June 4, 2021
Moveable Gardens, edited by Virginia D. Nazarea and Terese Gagnon, highlights itineraries and sanctuaries in an era of massive dislocation, addressing concerns about finding comforting and familiar refuges in the Anthropocene. The worlds of marginalized individuals who live in impoverished rural communities, many Indigenous peoples, and refugees are constantly under threat of fracturing. Yet, in every case, there is resilience and regeneration as these individuals re-create their worlds through the foods, traditions, and plants they carry with them into their new realities.
Below, read an excerpt from contributor Taylor Hosmer’s chapter in Moveable Gardens, titled “The Tale of Cathead Biscuits”.
In most cases, as in my own, southerners never stop to consider why we prefer White Lily over other flours. At first, I staked it all on the traditions and rituals of cross- generational beliefs, but its taste may have even more to do with the cultural, regional, and historical connotations. To be considered a cathead, a biscuit must have a crisp crust and a soft inside. Soft winter wheat has been used to achieve this most desired effect. Since the beginning of the cathead, White Lily has been passed down as the type of flour one uses. Years have passed, and few other flours have found themselves embedded in southern biscuit ideals. Expectations of how a biscuit should look and taste have led to a strict dedication to soft red winter wheat. Ultimately, what may have started off as a regional and historical identity soon ingrained its importance as traditional and cultural markers as well. White Lily has undoubtedly had a role in producing and reproducing southern foodways as a hallmark ingredient that has defined what a biscuit should be.
Without fail the cathead’s taste of place has brought the warmth of my home to me time and time again. In college and far from home, I have often found myself lost in the present moment and at times prone to forgetting connections to my roots. Despite this, no true difficulty presents itself during my efforts to bring forth the warmth of home when I am assisted by a fresh biscuit. That being said, it cannot be just any biscuit. Like champagne, it must meet the requirement to be called a cathead. If it is not a true cathead, it cannot evoke the many rich meanings that are wrapped up inside each bite, and it would not have the power to bring forth the sense of home across hundreds of miles to wherever I might be. A true cathead is, for me, a portable sanctuary in moments such as these. It can transform any reality into the likeness of my home.
With every smell, taste, and texture consumed, memories and feelings present themselves. It is funny to think of a biscuit no larger than a cat’s head as a boundless haven. But it has, without fail, provided a direct link to my home each time I have caught myself drifting away. A central feature in the memories it evokes, the biscuit is vital in the moment of recall. Without it, certain memories may have been forgotten, and feelings may have faded. Instead, it has allowed connections to be made between the people and places associated with it, creating an integrated system of meaning that is steady and at the same time ever changing. Layers of meaning can be added with every new memory made, and even old memories can be altered in light of something newly learned. The cathead biscuit, however, will always be the catalyst for me when I am looking to produce this very particular meaning system.
Cathead biscuits represent a tradition that was a constant throughout my childhood. My brother and I spent every summer roaming the land around Mema’s house, accompanied by the smells and tastes of biscuits. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you could easily claim your fill of biscuit without any true difficulty. Whether we were determined explorers or nature survivalists, we would always give in to our hunger when Mema yelled out “fresh biscuits!” Knapsacks in hand, we would fill them with all sorts of treasures. This, of course, included the delicious golden rounds, which would later be eaten deep inside the woods. We would strike off into the wilderness with our renewed supplies to conduct feasts at our many secret fortresses and hideouts. As children, we associated biscuits with long summer days spent at Mema’s, early morning breakfasts with our cousins, and the knowledge that this food could always fill whatever need we had that day. The biscuit contains within it memories we draw on with each bite taken. In an instant I can travel through space and time to find myself a young child again sitting at my mema’s table. With biscuit in hand, I can close my eyes and hear the laughter of cousins, while the soothing warmth of nostalgia floods my senses. As Sutton explains in his book Remembrance of Repasts (2001), food is so much more than simply a source of energy. Food can be symbolic, and in that symbolism, it can contain countless layers of meaning. Our relationship to the food we eat reflects our cultural beliefs, regional preferences, and socio-economic status, among other things. Most importantly, it can provide us with a link to our past.
Taylor Hosmer hails from a small town in southern Georgia. She is an anthropology and geography major at the University of Georgia, with a focus on disaster management. Her ethnobiography takes a new and more personal approach to the history of resilience. Her time spent volunteering at UGArden and William’s Farm, two local community gardens in Athens, Georgia, has taught her that knowing one’s food can have powerful positive impacts from the community level down to each individual.