Carson McCullers’ diner scenes in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Ballad of the Sad Café, and “A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud” remind me of Edward Hopper’s 1942 painting of a lonely late-night diner. Ironically, Hopper grew up a few doors down from the Victorian house McCullers owned in Nyack, New York. So when choosing a gumbo for McCullers, this week’s American writer, it seems only fitting to choose diner fare, especially after reading about her early culinary creations.
When she lived in a Brooklyn boarding house, what she cooked sounds bleaker than Hopper’s painting. But at least the meals provide a hint of what she liked to eat – or serve. She was the “chef de facto” when she lived with fellow artists the likes of W.H. Auden and Gypsy Rose Lee at February House, 7 Middagh, Brooklyn. According to her biographer Virginia Spencer Carr, McCullers preferred to talk about recipes rather than cook them, but had a few specialties . . . “canned green pea soup enlivened with small chunks of wieners, and a unique dish which she labeled ‘spuds Carson,’ made with creamed potatoes, ripe olives, minced onions, and grated cheese.”
Those ingredients sound like diner meal makings to me. Well, maybe not the olives. But, the spuds concoction might resemble the #2 favorite dish served in American diners – chicken pot pie. Gumbo, sadly, didn’t make any of the top diner dish lists. Of course Guy Fieri has discovered some great diner gumbo recipes for his TV series Diners, Drive-Inns and Dives like chicken and andouille from Parasol’s or shrimp, sausage and chicken from Bang! Even the Disney Diner website features the Blue Bayou Gumbo recipe served at the restaurant inside Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
But none of these recipes speak “diner dish” to me like Southern Boy Dishes Chicken Gumbo Pot Pie. I’m anxious to try their recipe and taste what magic the butternut squash adds. And, I’ll bet Carson McCullers, a Georgia girl, would like the okra in it, too.
McCullers might have lived up North a long time, but she was a Southern gal, born and raised in Columbus. Both her houses, the one she grew up in Georgia and the one she owned in New York, now belong to Columbus State University – the Georgia school. Her childhood home at 1519 Stark Avenue is part of the Southern Literary Trail. The Nyack, New York house stands at 131 South Broadway and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. If you go, Edward Hopper’s birthplace and boyhood home, now a museum and art center, is still right up the street at 82 North Broadway.