Anne Zimmerman lives in and writes from the Bay Area. She is working on a book about the food writer M.F.K. Fisher.

Southern roots

A feast for two

May 19, 2008

The Ziploc bag was large and filled with a pound of pork. Pulled pork, to be exact. Pulled pork that was dished into the clear bag, sealed tight, stuffed inside another white paper bag, and hand-carried all the way from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Portland, Oregon.

It could be one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. I’d been craving barbecue, you see, and now this craving — so hard to satisfy in West Coast restaurants — was going to be fed.

“It needs sauce,” my boyfriend said, surveying the light pink shredded meat. “And greens.” He paused again. “And I thought you could make some cornbread.”

Oh, yes. This was going to be an epic meal.

There’s only one thing that could have possibly shoved us off course: a lack of sunshine. But after months and months of gray and winter it was Saturday, and it was sunny, really and truly sunny, and warm. Not one of those days where you walk outside and the sun is shining but the air is cold. The day was divine, almost tropical in its heated, blissful unexpectedness. Which is why, after an afternoon of strolling and sunning and enjoying lazy beers outside, we were cooking our epic dinner at 9 o’clock at night.

Pulled pork.

Normally I would not be fond of this timing. But tonight the windows were open, Lyle Lovett was playing on the stereo, and we were cooking Southern food. My grandfather’s barbecue-sauce recipe was bubbling on the stove, its pungent smell calling out to the deepest part of my memory. I was making cornbread batter to pour into a deep hot skillet, and on a whim, a Southern chocolate cake famous in my family for its size and heft. It’s called Mary’s Texas Sheet Cake, and I imagine the name refers to the size — the finished product (a layer of cinnamon-chocolate-buttermilk cake topped with chocolate icing and pecans) is about the size of Texas.

When we were almost ready to eat, my boyfriend made beet greens that shrunk from a bunch of large, somewhat ugly leaves to a tangle of dark chewy greens that provided just enough health to make us feel not so completely indulgent and sinful.

It was late — and dark — when we sat down to eat. But I didn’t care. The meal was good, so good that I wanted to eat it all, and quickly. I slowed myself by remembering that meals like this don’t come around often. Better to taste and really enjoy.

As I ate, I thought about how, as a child, I didn’t love food like this. Lately, perhaps in a subconscious attempt to understand my Southern roots, I’ve craved food from that region. Sauced, smoked, and spiced meats have been on the top of my list, followed by cakey breads, piles of braised greens, sticky ambrosia, and desserts so heavy with butter and sugar it pains you to look at them.

This is not food for the faint of heart, nor food for everyday eating. But once in a while, this is food to enjoy. It tastes like my home. Maybe not a home I recall with absolute clarity, but my roots are in the South, and these days I think there might just be a bit of my grandfather’s deep, burnt-red barbecue sauce flowing through my veins.

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1. by Kathy Wimbish on May 20, 2008 at 7:42 AM PDT

A post to ponder, print and re-read when I, like my niece Anne Zimmerman, get a craving for southern food. It’s so much more than something to eat. Anne has captured the nostalgic experience of eating southern. --Kathy Wimbish

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