Friday, September 16, 2005

How Kudzu Put Us in Eastern US

Our journey to and subsequent summers in New York State resulted when Scott opened Kudzu Food and Goods in 2002 in a 1934 gas station sitting at the northern edge of a hamlet. We met a variety of people, introduced the plant into their vocabulary, and sold them jars of kudzu jelly made by sisters in Atlanta.(Tastes similar to apple jelly.) "Kood zoo" was a soon-dispelled mystery as well as the rare comodity of three Mississippians in this part of New York. Who would have expected two of the three to be true storytellers when they entered a conversation. I'm reminded of what dear Eudora Welty said upon being asked, "Why are there so many writers in the South?" She hit it on the nail when she said, "Because we have so many stories to tell."

For us the new living experience enriched our lives. We found people with different philosophies, education, attitudes, work and speech patterns. We became acquainted with many people whose families were from old world countries, a rarity in our hometown. However, we discovered another Mississippian who moved to the Delaware area within a year of our store’s existence. Who could expect such a coincidence in this small town!

The store lasted the three planned years. But its name lingers as part of our story we relate to New Englanders as to why we Southerners are in their part of the country. As soon as I begin my story “Our store was called Kudzu Food and Goods” someone invariably hits upon the word “kudzu”, and a new conversation results. We Mississippians pronounce this Japanese word “kud zoo”. Just recently on Peaks Island a woman passing around me in the crowded art gallery heard me explain this to a transplanted Alabamian and stopped to tell me she had just finished contributing to a book called “The Book of Kudzu.” She went on to explain her trips to Japan to learn more about weaving and discovered the miraculous fibre of kudzu (and gave me the Japanese pronunciation as “koo soo”).Having seen how this much misunderstood plant in the South is so valuable, she agreed with me that because all parts of the plant are edible and useful, it should be considered by the government as a food source for poverty stricken areas. I related to her what I had learned in my reading and she suggested we work together to promote this plant. Interesting proposition.

In the August issue of Southern Living, Steve Bender writes about the discovery of kudzu as helping cure alcoholism. He fails to realize Krazy Kudzu Products, produced by those Atlanta sisters, puts out vinegars, honeys, jellies, jams and a cookbook with recipes using all parts of the vine.

Kudzu was introduced, as I understand it, into the country at a world's fair by the Japanese for soil erosion, and soon farmers in the South were planting it profusely. However, little did they know they had lost their land to this invasive, non-destructive plant. The Department of Agriculture in its literature states that eradication is iffy, as a poison should be administered over a period of seven years for best results. And to know a cash crop lies along the highways as a green mantle hiding decaying sheds, rusty vehicles, and disguising telephone poles and trees! If you wish a copy of the recipe book put out by Krazy Kudzu Products, look up their website. Very interesting. Anyone for sauteed leaves?

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