I live in Maryland, and it’s usually easy to forget that it’s a border state. You can’t get more liberal than Montgomery County; you wouldn’t catch anybody smoking inside a building, for instance.
But then I was sitting at this year’s luncheon at the Washington Winter Show (the Washington Antiques Show), listening to James T. Farmer III, garden and interior designer, writer of design books and cookbooks and true son of the South, and was struck with a funny but telling detail.
“All porch ceilings in the South are painted blue,” he said. My porch ceiling in Maryland is painted blue. What other color would it be?
What else do we have in common? Fried chicken in a cast iron skillet; ‘mater sandwiches (documented at the Olney Farmers Market, I swear); Southern efficiency (it’s even the name of a new restaurant in DC).
But Mr. Farmer had more stories about Southern traits and foodways. “When two Southerners meet, we compare what we have in our deep-freezes.” Ripe peaches, for instance. And, as for another Southern food icon, “If Queen Elizabeth came to visit us, she would get pimento cheese whether she wanted it or not!” Okay, maybe not so much in common, after all.
He filled an hour with stories and one-liners, talking winsomely and without notes. He discovered early in his life that he had a knack for design and cooking. His parents encouraged him. In college, he found himself cooking for half the stadium after games. Ever since, he has made a career of food and design.
Here are more culinary tips: make a Georgia Caprese salad, substituting peaches for the tomatoes. And, “Do you know what brown sugar and rosemary can do to bacon?” I can only imagine, but my mouth is watering.
The luncheon food skewed Southern, too, as it had for the Lee brothers event. A plate of shrimp and grits, with salad and cornmeal Madeline, was followed by coconut cake and a chocolate sandwich cookie. The simple syrup for the iced tea was back, and there were mimosas in place of bloody Marys. Alas, no customized Tabasco this year! But the room was just as full of charmingly set tables, and socially active women.
Mr. Farmer was preceded by the choir from the Bishop John T. Walker School for Boys, one of the charities benefiting from the Show, and followed by a tour of the antiques dealers by me.
Again, most of the dealers’ wares were above my price point, but I really enjoyed seeing the display. Mark and Marjorie Allen’s booth, which had captured my attention the last time I was at the Show with their display of nineteenth-century food choppers, had another attraction this year – puzzle mugs (aka puzzle jugs).
These mugs were, for centuries, facilitators of what must have been thousands of bar bets. The perforations make it impossible to drink without spilling your ale unless you know the trick. They typically have a verse painted on, which sounds like it could be sung in a drunken cadence:
Here Gentlemen Come try yr Skill
lle Leay a wager if you will
That You dont Drink this Liqr all
Withoutt you Spill or Lett Some Fall
(Spelling and punctuation as painted on the mug.)
They are still being made today, as curiosities, but these ones are 18th-century Liverpool delft. They can be yours for several thousand dollars each. Sigh.