Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Celebrating Southern - Food and Beverages

I'm celebrating Southern with Leslie this week - check out yesterday's post if you fancy Southern hair and makeup!

Today we're talking food and bevies.
I think it comes as no surprise that most traditional Southern food is a far cry from healthy.  When I was growing up, the nutritional value of food was not a primary consideration, and we just lived by "eat your vegetables" and "clean your plate."

 Some of my favorite memories growing up stem from my great-great aunt's dinner table. 
Her name was Vivian, but we all called her Bill.
I don't know why exactly - something about some older cousin way-back-when not being able to say "Vivian" as child, so it came out "Bill."
I have no idea. But it stuck. 
Everyone in the community ended up calling her Bill.

Bill and my brother, Jeremy, shortly before she passed away in 2009.

I loved that woman with every fiber of my being. 
No children or granchildren of her "own," but we might as well have been.
She was a spunky, moody little thing, in the most endearing way.

I mention her here because I cannot talk about Southern food without talking about Bill.
She was happiest in her kitchen.
Nothing gave her more pleasure than for you to eat at her house, and come back for seconds.
And she didn't have to pressure people too much for that to happen.
I remember many Sunday nights where her house was full after the evening service; church members, even the pastor, stopping by for the most perfect meal of her Sunday Dinner leftovers.

 After she retired, she spent her time crocheting and planning Sunday Dinner menus. 

(Ya'll do know there is a difference between Dinner, Sunday Dinner, and Supper, yes?)
My husband's family is not Southern. The first year we were married, we invited them over for "New Year's Day Dinner". His grandparents called back and asked for hotel recommendations near our house because they don't like to drive after dark.
Eric had to explain to them that in his Southern wife's kitchen, New Year's Day "Dinner" was actually served mid-day.
 That day was also the first time his parents ever saw tried collard greens.
Ah, memories :)
 Bill's Sunday dinner menu changed every week, but the staples were always Fried Chicken, Macaroni & Cheese, Biscuits, and some type of fresh, seasonal vegetable.  

And Leslie mentioned the fried potatoes - Bill's fried potatoes were a favorite. She would be pleased to know that my re-creation of them is good enough that Eric even requests them at home from time to time, even though he never had the chance to meet her.

Southern women are particular about their biscuits.
Bill's were always made with Crisco.  
That's right, ladies, it's lard. Shortenin' if you please.

 [This clip from The Help just makes me laugh. True in more ways than one.]
Bill's biscuits just might be the best thing I have ever put in my mouth. 
When she passed away, I got her recipe book.
But you know how it is - the best things are never written down.
I do not have her biscuit recipe, but I wish I did.

I wish I had paid more attention to the flour sifting, rolling, cutting, brushing, baking...
Funny the things that become important to you as you get older. 

I do however, have my Nana's Crockpot Macaroni recipe ready to go for you.
Which does, in fact, count as a vegetable in the South.

You are welcome.

As for the holidays, we prefer our sweet potato souffles to pumpkin pie.

We prefer dressing to stuffing.
 (Now, this was a new one for my husband.)

 And no New Year's Day is complete without:
1) Fried Hog Jowl: representing health in the coming year. This stems from wayyy back when - if you had a hog to eat, your family would likely be able to survive the winter.
It's exactly what it sounds like - the jowl, or cheek, of a hog.
Very similar to bacon, but a bit thicker.
2)Black Eyed Peas: representing coins/silver in the coming year.
3)Collard Greens: representing green paper money in the coming year.

Now. Ladies.
That's a lot of battered, fried, and fattening. 
And hogs.
 If we're interested in maintaining that teeny Southern waistline (without the aid of a corset), we're going to have to make some adjustments where we can. 

1)There are no adjustments for fried chicken or hog jowl. I am sorry. Run 5 miles first so you can feel like you (almost) break even.
2)For the Mac N' Cheese - you can use reduced-fat (not fat-free or you will have no flavor) cheese, and fat-free evaporated milk.
3)Go heavy on the veggies and greens, but lay off the butter. I prefer this stir-fry method for my collards. They are delicious. Fill your plate 2/3 with the veggies first, then fill in with the meat and other trimmings.
4)Eat seasonal - the flavors are always the best, and you won't feel the need to slather it with butter and sauces.  Butter beans and corn are sweetest when they are fresh out of the field. 
Butternut Squash, black eyed peas, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin add creaminess to fall and winter dishes. 
Have a slice of ice cold watermelon in the heat of summer, and you might not feel the need to have that cobbler and vanilla ice cream.
But you probably will.
So just use a small bowl. 
That's all I got.


Have y'all noticed how some traditional Southern foods are debuting as "gourmet" in fancy restaurants?
Like hoppin john, scrapple, and fried green tomatoes?
I just love that.
Too much goodness to keep to our Southern selves. 
Although seeing how some of those dishes were made because Southerners literally had nothing else to eat in the dead of winter, I do think Bill might roll over in her grave if she knew I paid almost $20 for a plate of pork scrapple once.

We spent a lot of time on food, but that's alright because truly, there are only a couple of Southern bevies that we need to cover.

1) Sweet Tea.
We drink our tea sweetened with real sugar, over ice, with a small squeeze of fresh lemon.
The only thing as good as a mason jar full of sweet tea from a Southern lady's kitchen is a plastic cup full of sweet tea from McAllister's Deli.

2) Sweet Tea Vodka.
My husband drinks it alone, over ice on the golf course.
I like mine mixed with a bit of lemonade, and sometimes fresh fruit.
There are many, many brands out now, but I prefer the original:
From South Carolina, the home-sweet-home of yours truly.

Thank you so very much for indulging my reminscing today.

I think that's part of what makes Southern food so special. 
It's not just about the food.
In the south, we gather around it.
In the south, there's always enough food for one more mouth to feed.
In the south, we comfort with homemade casseroles.
In the south, the food feeds the soul.
In the south, memories flood with just one taste.
As Minnie says in the clip above, "Fryin' chicken just...tend to make ya feel better about life."


  1. I love this post!! Interestingly enough though I'm a Southerner (born and raised) I was introduced to scrapple by my boyfriend (at the time) who was a ... gasp... YANKEE!

    Stopping by from A Blonde Ambition!

  2. So funny that you mentioned your husband learning about southern food because we were the same way! My husband is from Idaho and was so confused when it came to collard greens! And same thing about dinner and supper! And I will be trying that mac and cheese receipe! And Bill sounds like she was a gem!

  3. Such fond and wonderful memories. I love when food makes you think about loved ones!!! I have a lot of recipes from my mother that I can't make-out because there are no directions, only ingredients. I hope that my training and skills will improve and I can wing it. I should have paid more attention when she was with me on earth.

    I can't believe I forgot Sweet Potato Casserole! LOVE that stuff. And it's a Southern staple, not so much northern. We have mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving and Christmas and I had never had Sweet Potato casserole until my mother moved to NC and her boyfriend's sister made it for dinner one year. Oddly enough she was a transplant from Jersey, not sure how she got the inside scoop on the casserole but I was hooked after that. My mother-in-law to this day will make one, and put a lump or marshmellows in the corner for myself and my youngest brother-in-law since we are the two that like it w/ sweetness over the nuts.

  4. Love your posts. I've never tried evaporated milk in my mac and cheese, going to have to try. I always feel like mine is missing something.

  5. Hopped over from Blonde Ambition...

    I LOVE the story about your grandma! So sweet.

    McAlister's tea is the best for when I'm not at home!