Introducing the Emergence Magazine Podcast
Crystal Wilkinson evokes a legacy of joy, love, and plenty in the culinary traditions of Black Appalachia
Emergence Magazine is a quarterly online publication exploring the threads connecting ecology, culture, and spirituality. As we experience the desecration of our lands and waters, the extinguishing of species, and a loss of sacred connection to the Earth, we look to emerging stories. Each issue explores a theme through innovative digital media, as well as the written and spoken word. The Emergence Magazine podcast features exclusive interviews, narrated essays, stories, and more.
In this episode of the podcast, Crystal Wilkinson reads from her essay “Praise Song for the Kitchen Ghosts.” Raised on her grandmother’s jam cake, biscuits, and sweet black tea, Wilkinson evokes a legacy of joy, love, and plenty in the culinary traditions of Black Appalachia. Crystal is the author of The Birds of Opulence, Water Street, and Blackberries, Blackberries.
From the episode:
People are always surprised that black people reside in the hills of Appalachia. Those not surprised that we were there, are surprised that we stayed. My family lived in the hills of Kentucky for four generations. My grandmother came from a long line of women who worked hard and cooked well. The long lists of food I’ll describe here will make you think my folks had deep pockets, but they didn’t. Hardworking poor blacks who couldn’t break the barriers of nepotism or racism in education or the workforce, they continued the tradition of farming. Tobacco. Corn. A few head of cattle. A few dairy cows. My grandparents lived primarily off the land. They owned sixty-four acres and had a modest income from the crops they raised. My grandfather prided himself on taking care of his family, his animals, and his land. My grandmother prided herself on making sure her family was fed. I read somewhere once that pride stems from fear. I imagine my grandparents were hungry more than once in their youths, but I never was.
Every morning of my childhood, my grandmother, who stood a little under five feet tall, donned an apron and cooked breakfast. Slow. Precise. Deliberate. She equated food with love, and she cooked with both a fury and a quiet joy.
She fried bacon, sausage, or country ham. She scrambled fluffy yellow eggs with a wire whisk in a ceramic bowl. The eggs came from our chickens. She made biscuits from scratch. The lard was rendered from our pigs. The milk from our cows. She rolled out the dough and threw flour into the air like magic dust. She churned butter, made the preserves from pears, peaches, or blackberries that she had picked herself. We had orange juice and milk. We ate on white plates with blue flowers around the edges and landscape insignia in the center, and more often than not we had brimming cups of sweet black tea that sat in saucers alongside our meal. Our forks clinked musically against our plates. We ate at the kitchen table mostly in silence or quiet conversation.