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March 22, 2013 8:30 AM   Subscribe

The Great Hog-Eating Confederacy
Early Southerners ate a rather limited and unvarying diet. At table the famished guest seldom found more than bacon, corn pone, and coffee sweetened with molasses. Pioneering sociologist Harriet Martineau complained that “little else than pork, under all manner of disguises” sustained her during her visit to the American SouthFor the most part, slaves observed the same diet as poor white farmers. Though many kept gardens, and thus supplemented their rations of pork and corn with a wide variety of vegetables, they had otherwise little opportunity to augment their diet.. Another traveler griped that that he had “never fallen in with any cooking so villainous.” A steady assault of “rusty salt pork, boiled or fried … and musty corn meal dodgers” brought his stomach to surrender. Rarely did “a vegetable of any description” make it on his plate, and “no milk, butter, eggs, or the semblance of a condiment” did he once see.
Christine Baumgarthuber is a writer for The New Inquiry and runs the blog The Austerity Kitchen.

Austerity Kitchen has posts like:
Night Moves
The hours that followed first sleep individuals passed in diverse manners; no custom or obligation imposed itself on this time between times. Ekirch writes that this period bore no name other than the “watch” or “watching.” Reluctant to leave a warm bed, many were content to do just that–watch. Others chatted with bedfellows, smoked pipes, comforted ill kinsmen or tended fires. Neighbors visited. Sometimes they broke bread. And frequently was the call of nature heeded. “When you do wake of your fyrst slepe,” counsels the medieval physician Andrew Boorde, “make water if you feel your bladder charged.”
Bundle Theory
Many thought bundling strange. One prominent New York physician called it a “ridiculous and pernicious custom.” Others blamed it for the precipitous decline in Yankee morals. But its defenders deemed it an economical and humane prelude to marriage. A couple bundled burnt no candles, they insisted, and other household members could rest easy knowing they had spared their visitor a tramp home in the winter night.
Baumgarthuber has also written pieces like:
Our Daily Grub
Peppered, salted, sprinkled with finely chopped parsley, fried in butter, and dunked in vinegar, locusts make a dish whose savor is rivaled perhaps only by pan-seared stag beetles fattened on wine and flour. Browned meal worms served on a biscuit pairs well with woodlouse purée and is a terrific entrée for a main dish of grilled Buff-tip caterpillars or chafed chrysalides. Plump baked moth, oven-fresh and piping hot, is a dessert so surpassingly sweet as to upstage any visions of sugar plums that may dance in children’s heads.
Workingman's Bread
“How well can we live,” Juliet Corson asked herself, “if we are moderately poor?” On the radical origins of home economics.
Not By Bread And Marg Alone
Oleomargarine’s initial foray into the marketplace went anything but smoothly. Dairy farmers hated the stuff, and officials in the United States, Canada, and Australasia placed bans on the artificial coloring that made it resemble butter. This they hoped would render it less appealing to consumers. Such interference came to nothing; people grew to love the product, particularly those in pinched circumstances. In his 1936 novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying, George Orwell notes the “half-eaten bits of bread and margarine” strewn about the lodging-house bedroom of his narrator, a downwardly mobile advertising copywriter turned bookstore clerk. And social reformer Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree’s 1911 study on unemployment quotes the diary of a “casual worker” (a man employed only intermittently):

Tuesday, July 12.—Earned a shilling at wharf for working three hours. Breakfast—bacon and bread; dinner—bacon and bread; tea—margarine and bread.

Wednesday, July 13.—Went out at 5.30 A.M.; walked round to several different jobs…. Breakfast—margarine and bread; dinner—dripping and bread; tea—kipper and bread, and not much of that.
posted by the man of twists and turns (58 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite

 
Going Whole Hog - "authentic food arts from italy and France"
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:32 AM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


locusts ... stag beetles fattened on wine and flour. ... meal worms ... Buff-tip caterpillars... chrysalides ... Plump baked moth

I actually gagged.

The South deserved to lose.

And, i don't believe. Can you fatten stag beetles? Or moths? I've seen some big bugs in my time, but never fat bugs.
posted by Mezentian at 8:42 AM on March 22, 2013


I've seen some big bugs in my time, but never fat bugs.

Tomato hornworm? Not that I would eat one... *shudder*
posted by selfnoise at 8:45 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have always been tickled by the idea of bundling. And I bet extremely amourous couples figured out how to get around the restrictions.
posted by Kitteh at 8:46 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


The South deserved to lose.

The people that were eating moths didn't cause the Civil War.
posted by downing street memo at 8:47 AM on March 22, 2013 [22 favorites]


When on long winter nights a suitor called on an eligible daughter, her parents served him pie, bound both his legs in a large woolen sock, and bundled him into bed with his sweetheart.

And if you don't think the kids figured out a way to get around that, then you don't remember what it was like to be a teenager.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:49 AM on March 22, 2013 [12 favorites]


I think the bug eating comes from an article unrelated to the South at all.

Southerns do love them some margarine, to the exclusion of butter even when available, so that article can apply to both.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:49 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can attest to the efficacy of a pork and beer-based diet with practically no vegetables. I weighed less when I got home from a year in the Czech Republic than I ever have.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:50 AM on March 22, 2013 [12 favorites]


The people that were eating moths didn't cause the Civil War.

Job creators! Trickle-down economics! Etc.
posted by Mezentian at 8:50 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whelp, I know what I'm doing today - reading about the caloric needs of history!
posted by The Whelk at 8:53 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


And I bet extremely amourous couples figured out how to get around the restrictions.

"hey, how about we untie the bag, do it, and then retie the bag" is not exactly rocket science
posted by mightygodking at 8:53 AM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


"hey, how about we untie the bag, do it, and then retie the bag" is not exactly rocket science

For the bag, sure. But for the heavy board, I wonder. Especially when you're being monitored to some extent. It wasn't all about the honor system.
posted by Kitteh at 8:57 AM on March 22, 2013


"hey, how about we untie the bag, do it, and then retie the bag" is not exactly rocket science

In some houses the bag went up to your neck, and each person was in their own separate bag, which made that a bit tricky. In other houses they also put a huge board down the middle of the bed between the two.

Still.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:57 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


At table the famished guest seldom found more than bacon, corn pone, and coffee

I'm sorry, I don't understand how this is a problem.
posted by dersins at 9:00 AM on March 22, 2013 [16 favorites]


See also Eating Alabama.

Disclosure I guess: I may be present in the film though I haven't made it to a screening yet. I'm good friends with one of the couples involved, not the director (Andrew and his wife, I knew them only in passing), and was at the grand finale party camping out, finalizing the composting toilet, helping with the* pit grilling of the whole hog, picking said hog clean for pulled pork, making fresh cider, and grooving with the band into the wee hours around the campfire.

That band, they were outstanding, I'd love to know where they are know. Might do an askme about them.

*Not me but I slept in the barn in the background, and help him drive his truck out with a broken leaf spring from hauling in too much wood for the pit.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:02 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mezentian, now I'm confused. I thought I framed this post pretty obviously - there's a hook, a overview of the site it came from and the author, and example's of the author's other pieces. Can you explain how an attempt by "British clergyman and amateur entomologist Vincent M. Holt in ... 1885" to promote insects as a protein source relates to the South "deserving to lose," "trickle down economics," and "job creators"?

Or did you just not read any of the links?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:04 AM on March 22, 2013


Don't talk about your capons, let's have some rusty bacon
And aye, a good piece of prickled pork
That's always in my house, a crust of bread and cheese
That's some diet for a husband man.


-- folksong. Not southern. Not even American.
posted by jfuller at 9:05 AM on March 22, 2013


The "Bread and Marg" article is great! I'd recommend that everyone read that as well.

in the case of some people i'd recommend that you read any of the material before commenting
posted by codacorolla at 9:08 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Omg, the formatting of my previous comment makes me shudder, and I missed the 5 minute edit window to fix it because I was looking for a image link to the composting toilet we built.

First world, hippy-nutty-crunchy, locavore, grammar nazi, techie problems and all that.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:14 AM on March 22, 2013


Whenever I read about the diets of the poor, it mostly serves to remind me of how little it's changed.

Today, they might be eating Cheetos rather than bread-and-marg, but the main difference between this and that is a lot of salt and artificial flavoring. It still amounts to to non-nourishing meals of fat and carbohydrate, especially for the urban and suburban poor who can't keep their own gardens or were raised not knowing how to prepare or eat fruits and vegetables.
posted by ardgedee at 9:22 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wood and a sock is pretty much male teenage life even now.
posted by srboisvert at 9:25 AM on March 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


Pork and corn I can understand. I'm a bit surprised that chickens and eggs were not also a major food source.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:25 AM on March 22, 2013


That article on sails is making me wonder if I could have a snail box in the apartment, like the little cages used for fattening up small mamalls on kitchen scraps....

I've never had snail, how are they? Similar to oysters?
posted by The Whelk at 9:29 AM on March 22, 2013


Chocolate Pickle: "Pork and corn I can understand. I'm a bit surprised that chickens and eggs were not also a major food source"

I remember reading (in a MeFi post?) that chickens were pretty expensive to raise up until fairly recently.

The Whelk: "I've never had snail, how are they? Similar to oysters?"

The one time I had Escargot it was like garlic-buttery clam strips. not horrible by any means.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 9:53 AM on March 22, 2013


The Whelk: "... if I could have a snail box in the apartment ..."

as seen in Delicatessen
posted by idiopath at 9:54 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry to regurgitate but, oh, that piece of Kafka writing about his own insomnia is lovely:

...In reality they have flocked together as they had once upon a time and again later in a deserted region, a camp in the open, a countless number of men, an army, a people, under a cold sky on cold earth, collapsed where once they had stood, forehead pressed on the arm, face to the ground, breathing quietly. And you are watching, are one of the watchmen, you find the next one by brandishing a burning stick from the brushwood pile beside you. Why are you watching? Someone must watch, it is said. Someone must be there.
posted by forgetful snow at 9:56 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Goldberger was also aware that pellagra was a rural disease associated with poverty, occurring in people who consumed a monotonous "3-M diet" of meat (fat-back), cornmeal, and molasses...Pellagra was a rural disease among the sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and cotton mill workers of the South. Its occurrence in epidemic proportions was linked to the economic depression of the times and the monoculture of cotton cultivation.


- "Pellagra in the United States: A Historical Perspective" South Med J. 2000;93(3).
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:00 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was just telling my kids at dinner last night about how not only my native Deep South's standard dinner, but all of 19th Century America's standard fare, was "hog and hominy." And it was eaten as fast as possible and washed down with huge amounts of corn whiskey.

There's a delightful book called The Alcoholic Republic that covers the miserable dining habits of Americans of the 1800s. Lots of stuff about American slobs insulting foreign visitors who appeared to be enjoying or lingering over a meal, and one of the best explanations for the temperance movement I've read.
posted by kenlayne at 10:06 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've never had snail, how are they? Similar to oysters?

The only way I've ever had them is in the standard French styles, Bourguignonne (drowned in garlic butter and herbs) and Provencal (roughly the same, plus tomatoes). They're chewy like squid, slightly fishy in flavour, but exist mainly as vehicles for a big heavenly whack of garlic butter on the palate. Nowhere near as clean and distinctive a flavour as a fresh raw oyster. In fact, the idea of eating a snail raw is pretty damn revolting, whereas I would kill indiscriminately to get another platter full of Malpeque oysters eaten raw without so much as a squeeze of lemon dockside in PEI.

Like a lot of classic French dishes, the ostensible star of the dish seems almost like a dare. Could we really transform these nasty little animals into a delicacy? See also: tripe, sweetbreads, eels.
posted by gompa at 10:25 AM on March 22, 2013


Weren't most families living all in one room, so that you were bundled next to a handsome man/pretty girl with the parents right there?

I don't buy the body-warmth story; just as easy to let the stranger sleep next to the man of the house. Or in a pile of hay, or next to a cow. Or even, if you are just wanting to be hospitable, next to the hearth.

Bundling is a compellingly odd custom no matter how many times I hear an explanation. It can't possibly be about warmth, and it was hardly unusual to marry your daughter off to a near-stranger that had never even held her hand, much less bundled with her.

I can't help thinking there was simply a dearth of marrigeable/fertile men and families with daughters made this custom up so as to ensure the next generation, by hook or by crook (as it were). In which case, the parents might put on a show of snoring loudly or keeping their backs to the couple or what have you. Or just putting the sock on somewhat loosely.
posted by emjaybee at 10:27 AM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry, I'm Foreign. Can I just confirm: you're not making this "bundling" tradition up? It's a real serious thing that people actually did? You're not being funny?
posted by alasdair at 10:39 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sorry to regurgitate

Interesting word choice, that, for an FPP about food customs....

I'm sorry, I'm Foreign. Can I just confirm: you're not making this "bundling" tradition up? It's a real serious thing that people actually did? You're not being funny?

It was indeed really an actual thing.

Wikipedia on Bundling
a 1938 sociologist's paper on Bundling
The Global Anabaptist Encyclopedia entry on Bundling
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:43 AM on March 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


> They're chewy like squid, slightly fishy in flavour, but exist mainly as vehicles for a big
> heavenly whack of garlic butter on the palate.

If the garlic sauce is right you don't really even need the snail. A strip of old steel-belted radial will do.

(The situation alters somewhat if you're a French peasant who hates to waste anything, and you see all these honking big snails in your vinyard eating your grape leaves, and you go hmm... protéine?)
posted by jfuller at 11:11 AM on March 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


I'm feeling a bit lazy to Google it, but do snails have any nutritional merit? My gut assumption is that since they feed on plants and stuff they might actually have a lot of vitamins and minerals that are essential to a good diet, but they may also just be gooey empty calories.
posted by codacorolla at 11:21 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, I don't understand how this is a problem.

