December 2nd, 2010
11:00 AM ET
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You can't out-cook a ghost.

Goodness knows I have tried. I've spent hours, days, weeks, months in pursuit of the perfect biscuits, hauling ingredients from my husband's native North Carolina to our Brooklyn apartment, putting my lard-smeared hands on every text I could find and cornering octogenarian in-laws at holiday dinners. Moreover, I have rolled, beaten, patted and whispered to endless dough batches, made my own butter and buttermilk (the mention of that effort earned me a high-pitched "Sh*t, girl!” from none other than Paula Deen, and I will never get tired of telling people that), gone ice-less so as to accommodate more flour varieties in the freezer and I swear unto the heavens, I never, ever twist the biscuit cutter.

Still, I come giddily bearing the star of each batch, butter-slathered and piping hot, and study my husband's face as he takes the first bite. He's appreciative and unfailingly complimentary - a Southern gentleman, after all - but deep down, I know it's never going to measure up to the ones his long-departed Memama and her housekeeper Nettie rolled out on a linen pillowcase and served to him as a child. I've learned to be okay with that.

Grandmothers are canonized in Southern cooking, and while it's taken as read that your own cooking, with rare exception, will pale in comparison, willful deviation...doesn't go over so well.

Eatocracy recently hosted its inaugural Secret Supper in Atlanta at Chef Linton Hopkins' Restaurant Eugene. Hopkins is a James Beard Award-nominated, fourth-generation Atlanta resident and newly sworn-in president of the Southern Foodways Alliance, a group founded to "document, study, and celebrate the diverse food cultures of the changing American South." Chef Hopkins and his wife Gina not only work closely with the farmers from whom they source the restaurant's food - they are founding partners of the Peachtree Road Farmers Market. Gina sits on the board of Georgia Organics, their hospitality director Judith Winfrey is the co-operator of Love Is Love Farm, and Chef Hopkins has been instrumental in getting Georgia farmers, like Crystal Organic Farms, to reclaim true heritage crops like pimentos, the growth and production of which had been taken by large agricultural companies.

This reverence for the terroir and culture of the region's cooking was evidenced in every aspect of the menu - from artfully crafted and sourced country ham, green tomatoes pickled just in time to snatch them back from an early frost, playful riffs on Southern standards like pimento cheese, pickled shrimp and soulful creamy heirloom grits to lovingly slow-cooked ribs, quick-cured trout plucked from a nearby river mere hours before, carrots just forty minutes out of the ground, borne to the dinner by a farmer in attendance at the dinner, and a sweet send-off with cake made from sorghum - a Southern crop Hopkins is doing his best to evangelize and revive. It was, by the accounts of all in attendance, a love letter to the cooks, farmers and soul of the South.

Attendee, Atlanta food writer Christiane Lauterbach found resonance in the menu’s message on the identity of Southern food. “What we want is beautifully sourced ingredients – not stuff that you just get from the grocery store. Stuff that – you know the farmer, you know the cow, you know the pig. That evolution is very meaningful.”

Atlanta Journal-Constitution food writer and chief dining critic John Kessler agreed. “Bacon is our calling card. Everybody likes bacon, but there’s so much more to Southern food than that. What do they say in Italian? Cucina povere – poor people’s cooking. What Southern food is, is that. It is food that is very close to the agrarian tradition. It’s close to the earth.”

And yet...

That food is no more Southern than braised Kangaroo. 'This is antipasti down South'? No, it isn't. There is no antipasti down South – antipasti is *Italian*.

If the author thinks that foodie crap that happens to be served in the South has a 'distinctive Southern sense of place'... Well, then the terms cuisine and cooking have no meaning anymore, you can just call any food whatever you want with equal meaning. Or lack thereof. - DerekL

I agree 100% What we see here is some New York Yankee's idea of Southern cooking. Who eats bacon for supper unless you are serving breakfast for dinner?

