Food is rarely mentioned in fiction because writers in this genre are more concerned with the turmoil of the human condition than soups and sauces, but you’re going to find food mentioned in the fiction of many writers; Proust, for instance, or Dickens or Woolf along with dozens of others. The most notable fictional description of an antebellum Southern meal is from Gone with the Wind. After the war, when Scarlett had come home to ruin and desolation and declared, “As God is my witness, they’re not going to lick me. I’m going to live through this and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!” hunger still reigned at Tara:
There were apples, Yams, peanuts and milk on the table at Tara but never enough of even this primitive fare. A the sight of them, three times a day, her memory would rush back to the old days, the meals of the old days, the candle-lit table and the food perfuming the air.
How careless they had been of food then, what prodigal waste! Rolls, corn muffins, biscuit and waffles, dripping butter, all at one meal. Ham at one end of the table and fried chicken at the other, collards swimming richly in pot liquor iridescent with grease, snap beans in mountains on brightly flowered porcelain, fried squash, stewed okra, carrots in cream sauce thick enough to cut. And three desserts, so everyone might have his choice, chocolate layer cake, vanilla blanc mange and pound cake topped with sweet whipped cream. The memory of those savory meals had the power to bring tears to her eyes as death and war had failed to do, the power to turn her ever-gnawing stomach from rumbling emptiness to nausea.
Margaret Mitchell was born in an upper-class home in Atlanta at the turn of the last century, and her family roots were well-established in antebellum Georgia, so she was well-informed when it came to the period’s Southern table. While most of the dishes seem apt for a plantation meal in early 19th century, some people (admittedly me among them) might find the presence of collards in what we might assume is a porcelain tureen a jarring note, but stewed collards are a satisfying and substantial addition to any table, even a Yankee’s.