Six Badass Southern Women You Should Know About

March is Women’s History month here in the United States (and also the UK and Australia), and while we believe that any day is a good day to celebrate women and their accomplishments, we will happily take this opportunity to turn the well-deserved spotlight on some badass, brilliant ladies. These six were trailblazers in their fields, which range from athletics to advocacy, TV to torah. They are brave, they are fierce, and they all hail from below the Mason-Dixon line.

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Wilma Rudolph (Saint Bethlehem, Tennessee): Rudolph was a premie, entering the world as the 20th of 22 siblings and weighing a mere 4.2 pounds. At 4, she suffered a bout of infantile paralysis, which left her with a twisted leg and foot, forced to wear a brace. By the age of 12, she had also contracted polio and scarlet fever, battling back every time. The odds were undeniably stacked against her. But in 1953, while playing on her high school’s basketball team, she was spotted by Tennessee State track and field coach Ed Temple, and everything changed. Temple coached Rudolph, who joined TSU’s summer program and ran with the Tigerbelles for two years. At 16, she went to the Olympics for the first time, bringing home a bronze medal for the 4×100 relay. And four years later, at the 1960 Rome Summer Olympics, she took gold in the 100 meters, the 200 meters, and the 4×100 relay, making her the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field at a single Olympics. She was hailed as “the fastest woman in history,” and her homecoming parade and banquet were the first fully integrated municipal events in her hometown of Clarksville’s history.

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Mae Jemison (Decatur, Alabama): Jemison may have grown up in Chicago, but her first three years were spent in the Deep South. The daughter of a maintenance supervisor and an elementary school teacher, Jemison loved science from an early age. She loved nature and dinosaurs and stars and space, watching the shuttle launches on TV with her classmates. But something bothered her: “At the time of the Apollo airing, everybody was thrilled about space, but I remember being irritated that there were no women astronauts. People tried to explain that to me, and I did not buy it.” Jemison fell in love with dance, went to Stanford, served in Peace Corps, watched Sally Ride shatter that annoying glass ceiling. And in 1987, she was accepted into NASA’s Space Program, one of 15 applicants chosen from a pool of over 2,000. She served as Mission Specialist on STS-47, from September 12 to 20, 1992, making her the first African-American woman in space. With her, she took a poster from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; a photo of Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman to fly an airplane; and a few small pieces of West African art, to symbolize that space belongs to all nations. Now retired, she’s a professor-at-large at Cornell and a tireless advocate for science education, especially for young girls and minority students.

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Penny Ann Early (Kentucky): Early earns her place on this list for two famous firsts. Number one: In 1968, she became the first licensed female jockey in the United States. She entered three races at Scout’s and my hometown race track, Churchill Downs, but her male peers were so incensed that they boycotted, refusing to ride with a girl. But Early wasn’t done. Hearing about the controversy, the now defunct Kentucky Colonels basketball team decided to sign Early — all 5’3” of her. Coach Gene Rhodes was less than amused by the stunt and protested to management, claiming he would not let her play (to be fair, Early hadn’t so much as picked up a basketball in her life). But on November 27, 1968, in a game against the Los Angeles Stars, Early got her moment. Clad in a mini skirt and a turtleneck with the number 3 on it (representing the three races she’d been prevented from riding), Early subbed in and inbounded the ball to Bobby Rascoe, who immediately called a timeout. Early was subbed right back out, her basketball career amounting to mere seconds, but it still made her the first — and, so far, only — woman to play on a professional men’s basketball team.

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Mia Hamm (Selma, Alabama): Hamm moved around as a kid, bouncing base to base as an Air Force brat. At one such base, in Florence, Italy, she was first introduced to soccer. Hamm had been born with a club foot and wore corrective shoes as a toddler, but she immediately took to the sport and quickly excelled. As a student at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, she led the women’s soccer team to four NCAA championships; of the 95 games she played on the team, they lost only one. But the truth is by the time she got to UNC, Hamm had already made a name for herself as a soccer star. She joined the U.S. women’s national team at just 15, the youngest player ever to do so. In 1991, she played in the first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup — at 19, again, the youngest member of the squad. She scored the game-winning goal in their first match. She scored again in their second. And in front of 63,000 spectators, she and her teammates beat Norway 2-1 to become the first ever women’s world champions. Hamm would go on to lead the U.S. to another World Cup victory in 1999, as well as two Olympic gold medals. She was twice named the women’s FIFA World Player of the Year, was one of two women on FIFA’s list of the 125 best living players, and until 2013 she held the record for the most career goals ever scored by a soccer player, of any gender.