While it all looks good, I've never seen anything like this served on any down home southern table. I am afraid this has got too far out of hand and has given the emperor a new set of clothes. - Popeye

Southern grub huh? I agree the fare looks attractive and wouldn't have minded being one of the guests, but southern it ain't. Please stop fu-fu'ing things up to the point of unrecognition. - huh?

Commenters on the live blog of the event took grave offense to the notion that this would be presented as Southern food. It is at odds with their notion of what the cuisine has always meant to them and their family, and respondents to our accompanying stories Reclaiming the soul of Southern food and How well do you know Southern food? accuse chefs like Hopkins, Charleston's Sean Brock and Roanoake's Josh Smith of cultural and culinary treason for their reverence of ingredients over dishes and their seeming disloyalty to the specter of the Southern grandmother.

That's why we are hosting the Secret Suppers. While we cannot (yet) physically feed everyone, we believe passionately and firmly that the best discussion takes place around a dinner table. Food fuels ideas, feeds minds and well as stomachs and is a catalyst for passionate dialogue about culture, economics, race, gender and, yes, the dishes themselves. As attendee, chef and author Virginia Willis says food, “will allow us to connect what we’re putting in our mouths with what is happening around the world.”

We want to hear from you - pull up a chair, take your place at the table and share your thoughts on the state of Southern cooking in the comments below and we'll share some of the most thoughtful and provocative responses in an upcoming post.

Type with your mouth full - maybe even have a biscuit.

Read more about the Eatocracy Secret Suppers and see all the dishes that were served

soundoff (644 Responses)
  1. jojo

    Hmm, well, let's see here. Since I live in the south I have had my share of southern food. The people that say southern food is nothing but grease and lard have never had a southern home cooked meal. All they are talking about is some crap they probably had in a restaurant. I will tell you this, there is not one restaurant here in the south that I prefer to eat southern food in. If I want southern food, I cook it myself. Southern food is greasy, ha ha, that is so lame. So I guess a philly steak n cheese is more healthy or how about a Reuben, I guess that's better too. It's just funny to hear people making comments on southern food that have never really had it, but they think they have.
    Oh, BTW, I'm not overweight either. Southern food greasy, give me a break.

    December 3, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
  2. Real Texan

    Homemade pancakes with butter and sorghum syrup hmmmm and in the summer, we didn't call it supper without fresh green onions, a bowl of milk gravy, a big piece of sweet cantalope and a tall glass of ice cold tea to go with it. And tea with water from a deep soft water well is heavenly. And don't forget peaches straight off the tree with fresh heavy cream for desert.

    December 3, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
  3. Jo

    My Dad's side of the family is from the South (VA, TN, KY) and I have worked closely with some of the most notable chefs in the country. I appreciate all cuisines when prepared properly and appropriately, but I must say that there is nothing better than country ham and biscuits with sorghum for breakfast, fried catfish for dinner (or as my Dad would say, "supper") and a slice a Derby Pie for dessert!

    December 3, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
  4. Real Texan

    Texas is southern. I was born and raised in Texas and having traveled all over the US would not live anywhere else. I have friends in Italy (the country) who have done the same and feel the same. We ate what we raised in the garden. Green beans, corn, peas, squash, okra, porter tomatoes, turnips etc. We raised our own beef, had fresh milk, fresh eggs and homemade biscuits for breakfast along with homemade butter and jams made from wild plumbs, fig and grapes. Gravy was served at every meal Daddy was home for and instead of candy; I had plumbs, figs, peaches, pears, pecans and black walnuts to name a few. Corn bread was always made in a cast iron skillet (if there was any left it was broke up in a glass of milk for a snack before bed) and we ate pan tators not french fries. We didn't buy cakes, ice cream, pies etc. because they were made from scratch at home. I didn't learn to use a measuring cup until high school and I stopped using one as soon as I got out of that class. My parents and grandparents were farmers and the food was fresh and never bland. We didn't have fancy food and I still don't serve it myself, but everything was made with love. No one in my family is over weight and most have lived to be at least 80. Yes, we have Tex Mex here but my generation and the ones before me weren’t raised on it. The Hispanic people we knew didn't cook Texmex. They cooked the way they learned in Mexico. Texas is a BIG state so naturally our food is diverse as we have so many different blends of cultures here but it is still southern food, southern manners and southern roots. We cook what we have at hand, the fresher the better, and we put our heart into everything we cook and eat. And at 50 years old I cannot name one single person from anywhere who has ever thought of my cooking as being bland and fattening and I cook as I was taught, like my parents (yes my Dad could cook too) and my grandparents before me. And as long as Texas in at the end of that arrow that is pointed down (the one with the big S on it) it is the south.

    December 3, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
  5. Evil Grin

    This is an interesting thing to debate. (I'm sorry I wasn't around yesterday for this post.)

    I personally think that it's not about the food itself so much as the ideal behind the food. People have a certain vision of southern food that comes into their mind when they talk about it. It's that down-home, family gathering, unpretentious and simple, but filling and delicious reputation. So when that ideal alters too much, it throws people for a loop. When it becomes fancy instead of hearty, it ceases to be southern cooking and becomes something else entirely. Southern-inspired, perhaps, at best.

    But for me, I think it's good to mix it up a little. We get mainstream exposure to many types of foods by taking the general concept and altering it to suit the tastes of the audience. (Just think about mainstream American Chinese food. About 90% of it you would never see on a plate in China, or even in the home of someone who immigrated from China.) Altering it to suit the (for lack of a better term, though I dearly wish there was one) foodie crowd gives them what they want, an innovative, fresh and delicious meal, while still exposing them to elements of the South.

    As long as we don't replace true southern cooking, both the food and the ideal, with stylized southern cooking, I think there's room in the world for both.

    December 3, 2010 at 1:18 pm |
    • Suvir Saran

      The last sentence captures it all.

      December 3, 2010 at 8:30 pm |
  6. Jan Norris

    I'm a Southerner by birth, not locale. I live in Southeast Florida (aka South New York), but my Southern roots run Dixie deep – all my people are from LA: Lower Alabama and the Florida panhandle. I just returned from Thanksgiving there, getting my fix of family and big food: fried mullet (and its roe), flounder, Apalachicola oysters, cornbread dressing, fried corn, squash, fried okra (yes – burnt to caramelization in an iron skillet), fancy cakes, all the pies (I brought my mother's pound cake and it was devoured) – those are tastes of home to me. Soul food? You bet – for a Southern soul. Collards, mustard and turnips, rutabega...the list is endless. In summer, I yearn from straight from the garden fried green tomatoes, with field peas (with snaps) and speckled butterbeans, crispy corn bread, pulled pork from my uncle's smoker. That's fine eatin'. But food evolves – just talk to an Italian and you'll see how Italian-Americans feel about all the dressing up Italian food's undergone. It's important to keep our heirloom recipes alive (I keep printing Southern recipes as often as possible and sharing every one I can with my web readers – touting my great iron skillets, too.) But there's room for grits with blue cheese, and balked pecan-crusted catfish rather than just cornmeal dusted fried varieties. I love my pork roast cooked with a touch of garlic and thick fig preserves (if I can keep from eating them on my hot biscuits). I bake chicken as often as fry it (but of course, on top of cornbread dressing!). I'm don't feel I'm tossing away traditions – just adding to them.

    December 3, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
  7. Ryan

    Maybe the reason why your husband doesnt care for you cooking is b/c 1, ur not making real southern food. You're making southern food & putting a "square plate flare" (thats what i call fancy restaurants, they always use square plates). When they say food is made with love, what they really mean, is tie spent with the family & friends to make the food really pop!

    December 3, 2010 at 9:49 am |
  8. chillax

    To richard simmons: You are a moron of epic proportions...