That you'd get scurvy, rickets or pellagra.
posted by GuyZero at 11:27 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


do snails have any nutritional merit?

They appear to be a reasonably good source of protein and magnesium and a minor source of iron (and cholesterol). That's about it. Not exactly bad for you, but nothing to write home about. Of course, that's all before you drown them in butter and garlic (escargots à la bourguignonne) to make up for the, shall we say, lackluster flavor.
posted by jedicus at 12:01 PM on March 22, 2013


Pork and corn I can understand. I'm a bit surprised that chickens and eggs were not also a major food source.

The meals were only a bit more evolved on the tables of my grandparents as they grew up in the Southern Appalachians than that described in the article. My granddad recalled meals that were just corn on the cob, another, my great-uncle, told me that generally breakfast was a bit of pork, biscuit and some milk. Sometimes he'd get to dip his biscuit in coffee.

Most of my grandparents grew up on mostly self-sufficient farms, they literally lived off what they grew or raised. The exception generally being salt. Wheat would be grown, taken to the local mill, and ground into flour with some set aside as payment to the miller. Same goes for corn and cornmeal. Vegetables were also canned vigorously. We have small diaries that belonged to my great-grandmother in which she'd merely note for the day, the temperature, the weather, and something along the lines of 42 jars of beans canned. The walls of their cellar were lined with mason jars securing meals to come.

Chickens, though, you didn't slaughter a chicken except for special occasions. They were usually precious for their eggs, often which served as good currency to take into town to sell or exchange for things you needed. They benefited from having a milk cow, so there was a source for milk and butter.

Back to the pork, slaughtering the hog(s) was a very important time on the farms. This would be the source of sustenance for months to come, particularly over winter. My father's father quipped in his recorded oral history that when he was little, he hated having to go to school (nearby one room school house) and not being allowed to stay to help with the slaughtering. Then, when he was old enough to help, he hated having to stay to help instead of going to school. Pork for the farms in the area were preserved by smoking them or by salting them.

My great-uncle described his father filling up a giant ceramic jar, three feet high or so, with layer after layer of cut pork covered and sandwiched with salt to preserve it. At the time of slaughter, it was also essential to decide if you wanted bacon or not. Allegedly, my great-grandfather traded his ham to another for their bacon and regretted it for months.

It's surprising in reflection how long such a diet persisted, but makes sense given that the South remained a very rural place until well into the 20th Century.

P.S. A bonus of hog slaughtering time was grabbing a pig bladder, tying it off, and letting the gases inside fill it up and turn it into a balloon.
posted by Atreides at 12:14 PM on March 22, 2013 [14 favorites]


I had great sweetbreads at a restaurant called Jam in Chicago. They were delicious, and other than knowing where they came from there was nothing offensive about them.

Snails - yeah, a bit like seafood, but with a dirty/soily freshwater quality. I wouldn't go out of my way to have snail again.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:12 PM on March 22, 2013


I've never had snail, how are they?

As noted above, one frequently consumes them as a means to pack garlic-butter sauce, and they aren't bad.

That being said, it's my understanding that one will want to keep their captured snails for a few days and feed them on corn meal so that whatever potentially toxic matter they've been getting with can be digested and expelled.
posted by mr. digits at 2:11 PM on March 22, 2013


Giant African land snails are also eaten in West Africa - those are considerably meatier than the ones eaten in France and very nutritious. I couldn't eat one now that I've kept one as a pet and loved it very much (one step up from crouton-petting, I know), but I totally would have tried it before. They're banned in the USA and some other countries because they can thrive in the wild and become pests, but if more people were willing to eat them, I bet that wouldn't be a problem.

Great post, the man of twists and turns. I look forward to chewing through the links.
posted by daisyk at 3:19 PM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


mightygodking: And I bet extremely amourous couples figured out how to get around the restrictions.

"hey, how about we untie the bag, do it, and then retie the bag" is not exactly rocket science
If you think you've figured out something that the parents of the daughter, desperate to keep her unimpregnated until the wedding, didn't think of...

Wanna buy some land? You look like a real smart feller.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:26 PM on March 22, 2013


downing street memo: The South deserved to lose.

The people that were eating moths didn't cause the Civil War.
Both of you are right.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:26 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Girl Meets Bug, a blog by an insect-eating enthusiast.

