Corey Smith is the kind of real deal country singer-songwriter that I can really dig. Corey, who has been recording albums since 2003 and just released his 10th LP, While the Gettin’ Is Good, is a classic Southern gentleman — raised in the South with lots of family and plenty of good food. When we heard that Southern cuisine was something near and dear to his heart, we figured that it was as good an excuse as any to talk about music and food with Corey and cook up a Southern favourite up here in Canada.
Rolling Spoon: I’ve been told that Southern food is a passion for you.
Corey Smith: When I grew up I spent most of my youth with my grandmother who set the table and cooked every night. You didn’t eat just for nutrition, it was everyone sitting around the table and talking and enjoying the effort that she put into it.
Did she teach you how to cook?
No. I am a horrible cook, but I am a fantastic eater. I regret that I never picked it up, but it would have been a real reversal of the gender roles if I had even asked her. She taught her daughter, and my wife has the recipe for her sweet potatoes. She passed away last year, so those recipes are her legacy.
But she often wouldn’t even sit down and eat with us. We had Sunday dinners religiously — 1 pm after church we’d all meet at her house and she had a very small house. The family grew and grew and we were just packed in there, but she cooked the food and did the chicken and the biscuits and the corn bread and the green beans and peas, and sweet potatoes. Way too much food, which she probably couldn’t afford, but she’d be up filling the tea glasses and bringing more food out. Very seldom did she sit down — her joy I think came from making the food and getting her family there.
The impact for me wasn’t that I learned to cook. It was authenticity. I use it to talk about music a lot and what I say is usually this: I enjoy going to a restaurant where I can get something that I can’t get anywhere else. To find a mom and pop place that has a really good bread pudding or gumbo. To me, music is much the same. I compare it to biscuits: you can get canned biscuits and they’re consistent and will cook the exact same way in any oven in the world. Those are fine and we can live off canned biscuits, I guess. But I love my Grandma’s biscuits. And they were never the same shape, they were never perfect, they were kind of thin… but they were the best and I’ve never had one that good. I know a real biscuit when I taste it and in music, I want to make homemade biscuits. My music may not sell millions and may not sound like the other stuff you can hear everywhere. But if I figure if I can make music with the same kind of joy that my Grandma made food with, I’m doing something right.
If you’ve been eating really well can you hear that come out in your music?
I think so. There have been times when I’ve done some of my best writing out at a restaurant. There’s a book I read that talks about taking yourself out on an artist date: treat yourself to something and really pay attention to the senses. On the road I’ll do it a lot because I don’t have anything else to do. I’ll wake up in the morning and go on a search, find a restaurant, sit down, and listen and smell and taste and feed the senses in preparation for writing. The sense impressions tend to be the best material, lyrically speaking.
I always ask musicians where there favourite tour stops are from an eating perspective and they often say the American South. As a Southerner, where are your favourite places to travel to?
My usual answer to that is that I don’t have a favourite because there’s something special about every place. That said, I love New York City. I’m from a small town in the South and I still get all wide-eyed when I go into the city. I love looking up at the buildings and there are so many places to eat. I like working in a fourth meal when I’m in New York. I eat great Southern food all the time, but it’s hard to find authentic Italian food in rural Georgia!
What is your favourite kind of pie?
It’s not pecan pie. I don’t like pecan pie, which is kind of odd. My favourite pie is key lime pie. I also love sweet potato pie, but it’s hard to find where it’s actually really sweet potato pie, not sweet potato soufflé. However, there is a place in Macon, Georgia called the H&H Restaurant and they make the best sweet potato pie in the world.
Now, we made a sweet potato pie a while back and ever since I interviewed Kelly Hogan last year, I’ve been dreaming about her famed (and secret) recipe for Southern-style banana pudding. So, I decided to make one, thinking that it may have been something that Corey’s Grandma would have enjoyed. Seeing as I’m from Canada, I’m not even going to try to tinker with a classic southern recipe, and I will completely own up to just using this brilliant recipe, in which you make a vanilla pudding completely from scratch, layer it with Nilla wafers and sliced bananas, and top it with a gorgeous meringue. The pudding itself took a while to make, but it comes together quickly once you’ve got that part done and is a show-stopper of a dessert. Why this gorgeous and delicious dessert isn’t as famous as the pecan pie or biscuits and gravy is beyond me.
So, make some for someone you love. It’s delicious served cold and only needs a few minutes in the oven, making it a good summer dessert if you need a break from peaches and cherries (which you probably don’t, but the more dessert the merrier). Whip up a batch, make some sweet tea, kick back on the verandah, and listen to some Corey Smith: