Southern Baking Traditions

Southern Baking Traditions - Price Family, date unknown - Courtsey of The Center for Public History

Note: This project was conducted before the formal inception of the SFA’s oral history program. It differs in scope and format from later SFA oral history projects. In this case, the project was conducted by the Center for Public History at the University of West Georgia, with support from the Southern Foodways Alliance.

Southern baking is not only a way of survival: it is an expression of love, empathy, and celebration. Food brings families together at mealtime, celebrates the gathering of communities at traditional “dinner on the grounds,” consoles friends when a loved one dies, and offers topic for conversation at holidays. It represents the resourcefulness and ties that bind southern families and communities together.

Almost every family boasts its own special baking traditions, from the daily fare of biscuits and cornbread to favorite baked goods made for holidays or other special occasions. Even today, southerners bake cherished recipes and use the prized baking pans that we remember from our childhood. The nourishment of these traditional baked goods, passed down from generation to generation, represents a nourishment of the soul.

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In 2003 the Center for Public History engaged in an oral history project documenting our regional foodways. The Southern Foodways Alliance, in Oxford, Mississippi, approached us with some funding from Crisco and asked if we would like to partner with them to begin an oral history project exploring Southern baking traditions. Dr. Ann McCleary, Director of the Center for Public History, eagerly obliged, and since that time, several graduate and undergraduate students and university faculty in history, anthropology, and gerontology have participated in the project. We have conducted over thirty interviews, created a traveling exhibit, and conducted a number of public programs at our exhibit locations, finely tuned for the special audiences in our community.

The Center for Public History, University of West Georgia (View the on-line exhibit here.)


A complete set of interviews from the Southern Baking Traditions project is archived in the Southern Foodways Alliance’s Oral History collection at the University of Mississippi.

Interviews

Annelle Lindsey

Annelle Lindsey

Mrs. Lindsey fondly recalls her mother using some brand specific and farm produced ingredients to bake homemade cakes, pies, biscuits, cornbread, and tea cakes in her favorite worn cake pan and perfectly seasoned cast iron skillet. Even today Lindsey uses many of her mother’s recipes for holidays, birthdays, and church dinner on the grounds.

Eula Mae & Alton Stitcher - SFA Member Contributions

Eula Mae & Alton Stitcher

There are few dishes Eula Mae Stitcher cannot cook. The very thought of Eula’s fruit cobbler or Red Velvet, fresh apple, Amish Friendship, Coca-Cola, and punchbowl cakes can leave anyone’s mouth watering. The biggest fan of Eula’s baking is her husband of forty-two years, local musician Alton Stitcher. Mr. Stitcher has seen the modern evolution of baking and his wife’s recipes over the years, and he still has vivid memories of the ingredients and methods his mother used in preparing food for his family as a child.

James & Evelyn Tamplin

Ironically Mrs. Tamplin’s experience in getting her Home Economics degree was the first time she had ever attempted to cook, her mother had always insisted she handle the family meals. Just as her mother was well known around the community for her tea cakes and fried pies years ago, Evelyn Tamplin’s unique recipes have led her to be dubbed the “muffin lady” around Carrollton, and “Betty Crocker” by her friends in Florida. Mrs. Tamplin’s Christmas Lizzies are a popular holiday treat and though convenience and health concerns have led her to use modern pre-packaged goods in some of her recipes, Evelyn fondly recalls the days when farm-fresh ingredients were available.

Matthew Fuller

The family farm often produced the ingredients needed to cook and bake, however when times were hard and money scarce, many families including the Fuller’s found ways to improvise. Seasonal availability and special events often dictated the Fuller menu, but M.T. remembers the female members of his family baking and mixing meals with ease, without the aide of a measuring cup or spoon. According to M.T. Fuller, the “old-fashioned” methods of cooking have gradually given way to more modern traditions, and although it might be easier to make frozen biscuits or purchase a cake at the bakery, the homemade version has and will always yield a “better flavor.”

Sandy Pollard - SFA Member Contributions

Sandy Pollard

Overtime, Pollard has mastered the art of baking “light and fluffy” biscuits and adapted to perfection her ex-husband’s family tea cake recipe. Although the convenience of modern restaurants, groceries and bakeries have altered the diets of many Southerners Ms. Pollard continues to observe tradition by cooking the “old Fashioned way.” Sandy Pollard believes the extra time required to bake homemade southern foods like pound cake and banana pudding produces a delicious tangible product, but also an unspoken message of love that nourishes the soul.