Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Edward H. Davis Interviews Mary Lou Cheatham, Part 1

Edward, before you start asking me questions, I’d like to ask you a few.

Mary:Why did you write a book about collards?
Ed: My colleague John Morgan and I have been curious about several things: the decline of home gardening since WW2, and the unique history, botany and geography of collards as a leafy vegetable - none of the other vegetables have such an interesting background! No geographer has done a food study at this scale, since the South is such a large cultural region, so it made for a fascinating challenge.

Mary: What is the name of your book?
Ed: Collards and the American South

Mary: How did you go about writing the book?
Ed: This is academia so we were just doing research for small publications - journals you would never hear about, but then we learned more and more and a few years ago someone suggested we could have enough of a story for a book. We began in 2000 by interviewing farmers and gardeners, then as the project grew we ended up surveying agricultural extension agents, seed savers, grocery store produce managers, restaurant owners, seed store retailers, and even 11,000 college students! That last piece is part of a larger project about food in the South - not all of that goes in the collards book.

Mary: Did your wife help you?
Ed: Sandy is a big help in my life, even though she works also as a community college teacher. She did not work on the book, but I ws lucky to have her all along. For example, she allowed me to disappear on long expeditions for weeks at a time!

Mary: What is your book like? Please describe it.
Ed: You got a glimpse in the answer to the third question. It is going to be like a journey through ten Southern states, from Arkansas to Virginia, but with lots of history and agriculture and geography and economics and even literature thrown in, since collards show up not just at covered dish suppers but in novels, poems, songs, festivals, fashion shows, interior decorations, celebrity scandals, and even prison farms!

Mary: What is one of the recipes in The Collard Patch you and your wife like?
Ed: One of the casseroles - I don't have the book with me to remember the exact name of it - but it was a big hit at my family reunion!

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