Monday, May 19, 2008


(Caroline Atwater standing in the kitchen doorway of double one and a half story log house, North Carolina, July 1939; photograph by Dorothea Lange)

The Writer's Almanac poem for Sunday, May 18th was an evocative and sharp piece about class. I'm going to reprint it here:


by Jim Harrison

On Easter morning all over America
the peasants are frying potatoes in bacon grease.

We're not supposed to have "peasants"
but there are tens of millions of them
frying potatoes on Easter morning,
cheap and delicious with catsup.

If Jesus were here this morning he might
be eating fried potatoes with my friend
who has a '51 Dodge and a '72 Pontiac.

When his kids ask why they don't have
a new car he says, "these cars were new once
and now they are experienced."

He can fix anything and when rich folks
call to get a toilet repaired he pauses
extra hours so that they can further
learn what we're made of.

I told him that in Mexico the poor say
that when there's lightning the rich
think that God is taking their picture.
He laughed.

Like peasants everywhere in the history
of the world ours can't figure out why
they're getting poorer. Their sons join
the army to get work being shot at.

Your ideals are invisible clouds
so try not to suffocate the poor,
the peasants, with your sympathies.
They know that you're staring at them.

I have two shelves of cookbooks, but one of the three* I prize the most is White Trash Cooking. Click on the link for a marvelous article about the book and its "aristo-dixie-queer" author, Ernest Matthew Mickler. And, in honor of the book and the poem, here's a popular recipe from the book:


1 pound sweet potatoes
12 slices canned pineapple
6 slices bacon, cut into halves
6 tender pork chops (or, as my Daddy's family called 'em, 'poke chops')
6 tablespoons brown sugar

Select sweet potatoes to makes slices a bit smaller than pineapple slices. Cut into slices one inch thick. Parboil the potatoes in salted water for 10 minutes. Place each chop between two slices of pineapple. Place slice of sweet potato on top of each pork-pineapple stack. Sprinkle each porkette with one tablespoon of brown sugar. Place bacon criss-cross on top. Place porkettes in open casserole. Bake at 375 degrees for one hour or longer, depending on thickness of chops.

Tutti, Petie's grandma, said "she learned to make porkettes by using a Hawaiian recipe combined with Southern ingredient. You cain't git trashier than that."

*Besides White Trash Cooking, The other two are The Joy of Cooking my Mama gave me when I first moved out on my own, now with stained pages and a broken binding, and Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home.

ADDENDUM: No post on white trash or po' folks regional cooking in this country would be complete without a mention of Jello, that "other vegetable". And there's a fabulous exploration of Jello ephemera, imagery and meaning on Liza Cowan's blog, See Saw, that makes me crave cold, slippery, black cherry Jello every time I go there. Check it out at More Jello Images.

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