    December 3, 2010 at 8:57 am |
  9. Arkansan in the Midwest

    Southern Food is what was on the table during those times when your fondest memories of the south were burned into your memory. Whether it was fresh fried catfish cooked in the tractor shed after harvesting tons of grainfed fish on the Grand Prarire, bolony and vidialia onion sandwiches on the tailgate while working in the Arkansas rice fields, duck gumbo at the Duck Gumbo cook off in Stuttgart, fried chicken and kiebasa cooked in your grandmothers kitchen or red beans and rice. I think Southern food is as much as where you eat it and why as it is the ingredients and how it is cooked.

    December 3, 2010 at 8:11 am |
  10. D Lewis

    Oh my word....just reading about all this good Southern food is making me hungry. I could go for some good salt pork gravy and home made biscuits right now, along with some collared greens and field peas....San Diego born but my heart, and my ancestry, is from North Carolina. Time to take a trip out east.

    December 3, 2010 at 12:52 am |
  11. Rachael

    all I'm sayin' is that a down south biscuit is heaven. I've always lived in the north and never miss a chance to indulge my one southern delicacy when I travel south. Biscuit, no gravy and a little bit of butter. Mmmmmm.

    December 3, 2010 at 12:51 am |
  12. Kentucky born

    I was grew up a few miles north of Lexington, Kentucky and I will never forget the wonderful home-cooked meals we had every day – three meals a day. My favorite was chicken and dumplings with cornbread dressing (stuffing), deviled eggs, fresh green beans and onion/cucumber salad (marinated in vinegar and sugar). We had homemade bread (biscuits or cornbread) with every meal and the entire family sat down at the table to eat together.

    I think the reason Southern cooking is so good is because it is a tradition that has been perfected and handed down for generations. My mother and grandmothers didn't use cookbooks – they knew how to make every dish as they learned from their mothers and grandmothers.

    It makes my mouth water to remember all the wonderful dishes we enjoyed (besides chicken and dumplings):
    Great Northern beans slow cooked with ham hocks served with homemade Chow-Chow relish and sliced onion
    fried apple or peach pie
    homemade banana ice cream
    country ham with beaten biscuits
    wilted fresh spring lettuce with onion and a dressing made of vinegar, sugar and bacon drippings
    rabbit stew
    fried frog legs (sooo good)

    The list could go on and on but I'll stop here.

    December 2, 2010 at 11:46 pm |
    • Rachel

      I'm from Kentucky as-well. Reading your list of foods made me sooo hungry. Rabbit and dumplings thats what I want. Last weekend I made a Deer Roast with potatoes, carrots, onions, greens on the side, and mashed potatoes with homemade gravy from the roast. Nothing is better than fresh meat.

      December 3, 2010 at 12:24 am |
    • KentuckyFarmBoy

      I forgot to mention in my other reply that a lot of our meat didn't come from the farm. We usually had one or two hogs and one cow for the year. The rest of the time we generally used meat we got from hunting or fishing. Deer, rabbit, grouse, quail, squirrel, turkey, catfish, small/large mouth bass. I remeber the first time I took my wife back home was for Thanksgiving and Deer season. She didn't believe I could really kill a deer just by walking out my mom and pops back door and into the woods about a hundred yards. So I took her with me. About thirty minutes later she was crying while I was field dressing an 8 pointer. Her cryin stopped after tasting that fresh deer tenderloin roast with some greens, and sweet cornbread.

      December 3, 2010 at 11:18 pm |
  13. Southern SparkleFarkle

    I am a died in the wool Southerner. Born in NC, now living in Charleston, SC. First comments re the opening article. NO you cant outcook a ghost. I cannot duplcate my grandmother's or mothers biscuits, yeast rolls, pound cake, or apple pie. I come close on the mac and cheese and most others. I agree with much of whats said. I think very little of these trendy menu items they have come up with to represent Southern cooking. What are heirloom grits anyway? Give me a break – its gentrification and its not Southern cooking by any stretch. Southern cooking primarily stems from the heritage and culture that came from Africa. Southern cooking is about food that was prepared and cooking on working plantations, with ingredients grown right there. Yes – with love and care – but it has basically always been simple food (and not necessarily always fried). From collard greens, turnip greens, sweet potatoes, beet green salad, to delicious sweet cornbread. Corn ground into grits either on property or at a local or nearby mill. Pork raised and butchered on site, and green beans seasoned with that bit of fatback or hamhock. Charleston being on the coast, we have an abundance of seafood. That always factors into the local food culture. If the husband was a fisherman, then it was whatever he brought home from the days catch (but that is largely true of any seaport). In the 1800's rice was one of our big exports – so food featured that – hoppin john being classic (blackeyed peas and rice). Grits are dirt cheap – hence the shrimp n grits (which you can get here at restaurants for breakfast, lunch, or dinner). Give me REAL Southern cooking any day – country ham, shrimp n grits, black eyed peas, sweet corn on the cob, cornbread, peach cobler and sweet iced tea. Don't insult me with pickeled shrimp and quick-cured trout and try to pass that off as Southern. And YES – bacon rules for dinner!!!

    December 2, 2010 at 10:55 pm |
  14. Tardy to the Party

    Sorry to comment late about remarks made up top someone born in Mississippi, who then lived in Southern California and now resides in New York, I guess I'm what some people with nothing better to do than toss around outdated war slang would call a "psuedo Yankee". I was raised on Southern style cooking, and I married a Texan who brings his own aspect of Southern style food to our house. I love Southern style cooking, in all its aspects, from queso ONLY with Ro-Tel to a perfect chicken & cheddar biscuit from Time Out in NC! All of it is an amzing representation of the American South.

    As far as this "yankeedoodle" nimrod, I think he had a point telling "shutup" to cram it, until he started accusing Yankess of bringing our "fast food" down south. Now THAT is a hoot and a holler!!! What kind of moron thinks that Middle America ISN'T the homeland of all that crap?! I live in Brooklyn, honey- we won't even let them build a WalMart here, try as they might. We don't do so hot with corporate crap. If you're going to toss mud from your little sewer, "yankeedoodle", maybe you should check out the place you're bad mouthing. You sound about as ignorant and uppity as "shutup" did, frankly.

    I loved this article and can't wait to see more! Fixin' to try out some of these fancy dishes...

    December 2, 2010 at 10:37 pm |
  15. Desiree

    My Southern born and bred grandmother taught me how to cook from the age of three, and even though she is not here anymore, I remember her lessons well. Southern food can be classy but it is never pretentious. We serve what we know, which is what is farmed locally. Most importantly, for my Southern grandmother, cooking was an act of love. She might spend the entire afternoon baking pies, but that night when her family and friends savored them, I knew she felt incredible joy in sharing the fruits of her labor.

    December 2, 2010 at 9:42 pm |
    • Tardy to the Party

      What a LOVELY sentiment! Your grandmother must have been proud of you. Your kind words & insight into this topic made my night.

      December 2, 2010 at 10:40 pm |
  16. Sally

    I tried to find country ham in nothern Illinois two years ago. Folks in the grocery store didn't know what I was talking about. Went to SC for Thanksgiving and came back with packages of country ham biscuit slices. Had chicken n dumplins (sorry, but Sweet Sue) and biscuits with country ham for supper tonight. MMMMMM they was good eatin'!

