One Saturday morning in the mid-1930s, Mancey Massengill, a wife and mother of two, saw people having their pictures made in a dime store photo booth in Batesville, Arkansas. According to her son Lance, “she watched close, and got the name off the camera, then wrote to the company and ordered the lens. She got the money for that by taking about two dozen pullets in for sale.” Her husband, Jim, built a box to house the lens and outfitted a trailer to create a mobile photo studio. On weekends, they would set up in little towns across the state and make pictures, three for a dime.
Jim and Mancey Massengill started this family side-business to make ends meet. The country was in the throes of depression and on the verge of entering the Second World War. Work was scarce in rural Arkansas, but the Massengills understood that even in rough times, life continues. Babies are born, children play, couples meet, and we all grow older. Someone needed to be there to capture those moments and that person could perhaps make a living doing it.
A few years later, the Massengill’s sons, Lance and Lawrence, and their wives, Evelyn and Thelma, worked their way into the business. They outfitted their own trailers and made their own pictures, traveling across the state in search of clients. The surviving family diaries and notes from this period attest to a very strong and entrepreneurial work ethic, with little mention of aesthetics or technique. The men and women of both generations describe where they went, what they did, and how much they made with only fleeting mention of life’s details. With few exceptions, the stories are left to be told by the pictures they made.
One of the great joys of my job is the fact that we sometimes get to review books for other authors. Sometimes we order the books from a catalog of new titles and sometimes, the books just arrive like magic in the mail. This was the case last year, when we received a book called Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book by Johanna Basford. The coloring book—intended for children and adults—was published by Lawrence King and immediately found its way to my pile of books I love. On the inside cover is a quote that reads, “Tumble down the rabbit hole & find yourself in my inky wonderland…” And that is exactly how I felt after browsing just a few pages. Although we have played with permanent markers for years in writing on quilts and garments, looking at page after page of beautiful detailed illustrations, I was overwhelmed by inspiration.
Through some experimentation, we found out that black and white photocopies will transfer onto white and/or natural colored fabric with a hot iron. This made it possible for us to transfer the pattern one-to-one from this or any coloring book, stencil, or black and white design. There are arrays of fabric coloring tools available at local craft stores and more arrive on the market each year. We found that the pastel dye sticks and fabric markers (designed for children) work very well.
We continuously strive for a healthy work/play balance here at Alabama Chanin. And so we found ourselves charmed by The Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits, by Suzanne Pollak and Lee Manigault, which manages to combine elements of work, domestic pursuits, and modern living.
Pollak and Manigault created the Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits (located in Charleston, North Carolina) in 2011 – after meeting at a dinner party – in hopes of teaching the value and importance of domestic home life. The Academy’s unique curriculum includes everything from cocktail-party etiquette and business entertaining, to dealing with household guests and cooking for the holidays.
Community cookbooks – collections of recipes gathered by churches, women’s societies, rotary clubs, and other regional clubs and foundations – have been the foundation of home kitchens across America for decades. These collections often present an air of nostalgia, using old-fashioned techniques, offbeat ingredients, and occasionally include really great anecdotes. They are—in their best versions—a direct reflection of the region of their origin and an admirable labor of love. The recipes are seldom fancy, and most often highlight the kind of meal that is made in an average kitchen on an average evening by an average cook who finds an epiphany of enlightenment in a great recipe. Even more captivating is the community cookbook filled with family recipes passed down from prior generations and lovingly shared with the community at large.
Caxton Press in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania published what is believed to be the very first charity cookbook in 1864, during the time of the Civil War. This assortment, titled A Poetical Cook-Book, by Maria J. Moss, was filled with foods common to that era, like leg of mutton, mince pies, johnnycakes, and hasty pudding. The book was sold to provide funds for field hospitals and aid wounded soldiers.
Many, like the ones I was given by my mother, grandmothers, and aunts, are overflowing with sense memories of a location and an era. While similarities exist among the cookbooks, there are distinct differences between what the women of the Virginia Eastern Star were making in the 1920s and the dishes prepared by the late 1960s Junior League of Coastal Louisiana. Regardless of the when and the where, there is copious information on what the (mostly) women were like in each specific time and place. The ingredients tell a story of rural vs. urban landscape and wealthy vs. working class cooks. If a recipe called for a pinch or a handful, you might assume that the writer was a seasoned home cook who learned passed down recipes and perfected dishes by taste, not by measurement. If a recipe was “eggless” or “butterless”, you might suppose that it originated during wartime, when certain foods were rationed.
