Lynne Bryant, author of Catfish Alley, joins us at Peeking Between the Pages today. I’ve been hearing so many good things about this novel that I’m really quite anxious to read it. I need more of me so I can fit more books into my day – lol. That being said I hope to fit Catfish Alley into my schedule really soon! Lynne Bryant joins us today with a guest post (recipe included!) entitled A Foodie’s Companion to Catfish Alley…
Southern writers often make reference to the region’s amazing food, and I am no exception. Even the origin of my debut novel’s title, Catfish Alley, has to do with food. The real Catfish Alley is a short street in my Mississippi hometown where in the early part of the twentieth century locals brought the day’s catch of catfish from the nearby Tombigbee River and laid it out on croker sacks to be sold. On that same street, with its mostly African American businesses, old men whiled away time in an open warehouse, drinking whiskey, playing cards, and frying catfish, causing the mouth-watering scent that wafted across from the alley to nearby Main Street, thus giving the alley its name. In the photo below, you can glimpse Catfish Alley to the right of the building on the corner with the Coca Cola sign.
My own preoccupation with good food probably exists because procuring food—whether from the field, garden, woods, pond, or river—was so much a part of my growing up years in Mississippi. From the time I could walk until my young adulthood I spent many hours working in fields and vegetable gardens—planting, hoeing, weeding, picking. Although now I am a passionate flower gardener, the term “garden” when I was growing up meant food: corn, purple-hull peas (my favorite), okra, butterbeans, tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers. We fished in local ponds and rivers, and my brothers hunted for deer, squirrel, and doves. My aunt kept chickens for fresh eggs, and at one point my father ran a dairy.
Following on the heels of the harvesting fruits and vegetables, were the processes of canning, freezing, or drying. In the South you “put up” vegetables or fruit. The following are some of my fondest memories: sitting with my sisters on hot summer afternoons with a washtub full of long purple peas or fat green butterbeans in my lap, a glass of iced tea at my side, shelling for hours while As the World Turns and Guiding Light played on our black and white TV; standing outside under the deep shade of pine trees, shucking ear after ear of fat yellow corn pulled from stalks that towered over my head, and then using a knife and an old toothbrush to remove every silk so that Mama could cut it off the cob to make cream corn; helping Mama pack a 100-year-old butter churn with perfect sized little cucumbers and watching her fill the churn with the brine to begin the weeks-long pickling process; shaking the wild muscadine vines that wound through the trees in the woods near home, and listening to the fat juicy muscadines plop-plop on the pine-needled covered ground; being the one who got to climb an apple tree to shake the ripe fruit loose so it would fall for my waiting mother and sisters to collect the apples to be dried or canned; and picking up pecans under a towering pecan tree on a crisp fall afternoon.
All of these experiences, although hard work, are associated in my mind with my sisters’ laughter, my mother’s rigid authority over the garden: “you missed some” or “we’re not done yet, there’s another row,” and the sights and scents of mouth-watering food. My mother nurtured with her cooking, and although these days I tend to cook with different ingredients, I will always hold a special place in my heart for my Southern roots. It’s not New Year’s Day for me without a pot of peas with onion and bacon on the burner, some cornbread cooking in the oven, and collard greens wafting their bitter green scent through my house.
The people of Catfish Alley eat cathead biscuits with muscadine jelly, fresh apple cake, coconut cake, pecan pie, catfish and hushpuppies, crawfish etouffee, cheese straws, and greens. My main character, Roxanne’s, favorite drink is RC Cola, a classic Southern drink. In my own blog, A Southern Sense of Place, I write in detail about many of these topics, along with blackberry cobbler, Moon Pies, Cokes with peanuts in them, and molasses taffy. You can find my blog at www.lynne-bryant.com.
Here’s my easy recipe for blackberry cobbler, along with my recommendation for total self-indulgence: make yourself a cobbler, then settle into your favorite comfortable chair with a big-ole bowl of it topped with vanilla ice cream, a hot cup of coffee at your side, your spoon in one hand and Catfish Alley in the other. Enjoy that Southern sense of place for a little while!
