Rank #1: Booze Legends
Striking up a conversation with a stranger in a bar is accepted, even expected. And storytelling is a big part of that engagement.
But when it comes to origin stories behind cocktails, Wayne Curtis has noticed a shift in focus over the last ten years. Hand in hand with the recent cocktail revival and the increased professionalization of bartending, an obsession with fact over fancy has emerged. “I started hearing a phrase in bars that I don’t think had ever been uttered before inside a bar: ‘What’s your source on that?’”
In this episode of Gravy, Wayne Curtis reflects on what’s lost and gained as cocktail and spirits writers—as well as curious consumers—seek out well-supported history over well-spun stories behind the bar.
Oct 05 2017
Rank #2: What Is White Trash Cooking? (Gravy ep. 47)
In 1986, Ernest Matthew Mickler of Palm Valley, Florida, published White Trash Cooking. It was a loving ode to his people—rural, white, working-class and poor Southerners—and their recipes: tuna casserole, baked possum, white-bread tomato sandwiches.
Mickler died of AIDS in 1988 at age 48, but White Trash Cooking continues to sell. In this episode, Sarah Reynolds explores its lasting influence.
Oct 06 2016
Rank #3: The Mason Jar Pickle (Gravy Ep. 24)
They’re everywhere: in your fancy cocktail bar and your down home country restaurant. In the hands of farmer’s market shoppers and 7-Eleven Slurpee slurpers. How did mason jars get to be so ubiquitous? How did they come to be embraced by the DIY canner and the hipster chicken & waffles restaurant? And what does their omnipresence tell us about the cultural cache of the South?
In this episode of Gravy, Gabe Bullard takes on the cultural politics of the Mason Jar: how it became hip, and what that hipness means.
Oct 22 2015
Rank #4: The New Old Country Store (Gravy Ep. 36)
Every week, Cracker Barrel provides 4 million Americans with a studied version of down-home Southern food and hospitality. The dumplins and the chicken-fried steak. The country knick-knacks and the rocking chairs. What are we really consuming, culturally, along with the hashbrown casserole? In this episode of Gravy, Besha Rodell ponders the restaurant chain, the trickiness of Southern nostalgia, and how all of that has ended up informing her understanding of family.
Apr 21 2016
Rank #5: Separation of Church and Coffee
How many of us would be lost without our regular coffeeshop? In the age of wifi and telecommuting, cafes have become more than purveyors of lattes and cappuccinos. They’re the office, the community hub, and the conference room as much as the provider of our caffeine fix. And now—are they also a surrogate for the church?
In cities and towns across the South, an increasing number of the folks offering up latte art and high-end pourovers are devout Christians. Is it an unlikely and subtle tool for proselytizing? Or a more nuanced expression of 21st Century Christianity, intertwined with social events and professional endeavors. We sent writer T Cooper to explore the coffee scene in the famously bible-minded city of Knoxville, Tennessee, to find out.
Jun 29 2017
Rank #6: Comfort Food
This week, we bring you Gravy's first foray into fiction. It's a story of macaroni and cheese and maternal love, set in the fictional Canard County, Kentucky.
Robert Gipe is the author of the novels Trampoline and Weedeater. He teaches and coordinates the Appalachian Program at Southeast Kentucky Community College.
This is the last episode of our summer season. After a short hiatus, Gravy will return with new episodes in the fall.
Aug 09 2018
Rank #7: The Southern Story of Coca Cola (Gravy Ep. 51)
You might think of Coca Cola as an iconic American brand… and you’d be right. But: it was born in the South. How did Coke’s Atlanta birthplace shape what the soft drink became? And how has Coke shaped the South? It’s a story that includes many surprising twists turns, from Civil War wounds to temperance movements, racist fears to philanthropy, small town soda jerks to Peruvian coca farmers.
Dec 01 2016
Rank #8: The Chili Powder Cheat: A Tex-Mex Story
Texas: the land of BBQ, breakfast tacos…and of course Tex-Mex. But what if we told you Tex-Mex wasn’t created by a Texan or Mexican, but a German immigrant? On this episode of Gravy, we tell you the story of William Gebhardt, the inventor of chili powder.
