Today is the anniversary (1903) of the the Wright brothers, Orville (August 19, 1871 – January 30, 1948) and Wilbur (April 16, 1867 – May 30, 1912), making the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight. From 1905 to 1907, the brothers developed their flying machine into the first practical fixed-wing aircraft. Although not the first to build and fly experimental aircraft, the Wright brothers were the first to invent aircraft controls that made fixed-wing powered flight possible.
The brothers’ fundamental breakthrough was their invention of three-axis control, which enabled the pilot to steer the aircraft effectively and to maintain its equilibrium. This method became standard and remains standard on fixed-wing aircraft of all kinds. From the beginning of their aeronautical work, the Wright brothers focused on developing a reliable method of pilot control as the key to solving “the flying problem.” This approach differed significantly from other experimenters of the time who put more emphasis on developing powerful engines. Using a small homebuilt wind tunnel, the Wrights also collected more accurate data than any before, enabling them to design and build wings and propellers that were more efficient than any before. Their first U.S. patent, 821,393, did not claim invention of a flying machine, but rather, the invention of a system of aerodynamic control that manipulated a flying machine’s surfaces. They also experimented with kites using their controls for three years to master the art of piloting an aircraft. These experiments were all carried out in Kitty Hawk, N.C.
I feel a personal, though indirect, connexion with this event because in 1978 while doing my doctoral fieldwork in the region on a local fishing community I had many long interviews with Elijah Tate, son of “Capt.” Bill Tate who was the postmaster in Kitty Hawk in 1900 when the Wright Brothers first visited. In fact they stayed with the Tates that first year, and among other things used Elijah’s mother’s sewing machine to work on the fabric of the wings they were testing. When I interviewed Elijah (himself a former pilot), the sewing machine and other memorabilia were on display in cases in the living room. You can read several of these interviews in my book Lord I’m Coming Home (Cornell UP 1988).
Of course you can also read extensively about traditional cooking in the region as well. When I was there (on Currituck Sound) it was both a base for commercial fishing – crab, eels, and a variety of fish – as well as sport fishing for largemouth bass. In winter duck and goose hunting reigned. Some days commercial fishermen would unload their catch and go right back out for fun. Many are the times I sat roasting freshly caught mullet over a driftwood fire. But the region also has a strong basis in Southern cooking – church fried chicken suppers in the spring and heaping bowls of Brunswick stew in the fall for all comers, hazlitt stew in November, made from the organs of freshly slaughtered hogs, greasy greens, cornbread, hoppin’ john (rice and black-eyed peas), in fact the whole panoply of the dishes that mark the South. My wife was from the South, so when we lived in New York I always knew she was pining for home when I would return to work to the smell of a pot of collards on the stove and a skillet of cornbread in the oven.
Here’s my recipe for hush puppies which can accompany just about any meal as a bread. They are basically the same dough used for cornbread, but deep fried rather than baked. You can add a lot of fancy ingredients if you want, but these are traditional and I like them better than any others.
© Hush Puppies
1 ½ cups yellow cornmeal
½ cup all purpose flour
2 tsps baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 cup milk or buttermilk
1 egg, lightly beaten
Heat vegetable oil in a deep fryer to 350°F/175°C.
Mix the dry ingredients well in one bowl, and the milk and egg together in another. Then add the wet ingredients to the dry slowly. You are aiming for a mix that is moist but not soggy.
Make balls of the batter using two tablespoons, and drop them a few at a time into the oil. Turn the hush puppies regularly to ensure they are evenly golden. When they are fully golden remove them with a slotted spoon and drain on wire racks. Cook only 2 or 3 at a time to ensure that the oil remains hot.