By Sam Burnham
This past weekend I encountered an article from this past September that caught my attention. Once again, we have a regionally respected publication that has presented for our reading enjoyment the claims of some chef from New York trying to debunk Southern cooking "myths". Like the others, he has no heritage connecting him to a Southern kitchen. All his knowledge came from trial and error and his education in that fine Southern culinary school - The Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
This all too familiar phenomenon is what I like to call "Cooking With A Carpetbagger".
Unlike most carpetbaggers, this particular chef isn't all wrong. He does make some valid points. I will respond, point by point, to each of his claims beginning with accuracy and progressing on to heresy.
Myth 1 "The best fried chicken starts and ends in a skillet."
This one is acceptable. The official ABG fried chicken recipe involves frying the chicken in a skillet until golden brown and then finishing it in the oven. There is nothing wrong with finishing fried chicken in an oven. It's not like we're talking Shake & Bake here.
Myth 2 "Mixing the ingredients by hand is the only way to make authentically light, flaky biscuits."
We are a biscuit research organization. We are willing to listen to all sorts of methods of cooking a variety of biscuits. Biscuits have many incarnations, none of which are canned. So, outside of busting a cardboard tube on your counter top, we're open to theories.
Myth 3 "If you salt your beans before cooking them, they’ll never get soft."
Yeah, not going to make a big stink here. Salting beans doesn't make much of a difference. Just don't stir them too often, some would say any stirring is too much. Keep in mind that the cooking of beans necessitates the baking of cornbread and plan accordingly.
Myth 4 "Frying fish makes oil fishy."
This is a bit of a stretch. Yes, he is correct that the cooking process causes oil to break down but that includes the oils in animal fats. As fish oil, which is typically stronger in flavor than other oils, mingles with the cooking oil and the oil becomes "fishy".
Myth 5 "Soap destroys the seasoning on cast-iron cookware."
This was my breaking point. This one category is what convinced me to compose this piece. It is mind boggling how wrong this is. I once accused a man of being a Yankee after he placed an iron skillet in the dishwasher. I accused him of espionage and treason and all sorts of other unsavory misdeeds. I'm getting upset thinking about it right now. The chef in the article claims that fats make a protective polymer coating on a well-seasoned skillet. I think he forgot "Dawn cuts grease out of your way". The soap is used by cleanup teams to rescue oil drenched birds after petroleum spills because it breaks down oils and and allows them to be rinsed away. The same technology that removes crude oil from birds will carry your well earned seasoning right off your skillet and straight down the drain. If you need soap to remove food from your skillet, it either isn't seasoned well enough or your aren't using it right.
I'm sure it won't be long until some other non-Southern chef decides to teach us about our food. But keep in mind, Southern food is like our music, our literature, and our architecture - it's not a science, it's an art. If you hear advice on Southern cooking coming from New York City, remember that not even the people at Pace Picante put up with that.
By Sam Burnham
This past weekend celebrated the one of the greatest of Southern traditions, the running of the 142nd Kentucky Derby.
Leading up to the big day at Churchill Downs, several stories from news outlets, fashion outlets, popular culture outlets, you name it, discussed the various traditions surrounding the "Fastest Two Minutes in Sports".
One story in particular caught my attention. I'm not going to use my Georgian viewpoint to lecture former Kentucky poet laureate on the finer art of being a Kentuckian as I don''t believe myself to be qualified to do so. But I do want to offer a few thoughts on this matter I believe to be pertinent to the experience of all Southerners.
When discussing My Old Kentucky Home, one must start with the origin of the song. Stephen Foster wrote the song somewhere around 1852 as an anti-slavery ballad sung from the point of view of a slave having been sold down the river to work sugar in Louisiana, which was much different than farming anything in Kentucky. While I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Walker from the article that there was nowhere good to be a slave, I'd assert that there were few places worse than the sugar cane fields of Louisiana. Slaveholders often sold their "problematic" slaves to the sugar plantations where they were doomed to sweat, toil, pestilence, snakes, gators, disease, and likely death. This was a primary example of where families would be split up, likely to never see each other again. It is a terrible and true part of Southern History - a part we must never forget.