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Paula Ackerman (Pensacola, Florida): Born and raised in Pensacola, Ackerman moved to Meridian, Mississippi, in 1922 with her 15 month-old son and her husband, a rabbi. The family was active in the Reform Judaism movement, and Ackerman taught confirmation classes at their congregation, Temple Beth Israel, and would fill in for her husband when he was sick or out of town. Then in 1951, when he died, the congregation asked her to take his place. She accepted, making her the first acting female rabbi in the United States. Although she was never officially ordained (that wouldn’t happen for a woman until 1972), she led the synagogue until 1953; even when the president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations rescinded his permission for a woman to assume such a role, the congregation insisted on keeping he. At the time, when asked about her appointment, Ackerman wrote to a friend, “I also know how revolutionary the idea is—therefore it seems to be a challenge that I pray I can meet. If I can just plant a seed for the Jewish woman’s larger participation—if perhaps it will open a way for women students to train for congregational leadership—then my life would have some meaning.”

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Laverne Cox (Mobile, Alabama): You may know her from “Orange is the New Black,” from “The Mindy Project” or “Doubt.” You may know her from the wisdom she drops on Twitter or the love she spreads on Instagram with the hashtag #TransIsBeautiful. Cox grew up in Alabama, bullied and harassed throughout her youth because she did not fit in. At 11, she even attempted suicide. But, luckily, things got better. After graduating from Marymount Manhattan College with a degree in acting and working as a drag queen at a Lower East Side restaurant, Cox entered the public scene when she was cast in Jenji Kohan’s Netflix blockbuster as Sophia Burset — a hairdresser serving time for credit card fraud. Both Cox and her character are transgender women; in 2014, she was nominated for an Emmy for her performance, a first for an openly trans actor. But it’s her advocacy off screen that truly earns her a spot on this list. Her role on OITNB gave her a platform, and boy has she used it: to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, for trans awareness, for women’s rights, for intersectionality, for suicide prevention — just to name a few. She takes her position as a role model, especially for trans youth, very seriously, telling them that things get better and that self-love can be a radical act.

IMAGES VIA: KNOW SOUTHERN HISTORY, WIKIPEDIA, TRIVIAHAPPY, MIA HAMM FOUNDATION, JEWISH CURRENTS, WFMT

Southern Spookery

It’s that time of year again, when we embrace all the cobwebs, adorn our homes with skeletons and decorative gourds, and channel our inner granny witches. That’s right, the spooky season is upon us, and in celebration we thought we’d tell you about some Halloween-appropriate Southern men, women and monsters. The South is known for its many storytelling traditions, as well as its inherent spookiness, so it’s no surprise that the two should combine into some scary folktales and stories. Scout’s been bookmarking spooky Southern tales for the past couple months (thanks, Lore!) just to bring them to you in this most ghoulish of holiday seasons. The four creatures that follow are all purported to be real by some party or another. We may be skeptical, but where’s the fun in that? So put on this playlist, paint the ceiling of your porch blue, turn down the lights, and settle in for some good old-fashioned ghost stories.

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Rawhead and Bloody Bones: Many Southern ghost stories and folklore come from African traditions and culture, but while some connect this particular tale to the Gullah culture, it’s more likely a story brought over from England and adopted by multiple local cultures. Rawhead and Bloody Bones are both bogeyman figures meant to put fear into children and induce good behavior. Whatever the origins, Rawhead, a skull stripped of skin, and his companion Bloody Bones, a headless skeleton, prowl the night looking for misbehaved children. Sometimes they’re said to live near water, sometimes in dark dank cupboards under stairs or sinks. 

The story dates back as far as the early 1500s and is mentioned in sermons, stories and nursery rhymes: Rawhead and Bloody Bones / Steals Naughty Children from their Homes/Takes them to his dirty den/ And they are never seen again. Seems like good motivation for good behavior. also, fun fact: The monsters are the subject of a song by the post-punk band Siouxsie and the Banshees

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Fouke Monster: Also known as the Southern Sasquatch, the Fouke Monster is the most well-established of the many Southern cryptid (aka a creature whose actual existence is not yet proven) hominids. Somewhere between seven and ten feet tall and weighing between 300 and 800 pounds, the monster was first spotted in the early 1970s. It runs with an arm-swinging gallop and has bright red eyes the size of silver dollars. In 1971, the monster apparently attacked Bobby and Elizabeth Ford in their new Arkansas home. The creature was then allegedly spotted crossing a nearby highway, and supposed footprints were found at a nearby filling station. Sightings died down in the later part of the decade, but the monster resurfaced in the late 90s and sightings continue to occur.

The Fouke Monster is just one of many Bigfoot-like creatures that roam the American South. In Fort Worth, Texas, there’s the Lake Worth Monster. Described as a “fishy goat-man” in a 1969 local headline, the creature is supposedly half-man, half-goat and covered in scales. South Carolina has the Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp, and Louisiana has the seven-foot-tall, web-toed Honey Island Swamp Monster.

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The Bell Witch: In the early 19th century, the Bell family of Adams, Tennessee, a small town just a ten-minute drive from the Kentucky border, claimed to be haunted and cursed by a poltergeist named Kate. The inciting incident was an encounter with a chimerical animal with the body of a dog and the head of rabbit. For days after this event, the Bell family’s nights were disrupted by pounding on the exterior of their home, the source of which could never be found. Eventually, the banging and clanging started coming from inside the house (dun dun dun…). Scratching on walls and slamming doors were accompanied by strange whispers and objects moving of their own accord.

The Bell’s youngest daughter, Betsy, was a particular target of the spirit. She was said to have been slapped and had her hair pulled by the specter. The whispers grew into discernible voices singing hymns and quoting scripture. Stories of the Bell Witch spread so far that future president Andrew Jackson came to investigate. One of his men was apparently badly beaten, and they all fled the Bell homestead. The ghost-witch focused her intentions increasingly on the Bell family patriarch, tormenting him into ill health and eventually poisoning him, making this particular ghost one of the only ones to actually kill someone. The whole story is incredible…and probably almost entirely fabricated by Martin Van Buren Ingram, who penned an account 45 years after the so-called haunting, based solely on a diary written by Bell’s son nearly 30 years after the fact. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Richmond Vampire: In Richmond, Virginia’s Hollywood Cemetery there sits the mausoleum of one William Wortham Pool. Pool lived a fairly standard life, died at the age of 80, and was interred with his wife in the aforementioned mausoleum. After his death, though, that’s when the rumors started. Folks started saying that the W.W. Pool mausoleum was the home of a vampire. In 1925, a railroad tunnel collapsed nearby, trapping members of a repair crew inside. As rescuers tried to free the trapped men, a ghastly, bloody creature emerged from the rubble and ran toward the cemetery and into the Pool Mausoleum. Though people followed, no one could find it, and no one saw it leave the tomb. A rumor started that Pool was a vampire, and that it was W.W. himself who had been spotted that tragic night. The cemetery is very close to Virginia Commonwealth University, and the vampire rumors spread quickly among the students; the Pools’ bodies eventually had to be moved due to repeated vandalism.

However, the actual story of the 1925 cave-in didn’t need any vampires, ghouls, or other creatures to make it creepy. In truth, the man fleeing the rubble was Benjamin Mosby, who died shortly afterwards in a nearby hospital. A scary sight to be sure, but not necessarily hair-raising…except that when the townspeople eventually went back to unearth the rest of the collapse’s victims, they found only one corpse, leaving at least two laborers unaccounted for. The tunnel was boarded up, and they never recovered the rest of the bodies.

Illustrations Via: Ogres Vs. Trolls, FoukeMonster.Net, Newzbreaker, Kristy Heilenday

All the Fixin’s: An Introduction

Hello lovelies! Over the past year, one of our favorite series to write — and one of the most popular with you guys, according to an overwhelming majority of folks who filled out our reader survey — has been “Eat This, Drink That.” Scout has explored many wonders of the Southern culinary canon, and Zelda has really honed her cocktail skills. Some of the recipes have gone brilliantly according to plan; others, not so much. But all of them have taught us more about our food heritage, not to mention pastry skills, simple syrups, and how to handle a cocktail shaker.

