Foodways, a comparatively recent term, is the study of the procurement, preparation, and consumption of food. Put another way, foodways is the study of what people eat and why they eat it.
On the Georgia frontier, deer and bear, along with smaller game like squirrels and rabbits, were the primary meats. The typical meal was a one-pot affair, a hunters' stew, cooked over an open flame. A large joint of meat might be thrown directly in the embers to roast. The availability of vegetables followed the dictates of the season: beans in the summer, green corn in the fall.
The Spanish introduced pigs to Florida in 1539. The animals later made their appearance in Georgia, where they came to be appreciated for their efficient conversion of feed to flesh.
European settlers came to prefer corn to other grains like rye and wheat.
Though numerous other foodstuffs like peppers, peanuts, and black-eyed peas were introduced in ensuing years, the bedrock components of what would become the Georgia diet were in place at an early date: pork and corn. Even that fabled Georgia dish, fried chicken, owed a good portion of its popularity to the easy availability of a frying medium, namely lard.
African American Influence
Many of the dishes that we regard as distinctly Georgian owe their origins to European recipes and techniques—everything from hog's headcheese to chess pie. But the introduction of enslaved Africans may have most thoroughly transformed the diet.
African Americans reinterpreted European cookery and Native American ingredients, applying African-inspired techniques and constructions.
Georgians of African descent cooked in deep oil as they had done in Africa. They mastered the use of the sweet potato, the available tuber closest in appearance to the fibrous yams of Africa. Historian Eugene Genovese characterizes this general tendency as an example of "the culinary despotism of the [slave] quarters over the big house."
In the loamy soil of south Georgia, peanuts and pecans thrived. Though native to the region, pecan trees did not become a major crop until after the Civil War (1861-65), when planters like Nelson Tift began staking out orchards near the town of Albany. Since the 1950s Georgia has led the nation in pecan production.
Both Union and Confederate soldiers prized peanuts (which are legumes rather than true nuts) during the Civil War. They were not, however, planted often in Georgia until the early years of the twentieth century, when the boll weevil ravaged much of the cotton crop and farmers sought an alternative. Today, south Georgia—especially Early and Decatur counties—grows approximately 45 percent of the nation's peanuts.
In middle Georgia peaches have long been savored. "Even though the fruit originated in Persia and was brought to the New World by the Spaniards," Joe Gray Taylor writes, "the first settlers in the
The climate of north Georgia, where cold weather comes earlier and lasts longer, has been favored for the curing of hams and other pork products. To prevent spoilage, hog killings would take place after the first frost when cold weather set in for good. The hills and valleys of the mountains were also inhabited by moonshiners, who employed techniques of their Scots-Irish forefathers to make whiskey from corn, out of sight of federal revenue agents. Owing to the apple crop centered around Ellijay, apple brandy was also popular.
The Effects of Privation
Though Georgia boasts a long growing season for vegetables and a wealth of game and fish, the state has not been immune to economic downturn. The ravages of the Civil War took their toll, as reflected in the pages
The Great Depression was also devastating, though in 1931 it did engender a lighthearted debate between the editors of the Atlanta Constitution and Huey P. Long, U.S. senator-elect of Louisiana, over the proper consumption of two frugal foods: pot likker (the soupy leavings from the bottom of a pot of greens) and cornbread. Long was a dunker of cornbread. The Constitution advocated crumbling, and the debate raged for more than three weeks in February and March of that year.
Such Georgia food and beverage companies as the Coca-Cola Company of Atlanta, RC Cola and Tom's Peanuts (later Tom's Foods) of Columbus, and the W. B. Roddenbery Company of Cairo (maker of various cane syrup and peanut products) came to prominence in the twentieth century, selling their goods in the international marketplace. Concurrently, the movement of Georgians from farms to cities and suburbs spurred an increased reliance upon prepackaged foods and a spike in the number and quality of restaurants.
In 1916 Greek immigrant James Mallis opened a hot dog stand in Macon called Nu-Way Weiners. Fresh Air Barbecue
Fads have also affected Georgia foodways. The late 1960s signaled the national debut of the term soul food, arguably a politicized renaming of the foods long savored by black southerners.
During the later years of the twentieth century, a growing national fascination with regional foods found a foothold in the South, as cookbooks were published touting "new southern cooking."
Georgia Food Authors and Cooks of Note
Georgians did not relegate their knowledge of food to the kitchen. A number of acclaimed Georgia cooks also published food books.
Mrs. S. R. Dull, a native of Laurens County, was the longtime editor of the home economics page of the Atlanta Journal. Her 1928 book of collected recipes, Southern Cooking, was encyclopedic in scope and long regarded as a primer by southern homemakers.
Harriet Ross Colquitt was the author of The Savannah Cookbook, a more colorful and quirky collection of recipes, chock full of such coastal standards as mulatto rice (a composed rice dish with tomatoes) and Chatham Artillery Punch (a kitchen-sink conglomeration of, among other liquors, brandy, gin, rye, and rum). Published in 1933, the book boasts a foreword by poet Ogden Nash wherein he proclaims, "Everybody has the right to think whose food is the most gorgeous / And I nominate Georgia's."
Eliot Wigginton was, in the early 1970s, the first editor of Foxfire, a cultural journal created by his students at Rabun Gap–Nacoochee School in northeast Georgia. The student-collected remembrances of vegetable canning, hog killing, and apple butter–making soon proved to be very popular, spurring a best-selling series of books.
Nathalie Dupree of Social Circle was arguably one of the catalysts for the rediscovery of southern cookery
There are also many accomplished Georgia cooks who have earned their reputation not by the written word but by turning out platter after platter of good southern food. Their names should be remembered as well: Nita Dixon, the famed Lowcountry cook at Nita's Place in Savannah; Charlie Pierce, the barbecue pitmaster at Vandy's in Statesboro; Wilbur Mitcham, the chicken cook at Len Berg's in Macon; Robert and James Paschal, proprietors of Paschal's in Atlanta; Mary Margaret Lupo, the longtime owner of Mary Mac's, also of Atlanta; and the Dillard family of the 1915-vintage Dillard House in Rabun County.
Fred Brown and Sheri M. L. Smith, The Best of Georgia Farms Cookbook and Tour Book (Atlanta: CI Publishing, 1998).
John T. Edge, A Gracious Plenty: Recipes and Recollections from the American South (New York: Putnam, 1999).
John T. Edge, Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lover's Companion to the South (Athens, Ga.: Hill Street Press, 2000).
John Egerton, ed., Cornbread Nation 1:The Best of Southern Food Writing (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002).
Sam Bowers Hilliard, Hog Meat and Hoecake: Food Supply in the Old South, 1840-1860 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1972).
Luann Landon, Dinner at Miss Lady's: Memories and Recipes from a Southern Childhood (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin, 1999).
Dale Volberg Reed and John Shelton Reed, eds., Cornbread Nation 4: The Best of Southern Food Writing (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008).
Fred W. Sauceman, Cornbread Nation 5: The Best of Southern Food Writing (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010).
Joe Gray Taylor, Eating, Drinking, and Visiting in the Old South: An Informal History (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982).
John T. Edge, Southern Foodways Alliance, University of Mississippi, Oxford
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.