StartleResponse.com

preface to going out in daylight*

Poor Gal & The Southerly

TODAY WE PAIR POOR GAL WITH SOUTHERN DELICACIES

While many citizens retreated, and anti-vaxxers anti-vaxxed, and the healthcare worker universe became an insular and obsessed organism, Dan Gutstein maintained a singular focus. Yes, the context of which I speak is the COVID pandemic. You know it well. You might have been tele-working, living in a basement, or imploring an unfamiliar god. But was anyone meticulously interrogating the American songbook for a reinvention of identity politics and accountability for expurgated lyrical precedents?

Yes, Dan Gutstein was crushing that and more, combing the treasures of institutional archives and generations of oral histories for inroads to the mysteries of Lil’ Liza Jane.

This book is pure joy. Its guileless reckoning entreats a new kind of literature. It proceeds to “go up on the mountaintop to give its horn a blow” (from the “Sludge and Theory” introduction to the book).

I was fortunate enough to video-chat with the author during the pandemic. We spun a yarn. We shared a virtual stout. We spoke of Liza Jane and the wonder of discovery she birthed. It was a revelation to me, a lesson in how a discrete cultural artifact can explode one’s worldview and resonate across history. It was also a testament to one author’s tenacity, very much in keeping with StartleResponse.com’s ethos that the heart of cultural work originates in curiosity, citizenship and a dedication to mucking through under-appreciated phenomena.

And so we at StartleResponse.com pair this complex confection with the comforts of the South: biscuits slathered with torched pimento cheese and local stone-ground grits from The Southerly of Carolina Beach.

These are dishes redolent with cultural inheritance. We owe the life-sustaining pleasure of grits to the Native American Muscogee tribe of the Southeast woodlands and the dish’s perpetuation to Gullah Geechee slaves descended from West Africa.1 As for pimento cheese, the South appropriated this dish from the North but customized it in the way that Southerners do, specifically by replacing cream cheese with local hoop cheese and combining that dairy gem with jarred red peppers and everyone’s favorite white binder.2

My grandma Hodgie in the piedmont of NC without fail kept a slab of hoop cheese, cut from a round at the local butcher, on her table – always at room temperature. If there is one sense memory that recalls childhood for me, it is a shaving of hoop cheese with a piping hot round of fried cornbread.

1Moss, Robert F. “Creating a (New) Southern Icon: the Curious History of Pimento Cheese.” Lime Tree Media. February 21, 2011.

2“Shrimp and Grits: A History.” Deep South Magazine. Deep South Media, LLC. October 1, 2014.

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