Earlier this month, Charlotte lost one of its leading food writers. Helen Moore, The Charlotte Observer’s food writer from 1966 to 2007, died on August 3, 2020. During her long career as a food journalist, Moore did much more than share recipes and cooking tips. She wrote about food traditions in the South, interviewed prominent North Carolinians about the role that food played in their lives, and commented on the changing food scene in Charlotte. Moore earned an honored place in the pantheon of Charlotte food writers.
Like Moore, most of the prominent food writers from Charlotte have written about the food of the South, and this focus is reflected in the titles of some of their books. Betty Feezor, the host of a popular cooking show that ran on WBTV from 1953 to 1977, published her most famous book, Betty Feezor’s Carolina Recipes, in 1964. Eudora Garrison, the first food editor for The Charlotte Observer, published a cookbook titled Eudora Garrison’s Favorite Carolina Recipes from Carolina Kitchens in 1967. Amy Rogers, a food commentator on Charlotte’s NPR station WFAE, published Red Pepper Fudge and Blue-Ribbon Biscuits: Favorite Recipes & Stories from North Carolina State Fair Winners in 1995 and Hungry for Home: Stories of Food from Across the Carolinas in 2004. More recently, Charlotte writers Kathleen Purvis and Ashli Quesinberry Stokes have published noteworthy books about food in the South.
Kathleen Purvis is currently Charlotte’s best-known food writer. From 1989 to 2019, she served as the food editor for The Charlotte Observer. In this capacity, she wrote articles and regular columns about the food scene in Charlotte as well as articles about regional and national topics related to food. She has also published numerous articles about food and drink in popular magazines, such as Southern Living, Garden & Gun, and Our State: Celebrating North Carolina. In addition to her countless articles and columns, Purvis has written three books, all of which have been published at UNC Press. Her venture into book writing came about as a result of meeting Elaine Maisner, an editor at UNC Press, at a food-related event. Maisner was about to launch a series of cookbooks under the heading of Savor the South. Her idea was that each book in the series would feature one quintessential Southern ingredient. Purvis liked the idea, and she ended up writing two books in the series: Pecans: A Savor the South Cookbook (2012) and Bourbon: A Savor the South Cookbook (2013). She then went on to write her third book, Distilling the South: A Guide to Southern Craft Liquors, which UNC Press published in 2018. For more information about Purvis and her publications, please click on the following link: https://kathleenpurvis.com/about/
Ashli Quesinberry Stokes is a Professor of Communication Studies and former Director of the Center for the Study of the New South at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Stokes is a specialist in the field of food studies, writing about Southern food in academic journal articles and for popular outlets such as Zocalo Public Square, Academic Minute, Charleston Post & Courier, and The Counter. She regularly teaches a course on Southern Foodways, is working with the UNCC Botanical Garden to create an interpretive garden based on North Carolina food, and will be engaging in a Fulbright comparing Scottish and Appalachian food traditions in Spring 2021 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Her interest in Southern foodways is reflected in her book Consuming Identity: The Role of Food in Redefining the South, which she co-authored with Wendy Atkins-Sayre. The University Press of Mississippi published this book in 2016 as part of their Race, Rhetoric, and Media Series. I recently contacted Stokes and asked her how her experiences in Charlotte have influenced her research in the area of Southern foodways. Here is what she sent me:
Shortly after moving to Charlotte in 2006, I began working on a journal article about how food organizations use a variety of communication strategies to attract new members in order to help cultivate change in local food systems. I had no idea then that what started with researching the Charlotte chapter of Slow Food International would begin my own enthusiastic involvement in the city’s vibrant food culture and serve as a research “lab” for writing Consuming Identity.
Although our book is an exploration of the persuasive messages that Southern food sends and how they help shape people’s identities in the region overall, Charlotte’s restaurants, markets, food-based events, and food and drink related businesses sure have a lot to say. The city balances on the edge of newer and older forms of Southern food culture, and it is fascinating. For example, we went to the Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church Barbecue in north Charlotte, held since 1929. We watched in fascination as police kept the interstate exit traffic moving as thousands of people sought a plate and a handshake with a political candidate in the drive through line. We also went to the Poplar Tent Presbyterian Church Barbecue in Concord to learn about its own long-standing tradition; however, we ended up talking to the church matriarchs about their special desserts, people behind us waiting patiently to get a slice of Mrs. Margaret Ann’s chocolate pie or JoAnna Goff’s five flavor pound cake. Later, we sampled pad Thai made with zucchini and sweet potato noodles at a vegan cafe in South End, wandering happily through South End Market afterward to chat with local farmers selling everything from impressive mushrooms, goat cheese, hydroponic microgreens, and edible flowers. After sampling Price’s famous fried chicken, seated in the grass outside watching the Light Rail glide by, we headed Uptown to watch mixologists use rum and rye from Charlotte distilleries to craft the latest “it” cocktail.
Although the food and drink were delicious, people’s stories were better. We talked with women like Tori and Mia, the Cake Makin’ Sisters, trying to start a minority-owned business and land a spot on a food television program. We learned about a Chinese immigrant who stir-fried okra in his restaurant rather than deep frying it in the way some residents were used to. We met suburban moms who made amazing Southern cakes and used Instagram to sell them while their kids napped. Manolo Betancur told us about his bakery’s weekly deliveries up to the North Carolina state line, bringing a taste of churros and Latin American breads to the migrant workers.
We analyzed many food messages while writing the book, but one was clear: Charlotteans, like their foods, are many things. The changing South can be experienced (and appreciated) simply by taking a delicious bite. I plan on continuing my communication research in Charlotte’s food culture once the pandemic eases: attending a Soul Food Sessions dinner, designed to showcase the city’s African American chefs, going to a TasteMakers Meet Up, a food hobbyist club, and supporting the small restaurants that need our business. There’s so much to learn about the city’s people through its food, and I can’t wait to get out again.
Over the years, the food writers of Charlotte have helped define the nature of Southern foodways. These writers have shown how Southern food and storytelling go together like shrimp and grits. Here’s to Helen Moore, Betty Feezor, Eudora Garrison, Amy Rogers, Kathleen Purvis, Ashli Quesinberry Stokes, and all of the other food writers from Charlotte. My appreciation goes to all of them for their contributions to Storied Charlotte.