African Americans. For more on her and how racism is perceived as “accidental” and therefore tolerated in the South, read this essay by author Ta-Nehisi Coates http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/the-guileless-accidental-racism-of-paula-deen/277153/.)

For the original link to the recipe, go here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/southwest-georgia-pound-cake-recipe.html.

Also, you’re supposed to bake this cake in a Bundt pan that creates a whole in the middle. My grandmother ALWAYS chops up an apple and stuffs the slices in the whole or just throws them into the container covering the cake. This makes the cake smell like apples and also adds moisture to the air which the cold oven pound cake needs since cakes normally progressively dry out. Because this cake will last a few days, you’ll need to add more apple slices or replace them as they dry out every day or so.

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No one on the internet is putting apple slices into the cake hole after it is baked. This is a missed opportunity….

Side note: I grew up with a family tradition to eat certain foods on New Years Day for luck. I haven’t many people that follow this tradition so I wanted to share. For this meal each food is supposed to represent a source of good fortune in the upcoming year. The meal includes black eyed peas which are supposed to represent coins for money, collard greens to represent good health, and ham to represent strength, although no one can ever seem to remember what anything means except for the black eyed peas. I remember this being the one day that my mom would pressure my siblings to eat their whole plate otherwise they would have bad luck.

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Eat ya peas and greens!  Gotta make all that coin this year!

 

Boiled_Peanut_headerToday I decided to finally (after about 7 months of waiting) boil a bag of raw peanuts I bought while visiting family in Southern Georgia last summer.  I currently live in Muncie, Indiana and nothing really comes close to quenching my thirst for these little tasty morsels. These ever so slightly salty hot pockets, when popped with your thumbs and forefingers at the seam, reveal two or three (four if you’re lucky) perfectly aligned and tightly nestled burgundy beans. Non-Southerners halt!  You do not dive in to pluck them with your fingers from their soggy shells. Rather, lift up the bean-filled half-shell to your mouth and bite them out. If you have a straggler, use your empty shell half to scoop it out into your mouth. Most often you’ll find these on the side of the road or at a baseball game, so toss your empty shells into the gaps of the metal bleachers below or out your window.  My tactic is to toss my empty shells back into the group so that finding an uneaten one increasingly becomes more like a scavenger hunt. Lick your fingers and reach back again into the warm damp brown bag for another.

Midwesterners and New Englanders who currently surround me do not know what they are missing. I once found these on a menu at a hipster pizza joint in Louisville and ordered for the table – me, a Cape Codder, and two Californians.

“What does it taste like?”

Me: “A boiled peanut. Kind of like Southern edamame.”

“Ah, I love edamame.”

They all tried them and politely never finished excavating their sample, forcing me to intake about 100 salty peanuts by myself. I mean, when it comes to boiled peanuts, there is a “me” in team. I actually think that boiled peanuts are even tastier (and way unhealthier) than edamame. They’re the Pringles of earthen snacks.

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Looking for a place to buy boiled peanuts while in the South? This photo from the AdventuresseTravels Blog about sums it up (short of heading to the snack stand at your local Little League baseball game).

And, since it’s Black History Month, boiled peanuts are a way to learn more about the transnational backstories of America’s food culture. As summed up here at the National Peanut Board, boiled peanuts first came to America via enslaved Africans who also brought the practice to South America and the Caribbean. Wikipedia offers some quick insight into their continued popularity throughout Asia – especially Taiwan – as street snacks.

So last night I finally decided to boil up a batch of peanuts.  Having never done this myself, I consulted Alton Brown’s recipe. About an hour and a half into their 4-hour boil, I smelled home: It was the scent of convincing my parents to give me $4 so I could pass the time while watching my sister strike out the batters in another slow-pitch softball game. Delish.

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How should a boiled peanut look?  Like this fantastic photo by Katie Taylor at Blogher. Whole boiled peanuts on the left, separated peanut pockets showing their wine/burgundy color on the right. Check out her recipe (and walk down Southern Georgia memory lane) here.

Alton Brown’s recipe is really easy and adaptable:

  1. Rinse and soak the peanut shells in water for 30 minutes (they float so try and weigh them down so you can get the most amount of dirt off them)
  2. Rinse again after soaking and toss into a pot
  3. Generously cover with water (think 1 part peanuts, 1.5 parts water? Or enough water that you’ll be able to boil them for 4 hours and they won’t burn to the bottom)
  4. Add salt (I’d begin with at least 1/3 cup of salt and about 2-3 hours in, pop one open and taste to see if you need more salt. Feel free to keep tasting every 45 minutes to determine your preferred texture.)
  5. Boil for 1-5 hours depending on their freshness. Don’t run out of water and burn your nuts.

This food is very forgiving. I can’t honestly recall having had peanuts boiled too long, or peanuts that were too salty. [The worst boiled peanuts I can recall tasted as if they had been cooked the day prior and reboiled. And I probably still ate those. I wouldn’t suggest buying them at the store in cans or from the frozen aisle.]

You can add other flavors to the pot too, like bouillon, Worcestershire sauce, crab boil seasoning, Maggie’s, spice it up Sichuan style, or keep it simple with sea salt. On a low-salt diet?  Try it without – the salt doesn’t impact the texture.

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In the words of one 90’s hit band, spice up your life – and your boiled peanuts. Try this blend of Chinese-Style boiled peanuts at the Umami Holiday blog (their photo).

Three cultural fusion boiled peanut recipes I’m looking forward to trying are Boiled Peanut Hummus by Slim Pickin’s Kitchen,  Chinese-Style Boiled Peanuts by Umami Holiday, or Pat’s Spicy Garlic Hawaiian Boiled Peanuts. Share your boiled peanut memories and recipes with me!