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Fugitive Waves – America Eats: A Hidden Archive

Fugitive Waves – America Eats: A Hidden Archive

Potlucks, church picnics, fish fries, family reunions — during the 1930s writers were paid by the government to chronicle local food, eating customs and recipes across the United States. America Eats, a WPA project, sent writers like Nelson Algren, Zora Neale Hurston, Eudora Welty, and Stetson Kennedy out to document America’s relationship with food during the Great Depression.

Hidden Kitchens — we aren’t the first project to look for them. Our search for the kitchen legacies of this country has uncovered rituals, recipes and now, an archive. Producer Jamie York and The Kitchen Sisters followed a listener’s call to the Library of Congress and beyond — and discovered “America Eats.”

During our planning process, we read Mark Kurlansky’s book Choice Cuts: Food Writing from Around the World and Throughout History and came across the following passage:

“In the 1930s Nelson Algren, a young fiction writer who in 1949 would win the first National Book Award for The Man with the Golden Arm, joined the Illinois Writers Project, part of the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA).”

It set us on the course of this story and led us to the Library of Congress, where some of the “America Eats” archives are housed. This remarkable WPA project chronicling American “foodways” in the 1930s has never been published. The parallels between this project and ours astounded us.

Each region had its own “America Eats” team. Their writings, photographs and even some scripts for a proposed weekly radio program are tucked away in collections around the country — at the New York Municipal Archive, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the University of Iowa Library, and the State Library and Archives of Florida, as well as at the Library of Congress.

Independent producer Jamie York traveled to Florida to interview one of the last living writers on the project, Stetson Kennedy, who died in 2011. You can see some of Kennedy’s photographs below and on The Library of Congress website.

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Spaghetti supper at Grape Festival in Tontitown, Arkansas, August 16, 1941. (Library of Congress)

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Boiling coffee at the Florida Peanut Festival. (Library of Congress)

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Women preparing chicken for the pilau dinner at the Peanut Festival in High Springs, Florida. (Library of Congress)

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Men wrap beef in cheesecloth at a sheriff’s barbecue in Los Angeles. (Library of Congress)

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This photo collected for the America Eats project shows a segregated barbecue at FM Gays Plantation, Alabama, 1914. (Library of Congress)

 

Recipes from the ‘America Eats’ Project

These recipes are all from the unfinished Mississippi portion of the “America Eats” project. They were collected for a cookbook called Possum and Pomegranate. John T. Edge, director of the Southern Folkways Alliance at the University of Mississippi, unearthed them for Hidden Kitchen’s producer Jamie York. Some of the recipes did not carry attribution information; nobody knows who wrote them. These recipes are untested.

Persimmon Beer

Remove the seeds from enough ripe persimmons to make a bushel of fruit without the seeds. Line a wooden keg with clean corn shucks. Mash up the persimmons with half a bushel of corn meal and half a bushel of sweet potato peelings. Put in the keg and cover with water. Cover and allow to stand until the taste is right, and then bore a hole in the top of the keg and draw off the beer. If you put a piece of cornbread in a cup and fill up the cup with persimmon beer, you’ll have something highly satisfactory. Indulge cautiously until you learn your capacity.

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Blackberry Dumplings

This dish is not made with pie crust but with ordinary biscuit dough, made just a trifle shorter than usual. Roll the dough out a little thinner than for biscuit, on a well-floured cloth. Cover the top of the dough with a thick layer of fresh, ripe blackberries. Roll the dough and berries up and tie the whole in the cloth on which it was rolled. Put the whole thing in a pot of briskly boiling water. Bring it back to boiling point as quickly as possible and then cook steadily until done. While the dumplings boil, make a sweet sauce as follows: Take 1 1/2 cups of top milk, one cupful of sugar, 1/4 cup of butter. Cook together thoroughly and flavor by putting in sprigs and leaves of mint, which have been bruised. Remove the mint leaves before serving the sauce, which should be served hot on slices of the boiled dumplings.

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Shrimper’s Sauce

The fisherman out on the shrimping boat eats but one meal a day, and that’s when the day’s work is done. His recipe for Shrimper’s Sauce has been handed down through many generations of fishermen and, although based on Creole recipes of 200 years ago, it shows by addition of salt pork the Austrian influence among shrimpers.