A few weeks ago, we wrote a review of Handmade Gatherings by Ashley English (and also picked Ashley’s brain for her best tips on communal entertaining).
As The Factory continues to grow and host events, we openly welcome her simple approaches to creating an experience through collective, potluck meals. Now, we want to share those inspirations and insights with one of our lucky readers.
The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read. –Abraham Lincoln
Here is what we have going on this week, Monday, July 14 – Friday, July 18:
Beginning Monday, we will highlight some of our favorite books and other summer essentials as part of our Summer Reading (+ More) promotion. Enjoy discounts for a limited time in-store and online.
Monday – Friday, 9:00am – 5:00pm
Stop by any weekday at 2:00pm for a guided tour of our space, including The Factory, the Alabama Chanin production and design studio, and Building 14.
Join us in the café this week and enjoy recipes from this month’s featured chef, Vivian Howard of Chef & the Farmer. Her recipe for Blueberry BBQ Chicken Flatbread has become a new favorite, as well as our own house made, locally-sourced BLT (this week’s tasty special).
The act of sharing a meal with others can be a uniting experience, with the potential to create memories and build relationships. Ashley English’s new book, Handmade Gatherings: Recipes and Crafts for Seasonal Celebrations & Potluck Parties, is a celebration of just that sense of community. We previously featured another of Ashley’s books, A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies on our Journal. I was excited to read this, her latest book, as it focuses on something I truly love: entertaining. I appreciate Ashley’s approach to creating an experience through communal, potluck meals. I particularly value her approach to slowing down and appreciating the process of creating, and was honored to contribute a review of Handmade Gatherings (featured on the back cover of the book).
I have been a fan of the lovely Tift Merritt ever since I first heard her 2002 debut album, Bramble Rose. Since then, I have been lucky enough to meet and work with Tift as part of our MAKESHIFT initiative. One of my heroes, Emmylou Harris, once said that Tift “stood out like a diamond in a coal patch,” and her thoughtful lyrics and melodies prove this to be true time and again.
In 2012, finding herself without a manager or a record deal, the North Carolina native did some soul searching to find out what kind of artist she really wanted to become and came face-to-face with self doubt. I’ve shared before how my own challenges led to moments of real breakthrough and commitment to doing good work – and the admission that no matter how seamless it may seem, the journey is not effortless. Tift told Pop Matters, “Being a good artist is not for the faint of heart…I think you have to ask questions that are scary to ask and you cannot apologize for that and you cannot worry what anyone else thinks about your journey.”
This is the time of year to celebrate the men in our lives: fathers, husbands, partners, sons, and brothers who have been there through it all, and continue to support us through thick and thin. This year we’ve selected a few favorite Father’s Day gifts which will be discounted from our online store through Friday, June 13.
The Thursday before Father’s Day, we are hosting our inaugural “Friends of the Café” Dinner Series benefiting Alabama Gulf Seafood. The dinner features James Beard award-winning chef (and father) Chris Hastings who will prepare a three-course meal, followed by a book-signing. Buy a ticket for dad (and yourself) and visit us at The Factory in Florence. Be sure to get a copy of Hot and Hot Fish Club).
If you can’t make the trip to Florence, you can always make something special or give something handmade; we have a selection to help celebrate the dad who deserves the best.
Allison Kave, a truly creative baker and expert on all things pie related, credits her mother with her passion for food. Her mom, Rhonda Kave, is owner of Roni-Sue’s Chocolate in New York’s Essex Street Market. Growing up, Rhonda had a rather unexciting childhood filled with canned and boiled vegetables and she wanted more nutrition and excitement for her own children. Research into various cuisines led to a love of chocolate, which inspired her very own confectionery shop. All of this unbridled love of food couldn’t help but inspire Allison and her brother, Corwin, a renowned executive chef in New York City.
Like some of us, Allison did not find her calling immediately. Her route to the culinary life modeled the circuitous path her mother took. Eventually, her boyfriend encouraged her to enter the First Annual Brooklyn Pie Bake-Off – and she walked away with the award for Best Overall Pie. So, she asked: Why not make pies? In fact, Allison recently partnered with fellow baker Keavy Blueher, and together they are opening Brooklyn’s first dessert and craft cocktail bar, Butter & Scotch.