There was a time when language was carefully and kindly spoken- where even women’s undergarments were called foundations. The vintage photograph shows women of all shapes and sizes beautifully. Women who were statuesque were admired. I personally think that Margaret Mitchell contributed to this admiration when she had Scarlett say- ‘I’ll never go hungry again!’ The great equalizer after the War between the States was that all Southerners were poor. Struggling through Reconstruction, some held on to their dignity, some got just plain mean, some had never known anything else but being poor- scraping out a living from red clay soil, while the Yankees were in the process of re-building us. Scarlett O’Hara decided to work with the Carpetbaggers, Scalawags and Yankees, and like it or not- she did succeed in never being hungry again. Southerners developed a distaste for Yankees. My grandmother said it best- ‘I know why Yankees are so harsh- they’re cold all the time and they don’t eat right’. And actually the South does have better food, that’s probably why we struggle with Obesity. I mean when you fry a whole lot of stuff like:
- Green Tomatoes
- Catfish and Okra
Well you get the picture. Fried food made inexpensive food just tastes better.
Just when the economy was getting better- 64 years after the war had torn us apart…the Great Depression knocked a whole lot of folks back down. Many in Alabama had always been poor, now it was worse. I recall asking my husband’s grandmother one time- ‘Is she poor?’ and she answered – ‘Oh yes honey, she’s real skinny’. Grandmamas was a tall, statuesque woman who wore hats and probably knew a thing or two about folks going hungry. And she fed more than a few folks all the years I knew her.I completely adored her! Our older daughter is named for her. A big part of the foundation of her life was to make sure her table was laden with food, the extra produce was canned and preserved. And while she was a ‘true daughter’ of the confederacy- I never detected the least bit of mean-spirited nonsense in Grandmamas at all toward anyone, I never heard a slang term used by her or about anyone. I wrote in my journal- ‘When Grandmamas hugs me, it is like sinking into a feather bed.’ She was ample, she was generous, she was bighearted. She wrote me five page letters that she called ‘newspapers’, giving me all of the latest triumphs and tragedies from family, friends and community. It is well known in the South- that
- Pyrex dishes were filled to the brim- taken to new mothers, sick folks, church picnics and to the bereaved- why, a glass sea of Pyrex dishes could be seen anywhere you went!
- Roasting pans produced large Hens, Roasts or Hams
- Iron skillets put forth the sustenance of Southern Life, Fried Chicken or Cornbread
- Canning jars not only got people through the long winter but added an extra bit of flavor with pepper sauce, jams and jellies, pickled peaches or cucumbers. These were the tools they used to sustain us throughout our lives.
The foundation Grandmamas laid- of tables laden with food- was passed down to her daughters. My mother in law was known for baking a Coconut Cake for anyone who just mentioned loving her cake! She once made dozens of fried pies for the entire JSU Marching Southerners Band Dorm, when our daughters were there! That’s bighearted, abundance! The words- full-bodied, lush or abundant when applied to wines, gardens or buffet tables give the most pleasant mental images. When applied to a woman’s statuesque full figure, not as much. And that’s a shame – there are days when I would love to receive a hug that felt like I was ‘sinking into a feather bed’. Our Grandmothers were of a genteel generous generation who spoke kindly and made sure that no one, no matter who they were- left their homes empty handed.
Now, I’ve gotten all historical on you because it occurred to me that the Foundation of Southern Food is Big Hearted, Generous and Abundant. And while I applaud the efforts to eat healthy- we can’t deny that much of the move back to all natural fresh food– is not new- it is just newly discovered. Homegrown fresh food was all we had just a couple of generations ago- at least where I come from!
Chicken, Casseroles, Shrimp, Grits, Cornbread and Pound Cake are all big hearted and generous- all make up the Foundation for great Southern meals. Just plain wonderful as they are- still Chicken, Shrimp, Casseroles, Grits, Cornbread and Pound Cakes accept other ingredients graciously. I’ll leave it for another day to expound on these wonderful combinations.
Since I’m being nostalgic today-I recall when ladies and gentlemen spoke with genteel courteous language. The foundation of their lives was rich in the traditions of good manners, speaking well and good regardless of poverty or wealth. Rough, coarse and common talk is the stuff of honky tonks. Language that separates, tears down or degrades is worthless to society. Perhaps we could blend diverse ingredients into polite disagreements and dignified conversations, like a good spicy Gumbo or a comforting Casserole.. I long for it truly.
Love y’all, Camellia
Image of vintage women in foundations- from a wonderful site- www.fortieswardrobe.blogspot.com Images of chickens, casserole and shrimp are from AOL images and may be subject to copyright. Image of Grandmamas, kitchen implements, the cornbread, pound cake and grits are from our personal collection.