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.
Rank #2: 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.
Rank #3: 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.
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.
Rank #5: 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.
Rank #6: 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.
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.
Rank #8: 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.
Rank #9: Fried Chicken: A Complicated Comfort Food (Gravy Ep. 16)
It’s easy to love fried chicken. The light crunch of a crisped wing or leg, followed by the moist meat of the interior; it’s understandably beloved. But there is more going on with this comfort food than you might think. Fried chicken has both been the vehicle for the economic empowerment of a whole group of people—and the accessory to an ugly racial stereotype. How can something so delicious be both? In this episode of Gravy, Lauren Ober goes from a Virginia Fried Chicken Festival to a soul food restaurant in Harlem to find out.
Rank #10: 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.
Rank #11: Mexican-ish: How Arkansas Came to Love Cheese Dip (Gravy Ep. 32)
There’s a dish you’ll find at every kind of restaurant in Little Rock, from the pizza places to the burger joints: cheese dip. How did it become so beloved in Arkansas? And what does it reveal about the state’s past—and present? In this episode of Gravy, Dana Bialek and host Tina Antolini investigate this story of highways, demographic changes, and a food’s shifting identity over time.
Rank #12: The Cajun Reconnection (Gravy Ep. 25)
How is a region of the far north—Canada—intimately connected to a region 2,000 miles away in the Deep South? It’s a story that begins 250 years ago, and involves both loss and reunification, the reconnection of a people with shared ancestry.
In this episode of Gravy, Simon Thibault looks at how a bunch of Acadians, the cousins of the Cajuns of Louisiana, came to understand their extended family through copious meals of gumbo, boudin, jambalaya and everything étouffé’d that they can eat.
This group of Acadians, some of whom have made a life in Lafayette, not only found a second home, but a second family in Louisiane. They’ve learned what it truly meant to be un bon cadien, and subsequently looked at their own Acadian identity, and how and where culture is transmitted through generations.
Rank #13: 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.
Rank #14: 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.
Rank #15: Dinner at the Patel Motel (Gravy Ep. 33)
We stay at them around the South and across the United States: Day’s Inn. Best Western. Quality Inn. But there is a food world behind the scenes at some motels that most people are unaware of. In this episode of Gravy, a partnership with the Post & Courier in Charleston, South Carolina, we delve into that world. Hanna Raskin brings us the story of how so many motels came to be owned by families from the Gujarat region of India, and the secret cooking they do to keep their culinary traditions going here in the United States.
Rank #16: Delta Jewels (Gravy Ep. 27)
When Alysia Burton Steele moved to Mississippi, she found herself drawn to the Delta. Something about it reminded her of her grandmother, who’d grown up in rural South Carolina. That observation would lead Alysia on a journey of discovery, seeking out the stories of elderly women of her grandmother’s generation. Their memories often focused on food. And they painted a portrait of the Mississippi Delta that is usually missed by an outside world that focuses on the poverty, the racism, the hardship. In this episode of Gravy, the stories church mothers across the Mississippi Delta reveal a region of extraordinary generosity.
Rank #17: A Seafood Phenomenon: the Wonder of Alabama Jubilees (Gravy Ep. 40)
Imagine: crabs, fish, eels—a whole team of sea creatures—rushing towards the shore, and then sitting there, as if waiting to be caught. This isn’t some fisherman’s daydream. It really happens in Alabama’s Mobile Bay. In this episode of Gravy, we tell the story of the Jubilee, a rare natural phenomenon that provides local residents with a bounty of seafood.