Southern Legacy Equals Pie

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The South is a place where people use food to tell stories.

Culinary stories that are as complex as the South itself, forever leashed to a dark yet fascinating history, entangled in and imbued by a miasma of barbarity and benevolence, order and chaos, freedom and captivity, sweet and spicy, and God-fearing and hell-raising.

It’s a place where disputes over how chicken is fried, barbeque is prepared, or whether sugar is used to sweeten cornbread operate as culinary shibboleths. Yes, the South is a dysfunctional family, but we are still family. We are the inheritors of a story with countless sins that bear the fruit of a hopeful future.

In the South, food not only tells you where you are and who you are, it also tells you where you’ve been.

For my mother, her culinary story began in the year 1977, after moving from the big, bustling city of Dallas, Texas to a small farm outside of Martin, Tennessee.

Here is where my mother learned the language of food: how to know when the pie filling is the right thickness, how to know when you’ve kneaded the dough enough (but not too much!), and how to know, by smell alone, that the pie has reached perfection.

However, this process was done without the modern luxuries that we know and love. Wood-fired ovens, cast-iron skillets, rusty lids, and a choreographed dance of managing the fire gave the feeling of being a sorceress. To cook in this way required imagination and faith. This mystifying culinary waltz is summed up perfectly in my mother’s own words:

“For my grandmother, recipes were a cityfied, fangled thing. Cooking was learned at your mother and grandmother’s knee. Cooking was about using only your senses: touch, feel, smell, and taste. It was also about memory, memory of people long gone, whose immortality is expressed in the pie, the biscuits, or the gravy. In memory, there is resurrection, and my desire in cooking is simply that: resurrection.”

So this glorious (yet fangled) recipe, the best of its kind (I may be a little biased), is preserved by my mother as a celebration, a culinary badge of honor, and a sacred text. The recipe has a story.

Southern food tells us where we are, who we are, and where we’ve been. And, it just might tell us where we’re going.

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Austin Anthony is a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in English with a concentration in rhetoric and professional writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. When he’s not working on graduate related projects, he enjoys rock climbing, petting cats, and studying foreign languages.