I Drank Absinthe and Buttermilk

Monday, October 27, 2008

I've just returned from the eleventh symposium of the Southern Foodways Alliance in Oxford, Mississippi. As you all know, I love these meetings. They are a wonderful opportunity to get caught up with friends and colleagues from the food world. This year's theme was The Liquid South, and although many of these liquids were alcoholic, not all were. As I said, I started one morning off with a big glass of old fashioned churned buttermilk. Ordinarily, I can't imagine doing this. I can hardly bear to watch somebody else drink buttermilk, but at these get togethers I always at least try everything that goes by. This buttermilk was actually ok- icy cold and flecked with butter, but I didn't go back for seconds.

There was discussion of the region's growing wine industry and discourses on the racial implications of who drank Coke, Manishevitz Wine and red KoolAde when and where. There was a delightful interview with Junior Johnson viz a viz the relationship between the beginnings of NASCAR and the running of moonshine. We drank moonshine too. My favorite was flavored with peaches, sort of like an eau de vie. It was dubbed "sissyshine". Appropriately, there was also talk of teetotalling and the churches that do and don't. And a really weird investigation about Sterno and the people who drink it (mixed with Nehi Orange Soda). Remarkably, we were also served a frappe made from the newly rehabilitated absinthe that is once more being produced in the United States. Lastly, I'll mention both a scuppernong scented beer (from Durham) and a very, very dry scuppernong wine, (from Cypress Hill in western N.C.). Both were really good.

Naturally, there was also lots of solid food as well. One lunch included a fabulous gumbo z'herbes by my friend Marcelle Bienvenu from St. Martinville, Louisiana. At the "Oysters in Excelsis" dinner one of the courses was a sensational salsify (the oyster plant) stew by Andrea Reusing of Lantern, my neighbor just down the street here in Chapel Hill. Ann Quatrano, from Bacchanalia in Atlanta knocked us out with a formal lunch, en plein air, that started with a collection of homemade pickles (eggs, okra, watermelon rind, shrimp), continued on to country ham consume with quail quennelles followed by praline sorghum pudding with an out of this world buttermilk creme anglaise.

I will have been home less than a week when I'm off to see the gardens of Japan in fall. Gene Hamer and I will be leaving on Halloween. One might wonder about the wisdom of going to such an expensive place when economics are so dicey. One might, but one bought the tickets a while back before everything went to hell. Assuming that things go to plan, I'll blog from there as well. More distracting is the fact that I'll be somewhere else on Election Day. Of course I took the oportunity to vote early and you might consider this as well given the huge turnout that is expected. I was there first thing on the first day and it was crowded then. I wanted to be sure and have my say just in case I stepped out in front of a bus or something. It will be very odd to be watching this from so far away.

posted by Bill Smith at 8:46 AM


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