With this new year, we wanted to turn a new page in the blog as well, but we didn’t want to abandon the food and drink posts that we, and y’all, have come to enjoy. And we also wanted to get back to the original concept of the blog: exploring the idea of home and heritage and what it means to us, in this time and this place, to be “Southern.”

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So without further ado, we present to you our brand-new series, “All the Fixin’s.” The idea comes from a few places: wanting to learn more about Southern cooking and expand our kitchen repertoires, wanting to get in touch with our specific Southern heritages and what they mean to us, and wanting to explore not just the mechanics of making Southern dishes but also the history and stories and cultural weight that they carry. As Zelda wrote in her last Required Reading, food is an essential piece of what binds a culture together, feeding both our bodies and our souls. So much of our history and traditions are bound up in the bread we break together, be it challah or cornbread or buttermilk biscuits. And so with this series, we’re diving deep, each into a cookbook that pulls together the specific flavors of our family trees.

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For Scout, that book is Victuals: An Appalachian Journey with Recipes. Recently written by Ronni Lundy, Scout’s somewhat-distant-but-not-that-distant cousin (she’s not quite sure combination of first’s, second’s, removed’s, etc. applies here), it combines recipes with narrative and history, and really gives some context to the dishes. Most of Scout’s Southern recipes come from her grandmother’s binder, cut from local papers or back issues of Southern Living and stuck together from being carted around for so long and splattered with various batters, and Victuals basically takes those conversations around the kitchen table and puts them in book form. It also doesn’t hurt that the book itself is beautiful, with full-color photos, courtesy of Johnny Autry, of the mountains and the people and the food that accompany their story.

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As for Zelda, she’s taking on Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen. A good quarter of her blood comes spiced with Cajun flavors, Tabasco and okra and andouille and the like. Some of the recipes in this very book are childhood dishes she grew up with (see, the jambalaya her mom makes every year for Mardi Gras), and all of the dishes bring up memories of childhood story time, when she and her siblings would beg her dad to tell them stories of his childhood, and his dad’s childhood, in the bayou of Louisiana. Those were summers spent under magnolia trees, watching gumbo or étouffée appear like magic under a great aunt’s spoon. And while the most essential Cajun recipes in her house come on stained and crumpled scraps of paper, passed down from generation to generation, when asked to pick an actual, publicly sold text from which to learn the region’s cooking, this is the one both of her folks picked.

So that’s where we’re going, and we hope you’re as excited to come along with us as we are to get started. There’s shrimp creole and chicken and dumplings and maybe even beignets in our future. Some things may (hopefully) go brilliantly. Others may fall flat. But all will teach us something about who we are and where we come from. And it doesn’t hurt that it will make for damn good eats.

Required Reading: Volume Nine

My mother collects cookbooks. It started (she thinks) with the Moosewood Cookbook, purchased in March of 1983. She had always loved to cook, and to bake especially, learning hamantaschen and icebox cookies in her mother’s Pittsburgh kitchen. From one book, her collection grew, adding Jewish Cookery and Cookie Cookery (related in name only). When my father entered the narrative, he brought a healthy dose of Cajun cuisine to their marriage and the Joy of Cooking, referred to more commonly in my house as simply “The Bible.”

At some point along the way, one cookbook blossomed into a dozen, which grew to a shelf, which ballooned into two full bookshelves and counting. My kitchen in Kentucky holds an estimated 200 cookbooks at minimum, sprawling across specialties and cuisines. I may have learned to cook in the days before Google, but our house was its own encyclopedia of recipes, with my mom the helpful librarian. I’d ask her how to make a particular dish — say, strawberry rhubarb pie — and without missing a beat she’d start pulling volumes from shelves, not to mention scraps of newsprint and magazine cut outs from her Heinz recipe box.