Shrimper’s Sauce

The fisherman out on the shrimping boat eats but one meal a day, and that when the day’s work is done. His recipe for Shrimper’s Sauce has been handed down through many generations of fishermen and, although based on Creole recipes of 200 years ago, it shows by addition of salt pork the Austrian influence among shrimpers.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup cooking oil
1 cup chopped salt pork
3 onions
1 can tomato sauce
3 cups hot water
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
1 sprig thyme
1 teaspoon celery salt
salt and pepper to taste

Directions: Fry the chopped salt pork in the oil; add the onions, chopped fine, and fry but do not allow to burn; add tomato sauce, then the boiling water, and never let the water stop boiling; add chili powder, minced garlic and the remaining ingredients. Cook slowly for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently. The sauce made, the cook sets it carefully aside and looks over his supplies to decide what the meal will be.

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Fried Oysters

For Oysters:
1 cup of seasoned corn meal
Prepared egg dip
1 cup bread crumbs

Directions: Use large oysters, looking them over carefully for bits of shell. Wash and roll in seasoned corn meal. Let stand for 10 minutes, then dip in prepared egg dip, and roll in bread crumbs. Let stand another ten minutes. Fry only three or four at a time in hot fat.

To Prepare Seasoned Meal:
1 cup corn meal
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika

Directions: Mix and sift three times.

To Prepare Egg Dip:
1 egg
1 tablespoon Worcester sauce
1 tablespoon. Salt
1 teaspoon paprika
6 teaspoons of oyster liquid
1 tablespoon grated onion sauce

Directions: Beat well together to mix. To prepare bread crumbs, put dried, stale bread through food chopper.

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Sweet Cucumber Pickles

It is better to have little finger-sized cucumbers, but as far as the taste goes, bigger ones cut into slices or chunks about one-inch thick are just as good. There should be about two gallons of cucumbers. Place in a stone jar and pour over them two cups of salt and one gallon of boiling water. Let this stand for one week, skimming every day.

On the eighth day, drain well and pour over the fruit one gallon of fresh boiling water. Let this stand for 24 hours.

On the ninth day, drain again and pour over a second gallon of fresh boiling water. Add one tablespoon of powdered alum. Let this stand 24 hours.

On the 10th day, drain liquid off and pour over one gallon of fresh boiling water. Let stand 24 hours.

On the 11th day, drain water off and put the fruit in a clean stone jar or a preserving kettle. Prepare a syrup of five pints of vinegar, 1/2 ounce of celery seed, six cups of sugar and one ounce of stick cinnamon. When this comes to a boiling point, pour it over the cucumbers. Let stand 24 hours.

On the 12th, 13th and 14th day, drain and reheat the syrup, adding one a cup of sugar each day. On the 14th day, pack the cucumbers in fruit jars and cover with syrup. Put rubbers and tops on the jars but do not screw tightly. Heat these jars of sweet pickles to the scalding point and seal. You may think you would never be willing to undertake such a prolonged process, but if you ever get one sniff of these pickles, you will do anything necessary to get your pantry stocked with them. They smell like Araby the Blest, and they taste better than they smell.

—— “America Eats,” Mississippi, author unknown

Fugitive Waves – Electronic Memories: R.A. Coleman’s Memphis

Fugitive Waves – Electronic Memories: R.A. Coleman’s Memphis

In the early 1950s, at the same time legendary record producer Sam Phillips was making recordings of the pageants and events happening in Memphis’ white community—across town, R.A. Coleman, an African American photographer, was making recordings of the black community—weddings, church choirs, nightclubs and dance halls.

New Fugitive Waves Episode: Sam Phillips and the Early Years of the Memphis Recording Service

New Fugitive Waves Episode: Sam Phillips and the Early Years of the Memphis Recording Service

Sam Phillips and the Early Years of the Memphis Recording Service

Before Elvis walked through the door, before Sun Studios put Memphis on the map—Sam Phillips, a young man with a tape recorder, lived by the motto, “We Record Anything, Anywhere, Anytime.” Weddings, funerals, marching bands, the Miss Memphis Pageant—Sam recorded them all—anything to keep his fledgling Memphis Recording Service open to record Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Little Junior, Ike Turner, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley. The raw and rocking, unrecorded music of the 1950s South.

