by Emily Sue Harvey
Being a Southern Writer has its rewards. Number one prize is my legacy of knowing and preparing fine food, passed on to me from both my Southern grandmothers. This flair waxes bold, being as I am a healthy gal with a hearty appetite. My running battle with ten extra pounds—waged since adolescence—is a result of this culinary excellence. Most of the time, I barely manage to smush down the extra padding. This particular war, however, is balanced by the pleasure I derive from writing about it. I look at it as my taste-full gift to readers.
For instance, in my novel, Homefires, a parsonage wife’s story, I enjoyed flaunting my culinary skills when newlyweds Janeece and Kirk cooked their first meal together. I was in my element describing crisp, double-batter dipped, golden fried chicken, fluffy light buttermilk biscuits, smooth, thick milk gravy, buttery rice, and zesty chilled potato salad.
But what self-respecting Southerner would stop there? This fare calls for a traditional dessert. In Janeece’s case, it was homemade banana-pudding, with cloud-light, mile-high meringue, toasted to a golden brown.
And in another novel, Unto These Hills, set on South Carolina’s Tucapau mill hill, my food affair continues. The story’s heroine, young Sunny Acklin, waitresses at the village hotel, where she serves up Daisy the cook’s, countrified specialties.
Diners there include boarding teachers and mill hands, to villagers who drop by the hotel dining room to indulge in the Southern smorgasbord. Delights like thick, creamy pinto and giant white butter beans, onion-smothered fried potatoes, crunchy fried fatback and tender ham and chunks of tender yet crisp baked cornbread call to the customers. Topping this off are slices of juicy ripe tomatoes and fresh spring onions.
Then when all the village kids, from five to twenty, weekly pour into the movie house’s Saturday matinee to watch Tim Holt or Hopalong Cassidy, Sunny’s sweetheart, Daniel buys huge bags of hot buttery popcorn—with a gigantic icy Coke—to pass around and share with Sunny and her younger siblings. The aroma of popcorn will forever remind Sunny of Daniel and his sweetness. His generosity. His love.
In my novella, Flavors, my preoccupation extends from country store banana BB Bats and caramel-y Brown Cow treats melting on the tongue, to the heroine’s whimsical flavors of life. Twelve-year-old Sadie Ann’s life-altering summer at her grandparents’ farm delves up vignettes of lemony childhood, strawberry adolescence, vanilla-y adulthood and segues through myriad other aromatic scenarios. This situation-flavor association enables young Sadie Ann to cope with life’s sometimes unpleasant turns.
All my novels offer up cozy family scenes in the kitchen and around the table, where readers may lounge and partake.
Ahh, yes! I can say without reservation that I delight in passing on this gift. Best of all-- nobody gains an ounce. Woo hoo!
So, let me remind that when ya’ll come to my beautiful world of fiction, to vicariously taste and smell the aroma of family-friendly Southern comfort, you, too, can write mouth-watering scenes when penning your pleasant and sometimes unpleasant mile-high meringue tales.
We all know we should employ all of a reader's senses in our scenes. It is relatively easier to tap into sight, sound or touch. I think food smells and tastes are the most memorable, don't you? Just as perfume/floral fragrances take us back to a certain place and time, so do food's aromas, textures and tastes. And few sensory images are as poignant and visual to the imagination as delectable culinary treats from days gone by, especially those cooked with love from Mama, Grandma and even Aunt Sarah.
Too, low country boils and moist chicken bog, a chicken/rice/smoked sausage, onion dish, sets a story's locale as effectively as Charleston's beautiful oaks dripping Spanish moss and carolina's sweet aromatic honeysuckle vines. Chewy, sweet-sour Foothills Pork BBQ brings all three senses into play for the reader: taste, texture (touch), and smell as it slides over the tongue and down the throat. Ahhh. And the creaminess of thick, onion/milk flavored potato soup? I ask you, what else can bring such a sense of comfort and nurturing than these descriptions? And with loving hands preparing the food, add to the scene whiffs of that unique security that only comes from family ties. Ah, writer, we have indeed captured the essence of one's heart, have we not?
Emily Sue Harvey is a South Carolina Christian who writes Southern mainstream fiction under Story Plant, a secular publishing house. She loves happy endings but warns that her stories portray real life with all its rotten stumps and gulley-washers. Yet she manages to paint them family friendly. Emily Sue’s main emphasis is to show, through example, that there is always sunshine above dark clouds. Look for the soon release of her sixth novel, Cocoon.