The Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium took place October 3-6 in Oxford, Mississippi. I can’t thank Pank, Mona, Mamma and Daddy for making it possible for me to go. I don’t believe I have left the mountain top yet. The SFA Symposium is one of the year’s most monumental events for anyone that has been influential in our southern foodways. Jennifer Justus wrote a wonderful roundup of her highlights of the SFA Symposium for The Nashville Scene last week. Click here to read her reflections upon #SFA13. There were historians, writers, journalists, designers, actors, musicians, chefs, restaurateurs, publishers, public relations managers, film makers and farmers. There were even people coming to the symposium just because they read about it and thought it would make a nice vacation. At first I thought, “Are all these people putting me on? Is this the typical southern corn syrup I joke about from time to time?” Many of these people I now call friends, and I can tell you there was a genuine synergy in that space that cannot be replicated. From the moment I arrived, I felt I was at home and when I left I knew I will return again and again!
This year’s theme was Women at Work. The domestic space has served as a foundation that women have used to create change in every aspect of our lives! During my mountain top experience in Oxford, there many tears shed. Some tears were shed for the heartbreaking struggles that African-American women historically faced in other women’s kitchens, yet there was also sheer celebration of women’s accomplishments and contributions, regardless of their race. I have a reading list a mile long and that, my friends, is a very good thing!
I have never been one to get excited about ladies night. I prefer mixed company. I never want to be rewarded for the mere fact that I sit when I pea. Hey, I even squat at times. I can’t stand it when women use their vaginas to try to get ahead in the world. But damn it, it sure does feel good to be celebrated!
Thanks to the Southern Foodways Alliance, I am inspired to celebrate women who are influential in my life. As I planned my trip a few weeks ago, I shared my love and celebration of Mamma. There is another gracious southern woman in my life that I can’t imagine life without…Mona! Mona is Pank’s Mom. Mona has always taken care of those she loved with a big smile on her face. Pank tells the story of when he got his first Van Halen cassette tape. Mona cranked the volume of their 1985 Buick LeSabre with plush, blue velour seats and rolled the car windows down just so he could look cool in front of his friends. For all the times you ate tortillas and butter for lunch, so that your children could have a better life, I celebrate you Mona! Mona jokes about her hair being both a noun and a verb. She fluffs her fluff. Last visit to Nashville, all she wanted to do was help us put in a few new garden beds. It was probably the hottest weekend of the summer for Nashville. She flew all the way from the hot, steamy Houston summer armed with a gallon of salsa in her suitcase for Pank and one of Pank’s Ninny’s treasure boxes for me. Most of that weekend was spent hard at work in the garden. I know this doesn’t sound like much of a vacation, yet that weekend we will remember always. Mona truly wants to be a part of her son and daughter-in-law’s life, even if it means sacrificing the fluff. She says that I inspire her. That may be so, but she has made a mark on my life in ways she will never know and for that I am forever grateful!
Vertamae Grosvenor (writer, cook, and griot) won the 2013 Southern Foodways Alliance Lifetime Achievement Award. In her book, Vibration Cooking or, The Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl, Grosvenor explains family like this, “When you are tribal you don’t have slots for loving-you love. You can find a different kind of love for everyone….What I mean is, it (being tribal) gives you a big heart.” Here’s to my sweet Mona and her big heart!!
While Mamma’s favorite bread has to be cornbread, Mona loves tortillas. I learned how to make corn tortillas for Pank several years ago. They are really simple to make and therapeutic for the soul. The repetitive nature of rolling, pressing and cooking is a great time to reflect.
Mix one part Masa to 2/3 part water. Do not use cornmeal. I repeat, do not use cornmeal, it has to be Masa. Add salt to taste. I like to add fresh lime juice and chili powder when I feel a little sassy. If dough feels a bit dry, add more water a tablespoon at a time. Cover with a damp cloth to keep moist. Roll the dough into balls about the size of a golf ball. Press between two pieces of plastic wrap. It is best to use a tortilla press, but you can use a rolling pin in a pinch. Just make sure to get them super thin. Cook the tortillas in an ungreased skillet on medium-high heat about 1 minute per side. Cover tortillas to keep warm until serving.