Thomas G. Doty

Flight 11 Memorial in Unionville, Missouri (photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

Flight 11 Memorial in Unionville, Missouri (photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

Shortly before Continental Airlines flight 11 went down May 22, 1962, Thomas Doty, a married man with a five-year-old daughter, had purchased six sticks of dynamite for 29 cents each, and placed the explosives in the used towel bin of the plane’s right rear lavatory. The resulting explosion brought the plane down near Unionville, Missouri, killing all 45 crew and passengers on board.

Doty had purchased a life insurance policy from Mutual of Omaha for $150,000, the maximum available. He also had another $150,000 in additional insurance (some purchased at the airport) and death benefits. Doty had recently been arrested for armed robbery and was to soon face a preliminary hearing in the matter.

Author Arthur Hailey based a subplot of his 1968 novel Airport on the Flight 11 bombing.

Southern Foodways Alliance Does it Up Right in Napa

Pitmasters Nick Pihakis, Daniel Patterson, Rodney scott, Samuel Jones, Drew Robinson, Nicolas Pihakis, Jamey Whetstone (owner, Whetstone Winery), Christopher Kostow, and Stephen Barber.

Pitmasters Nick Pihakis, Daniel Patterson, Rodney Scott, Samuel Jones, Drew Robinson, Nicolas Pihakis, Jamey Whetstone (owner, Whetstone Winery), Christopher Kostow, and Stephen Barber.

When I signed up to attend the Southern Foodways Alliance Potlikker dinner in Napa Valley, I didn’t know what to expect. Northern California has certainly become one of America’s premier dining regions – but barbecue?

The event was held August 18 on the lush grounds surrounding the 19th-century French-style chateau of Whetstone Winery. Before dinner, thirsty guests imbibed on outstanding wines provided by Whetstone. But, to my surprise, the handcrafted beer chilled in washtubs was “imported” from Tennessee.

And when it was time to eat, all doubts about unfamiliar barbecue were dispelled, as pitmasters from South Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama dished up some of the best pulled pork and ribs I’d ever eaten.

These guys had actually pulled their gigantic pits all the way to California, just for the event. And as it turns out, most of them also compete in the New Orleans annual “Hogs for a Cause” charity cookoff.  Proceeds from this event go to families with children who have cancer.  Hogs for a Cause is near and dear to my family, since my stepson Trey competes every year and especially since his two-year-old daughter Margaux is recovering from the disease.

Hard at work at the barbecue pits.

Hard at work at the barbecue pits.

It was also fun in Napa connecting with Potlikker’s organizers from the Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA). SFA documents, studies, and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. The group sets a common table where black and white, rich and poor — all who gather — may consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation.

A member-supported non-profit, based at the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture, SFA stages symposia, produces documentary films, collects oral histories, sponsors scholarship, mentors students, and publishes great writing. Donations from generous individuals, foundations, and companies fund their good work.

I’ve been a member of SFA for many years and consider their work and research important to the understanding of Southern food. And I now also know they know how to throw a good party.

Trendsetting Trinchero Winery

Trinchero Winery's  Vice-President of Trade Relations Barry Wiss, PR Director Nora Feeley, Head Winemaker Mario Monticellic, and Cynthia Nobles

Trinchero Winery’s Vice-President of Trade Relations Barry Wiss, PR Director Nora Feeley, Head Winemaker Mario Monticellic, and Cynthia Nobles

I am not ashamed to admit that the first wine I truly thought was delicious was white zinfandel.

Last week my husband Howard and I were honored with a private tasting by Barry Wiss and Nora Feeley at Napa Valley’s Trinchero Winery, the second largest family winery in the world.

