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Oxford food author embraces history, culture

Laurie Triplette first immersed herself in food for health reasons, but now it’s a passion that she incorporates into daily written word.

Triplette, 64, is a native Memphian who moved to North Carolina in 1969 and found her way to Oxford in 2007 when the food scene was exploding locally. Since then she’s written and edited books, written a weekly food column and been an inspiration to her children and their friends for eating wisely and healthfully.

“The driving force behind me getting involved in food in the first place is health, and it’s because when I was 25 I ended up hospitalized when my immune system cracked out on me. Turns out I had triggered severe allergic reactions to all kinds of things,” she said.

Granted, that was in the 1970s when the industry was still doing explorations with food and food allergies, but Triplette left the hospital with a three-page typed list of processed foods and meat processors of foods she could not eat due to dyes and additives she was allergic to. The food industry put more safety systems in place, but she still sticks to healthful eating, especially after seeing positive effects.

Triplette’s mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and the duo went up to the Cushing Institute of Macrobiotics in Massachusetts.

“It kept her alive for an extra many months, and I kept it up for three years,” she said of the eating lifestyle. “It’s the healthiest I’ve ever been. Even though it’s a very severe Zen-type thing, you eat pure stuff, a lot of pickled foods, what’s local and what’s in season. So that really got me thinking again.”

After her mom died and when she started having children late in life, she moved her business to her home to be with them.

“I was an accredited art appraiser and art adviser and freelance writer and even though I had business all day and had staff and a nanny, I put food on the table every night. My children grew up eating at the dinner table when their peers were eating packaged, frozen and take-out from the restaurants. Their friends would come over and they were just amazed.”

Putting it in print

About the time the Triplette family moved to Oxford in 2007, she was exploring the foodways of her relatives and ancestors.

“It just happened to be at the time when Oxford was exploding as a food mecca, and then of course the first thing I was introduced to when I came over here was the Southern Foodways Alliance, which was just brilliant because it dovetailed with everything I was about as a historian and a writer and somebody interested in proper eating,” she said.

She put together the book “The Long Way Home” for family to document healthful and family recipes. Her next endeavor was editing a cookbook for the NFL Referees’ Association in 2010, titled “Zebra Tales.” In 2011, she published “Gimme Some Sugar, Darlin’ (The Secret Lexicon of Southernness & One Old Bride’s Guide to Cooking Southern).” The book received a 2012 silver medal Benjamin Franklin Award from the Independent Book Publishers Association. A paperback version also was published in 2013 for QVC shoppers.

Since 2012, Triplette has written a weekly column, “On Cooking Southern,” for hottytoddy.com, which as a member of the Association of Food Journalists, in 2014 landed her the group’s third place prize for best food column.

“I was beat out by the editor of Playboy and by a guy who does a column for Table Matters, which is an incredible publication, so I’m in good company,” she said. “And it’s an honor to just be in the organization.”

She said the weekly column has allowed her to “expand her voice” as a writer.

“Although I had been an arts feature writer for 30 years and I had been really a heavy-duty fine art appraiser, and the kind of writing you do for that kind of stuff is both scholarly and legal — it’s very serious stuff and it’s dry,” she said. “When I started writing about food I realized I was writing about history, culture and society and people. Of course, what’s so fun about cookbooks and food writing is all food writers write about people and about culture. Food is the common denominator wherever you are.

“Being Southern, it’s the most fun common denominator because we are a total melting pot of food. Unlike many parts of the country, our food is so interesting because we’ve had so many cultures that have come through here.”

Triplette said she keeps her children and other Millenials in mind when she writes because they have an interest in the farm-to-table and pure eating movement. She said they want to understand what it is like to have food straight from the farm or have recipes passed down, just one generation away from the farm.

Food and pottery?

Triplette wants to take time to focus on a pottery project she has on the table before she gets “too old and worn out,” she said.

“I’ve had a proposal on the table with the state agencies in Mississippi for the past five years now to document Mississippi potters and pottery traditions, both historic and contemporary, for which we would develop a pottery trail,” she said. “We would do an educational program, a book and some other things as a result. But I have not had time to launch this project because it is a serious three- to four-year project.”

She said pottery overlaps with food and it’s a project that could make an impact statewide.

She plans to keep on writing, look more into the pottery project and keep on with her involvement in the Southern Foodways Alliance, which she said is “fun and funky and educational all at the same time.”

“The culinary community here is very generous and its very caring and it’s a lot of fun,” she said about the area and the alliance. “It’s an overlap of the most creative people — visual arts, literary arts, culinary arts that you will ever find. And musicians.

“Food overlaps everything.”