Artifact of Southern Mammy Cooking

By Faktorovich, Anna | Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Fall 2017 | Go to article overview

Artifact of Southern Mammy Cooking


Faktorovich, Anna, Pennsylvania Literary Journal


Artifact of Southern Mammy Cooking Martha McCulloch-Williams. Dishes and Beverages of the Old South, Third Edition. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2017. Softcover. ISBN: 978-1-62190-300-0. 318pp.

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I requested this book because I watched a documentary that utilized bits out of it. This is a unique facsimile reproduction of a 1913 narrative cookbook, Dishes and Beverages of the Old South by Martha McCulloch-Williams. Its miniature size is due to the small dimensions of the original, as the facsimiles are of single pages just as they appeared initially. The "Foreword" and "Introduction" do a great job summarizing the significance of this book in its genre and to the history of cookbooks. It was initially popular and genre-setting, but then went out of style before it was revived in 1988 by the University of Tennessee Press in its second edition, and this is now the third printing with some new notes and explanations. The chapter titles in this book are pretty simple and reflect the rudimentary information covered: bacon, hams, "Paste, Pies, Puddings," cakes, "Meat, Poultry, Game, Eggs" and the like.

I have recently been researching 18th century British and American culture and literature, so I was interested to learn that the first American Southern cookbook (an abridgement of the English version) was released in 1742: The Compleat Housewife; or, Accomplish'd Gentlewoman's Companion by Eliza Smith in Virginia. In my research, I've discovered that many of America's first publishing companies were run by women, especially if their husbands died young. Food and farming were at the top of Americans' priorities in those early days so its only natural that some of their earliest publications were cookbooks, and almanacs, like Poor Richard's almanac that made Benjamin Franklin wealthy. The editors explain that this particular 1913 book was a reincarnation of the still vibrant Southern cookbook movement. John Egerton claims that there is "diversity of content within" this "static form" (xvii). Even if the content has been repeating the same recipes and ideas since 1742, it is interesting to examine its originators. The concept of "Southern cooking" was born with these books, and this concept has contributed to the rift between Northern and Southern culture. In a way, the Civil War might not have happened if there were fewer cultural distinctions in the minds of the people that lived in these two giant geographic regions, but then again perhaps if there wasn't a cultural rift there already, nobody would have written cookbooks on just Southern food. Food, language and other cultural components play a huge part in world politics and arts, so studying these is a responsibility for all intellectuals. …

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