|Hurston in Eau Gallie|
Fred Opie has studied Hurston's ethnographic research and her literary works to look specifically through the lens of food. The book is loaded with historical photos that bring the period to life. There are fields of collards, enormous barbecue pits, chicken frying, church picnic, and advertising encouraging the consumption of lots of corn.
He augments Hurston's writings on food with a collection of recipes belonging to Hurston and to the African-American community from traditionally black newspapers and other period cookbooks. Opie spends special attention to the descriptions of how foods were cooked whether braised or barbecued, smoked or fried. There is also an emphasis on traditional ingredients such as cornmeal, fish, and rice and peas along with folk remedies Hurston collected. Many of the farm laborers and sawmill workers had little or no access to doctors or medical attention so plant based cures were common among workers.
In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Tea Cake is bitten by a rabid dog and his mind deteriorates from the infection. He needs a doctor but the closest one is in Palm Beach and there is no way for Tea Cake to be saved. In her research, Hurston came across a remedy for "Loss of Mind."
Loss of Mind Remedy
Sheep weed leaves
2 cups water
Take the bark and cut it all up fine. Make a tea. Take one tablespoon and put in two cups of water and strain and sweeten. You drink some and give some to the patient. Put a fig leaf and poison oak in show. (Get fig leaves off a tree that hasn't borne fruit. Stem them so that nobody will know.)
We may make a big jug of this and keep it handy!
We collect cookbooks not just for a collection of recipes, but because they root us in a specific time and place. What we eat is embedded in our lives and history. It reveals who we are. Zora Neale Hurston's life can be found in the food of her beloved Florida. We might never have known that if not for Fred Opie.