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Road Sides: An Illustrated Companion to Dining & Driving in the
American South
| October 2019 | University of Texas Press

By Arkansas we were over it. The four of us girls—all cousins coping with middle school—had already stretched ourselves into a “T” for Tennessee while standing on the lawn at Graceland. My curly hair scribbled its way out of a terrycloth scrunchie, frazzled by hours in a cramped van. Still, our uncle, whose idea it had been, snapped a picture as other tourists looked on. And in Arkansas, the second state we visited on a road trip with extended family, he vowed to do the same. That’s how my cousins and I found ourselves in a parking lot debating who’d be held horizontally to create the crossbar for the letter “A.” (My youngest cousin, Katie, lost the argument.)

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Best Pal: Big on Hot Dogs, Hamburgers, and Quick Service
in The Food We Eat, the Stories We Tell
Edited by Elizabeth S.D. Engelhardt and Lora E. Smith
(Ohio University Press, 2019)

The humongous hot dog, hamburger, French fry, and soda sculptures affixed to Pal’s Sudden Service drive-thru restaurants may seem somewhat out of their element where set against the mountainous landscapes of southwest Virginia and East Tennessee. But the absurd statues are as awe-inspiring as the region’s natural lookouts, and are firmly rooted in contemporary Appalachia. Quick and affordable, hot dogs and their common fast-food companions have played important roles in feeding the region’s workers. As West Virginia folklorist Emily Hilliard puts it, “Coal miners, steel workers, and other factory laborers needed a quick meal they could eat between or during shifts.” It’s a point to emphasize—in the case of Pal’s, on the side of a building.

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Orange You Glad
in The Carolina Table: North Carolina Writers on Food
Edited by Randall Kenan (Eno Press, 2016)

Somewhere between the point I learned to ride a bike and the year I saved enough money to buy a pair of rollerblades, I gained permission to drive the riding lawnmower down the driveway and around the road's bend to my uncle's house⁠—a .2-mile blip that stretched forever when using the mower's "turtle" speed setting. My uncle and dad co-owned a farm equipment store in Smithfield⁠—inherited from their father and their father's father, who started the thing as a mule company in the Thirties. This was something of the family tradition, the preferred mode of transportation. I have a framed photograph of my dad atop a Model B tractor, about the age I was on my maiden mower voyage. And though the picture is black and white, I know the tractor was orange: the signature hue for both the Allis-Chalmers and Kubota rigs we sold.

In the rural world there are John Deere families, and New Holland families, and Farmall families, and Massey Ferguson families. But we were solidly an Allis-Chalmers and Kubota family because we were an orange family, one sustained on the likes of pimento cheese, cheese puffs, and Cheez-Its. That's not to say we didn't eat our vegetables. My dad kept a garden in the backyard and my mother swears (and photographs concur) that I ate so many carrots as a kid the tip of my nose turned a bright shade of tangerine. But when we did eat our greens, we often (and I always) covered them with a sheath of American cheese.

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Ham to Ham Combat: The Tale of Two Smithfields
Gravy | Fall 2015

Finalist, James Beard Award in Humor, 2015

Thirty years ago, my hometown of Smithfield, North Carolina, launched what the Washington Post later called “A War in the Hamlets.” On the line were rights to the title “Ham Capital of the World,” which Smithfield, Virginia, long took as its own and painted on a welcome sign at the entrance to town. They took the Smithfield brand name, too, when in 1926, Virginia’s General Assembly passed a law stating that any ham labeled “Genuine Smithfield” had to be “cut from the carcasses of peanut-fed hogs, raised in the peanut-belt of the State of Virginia or the State of North Carolina,” and “cured, treated, smoked, and processed in the town of Smithfield, in the state of Virginia.”


The Big Tomato: Bedford, Virginia’s Unlikely Art Scene
Gravy | Summer 2016

Norris goode’s art career was etched in stone. When he was ten, labels for his family’s tomato cannery—SMITH MOUNTAIN BRAND TOMATOES, PACKED BY GOODE BROTHERS, HUDDLESTON, VIRGINIA—were printed from limestone slabs at the nearby Piedmont Label Company using the German process of lithography. After high school, Piedmont Label was the only place Goode, an aspiring artist, went to look for work.

In the 1960s, Piedmont Label boasted a booming art department, distinct for its corner of southwest Virginia. Locals describe an era lifted from an episode of Mad Men, when drinks flowed (at least on Fridays) and artists drove fine cars (for Goode, that meant a sleek Volkswagen Karmann Ghia). “These guys thought they were rock stars,” says Bethany Worley, who recently curated “Virginia’s Forgotten Canneries: A History in Labels” at the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum at Ferrum College.


Foster’s Market Favorites
co-written with Sara Foster
Brown Books Publishing | 2015

Featuring 150 seasonal recipes from Foster’s Market in Durham, NC.

“Having eaten Sara’s food and basked in the glow of Sara’s inspiring personality and ever-expanding vision, I am thrilled to see it all wrapped together between the pages of this beautiful book.” – Rick Bayless

“Sara has done it again. You can be sure I will be roasting a Chile-Braised Pork Should and tossing Sara’s Kale Salad with Tangerines, Avocado and Crispy Country Ham for my next weekend dinner party.” – Martha Stewart

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Cult Soda & Soft-Core Porn in Imaginary Mexico
PUNCH Drink | July 22, 2014

Under the brim of Pedro’s 200-foot-tall Sombrero Observation Tower, across from the Hats Around the World store, between statues of neon animals and a few steps from the Reptile Lagoon—this was supposed to be the spot. But a blank stare on the other side of the register told us it was not.

“The what?” a cashier asked. We were standing inside a T-shirt shop at South of the Border, the sprawling tourist park known fondly as “SOB,” located off Interstate 95 and Highway 301, just inside the South Carolina line. Having grown up along the I-95 corridor in North Carolina, this was a forbidden place—one well associated with a past of gambling, booze and seedy motels. Unbeknownst to many (even those selling the stuff), it’s also home to one of the country’s most beloved producers of ginger ale.


Duke's Mayonnaise: The Southern Spread with a Cult Following
Washington Post | November 5, 2013

I showed up at the gate of the C.F. Sauer Co. in Richmond this past summer pronouncing myself something of a mayonnaise scholar: “I wrote my master’s thesis on pimento cheese,” I told Erin Hatcher, who oversees the company’s Duke’s Mayonnaise label. As any Southerner knows, mayonnaise is perhaps pimento cheese’s most important ingredient; after all, it holds it all together.

But Hatcher almost blew my cover of detached academic when she began to tell me about Duke’s legions of dedicated fans. They send an endless stream of fan mail, she explained, including letters, recipes, concepts for television commercials and paintings. “Paintings of a jar with a sandwich,” she told me, arching her eyebrows. “A lot.”


The Story of William A. Turnier: The Man Who Designed the Oreo Cookie
Indy Week | August 24, 2011

Twelve billion times a year, a disc of vanilla cream is stamped between two chocolate wafers to produce the Oreo, the world's most popular manufactured cookie.

An American staple since 1912, the Oreo has a flavor that contrasts sweet cream and crisp chocolate cookies. Its texture is marked by a distinct decorative pattern: a small, circular border hatched with short, shallow lines and an interior ringed with four-leaf clovers. But the cookie, 491 billion of which have sold worldwide, still leaves some details in question.

"Who Made that Oreo Emboss?" read a recent headline on a New York Times blog.

"Bill, Chapel Hill, NC," answered: "My father is William A. Turnier. He worked for the entire 49 years of his working life at Nabisco. In 19[52] he was assigned the task of producing a new design for the Oreo."