One point I do want to make is that the love of home and family knows no race. Slavery was not a good condition for anyone anywhere but for those people separated from their families and the only homes they knew, it is reasonable to expect that someone might long for the days before the separation, especially people who knew no better life. The song, as originally sung, is not that far-fetched.
More importantly, as our present leads us into the future, we must keep in mind the past that got us where we are. And when the passages now considered offensive are removed from the song we have to find the balance between keeping ourselves grounded in fact and coming across as trying to ruin every tradition we come across. My Old Kentucky Home has become a "simple, romantic song of home" and not much more. And that's ok. It's ok because Kentucky may have been built with slave labor but today there is the opportunity for all races to love their Old Kentucky Home. An engineer relocated for employment purposes, a solider on a south Asian battlefield, a missionary in Papua New Guinea, an astronaut orbiting on the International Space Station can all hum the tune, thinking of old times at home and when hard times come knocking at their door, Kentucky is still home and sometimes a romantic thought of home is enough.
The South is not perfect. It's far too diverse to ever be perfect. Our past will probably always haunt us as someone will always be there to remind us of it. But it's our past and our home and in the South, "our" is a much bigger word than it used to be.
By Sam Burnham
To say this election cycle has been bizarre is an understatement.
Right now, every political pundit and journalist in America is still reeling from the outcome of the primaries. The Democrats are still technically fighting it out. The Republicans have all but nominated Donald Trump.
This post is not intended to be an endorsement. But I would like to call attention to a third option. It's an option that has never been quite this viable before. Gary Johnson is working towards the Libertarian nomination. He received my official endorsement in 2012. As long as he gets the nomination he'll get my vote again. But I'd like to really explain why.
The front runners, when you really break them down, are really not options for me. Neither have a true philosophy or creed. They say whatever gets votes. Especially with Clinton, there is no detectable truth in any of the words. Her dishonesty has wiped away any chance she could have had to have my ear. Trump is a man who has historically bought politicians to do his bidding. This time he just decided to cut out the middleman. These two options are not an option.
Bernie Sanders is a socialist and that is not reconcilable with any of my political philosophies.
So I stop and look at Johnson. When I err on the side of liberty, then Johnson is my choice. If you have been following Bernie, you'll be interested in Johnson's stances on marriage, mass incarceration, the War on Drugs. And while these stances are not exactly congruent with traditional Conservatism, he is allowing the liberty to choose our way of life. We can freely, by force of conscience, choose right, even if wrong is legal.
While Bernie supporters may not go for Johnson's tax cuts, spending cuts, or his opposition to government growth that earned him the name "Governor Veto", conservatives will no doubt find in them a breath of fresh air.
Johnson offers a bridge - a place where Never Trump and Never Hillary can find just a little common ground. He offers us a chance to compromise.
There are those who will say that a third party cannot win, that it is impossible. It was impossible to rally all thirteen colonies around independence. It was impossible for a fledgling nation to defeat the British Empire in a war. It was impossible for a republic to survive. It was impossible to defeat the Fascist threat in Europe. It was impossible to put a man on the moon. It was impossible to stare down the Soviet Union. Impossible is America's wheelhouse. It's our home run pitch. Impossible is what we do. We always have.
So here is my endorsement. My endorsement in on the American people. Don't look at the candidates with disgust and sit this one out. Don't vote for a bad candidate just because they are "not as bad" as the other. Vote for someone. Take a stand.
Your vote is your God-given right. It is acknowledged by the Constitution, defended by the blood of patriots, and is the embodiment of your sacred honor. Your vote is everything this nation stands for. Don't neglect it and don't use it flippantly. Wield it like a weapon of revolution...because that is what it is.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire