Authentic Southern Cuisine—in Detroit

by Fred Ray on April 10, 2009 · 0 comments

Once the booming capital of the auto industry, Michigan in general and Detroit in particular have fallen on hard times. Michigan has lost half a million people since 2001 and continues to lose something like 20,000 a year to out-migration. Detroit, once a city of two million but now down to less than half that, has done even worse. “Motown” is now a ghost city in places, as this haunting study shows.

It wasn’t always so. During the boom years many black Southerners moved North for jobs in what came to be called the Great Migration. Some have returned but many, like Glemie Dean Beasley, a retired truck driver who calls himself Coon Man, are still there. For folks like him, raised in rural Arkansas, the rewilding of Detroit is a feature, not a bug. “This city is going back to the wild,” he says. “That’s bad for people but that’s good for me. I can catch wild rabbit and pheasant and coon in my backyard.” He sells wild game and caters to fellow Southern expatriates.

Called pot hunting, this was traditionally how po’ folks, black and white, made ends meet and put a little meat on the table, something I’ve posted on before.

While Beasley preps his coon with simple vinegar brine and spices, there are 100 ways to cook a coon.

There is roast coon with sweet potato, sausage and corn bread stuffing; raccoon cobbler and roast marinated raccoon with liver and onion. It is this reporter’s opinion that the best sauce for coon may very well be hunger.

The story of Glemie Dean Beasley plays like a country song. The son of a sharecropper, Beasley left school at 13 to pick cotton. He came to Detroit in 1958. His woman left him in 1970 for a man he calls Slick Willy.

Someone stole his pickup truck and then someone killed his best dog.

“I knowed some hard times,” Beasley says. “But a man’s got to know how to get hisself through them hard times. Part of that is eating right.

The article gives no recipes, but if this interests you I recommend the Dillard House Cookbook, which is also a rich source of local history and tells you how to prepare nature’s bounty like raccoon, opossum, squirrel, and the like. The Dillard House itself is an excellent family-style restaurant located outside of Clayton, Georgia and I highly recommend the food (which, alas, does not include any of the aforementioned delicacies).

In fact, if I were a reenactor who was really into authenticity, I’d send Mr. Beasely a ticket or some gas money and have him come to my next reenactment to demonstrate some real down-home cookin’. Civil War soldiers, like civilians, supplemented their diet when possible with meat wherever they could get it, and any critter whose path crossed that of a Southern army put itself in mortal danger.


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