Tales From The Withalacoochee
by Edward V. Folkes
Does it bother anybody else that most pizzas seem to be named after places far from the South? We hear a lot about New York Pizza, Windy City Pizza (Chicago Style), and of course California Style Pizza. Wouldn't it be nice if there were Atlanta Pizza or Memphis, Birmingham, Charlotte, Charleston or maybe Natchez or Lexington or New Orleans Style Pizza?
I think ingredients can define a
pizza with a southern twist. I don't suppose fatback would do, but the South is
famous for its sausages. Add bacon or country ham with peppers, cheese or a
pepper-cheese might be an option. We all know that southern produce has a
special zip, so green peppers are fine and lots of tomatoes fresh or stewed—
maybe I should rethink the stewed part. Mushrooms and onions make wonderful
toppings. Seems to me that Down Home Pizza, Southern Style, would be a name to
garner interest – ingredients must be home grown on southern soil by honorable,
dedicated, men and women of civility and decorum.
My Great Uncle Roughly Elroy Lee would have been a wonderful candidate. He was a traditional farmer with a hundred acres of fertile soil down on the banks of the Withalacoochee. Acre after acre of corn, okra, pole beans, collard greens, green peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet potatoes and the like were trucked to market day after day.
Roughly Elroy was married to my Great Aunt Ester Luella, and they had three boys who helped him work the farm. He was an involved Methodist and chaired a South Bank civic committee on Southern History. Uncle Roughly Elroy was always proper and respectful, yet a funny man who sometimes said the oddest things and just laughed. Far too often, none of us could find the humor, but just watching him laugh made everyone hysterical.
Two major events changed Uncle Roughly Elroy's view of the world. One was a developing interest in Australia and the Aborigine's practice of the Walkabout. He became obsessed with the subject, pouring over history texts night after night to the detriment of his family.
"Ridiculous," Ester Luella said, "the way he ignores the boys and me.” So she stopped cooking and began to order pizza from the town of South Bank about three miles away. She said, "put everything on it including anchovies." This was expensive, but Ester Luella could have cared less.
Over the course of the next few
weeks, Uncle Roughly Elroy sampled the pizza leftovers until he clandestinely
added a large pie, all the way, to the nightly order.
He left the boys to run the farm and Aunt Ester Luella in tears.
Three months later, I received a letter from Uncle Roughly Elroy Lee saying
that he knew Ester Luella was tearing up the letters he sent home. I was to go
out to the farm and tell her that he would be home in a week. He also said,
"We could do better. You know, boy, I have tasted pizza from all over this
country and none of them has a southern twist at all. I just know a down home
southern pie would be the thing. The pizza must be assembled, with pride and
dignity, by a kitchen staff that truly believes in the traditions and foods of
the South. Now, that would be a pizza you could take to the cotillion. I can
see the future when the freezer case at the Piggly Wiggly displays a Down Home
Pizza. Our treasure of the South!”
The Piggly Wiggly display was one of Uncle Roughly Elroy's many dreams. Unfortunately, he always lost interest by the end of the chase when he was home. It was his way. I suppose one day he will get help or Aunt Ester Luella will leave him, although she has been through I don't know how many of "these episodes," as she likes to call them.
It is a shame that Roughly Elroy is not a
candidate for the traditional gentleman farmer; however, he is an interesting,
entertaining man. He told me just last night that the South was missing a
unique regional sandwich and that with some research, he was sure a market
would open up to us that has never been explored before.
BIO: Edward V. Folkes, Jr. is a native Floridian, living and working in Tampa, Florida. He writes, "The deep roots of the South are here in Tampa, but have been diluted over the years. I was raised in a small rural town, Dade City, Florida, about thirty miles north of Tampa, that I consider more 'cracker' county. Its institutions and society were certainly more deeply rooted in the Old South. I have family in both Virginia and Alabama, and thoroughly enjoy the connection and continuing experience of my heritage."
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