    December 2, 2010 at 8:47 pm |
  17. TexGal

    I got hungry just reading the posts. My parents were from Tenn and Ark migrated to Texas and stayed. Rule at the dining table was I had to try it before I said I didn't like anything. Poke salad, mustard greens, collards, turnips and turnip greens, kale, pinto beans, friend okra and green tomatos. Country ham with red eye gravy, biscuits and chocolate gravy, grits, corn bread, fried cat fish. It all sounds good. Regarding the lady and her biscuits, try Pioneer Flour. I can't make anything with Gold Medal and I can't find White Lily. My parents used to bring White Lily back with them from vacations to Tennessee. Cooking anything is better in a cast iron skillet. I inherited my Great Grandma's chicken fryer and would not trade it for anything. I got my mom's skillets, dutch oven and the individual corn bread stick pans. Mom can't lift them anymore, I just invite her meals on weekends and holidays and she still gets to see her stuff. I use them every day.

    December 2, 2010 at 8:34 pm |
  18. Tee Jay

    After reading this, I HAD to make biscuits for supper, and let me tell you, those years of practice paid off! If they were any lighter, they woulda floated off the plate! My mawmaw woulda been proud of those catheads!

    December 2, 2010 at 8:23 pm |
    • TNgirl

      They wouldn't have floated to far. I have a butterfly net with a long handle and would have caught them and had them for my dinner and what was left been for supper. LOL

      December 4, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
    • lorelei

      I am from Virginia, but have never heard of a cathead. What is it?

      December 4, 2010 at 5:48 pm |
  19. Krull

    This article can be answered one way. It is food that makes you obese. It is a way of preparing meats that causes arterial aging. It is food that makes you die young. But it is so good tasting, it's worth losing a foot to diabetes.

    December 2, 2010 at 8:10 pm |
    • Kristy B

      You must not be able to control your eating, are fat and have lost a foot to diabete to make such an idiotic staement ....and actually post it!!! LMAO!!!!

      December 2, 2010 at 8:23 pm |
      • Krull

        Actually i'm into boxing. I eat only baked meats and steamed vegg. And I live in Canada. But it's all true. Deep fried, high fat foods, served in huge quantity reduce lifespan. There are no "facts" to counteract the truth. Diabetes is rampant in the south, as a result of horrible eating choices. No human needs to eat lard. Period.

        December 2, 2010 at 8:27 pm |
    • Kristy B

      stop picking on the is served in large quantities all over the US AND CANADA, that doesn´t mean you have to eat it all, people have choices, to each thier own! As for your obsession about lard, its found in processed foods all over the world and yes, people eat it, big still sound like an undereduacated, biased idiot that obviously has a chip on thier shoulder when it comes to the south...Please do us southereners a favor and stay in

      December 3, 2010 at 12:59 pm |
    • TNgirl

      Actually Krull, it is not the food that makes you obese.. Food has been here since beginning of time.

      Being LAZY after eating food makes you obese.

      December 4, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
  20. towncryer

    Being a lifelong southerner from Mobile,Al,the best description of southern food is the ability to make a meal from almost anything you have in your cubbard or fridge.Cookbooks are more of a suggetion than a rule.If anyone from the south or anyone who has visited will notice no matter how many times a particular dish is cooked,it is never done the same way.I think improvising ,in my opinion,is what makes Southern food have a style all it's own.

    December 2, 2010 at 8:07 pm |
  21. darnerflyz

    sooo....i grew up with a half southern, half northen family and being in the southwas always my favorite place to be with my grandmother and the family all crammed in the kitchen...some trying to sneak sample, some trying to help "GaGa",my grandmother. Every day since i can remember she would sit in her rocking chair watching her soaps picking beans,shelling bean, husking was a daily ritual. There seemed to be too many pots on the stove all holding green beans or pole beans as we called them, with a big ham hock, fresh blackeyed peas simmered with onions, she would make the most incredible sweet corn in the pot you couldn't help but sneak bites and she's always yeel "STOP NOW! or there won't be any left for dinner!"...and the butterbeans were my favorite..although I hated pickin' em'!, potatoe salad was a given, always done with eggs and crumbled saltines, rice and gravy...REAL gravy from whatever meat she roasted that night...her fried chicken was amazing, and cubed steak was my favorite...deviled eggs, peach cobbler or any other fruit laying around she could throw in there...and the most butterrry to die for pound cake you ever bit into to...She used to freeze one or two for m to take back to my Dad up north after the holidays..of coarse it wasn't the same, but he never cared!!! She always made biscuits from scratch and the ones not eaten would be used for ham or baconand biscuits the next morning...and don't even get me started with a southern breakfast GOOD LAWD!