Think Magical Pixie Dream Girl for Renfield.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:30 PM on March 22, 2013


the man of twists and turns: Mezentian, now I'm confused. I thought I framed this post pretty obviously - there's a hook, a overview of the site it came from and the author, and example's of the author's other pieces. Can you explain how an attempt by "British clergyman and amateur entomologist Vincent M. Holt in ... 1885" to promote insects as a protein source relates to the South "deserving to lose," "trickle down economics," and "job creators"?

Or did you just not read any of the links?
Mezentian was responding to the comments about the Civil War not being caused by the poor Southerners, and ironically applying 21st-century Republican talking points to describe the plantation owners who were economically motivated to secede from the Union. The joke has nothing to do with the links, per se.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:35 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


the comments about the Civil War not being caused by the poor Southerners

Which comments were those? The comment you linked was about how British clergymen from 1885 weren't responsible for the Civil War.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:49 PM on March 22, 2013




It should also go without saying that non-peener-in-vageener sex wasn't an invention of the 20th century.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:15 PM on March 22, 2013


keep their captured snails for a few days and feed them on corn meal so that whatever potentially toxic matter they've been getting with can be digested and expelled

Yes.
Or, in certain areas of Spain, gorge them on rosemary exclusively for a few days.

from Jeffrey Steingarten's article on paella
The paella recipe called for either twelve snails or two sprigs of rosemary.
which he found out later was intended to not only purge the snails of whatever they'd recently eaten but also to the flavor the snails.
posted by Prince_of_Cups at 4:22 PM on March 22, 2013


I'm about as un-Southern as you can get and there are days when I'll eat pig products for every meal. There's even more variety now, since you can get sweet & sour pork.

The snails I've eaten are tasty.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:34 PM on March 22, 2013


Bundling: "bound both his legs in a large woolen sock"

The first known origin of a 'cum sock' and an early version of the modern condom?

But I think someone was pulling someone's leg over a sleeping bag, to be honest.

"Oh yes, your grandfather used to sleep in that when we were courting."

"But Grandmama! You weren't married!"

"See, it was the custom of the family..."
posted by Phalene at 7:49 PM on March 22, 2013


Oh man, the cook book reviews, the fad diet one that's like one long book length Pro Anorexia rant, honey hunters! This blog is nothing but awesome.
posted by The Whelk at 2:58 PM on March 23, 2013


the man of twists and turns: the comments about the Civil War not being caused by the poor Southerners

Which comments were those? The comment you linked was about how British clergymen from 1885 weren't responsible for the Civil War.
The comment I linked to, in its entirety:

The South deserved to lose.

The people that were eating moths didn't cause the Civil War.


The first quote is clearly about the US Civil War, which happened in the US, was not fought by the British, and only a few of them were clergymen. None of them were fighting it in 1885.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:14 AM on March 25, 2013


the man of twists and turns: desperate to keep her unimpregnated until the wedding

"But by the mid-18th-c, however, premarital sex was much more common. Over 40% of married women were giving birth less than 8 1/2 months after marriage (Domestic Revolutions 19)."

"Beyond doubt, most people stayed strictly within the bounds of propriety, but in the mid to late 1700s, more than one girl in three was pregnant when she walked down the aisle."

"Given the premarital pregnancy rate of between 30 and 40 percent in late 18th century New England, at least some 'girling of it' [bundling] must have involved sexual intercourse."
You've proven people had premarital sex in that period. Also, some of them liked cake. Do you have any evidence that their parents weren't upset by premarital pregnancy?
posted by IAmBroom at 10:16 AM on March 25, 2013


The people that were eating moths is a response to Mezentian's bolded "plump baked moth," which was directly taken from the pullquote under the link "Our Daily Grub." That piece concernes a proposal by a British clergyman in 1885 to switch from animal protein to insect protein. Mezentian referred to the eating of insects as a reson the South deserved to lose, yet referenced a link that specifically talks about a proposal from 1885. I concur with you, IAmBroom, people in 1885 weren't responsbile for the US Civil War. Can you point to the link that Mezentian refers to to support his apparent claim that poor Southerners were eating insects?

I notice that Mezentian hasn't popped back in to clarify whether or not he actually read the links or not. Since you're somewhat unclear on the content of the links, I'd suggest you read them as well.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:29 AM on March 25, 2013


Have some cake and relax.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:10 PM on March 25, 2013


Cake or Death?
posted by Atreides at 2:22 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


according to that fad diet book CAKE WAS LITERALLY DEATH LOOK A CARTOON OF CAKE DIGGING A GRAVE FOR 'THE FAT MAN'.
posted by The Whelk at 2:26 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Folks, we only see what you flag. please either take this to MeTa or move on in this thread? ]
posted by jessamyn at 5:51 PM on March 25, 2013


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