A Southern sensibility

Christy Jordan is a bit of a whirlwind.

While speaking with the Southern foods enthusiast, blogger and cookbook writer, I hear a light whooshing sound in the background. I ask if she's in the car, returning from her latest book signing at her alma mater, the University of North Alabama.

"Oh no, I'm at home!" she says, "I'm not good at sitting in one place. I tend to pace when I'm on the phone. Here, I'll sit down. I'm just flying today!"

Jordan's enthusiasm bubbles from the phone. And, according to her, she always has energy to burn.

"I used to try to control it?" she says in a lilting Southern twang that makes the last word in some sentences turn up in a gentle pitch. "I am a Southern woman. I'm a blonde. Sometimes when you're bouncy and perky in your personality, people tend to think, 'oh well, she's a ditz.' I eventually realized that if they want to think that way, it's their loss — not mine!"

It's harnessing that energy that's allowed Jordan's career as a food writer to take off. "I never planned any of this — I started out with a blog, just as a hobby, and it just sort of grew into this."

"Just sort of grew" is a humble understatement. The idea of anyone going without home-cooked food — specifically banana pudding — was mortifying to Jordan, so she created "Southern Plate," a site offering step-by-step tutorials for making true-blood Southern staples. 

In its first month, Southern Plate received over 50,000 page views. Last year, the blog counted over 43 million views. Jordan still tries to answer all comments and e-mails personally, though she admits that answering them all would require giving up sleep. "I sure don't get bored," she quips.

One would think not, what with simultaneously trying to keep up with two young children, 11-year-old Brady and 5-year-old Katy Rose, and publishing a new cookbook of Southern classics, also called Southern Plate. That's not even to mention the book tour that's taking her across the country — and next Tuesday, Oct. 19, to Asheville's Malaprop's bookstore.

Even with a busy schedule, Jordan finds time to ensure that food brings her family together — both at the table and in the kitchen. The theme of the meal as family bond is pervasive throughout the Southern Plate.

"I wrote this cookbook dedicated to food that's really not about food," she says. "It's really about cooking for someone. It's not just about feeding their bodies, it's a way of showing them that you love them."

With recipes like those in her book, Jordan says, love and history are passed down through the branches of the family tree. “I want to make one thing as clear as possible,” she writes. “How your mama made it is the right way!”

A recipe, says Jordan, is a living memory that can be given the place of honor at the dinner table long after its source has departed.

"It's how the matriarchs of our family have always shown their love," she says. "[Food] is the one thing that brings the family together, at every meal for generations and generations."

That's despite, or perhaps because, food was not easy to come by for the generations before her. "I'm the first generation on both sides of my family to have never known hunger." Jordan says.  As a result, she views food with a certain level of gratitude.

Both her grandmother and mother lived a modest sharecropper's life for many years. Despite being of humble means, the women in Jordan's family always ensured that something wholesome was on the table. Even if that meal consisted solely of potatoes dug from the garden, it was served with an air of gratitude. Instead of complaining about how little they had to eat, they would praise the presence of any food at the table.

"That's the thing, Grandmama wouldn't tell you she had bad memories," says Jordan fondly. "Sure, you might hear the time about how her brother chased her around the church with a snake in the summertime — but mostly, she looks back on everything happily."

Even though Jordan herself grew up in a house that was short on cash, the table always held a wealth of food.

"Mama made everything from scratch," says Jordan. "I didn't realize this was unusual for the longest time." Biscuits, eggs, sausage and fruit turned up at breakfast every morning, and supper would always see meat, two or three vegetables, bread and dessert. "Every single night," Jordan emphasizes.

In the introduction to the Southern Plate, she also reveals that most evenings, her parents made themselves busy in the kitchen while she and her siblings ate; they would only help themselves to the leftovers after the children had eaten their fill.

Maybe this is what makes Jordan think of her own family first when asked what she most likes to cook. "It's whatever makes them the most happy," she says. A favorite meal says "I made this because you're special, you're important to me."

She adds that food is one of the best tools parents have in their toolbox to make a child feel like an integral part of the family. As a matter of fact, she says, her first and most important food memory involves learning to bake a peach crisp by her mother's side when she was three years old.

"To a little kid, that means so much. It makes you feel needed and special," she says. "That was my first memory as a child — 'I'm an important person, I'm valuable in this family.'"

It's this concept of value and gratitude that Jordan tries to instill in the Southern Plate. The central "hidden" concept of her cookbook, she says, is "Aren't we lucky we aren't rich?"

"That's the greatest legacy that's been handed down to me," Jordan says, "learning to find your true wealth in life. I think a lot of people, if they'd [grown up with] money and an easy life, I don't think they would have been half as rich."

— Send your food news to Mackensy Lunsford at food@mountainx.com.

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