A tiny excerpt from my mother's collection, the "Family Heritage Shelf"

A tiny excerpt from my mother’s collection, the “Family Heritage Shelf”

This is all to say that I come by my addiction to books — cook- and otherwise — honestly. It’s in my DNA: I never really stood a chance. My parents started me off with the classics: Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Volumes One and Two), The New York Times Cookbook, Moosewood, and, of course, my own personally inscribed copy of “The Bible.” In it, my parents wrote, “In our family, cooking is an expression of love.” And while this is definitely true of our quirky little clan, I don’t think it’s a uniquely Zelda trait. Food, in its best form, is weighted with memory and steeped in sentiment. It nurtures our bodies and our souls, providing comfort or piquing curiosity as it tickles our taste buds. And it’s a cultural touchstone, too — perhaps the most essential and elemental piece of what binds a group or a region together. Who we are, as families or communities, so often comes down to the bread we break together.

Take the South as just one example. The first thing most folks think of when they hear the word Southern is food. You know exactly which kind I mean: soul food, comfort food, food of the people that sticks to the bones and comes from the heart. So much of my own personal understanding of my heritage (Southern and otherwise) is culinary: the gumbo recipe passed down from my grandfather, the hot fudge sauce that appears so effortlessly under the touch of my grandmother’s spoon, the hamantaschen that would arrive at our house each year from Queen Esther, who apparently resided in Osprey, Florida. As an adult, I started to explore Southern cooking as a way of understanding the South and my place in it. Some of my lessons were hands-on — Derby pie with a high school bestie, fried chicken from Scout’s Gaga — but many of them were from books.

My grandmother in Home Economics class at her Atlanta school, age 14 (yes, you read that correctly)

My grandmother in Home Economics class at her Atlanta school, age 14 (yes, you read that correctly)

Though I still have a long way to go to match my mother’s collection (and nowhere near enough shelf space to accommodate such a repertoire), I have amassed quite a few cookbooks of my own. I love them for the poetry of their descriptions, the beauty of their photographs, the wry wit and wisdom inked into the page by their authors. And I love them for their potential, all those untapped recipes just waiting to be brought to life. To write up all my favorites would take far too many pages, so I’ll start on theme, with the culture that brings us together in this particular corner of the internet. Some of these I own, some reside on my mom’s shelves, and many are still on my wishlist. If you want to get to know the Southern people, you must get to know their eats. This is where I’d start.

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General Knowledge:

The Southerner’s Cookbook: Recipes, Wisdom, and Stories (2015): Compiled by the editors of Garden and Gun Magazine, this recent addition to my shelves runs the gamut from classics to regional delicacies, with anecdotes and advice woven in between. I’m a particular fan of the gorgeous copper detailing on the front cover, and of the glossary titled “The Southern Larder,” which goes through many of the quirkier ingredients called for in the book and explains what they are and where you might find them.

Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking (2012): Winner of the 2013 James Beard Foundation Award for Excellence in American Cooking, this tome is Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart’s answer to Julia Child’s similarly named masterpieces. Dupree calls Southern cooking “the Mother Cuisine of America,” and this extensive guide will walk you through all the essentials, from biscuits to gravy.

The Heritage of Southern Cooking (1986): Camille Glenn, pictured in charming cartoon detail on the books cover, used to be the food editor at Scout’s and my hometown paper, the Courier-Journal. She left no stoneware unturned when compiling this book, which holds 550 recipes, from duck to dessert. My mom swears by her recipe for pecan pie, an essential in any Southern baker’s wheelhouse.

At My Grandmother’s Knee: Recipes and Memories Handed Down by Women of the South (2011): Faye Porter dedicated this book to “all the women in my life who have shared with me the joy of cooking, baking, loving, making a home, and giving from their hands and hearts.” And while we hate to indulge gender stereotypes (Southern dudes can cook too!), it is true that most of what we learned about cooking, and about the love of cooking, came from our mothers, our grandmothers, and the other great women in our lives.

The Taste of Country Cooking (1976/2006): It is impossible to talk about Southern cooking without talking about black Southern cooking and the essential contributions that so many African-American chefs made to the region’s culinary identity, often without receiving any acknowledgement or credit. Edna Lewis, thankfully, is a great chef who did get the spotlight she deserved, and her tribute to the foods of her childhood home in Freetown, Virginia, is considered one of the great classic Southern cookbooks.

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Sweet Treats:

The Southern Baker: Sweet and Savory Treats to Share with Friends and Family (2015): It’s the subtitle of this volume, compiled by the editors of Southern Living, that I think gets at the heart of what makes Southern cooking so unique. A Southern dish is not meant to be precious. It is not fussed over or plated with surgical precision. It is meant to be shared, served up in big sloppy spoonfuls or generous slices and always, always with love.

