Ferris brings Southern Jewish cuisine to life


As one of the most culturally diverse schools in the U.S., UNC Pembroke is always seeking ways to explore and celebrate different cultures. November 18 was no different as Dr. Marcie C. Ferris presented her lecture, “Say it With Food: A Culinary Tour of the Jewish South.”

Marcie FerrisDr. Ferris held her audience captive with photographs and vivid descriptions of the difficult task many Jews faced by trying to fit into American culture whiling remaining true to their religious beliefs.

“You didn’t want to appear to be too Jewish,” Ferris said. “You had to eat, dress and speak like Americans,” she said, explaining that during the mid-19th century, when many of the Jews arrived in a close-knit Southern society that did not take well to strangers with odd customs.

Ferris said the two very distinct cultures were like baking ‘braided bread.’ The two could be joined beautifully with a little work, she said.

The hardest part of blending in with the Southern culture for the Jews was eating the same foods that their neighbors ate. Many of the dishes regularly enjoyed in the South were not kosher. Jews faced a big dilemma, and they all handled it differently. Some followed the kosher rules exactly, many modified them to fit in and a few completely disregarded them.

“Food plays such a large role in every culture,” Ferris said. “When all other elements of cultural traditions fall away, food stays.”

Dr. Marcie Cohen Ferris is author of the book, “Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South.” She is an associate director of the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies and an adjunct assistant professor in American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She received her Ph.D. from George Washington University in 2003.

Her talk was sponsored by UNCP’s Multicultural Center as part of its continuing program “Celebrating and Embracing Diversity One Day At A Time!” For more information on this program or others, please contact the center at 910.521.6508 or email canida@uncp.edu.

Robin Connolly is a senior, majoring in public relations in UNCP’s Department of Mass Communications.