Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Chris Smith's Blog - The Food in To Kill a Mockingbird

Food in To Kill A Mockingbird

If you are looking for a snapshot of food consumed in the American South during the Great Depression, all you have to do is read To Kill A Mockingbird.

Page after page, there are references to food and drink, meals and tea parties, desserts and oral medications, etiquette and intrigue – all around the kitchen or dining room table.

There are more than 50 foods mentioned in the book, including – pretty much in order – the following: Ice, wheat and flour; collard patch; crackling bread; hickory nuts; turnip greens; potatoes; scuppernongs; fried chicken; lemonade; pound cake; ice cream; Lane Cake; sugar; ham; summer vegetables; peach pickles; Ambrosia; biscuits and butter; coffee; cornbread; pork and beans; lemon drops; cherry wine; whiskey; eggs; biscuits and syrup; chicken; fried pork chops; Coca-cola; sardines; crackers; Nehi cola; bacon; squirrel; possum; rabbit; pecans; milk; potato salad; salt pork; beans; rolls; tomatoes; pickled pigs’ knuckles; Tootsie rolls; Charlotte; dewberry tarts; cookies; divinity; apples; taffy; and angel food cake

Some foods are mentioned in a generic manner, such as “sandwiches,” “three kinds of meat,” “two kinds of cake,” “hock of the ham,” etc.

There is also a reference early in the book to “chocolate malted mice” which are not for people at all. This “delicacy” is part of a story read to the class by Miss Caroline in which Mrs. Cat calls the drugstore to place an order for chocolate malted mice.

There also are two references to medicines that are taken orally: calomel and asafoetida.

There are three products mentioned by brand name: Coca-Cola; Nehi Cola; and Tootsie Rolls.

But it is not the mere mention of food that contributes to the book’s greatness or unique Southern perspective. Instead, it is way that food, drink, eating, meals, and parties help move the plot on its way and illustrate the great points of the story.

For example, early in the book, Scout and Jem invite a classmate home for lunch and Scout gets a major lesson in life when she makes fun of their guest for something (food-related) that he does. It’s a classic scene that illustrates the concept Atticus imbues in his children: “you can never know another person until you walk in his shoes.”

An emotional scene at the end of the book occurs when Atticus is thanked for his attempt to defend Tom Robinson, a task he performs for no money. He awakes one morning to find that his back porch is covered with food that townspeople have brought in gratitude.

And then, of course, there is the climactic scene at the end of the book in which Scout is dressed as a ham.

Part of the charm in reading Mockingbird for me was all the references to food. But when you think about it, a book in itself is food for the brain.