Bernie Herman, a UNC professor of American studies and folklore, is coming to Flyleaf Books on Wednesday, Nov. 20, to let audiences chew on “A South You Never Ate.”
Herman has written many books, and his newest, “A South You Never Ate,” illustrates his journey through discovering the foods of the Eastern Shore of Virginia. This small geographic area is made up of two counties that are not physically attached to Virginia, but to Maryland. Herman said many Virginians don’t know that this place exists.
“The county that I did most of my work in has the longest history of sustained poverty in the state of Virginia and has lost population every census since 1930, and I began to think — and I have long ties to this place — I began to ask myself the simple question: What does meaningful and sustainable economic development look like?” Herman said.
Herman said the style of cuisine in the Eastern Shore of Virginia is similar to that of the “sound country” of North Carolina, but he sees a unique quality in the Eastern Shore's food. Herman has spent over a decade researching the "taste of place" of this area.
“You just ask yourself, 'What does this place do best?' and it is always farm and fish," Herman said. "And over the last many centuries, long before Europeans arrived, it began to develop a distinctive southern cuisine that is as exceptional as what you would find in the lowcountry of South Carolina or the Bayou country of Louisiana, except it hasn't experienced a kind of Renaissance that those places have.”
He said his book is not about just what people eat or how they cook it, but also about how they think and talk about it.
“I will read passages that combine stories with a sense of foods to get, recipes or ingredients that will hopefully make people laugh and make people think about the worlds we eat and how whenever we begin to eat something that is of a place, we quite literally make that place part of our bodies and our thoughts,” Herman said.
Talia Smart, events manager for Flyleaf Books, said the bookstore is eager to host Herman’s book talk because “A South You Never Ate” fits in with what Flyleaf customers enjoy: cooking and Chapel Hill.
Smart said the bookstore has a strong relationship with UNC Press and likes to feature authors, such as Herman, who are published by the company.
“They're based in Chapel Hill, a lot of their authors are UNC professors, or people affiliated with the University, and so part of it is we want to appeal to our local audience and we want to highlight those local voices,” Smart said.
Smart said Herman’s book is also a way to learn about the unique cuisine of the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
“The food in that place is not just southern, but it's melded into a sort of combination of indigenous food, food based on the culture of the people who have migrated there over time, which is both European migrant and then enslaved migrants,” she said. “It's sort of a combination of all of those flavors.”
Bookseller Coco Casey said “A South You Never Ate” is as close to an almanac as it is a cookbook. She said the book covers centuries of botanical history and cultural usage of the foods accessible to the American South, and that makes it appealing.
“What makes it really individual and fascinating is its coverage of indigenous and West African cultures, often excluded from southern narratives,” Casey said. “It even includes the effects climate change has had on the region’s wildlife and how that has affected the food sources. So much to learn, all communicated through food.”
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