As we sipped on outstanding flights of sauvignon blanc and cabernet, our hosts informed us, to our surprise, that Trinchero invented white zinfandel, the sweet stuff under the Sutter Home label that was all the rage in the 70s. Serious Napa winemakers of the time pooh-poohed what they considered a “bastardizing” wine that would hurt their lofty reputations. But the Trinchero family, who was trying not to waste juice that would have typically been thrown away, just shrugged, and the pink-colored wine took off, especially with women. For many of us, it was a springboard into the world of wines that had more nuance.

imageAside from their landmark zinfandel, Trinchero Napa Valley makes outstanding wines for every taste and budget, and that are sourced from the family’s more than 200 acres of sustainably farmed estates in some of the Napa Valley’s most sought after appellations, including St. Helena, Rutherford, Atlas Peak and Mt. Veeder. Their wines are strictly bordeaux varietals and, with the exception of Meritage and Signature, are all single-vineyard wines.

The winery has 32 wine labels, with 6-8 wines per label. And they’re also reaching in the the spirits market, with their Tres Agaves and Cruz tequilas.

My taste in wine has changed, but Sutter Home white zinfandel is still sweet and pink and selling very well. So here’s a raised glass to Trinchero Winery, a family business that dared take a chance and is still taking chances, and which helped nudge America into the world of fine wines.

Remembering the Battle of Baton Rouge

Readying the cannon for fire.

Readying the cannon for fire.

It’s hard to believe, but on August 5, 1862, a full-blown battle between Union and Confederate soldiers took place smack dab in the middle of Baton Rouge.

Today, the Foundation for Historical Louisiana held a ceremony in historic Magnolia Cemetery commemorating that day 151 years ago and the Battle of Baton Rouge. At the time, Baton Rouge was under Union occupation. Confederate General John C. Breckenridge, a former Vice President of the United States, had received orders to re-take the city and had amassed 4,000 men on the Comite River.

A few hours before dawn, with the ironclad C.S.S. Arkansas waiting upriver, Breckenridge struck along North Street through what is now known as Mid-City. The fighting raged along a line from near North Street, down North 19th Street to Government Street, with Magnolia Cemetery at the very heart of the struggle.

Reenactor John White in a Confederate Captain's uniform.

Reenactor John White in a Confederate Captain’s uniform.

The Confederates initially had success, until, about 7:30 a.m., when Confederate Colonel Henry Watkins Allen received a serious wound and the troops retreated in disarray. Later, during several uncoordinated Confederate attacks, the commanding general of the Union forces, Thomas Williams, was shot and killed.

Meanwhile, the C.S.S. Arkansas suffered engine failure, and, rather than face capture, she was blown up by her crew. The Union gunboat U.S.S. Essex, however, sat unharmed in the Mississippi River, and shelled Confederate troops at will.

After a few hours of fighting, close to 200 men were killed and another 650 were wounded or missing. Each side appeared traumatized. With many of his own leaders dead or wounded and with no help from the Arkansas, Breckenridge withdrew back toward the Comite River. The Battle of Baton Rouge was over.

Within two weeks, Union forces destroyed many downtown buildings and evacuated to New Orleans. In late August, Confederates re-occupied Baton Rouge, but only for a short while, until they moved to the more strategic Port Hudson position a dozen miles upriver. Union forces returned that December and remained through the end of the war.

As far as food goes, during the war, Union soldiers, on the whole, ate better than the Confederates because the federal government had a well-established commissary system. Typical rations included staples such as salt pork, dried fruit and vegetables, coffee, salt, and the infamous hard tack, a three-inch square of rock-solid bread made from flour, water, and salt.

Confederate soldiers were supposed to be supplied with items such as bacon, sugar, tea, molasses, and cornmeal, but, as mentioned, that was never a guarantee. For both sides, “extravagances” such as sugar, tobacco, coffee, canned meat, sweets, and fresh and canned fruit could be purchased from sutlers, civilian merchants who followed the armies and sold ridiculously high-priced goods to homesick soldiers.

Due to blockades and the large number of battles fought in southern states, in the end, the South was virtually starved into submission. But because of our ancestors’ Civil War hardships, today we Southerners know how to make something out of nothing.

This morning, however, we did not focus on the era’s hardscrabble cuisine. Instead, the guns and cannon were loud and the music serene, and all reminded us of  the unthinkable loss suffered by both sides.