Memories of playwright William Inge make me cringe and cry at the same time. I wept until my eyes swelled when I saw the movie Splendor in the Grass. And when I sat in the audience for a high school production of Picnic, I cringed every time the screen door on the set slammed — at least 100 times. But William Inge, an Independence, Kansas native, could cast a spell with stories of regular folks in America’s heartland no matter the venue.
At one time in the 1950s, four of Inge’s plays were running almost simultaneously on
Broadway. All went on to be major films. He won a Pulitzer Prize and an Oscar, yet like so many writers I’ve written about this year, he suffered from alcoholism and depression. And, he didn’t write much about food. His plays reference fare for picnics and barbecue (Picnic), diners (Bus Stop) and boarding houses, (Come Back, Little Sheba) but those weren’t Inge’s favorite foods.
Advice about food was the last thing his mother told him when he set off for New York to be a writer (with a degree from University of Kansas, a Masters from Peabody and plenty of theatre experience under his belt).
“Now, Bill, you know whenever you get to New York or any of the cities and you need a good home-cooked meal, you must go to a Jewish deli and get it there.” Inge’s friend Jack Garfein, who relayed the anecdote in “He Knew the Poetry of Life,” wrote that Inge’s favorite restaurant seemed to be a Jewish deli.
And no doubt when Inge lived at The Dakota apartment coop in New York with other writers, artists and actors, he could walk to a good Jewish deli. But Jewish Gumbo is a Southern thing.
Marcie Cohen Ferris, a native of Arkansas and professor at University of North Carolina, is author of Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South. She shared her recipe for Matzo Ball Gumbo on blog Eat, Drink & Think.
It features Matzo Balls flavored with Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning dropped in a Louisiana Chicken and Sausage Gumbo (kosher optional) with okra and tomatoes. It’s made with a baked roux and sounds delicious.
And for dessert, how about a big slice of pie from Grace’s Restaurant, maybe one like those on the set of Bus Stop?