n the 1991 film Fried Green Tomatoes, the notion of comfort food takes on a whole new meaning. Based on the novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg, the film features Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy, Mary-Louise Parker, and Mary Stuart Masterson, and examines the friendship and struggles of four women living in very different eras. The film first introduces the 1980s friendship of Evelyn Couch, an unhappy housewife, and Ninny Threadgoode, an elderly woman in a nursing home, who shares with Evelyn her story of the little town of Whistle Stop, Alabama.
The history of soul food is steeped in tradition and customs. Its origins can be traced back to Africa, the elements of which were introduced to America through the slave trade. Slaves were often forced to make do with whatever ingredients were available, which usually consisted of the discarded leftovers of their owners. Those cast-offs now make up many of the staples of soul food cuisine, including cornmeal, greens, and pork, as well as less common cuts of meat such as ham hocks and chitterlings. Soul food recipes and cooking techniques were commonly passed along orally among African Americans until Emancipation, after which they increasingly gained attention and popularity. Today soul food is traditional in the cuisine of African Americans, and is closely related to Southern fare. The serving of soul food is often associated with gatherings of families and friends enjoying a home-cooked meal together. It is this custom around which the 1997 film Soul Food is based.
Fried Chicken just tends to make you feel better about life.” These words of wisdom come from the recent film The Help, spoken by Southern maid Minny Jackson, who is as renowned for her cooking as she is infamous for her attitude. The film, based on Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel of the same name, explores the complicated relationships between African American maids and their white employers in 1960s Mississippi. It stars Bryce Dallas Howard, Emma Stone, Viola Davis, and Octavia Spencer, as well as scene after scene of mouthwatering Southern cooking. The important role of food in Southern culture is successfully translated onscreen with an authenticity and attention to detail that is rarely seen in film.
There are few foods more closely identified with New Orleans, Louisiana than gumbo. What starts with a roux, a rich base, the making of which requires patience (and more than a little love), grows into a melting pot of African, European, and Native American influences that come together to tell the stories of families, and their own rich histories. Join Liz Williams, president of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum, as she lovingly stirs the story of her Gulf.
Professional cooks do not generally equate food with care, at least not in their daily practice. When I was a student in culinary school I was evaluated on my speed, stamina, skill, and ability to make decisions on my own. I was a machine – a piece of kitchen equipment. My instructors were harsh, and with good reason – they were trying to prepare me for life in a professional kitchen. As a fledgling cook, and later, chef (not a cook, but a person in charge of running a kitchen in all its myriad forms and responsibilities), I dealt with cooks who locked me in a freezer, burned me, cut me even. These little acts of sabotage were rituals of initiation. They were questions really: was I tough enough, could I succeed under intense duress, was I willing to suffer physical pain, did I deserve respect?