 

New Fugitive Waves Episode – The Nights of Edith Piaf

New Fugitive Waves Episode – The Nights of Edith Piaf

She rose every day at dusk and rehearsed, performed, ate and drank until dawn.  Then slept all day, woke up and began to create and unravel again as the sun went down.  Nearly every song Edith Piaf sang came from a moment of her life on the streets of Paris.  She would tell her composer and musician lovers a story, or describe a feeling or show them a gesture and they would put music and words to her pain and passion, giving her back her own musical autobiography.  Charles Aznavour, Francis Lai, Georges Moustaki, Henri Contet, some of France’s great musicians and writers recall their nights with Edith Piaf.   

Produced by The Kitchen Sisters in collaboration with Raquel Bitton, who hosts and translates the program.

www.raquelbitton.com

Fugitive Waves is one of 10 podcasts in the Radiotopia Collective, some of the best story-driven podcasts on earth.  99% Invisible, The Truth, Love & Radio,Theory of Everything, Strangers, Radio Diaries, and us, The Kitchen Sisters. Come January you’ll also be hearing Criminals, Mortified, The Illusionist and Heart.   Love Funding for this episode comes from Mothlight Creative and Audible.com.  Funding for Radiotopia comes from Mailchimp and The Knight Foundation and from all of you who backed the Kickstarter campaign that kicked some serious support.  Thank you.  

If you like Fugitive Waves, please subscribe in iTunes.

New episode of Fugitive Waves – Eel Pie Island

New episode of Fugitive Waves – Eel Pie Island

The Kitchen Sisters take us to a little-known, hidden corner of London — to Eel Pie Island, a tiny slice of land in the middle of the Thames. Now a small bohemian community of artists, inventors, river gypsies and boat builders, on the edge of Twickenham, Eel Pie Island has a flamboyant history that stretches from Henry VIII to The Rolling Stones.

Eel Pie Island is produced by The Kitchen Sisters with Nathan Dalton, mixed by Jim McKee / The Hidden World of Kate McGarrigle, produced by the Kitchen Sisters

Fugitive Waves is produced by The Kitchen Sisters in collaboration with Tom Corwin

The Guardian on Fugitive Waves

The Guardian on Fugitive Waves

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The Guardian Observer
“If you want evidence that not all the world is bad, then may I suggest Radiotopia. Launched last week, it’s a website that collects seven amazing US podcasts all in one place, including 99% Invisible and Love+Radio, which I’ve recommended before. I haven’t even had time to listen to them all yet – bye bye weekend – but did check out Fugitive Waves, a podcast made by Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, aka the Kitchen Sisters. The Sisters are longtime radioheads with a vast recording archive, and this podcast – ‘stories from the flip side of history’ – marries music, audio fragments, interviews and narration to make warmer sounding, more offbeat documentaries. I listened to Edison – about Thomas Edison – and learned a lot about the godfather of recorded sound, mostly that he was majorly obstreperous. Fab.”  @radiotopia.fm #fugitivewaves
The Observer
Kitchen Sisters + Radiotopia

Kitchen Sisters + Radiotopia

Today, we join an esteemed and eccentric group of producers in launching Radiotopia from PRX. Radiotopia is a gathering of the best story-driven, creative, cutting-edge radio shows on earth — shows like 99% Invisible, The Truth, Strangers, Theory of Everything, Love and Radio, Radio Diaries and our new project, Fugitive Waves. Producers Roman Mars, Jonathan Mitchell, Lea Thau, Benjamin Walker, Nick van der Kolk, Joe Richman and The Kitchen Sisters have banded together with PRX to create this new experiment in storytelling.

Fugitive Waves — Lost recordings and shards of sound, along with new tales of remarkable people from around the world. Stories from the flip side of history. To kick things off, we’re mining the archive. Here’s a story from our Lost & Found Sound series, an epic collaboration we produced with Jay Allison, NPR and thousands of listeners around the nation — The Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall and Rise of Thomas Alva Edison.

Radiotopia from PRX is made possible with support from the Knight Foundation, and our launch sponsor, MailChimp, who celebrate creativity, chaos, and teamwork. It’s so rare to see someone celebrate chaos. Chaos, creativity and teamwork. Sounds like The Kitchen Sisters.

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