Kentucky Sweets: Bourbon Balls, Spoonbread, and Mile-High Pie (2014): I actually interviewed Sarah Baird, back when I was writing for the Louisville Eccentric Observer and her book was just coming out. Sarah’s training is as a culinary anthropologist, and she told me, “ I have a deep interest in how food impacts culture and society: the intersections between culture, society and food; how those work together; and specifically, underrepresented or underserved stories about food.” This book was her attempt to tell some of those stories, from the often overlooked corners of her (and my and Scout’s) home state.

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Regional Specialties:

Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen (1984): My personal Southern heritage comes well-seasoned with Tabasco and filé, and this, my father claims, is the best Louisiana cookbook out there. Whether you’re looking for gumbo or jambalaya or Prudhomme’s famous blackened redfish, this book has all the Cajun and Creole classics your stomach could desire.

The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery (1992): Where my Southern roots come from the bayou, Scout’s are grounded in mountain soil. In true Appalachian spirit, the recipes in this book are interspersed with a healthy dose of storytelling and advice. The recipes in this book are unpretentious and full of flavor, just like the folks that make them.

Community Cookbooks: The South has a great tradition of hometown cookbooks, put together by Junior Leagues or women’s groups and offering the best portrait of a town, an identity, and a cuisine. Some of the best (in my, my mom’s, or Scout’s opinion) include The Mountain Laurel Festival Cookbook (Bell County, Kentucky), Talk About Good! (The Junior League of Lafayette, Louisiana), The Plantation Cookbook (Junior League of New Orleans), and Recipes to Remember: A Kentucky Cookbook (Kosair Children’s Hospital Auxiliary; Louisville, Kentucky).

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The New South:

Tupelo Honey Cafe: Spirited Recipes from Asheville’s New South Kitchen (2011): Brian Sonoskus, chef and founder of the Tupelo Honey Cafe, was one of the founders of the farm-to-table movement, which has since spread from North Carolina to Williamsburg, Portland, and beyond. But what is normally written off nowadays as hipster posturing is in fact a very traditional Southern concept: that you should use the best of what your region has to offer, that you should know the folks who grow your ingredients, that quality ingredients assembled with love and care will offer a far greater reward than your fussiest amuse-bouche.

Smoke and Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen (2013): Chef Edward Lee was born to Korean immigrant parents and raised in Brooklyn. So how did he become the most famous chef in Louisville, and one of the most innovative culinary voices in America today? This book tells the tale of his unique, Southern cooking, which mixes together flavors and techniques from his heritage with the traditions of his adopted home.

images via: Zelda’s mama’s photo archives, GARDEN AND GUN, SOUTHERN FOODWAYS ALLIANCE, TUPELO HONEY CAFE

Southern Summer Reads

Summer is upon us, those hazy, humid days when the very air seems heavy and time oozes by like molasses. More than any other, this is a Southern season to us, made for iced tea and lemonade, juleps and swimming holes, lightning bugs and thunderstorms. And what does summer demand if not a summer read — those delicious, all-consuming books that sweep you up and away into another world. Sometimes called beach reads, although we find them equally suited to front porches or air-conditioned bedrooms, they are sunnier fare. You can leave your Proust’s and Yanagihara’s for the rain-soaked weeks of fall: When the mercury is up and our foreheads are perpetually sweaty, all we really want is a great, captivating story. Here are some of our favorites.

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Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

Author: Rebecca Wells

Published: 1996

Setting: Lake Quinault, Louisiana

Features: female friendship, mother-daughter drama, Cajun French, a striptease, an oxygen tank

Quote: “She longed for porch friendship, for the sticky, hot sensation of familiar female legs thrown over hers in companionship. She pined for the girliness of it all, the unplanned, improvisational laziness. She wanted to soak the words ‘time management’ out of her lexicon. She wanted to hand over, to yield, to let herself float down the unchartered beautiful fertile musky swamp of life, where creativity and eroticism and deep intelligence dwell.”

