November 4, 2009 10:25:00 AM
Anne Freeze -
As I emptied my satchel Monday, I wondered how many of my friends attend symposiums (such an educated word) and return with: homemade peppered jerky, individually-packaged cookies from famed Momofuku Restaurant in New York City, a blueberry muffin-shaped kitchen timer, Martha White blueberry muffin mix, harmonicas from the National Peanut Board and the remains of a dark chocolate, grilled jalapeno and salty peanut candy bar? (I could eat another one right now if I had one).
And, how many people attend a Saturday morning session at their symposium that begins with a livermush on white bread sandwich, followed by a rousing mini-concert from Waxhaw, Mississippi, native and famed R&B soul man Otis Clay?
Well, I am here to say I am eternally grateful I was able to experience all of this and more this past weekend at my sixth Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) Symposium, "Music and Food -- Exploring Independent Cultural Expression." This event truly satisfied both my husband, Terry, and me with conversations covering passions for each of us.
New faces, new tunes
We were thrilled to begin our weekend at dinner Thursday night with an old friend from Athens, Ga., and a new friend from California. My new friend from California, Gaynell Rogers, was with her husband, slide guitar player Roy Rogers. Terry had been on pins and needles with excitement for days thinking about meeting Roy, and neither of us was disappointed. Smart, funny, interesting and kind, their interests are wide-ranging, and we both feel we''ve made friends for life.
Gaynell, a certified natural chef, is a 10-year cancer survivor and, among other things, goes into homes to teach families to cook in a healthy way to support a mother or wife who has breast cancer.
There were more music highlights. I do not know Marshall Chapman, but having heard her speak ("On the Road"), listened to her music (live and also right now as I type), and bought her book; I want to be her best friend. We did chat for a brief minute at the group book signing party Friday and discovered that I was the door girl at the Lone Star Café in New York City the night she opened for Big Joe Turner there. My claims to fame are small, but I''ll take what I can get. Her music is fun, lively and really good rock and roll. (Her band is Marshall Chapman and the Love Slaves.)
I''ve already mentioned Otis Clay, who entertained us with soul and a little gospel. He gave us our Saturday invocation and followed it with a conversation with Living Blues magazine editor Scott Barretta (our program entitled this "On the Road with Jim Crow"). Otis reminisced about his days touring in the South in the 60s.
He holds an annual reunion on the fourth weekend of October in Gunnison, Mississippi. See you there next year.
In a pig''s ear
Of course, this being an annual meeting we also had awards and honors. This year the Ruth Fertel Keeper of the Flame award went to Gene Lee, of the Big Apple Inn in Jackson. Gene has kept the tradition of his great-grandfather, his grandfather and his father going in a tiny establishment on Farish Street selling three things: pig ear sandwiches, tamales and a chopped sausage sandwich.
His great-grandfather sold tamales out of a tin bucket on then-busy Farish Street in the 1930s. His grandfather began cooking pig ears when a butcher down the street offered him leftover ears. Harold experimented with cooking them, and now, decades later, is still selling the little Krystal-sized sandwiches, but on a now mostly-deserted Farish Street. I''m headed to Jackson soon for a conference and can''t promise I''ll try it -- but it''s on my mind.
We also gave the John Egerton Prize, and this comes from the SFA Web page: "For his work in chronicling and championing the cause of civil rights in America and for his contribution to our understanding of the power of the common table. The John Egerton Prize recognizes artists, writers, scholars, and others -- including artisans and farmers and cooks -- whose work in the American South addresses issues of race, class, gender, and social and environmental justice through the lens of food."
This year''s cash prize went to two documentary filmmakers for their work entitled "Swamp Cabbage." Having seen the trailer only, I''ll have to rely on the words from their Web site that the movie chronicles the filmmakers'' "discovery of the importance of authentic culture, food and where we lay our head."
Ideas for creative cuisine
"So, what did you eat," you ask? And, yes, we did eat. It was a little unusual this year. For the Tabasco Lunch -- "A Tribute to Buster Holmes Featuring Chef Susan Spicer of Bayona" (New Orleans) -- we had red beans and rice with fried chicken, a la Willie Mae Seaton, and Tabasco strawberry chocolates.
At our annual catfish dinner at Taylor Grocery, we were appetized with smoked catfish mousse with caviar sabayon and delish catfish fritters with cauliflower slaw before sitting down to darn good fried catfish from Lynn Hewlett of Taylor Grocery.
For our Viking Range Luncheon, Virginia native David Chang prepared Benton''s ham and baby lettuce, with coffee vinaigrette and slow-roasted pork shoulder with kimchi brussel sprouts. That was followed by something he calls crack pie (which I understand; it could be additive) -- sort of a chess pie, but way richer, if possible.
Saturday night we feasted on slow-cooked goat and turkey with white bean casserole, greens, spoon bread and more (I was in a sort of food daze by then, and don''t remember it all). Lordy.
I tried to work it all off by dancing to Lil'' Buck Sinegal and the Ponderosa Stomp Caravan. I even incorporated some of my newly-learned Zumba moves (thank you, Fitness Factor). I don''t know how, but Terry and I walked back to our hotel after 11 p.m. (a record for Terry) and fell into a goat-induced coma.
Now I''m back home, on my second Marshall Chapman CD, chuckling as I think back to some of the talks I heard -- on chicken and music, food and fantasy, food as a sex metaphor in music (given by Roy Blount, Jr.) and hip hop fish and grits. So, I think I''ll go back to bed and ponder the relevance of it all.