For my favorite cobbler—blackberry—I use a simple recipe that produces a soft, buttery cobbler with crisp edges—very good! Some people call this a “cuppa” cobbler because it calls for a cup of the main ingredients—flour, sugar, and milk.
1 quart of blackberries
1 ¼ cup sugar (1/4 cup of this is to sweeten the blackberries)
1 cup all-purpose flour (if self-rising flour is used, delete the baking powder and salt)
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Wash blackberries and place in saucepan with ¼ cup sugar over low heat. Cook berries and sugar for 10-15 minutes until soft and syrupy. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While the oven is preheating, place the butter in an 8×8 glass casserole dish and put it in the oven to melt. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in large bowl. Add sugar and mix. Add milk and stir until smooth. Remove pan with melted butter from the over and pour in the flour mixture on top of butter. Pour blackberries with syrup in the middle of the flour mixture. Sprinkle entire cobbler with cinnamon.
Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Serve hot with vanilla ice cream. You can also use peaches or apples for this cobbler.
Thanks so much for this post, the pictures and the recipe Lynne – wow it’s just fantastic! I can just about feel myself out there with you in the South shelling peas. I come from a family that has long gardened and then either canned or froze our pickings. One of my favorite parts of summer is my first dinner of fresh garden beans. This post brings back so many good memories!
About the Book (from Lynne Bryant’s website)
A moving debut novel about female friendship, endurance, and hope in the South.
Roxanne Reeves defines her life by the committees she heads and the social status she cultivates. But she is keeping secrets that make her an outsider in her own town, always in search of acceptance. And when she is given a job none of the other white women want-researching the town’s African-American history for a tour of local sites-she feels she can’t say no.
Elderly Grace Clark, a retired black schoolteacher, reluctantly agrees to become Roxanne’s guide. Grace takes Roxanne to Catfish Alley, whose undistinguished structures are nonetheless sacred places to the black community because of what happened there. As Roxanne listens to Grace’s stories, and meets her friends, she begins to see differently. She is transported back to the past, especially to 1931, when a racist’s hatred for Grace’s brother leads to events that continue to change lives decades later. And as Roxanne gains an appreciation of the dreams, courage, and endurance of those she had so easily dismissed, her own life opens up in new and unexpected ways.
About the Author (from Lynne Bryant’s website)
I was born and raised in rural Mississippi, where my maternal grandparents farmed cotton and my mother is one of their fifteen children. I grew up during the era of the Civil Rights Movement and came of age during the volatile integration of Mississippi’s schools. I attended nursing school at Mississippi University for Women, and then went on to complete both a masters in nursing from Ole Miss and a PhD in nursing from the University of Colorado. I now teach nursing full-time in Colorado, but the home of my heart will always be Mississippi.
I came to writing later in life, finally allowing myself to unleash a love of storytelling and a lifetime of struggling to understand the complex race relations in Mississippi. My stories tackle issues most Southerners can identify with, and, like me, have struggled to understand. My debut novel, Catfish Alley, will be released by NAL/Penguin in spring 2011. Contemporary stories defined by the context of Southern history continue to intrigue me as I work on my second novel. Writing is my way to wrestle with what I can’t explain and I am compelled to do that through the voices and stories of the American South.
I have one copy of Catfish Alley by Lynne Bryant to share with my readers. To enter…
- Leave me a comment with a way to contact you (no email, no entry). If you like, share one of your favorite memories having to do with food.
- Follow my blog. If you already do, thank you, and please let me know so I can pass the extra entry on to you as well.
- For 3 entries blog or tweet this giveaway to spread the word!
This giveaway is open to US & Canadian residents only (no PO boxes) and I will draw for the winner on Saturday, April 30/11. Good luck everyone!
© 2010, Darlene of Peeking Between the Pages. All Rights Reserved. If you’re reading this on a site other than Peeking Between the Pages or Darlene’s Feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.