Gebhardt loved the chili con carne of the streetfood sold in the plazas of San Antonio. He adapted it back at his café, but quickly ran into a problem: chili peppers proved expensive and difficult to import. So he devised a solution. Gebhardt dried the peppers in an oven and used a hand-cranked coffee mill to grind them into a dust. He then mixed together the ground peppers with cumin seeds, oregano and some black pepper until he reached the right flavor. The end result? Gebhardt’s Eagle Chili Powder.
As it spread, chili powder came to define the taste of Tex-Mex. Chili, enchiladas, fajitas, nachos are all dishes built on the spice. And today, Tex-Mex dominates; traditional cuisines of the region are less popular.
Gebhardt’s history is a typical inventor tale. But he essentially took what poor Mexican-American streetfood vendors made, changed it and sold it for wider consumption. And boy, did Gebhardt market the heck out of it. Gebhardt’s slogan was “that real Mexican tang.”
Ryan Katz looks into the issue of chili powder’s authenticity.
Mar 22 2017
Rank #9: Ironies and Onion Rings: The Layered Story of the Vidalia Onion
If you know and love the Vidalia onion—an onion sweet enough, its fans say, to eat like an apple—you likely also know it as a product of Georgia, as proudly claimed as the peach. But the story of the Vidalia’s popularity is far more complex than just one of a local onion made good. In this episode of Gravy: an onion’s success story, born of clever marketing, government wrangling, technological innovation and global trade.
Jan 26 2017
Rank #10: Mahalia Jackson's Glori-Fried Chicken
In addition to her work as an international recording artist and civil rights activist, the Queen of Gospel entered the restaurant business in the late 1960s with Mahalia Jackson’s Glori-fried Chicken. The fast food chain was more than a brand extension for the star; it was the first African American-owned franchise in the South. Producer Betsy Shepherd tells how Mahalia used the gospel bird to push for economic empowerment in the black community.
Sep 05 2019
Rank #11: Southern Food Gets Christopher Columbus-ed
So much of our national culture—food, music, dance—has come from the South. Where would American dance be without Jane Brown? Where would American music be without Robert Johnson, the Delta blues player? Where would American modern food be now if you didn't have grits and fried chicken and biscuits on every menu around the country, from fine dining restaurants to fast food establishments?
But what happens if these cultural expressions become so generic as to no longer be associated with anywhere in particular?
Mar 09 2017
Rank #12: Wanting the Bourbon You Can’t Have (Gravy Ep. 35)
When it comes to a certain kind of bourbon, it doesn’t matter who you are or how much money you have—you can’t get it unless you’re exceptionally lucky or you’re willing to break the law. In this episode of Gravy, we teamed up with the podcast Criminal to bring you the story of the cult of popularity surrounding Pappy Van Winkle… and how it’s driven some to crime. The Pappy frenzy has law enforcement, bartenders, and even the Van Winkle family themselves wringing their hands.
Apr 07 2016
Rank #13: Going Whole Hog in Israel
When you think about Israeli cuisine there are a few things that may come to mind; hummus or shawarma, shakshuka and baba ganoush. What probably doesn’t come to mind is pork. After all, Israel is the self-proclaimed home for Jews in the Middle East. A large portion of the population follows kosher law, which outlaws pork, shellfish, and mixtures of meat and milk.
On this episode of Gravy we go global to explore the spread of a prolific Southern food to an unlikely place: pork barbecue in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv. We’ll take a look at the state of pork back home as well, learning about the relationship between Jews and pork in the American South, and how the nature of trayf barbecue is changing below the Mason Dixon line, as well as abroad.
Jun 15 2017
Rank #14: Hostesses of the Movement
This week’s Gravy podcast looks at hostesses of the Civil Rights Movement. They were school teachers, church ladies and club women who were not direct in their assault of segregation, but nonetheless played a vital role in the change that was to come.
