What I Learned from Visiting William Faulkner’s Mississippi Kitchen
A couple years ago, without really planning it, l found myself standing in William Faulkner’s kitchen. In Oxford, Mississippi, for the Southern Foodways Symposium, I did what every tourist to Ole Miss does: I visited Rowan Oak, William Faulkner’s home just off campus.
After zipping through the self-guided tour, I asked about the kitchen and learned that it wasn’t open to the public, but with a little nice-nice and my best southern smile, I found my way in, chaperoned by a docent who told me in the kindest possible voice that it was best to not touch anything. What I found was a very real and simple testament to the theory that the kitchen is the warmest place in house.
Rowan Oak is the home where Faulkner lived with his wife Estelle Oldham and their daughter Jill from 1930 until his death in 1962. It is an antebellum home, built in 1848, in the traditional Greek Revival style of the South with the house facing the south to catch the sun.
The kitchen as it stands today was added to the house in 1910, onto the north side, which, given the grand home’s southern orientation, was the only direction to expand. Prior to 1910 the kitchen was located in a brick outbuilding which Faulkner later converted to a smokehouse for curing his famous hams.
Though many might remember Faulkner as a drinker, he was also an eater and a hunter. And he cooked now and then. He was known for his hams, and used a North Carolina barbecue recipe, which was controversial of course. His other specialty was salmon patties made with salmon straight from the can, using the recipe on the side. Though he had a cook three days a week, Faulkner always cooked the doves he hunted because Price believed that doves carried the souls of people to heaven, so she refused to cook them.
William Gritffith, the curator of Rowan Oak, told me that Faulkner felt one should never ever eat in the kitchen (only the dining room), though he often worked at a desk in the kitchen because it was the warmest room in the house.
The kitchen was remodeled and modernized in 1930 and again in 1952. As times changed, so did the kitchen, and Faulkner added and took away features as the need arose, placing a double deep freezer, a gas/wood stove, and an electric stove when the checks came in after big publications and awards. (Faulkner is one of a handful of writers who won both the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer prize in literature.)
At one point in his career, his success lured him to Hollywood to write screenplays. While living at the Beverly Hills Hotel, he wrote:
I wish I was at home, still in the kitchen with my family around me and my hand full of Old Maid cards.
(Images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)