The Earl Scruggs Center will be hosting John Beck, Ph.D, one of the NC Humanities Council’s Road Scholars on May 30th from 2:00 to 3:00 PM. Dr. Beck will be giving a program on the history of the cuisine of the south. Southern cuisine is a blending of the culinary traditions and ingredients of three primary groups: Native Americans, and immigrants from the British Isles and West and Central Africa. This “blend” has resulted in a “core” cuisine in the South that one can find from Virginia to Texas. This “core” is not the whole story: subcultures of the South have supported cuisines — Creole, Cajun, and “Tex-Mex” for example — that differ, sometimes dramatically, from the “core” cuisine. Traditional Southern fare was always primarily cooked and consumed at home; this was not, with some notable exceptions, a cuisine fostered by restaurants. At its upper reaches, an “haute” cuisine created in the homes of the planters and the postbellum affluent families by black female cooks would take common dishes and raise them to new levels with better ingredients, greater levels of expertise, and subtle and often complex variations. Folks of more modest means did this too; the fare they prepared day to day fare would be raised a notch or more in execution for special events — church picnics, wakes, family reunions, and the like. Today, Southern food traditions are being challenged by heavily marketed processed food and chain restaurant fare. At the same time, however, Southern cuisine is being taken in new directions by professionally trained chefs who approach the cuisine with the same reverence as chefs have treated French and other celebrated cooking traditions, but who are intent on exploring its possibilities just as the French chefs have elaborated upon the cooking traditions of their country.
John J. Beck holds a Ph.D. in American history from UNC-Chapel Hill with a specialty in Southern history. He has written a number of articles and essays on topics in Southern history, made numerous presentations on Southern topics at public programs and professional meetings across the United States, and, for a number of years, maintained a website on Southern culture. He is the co-author of Southern Culture: An Introductionand is currently working on a history of Southern food. He retired from a career in the North Carolina Community College System, last serving as Dean of Arts and Sciences at Vance-Granville Community College. He has taught at Elon University since 2007.
This project is made possible by a grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council, a statewide nonprofit and affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.