While others hit the streets, marching, singing protest songs, and risking arrest, these women made their contributions to the Civil Rights Movement in their kitchens. They opened their homes to the architects and strategists of the Movement, providing home cooked meals, places to rest, and safe rooms for plotting attacks on Jim Crow.
Rosalind Bentley is a longtime journalist, but she didn’t know how a very special aunt became one of those stealth contributors. She traveled to Albany, Georgia to learn more about how that aunt became one of the Hostesses of the Movement.
Aug 10 2017
Rank #15: Reclaiming Native Ground
For centuries, the bayous and lowlands of coastal Louisiana have fed the Point-au-Chien Indian Tribe. From cattle to crabs, oranges to okra, the fertile landscape provided almost everything they needed to eat. But now, the land is disappearing, and the Point-au-Chien are joining together with other tribes to figure out what to do next. In this episode of Gravy, Barry Yeoman reports on the rich food traditions of tribes in South Louisiana, the threat to them posed by coastal land loss, and intertribal efforts towards solutions.
Feb 09 2017
Rank #16: A Table for All?
At the FARM Café in Boone, North Carolina, diners can pay $10 for meal—or they can pay nothing. The restaurant, one of dozens of its kind, follows a pay-what-you-can model. Guests can dine regardless of their finances. It's an attempt to address food insecurity.
While some have dismissed these restaurants as limited-scale, feel-good attempts to address serious hunger issues, the cafés do foster a sense of community.
Irina Zhorov reported and produced this episode.
Feb 21 2019
Rank #17: Kimchi and Cornbread
When you sit down for a meat and three in Montgomery, Alabama, say at the Davis Café, you choose from the menu and you get one plate all for you, but at a Korean table in Montgomery – or anywhere – your plates are all shared. And there are many of them. Meat and six or seven, you might say.
Since the Hyundai plant opened in Montgomery in 2005, Koreans have been moving there, some for work at the plant, but others because they see the growing community of Koreans and Korean businesses in this small capital city in Alabama. So, a small southern K-Town is cropping up in the strip malls along the Eastern Boulevard.
Reporter and producer, Sarah Reynolds travels to Montgomery to eat at several Korean tables. And Chef Edward Lee joins her – a Korean–American chef who made his name in Louisville, Kentucky. He borrows from Korean and American Southern cuisines to make collards and kimchi, grits and galbi. What’s happening in Montgomery reveals a shared hospitality and love of food between these two cultures.
Sep 21 2017
Rank #18: An Apple Quest (Gravy Ep. 43)
You’ve heard of explorers discovering new lands, but new… fruits? Fruit exploring has a long and abundant history, including in the American South, a region once rich in apple orchards. In this episode of Gravy, a couple of young fruit explorers scour the South on a hunt for the perfect cider apple. Reporter Mary Helen Montgomery takes us on their search, and along the way delves into the little-known story of apple-growing and cider-making in this region.
Aug 11 2016
Rank #19: The Leftovers In A Coal Miner's Lunchbox (Gravy Ep. 44)
For decades, Ronnie Johnson woke up in the late afternoon, and fixed a lunch to bring with him 2,000 feet underground, as he worked all night in a coal mine. In this episode of Gravy, his son, Caleb, tells the story of the evolution of his father’s lunchtime ritual, as the mining industry in Alabama has changed.
Caleb tells a personal narrative of his dad’s lunches and the logistics of eating a meal so far underground, but it’s also one of a family reckoning with a changing economy, and the story of coal’s impact on Alabama.
Aug 25 2016
Rank #20: Hungry in the Mississippi Delta
While civil rights activists worked in Mississippi in 1964, they encountered a poverty they could never have imagined. People were hungry, starving to death from malnutrition, particularly in the Mississippi Delta.
Doctors and medical professionals, including Dr. Jack Geiger, joined together to form the Medical Committee for Human Rights. Geiger founded a community health center in Mound Bayou, Mississippi where he and his medical team wrote prescriptions for food, started a farm cooperative, taught nutrition classes, and ultimately reduced hunger in the region.
This episode was produced by Sarah Reynolds.
Mar 08 2018