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Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Author: Fannie Flagg

Published: 1987

Setting: Whistle Stop, Alabama

Features: tomboys, vacation bible school, barbecue sandwiches, The Weems Weekly, a railway accident

Quote: “Are you a politician or does lying just run in your family?”

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The Help

Author: Kathryn Stockett

Published: 2009

Setting: Jackson, Mississippi

Features: maids, journalistic ambitions, fried chicken, the Junior League newsletter, chocolate pie

Quote: “I always thought insanity would be a dark, bitter feeling, but it is drenching and delicious if you really roll around in it.”

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Gone with the Wind

Author: Margaret Mitchell

Published: 1936

Setting: Clayton County and Atlanta, Georgia

Features: unladylike spirit, a brothel, carpetbaggers, architectural horrors, the siege of Atlanta

Quote: “‘Sir,’ she said, ‘you are no gentleman!’  ‘An apt observation,’ he answered airily. ‘And, you, Miss, are no lady.’”

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The Little Friend

Author: Donna Tartt

Published: 2002

Setting: Alexandria, Mississippi

Features: a mysterious death, Genghis Khan, Christmas gifts, a black tupelo tree, a would-be girl detective named Harriet

Quote: “A training program. This was Houdini’s secret.”

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Prodigal Summer

Author: Barbara Kingsolver

Published: 2000

Setting: The Appalachian Mountains, Virginia

Features: a park ranger, an entomologist, coyotes, mountain women, the extinct American Chestnut

Quote: “If you never stepped on anybody’s toes, you never been for a walk.”

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St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

Author: Karen Russell

Published: 2006

Setting: The Everglades,  Florida

Features: alligator wrestling, nuns, Swamp Prom, Sleepaway Camp for Disordered Dreamers, the exoskeleton of a giant crab

Quote: “My older sister has entire kingdoms inside of her, and some of them are only accessible at certain seasons, in certain kinds of weather. One such melting occurs in summer rain, at midnight, during the vine-green breathing time right before sleep. You have to ask the right question, throw the right rope bridge, to get there-and then bolt across the chasm between you, before your bridge collapses.”

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The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Author: Carson McCullers

Published: 1940

Setting: an unnamed mill town, Georgia

Features: best friendship, legal insanity, deaf-mutes, a piano, a diner

Quote: “She wished there was some place where she could go to hum it out loud. Some kind of music was too private to sing in a house cram full of people. It was funny, too, how lonesome a person could be in a crowded house.”

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Salvage the Bones

Author: Jesmyn Ward

Published: 2011

Setting: Bois Sauvage, Mississippi

Features: pit bull puppies, canned goods, the myth of Medea, the eye of a hurricane, motherless children

Quote: “In every one of the Greeks’ mythology tales, there is this: a man chasing a woman, or a woman chasing a man. There is never a meeting in the middle.”

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An Abundance of Katherines

Author: John Green

Published: 2006

Setting: Gutshot, Tennessee

Features: a child prodigy,  a paramedic-in-training, road trips, tampon strings, the supposed grave of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Quote: “He liked the mere act of reading, the magic of turning scratches on a page into words inside his head.”

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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Author: John Berendt

Published: 1994

Setting: Savannah, Georgia

Features: voodoo, murder trials, a historical mansion, an antique pistol, Lady Chablis

Quote: “Rule number one: Always stick around for one more drink. That’s when things happen. That’s when you find out everything you want to know.”

How To Festival: Basics For Beginners

As we prepare to head back to our old Kentucky home for Forecastle (we may even be flying through the air as you read this), we’re trying to contain our excitement at seeing favorite bands, old and new. But festival-ing is serious business, and it’s best to have a plan of attack to truly get the most out of your experience. And so we present: How To Festival – Basics for Beginners.

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Part I – Travel: Getting to and from the festival venue is key. Forecastle is pretty chill, as festivals go, and it’s not a requirement to camp out (though there is space for that if you like). We like being able to sleep in the comfort of our adolescent bedrooms after a day sweating it out in the sun. But whether you’re camping out or arriving anew each day, how you’re getting there is important. Assuming you’ve got initial travel covered (from your home to the festival city), you need to secure transportation from the place you’re sleeping to the place you’re soaking up the sunshine and the tunes.

