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.
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.