If you’re headed to a Bonnaroo-style festival, make sure your get there early enough to place your tent in a prime area. Or if you’re like us and prefer a roof over your head in the evenings, we recommend staying someplace within walking distance of the festival, or securing a designated driver. Safety first! We managed to secure Zelda’s little brother as our chauffeur for the weekend (thanks, broseph!).

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Part II – Weather Preparedness: Zelda texted me on Monday, “It’s supposed to rain all weekend.” Devastating news, yes, but will it stop us? NEVER! This is just another factor we have to take into account for our festival plan. Before you leave your abode, check the forecast and see what you’re up against.

If it looks like rain, pack a poncho or a rain jacket; don’t be the douchebag with the umbrella blocking the view for the people in the back (you don’t want to have to carry  an umbrella around all weekend anyway). Rain or shine, it’s definitely summer, so even if it’s overcast WEAR SUNSCREEN. This is life advice for festivals and general outdoor events: Skin cancer is a real and serious concern, and sunburns will mar all your happy festival memories when you realize you can’t move your shoulders without pain and your eyelids are peeling.

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Part III – Gear Up: Be selective with the stuff you bring. It’s important to be prepared, but you’re going to be mobile for most of the weekend, so the less stuff you need to carry around, the better. Top five things you should have on hand? Water bottle, rain jacket, sunscreen, money, and phone (bonus points for a back-up charger).

It’s also important to dress for function and fashion. I know you want to embrace that sundress life, but don’t underestimate the importance of pockets. And we can’t over-emphasize the importance of your shoe choice. Again, we all want to to look as cute as possible, but your feet won’t thank you for breaking in your new strappy sandals over those three days. This also applies to that comfy pair of flip flops that you love so much. You’ll thank me when the toe thong doesn’t pull through the sole, leaving you shoeless during the last headliner as the rain starts to pour. If you’re not a tennis shoes/sneakers person, may I suggest you embrace the sport sandal lifestyle. My Chacos have lasted me ten years, and they’re still going strong.

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Part IV – Scope it Out: Make a plan. Decide which bands are priorities for you, and which ones you can skip. Plan in downtime to peruse the vendors and rehydrate and eat. When you arrive, get the lay of the land. LOCATE THE RESTROOMS along with the food concourse, each stage, and ways to sneak into the VIP area and use their fancy bathrooms… A lot of festivals have apps where you can create your own line-up and make sure you get to see everyone you desire.

And as corny as it sounds, pick a designated meeting point. That way, if people get lost or you go your separate ways before the end of the day, everyone can meet up when you’re getting ready to leave.  On a related point, you should also have a contingency plan. If for some reason (severe weather, electronic malfunction, etc.) the festival is suspended, know where you’re going to meet and what you’re going to do during that time. Pick a restaurant, bar, or some sort of indoor venue where you can ride out the storm (literal or metaphorical).

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Part V – Forget Everything I Said: Okay, not all of it. But half the fun of the festival life is going with the flow, following your whims and the whims of the weather and the people around you. Dance in the rain. Run barefoot in the dirt and mud. Be a cliché (you know you want to). Enjoy yourself, and don’t stress out about it. It’s meant to be fun, so have fun….but seriously please wear sunscreen.

Inspiration Tuesday: The Living Is Easy

July is in full swing here in New York. The sticky heat of the city has set in, and while humidity is the default in the river valley we call home, it’s not quite the same when it’s accompanied by the smell of hot garbage instead of honeysuckle blooms. So we’re longing for a different kind of summer day, below the Mason-Dixon Line and accompanied by the sounds of rain on tin roofs, the gentle hum of rural roadways, and the snapping of green beans on a covered porch. And maybe, if we’re lucky, a thunderstorm will roll on through.

Art: “Rural Highway, Southern Georgia after Rainstorm,” Raymond Smith (1974, gelatin silver print)

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Poem: “Haiku 228,” Richard Wright

 

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Book: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

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Song: “The Spiritual,” Jukebox the Ghost

 

Video: “Letters to July // 16,” Emily Diana Ruth

Quotation: “A Southern moon is a sodden moon, and sultry. When it swamps the fields and the rustling sandy roads and the sticky honeysuckle hedges in its sweet stagnation, your fight to hold on to reality is like a protestation against a first waft of ether.” — Zelda Fitzgerald

Photos via: Ogden Museum, @PERSILCHEN