    I would wake up to the scents of bacon, sausage, ham, eggs, coffee, cinnamon toast, cheese toast, and always had to have fresh cut tomatoes from the garden and some kind of homemade jam to plop on your plate next to your eggs and kinda takes bites of it along with , well other stuff on the plate...grits were always on the stove, and i remember my favorite would be to take the eggs and grits and crumble bacon on top and eat it all together...and the fridge was never without sweet tea that had been made in the sun and if you ever did have to eat cereal uyou always used half pet milk and half whole if, ands or thats a small sample of how I remember REAL southern food...Thanks Gaga!!!

    December 2, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
    • darnerflyz

      i forgot to mention her fried cornbread with okra.....and you had to dip it in ketchup...fatback...mmmm i love eating it right out of the frying pan, and chow chow...homemade chow chow that gaga made from scratch...oh...and Hillarys right about the not measuring and multiple cans of Crisco were always in the cupboard!!!!!

      December 2, 2010 at 8:10 pm |
  22. Hillary

    I'm from a teeny tiny town in Georgia, and I can tell you a few things about Southern food.

    Southern cooking is a learned tradition that starts before you even realize it. From playing in the kitchen floor with your dolls or cars while your mawmaw makes Sunday dinner for the whole family (by whole family I mean aunts, uncles, cousins and everyone else). In my family this happened every week with out fail.

    The older I got, the more I helped. I'd fetch ingredients from the pantry, open cans, stir gravy, etc. When it came time for me to cook for myself I really started paying attention and from my mawmaw, granny, and aunt miss alice I learned how to cook. That's when I learned that Southern Cooks, at least the ones I know, don't measure anything! It only takes about a hand full of crisco for my grannys famous biscuits...mawmaw says you just need enough sugar in her to die for banana pudding...and when my aunt miss alice taught me how to bake, well you just put in enough til it taste right , then mix it til it looks right, and cook it til it's just done. That's right, you can't just tell somebody how to be a Southern gotta show 'em.

    Southern cooking takes time and you can't just skip the little steps. Some of the best Southern dishes are cooked low and slow. And Southern cooks don't mind taking the time to do it right so that it's good. We show alot of emotions with our cooking! Want to tell someone you're sorry that they lost a loved one? Send over a pan of dressing & gravy. Coworker just had a baby? Time for a casserole. Want to thank someone for helping you out when you needed a hand? Take them a banana pudding. Yes sir, Southern cooking is a labor of love! And I think it's the love (and fatback, sugar, or shortening) that makes Southern cooking the hot topic that it is today.

    A few of my favorites: cabbage, pintos, cornbread (oh yeah, and cornbread ain't sweet), any kind of casserole, GRITS, fried squash potatoes & onions, dressing (not stuffing), anything fried, anything smoked, fat back, and anything left from my pawpaw's last canning before his stroke.

    December 2, 2010 at 7:30 pm |
    • RichardHead

      Very well said. I applaud you!

      December 2, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
  23. The_Mick

    I just bought "gumbo (frozen) vegetables" for a beef soup recipe I found ( When I think of southern food, I think of kale, okra, grits, pecans, Cajun Cookin, and ham. There's a blend of southern cooking and seafood cooking along our Chesapeake Bay in Maryland that has resulted in some of the most to-die-for dishes – especially crab soups. As a song heard often now on Baltimore radio goes: "Eww, I want crabs for Christmas. Eww, only crabs will do. If, I get crabs for Christmas, my Christmas wish'll come true."

    December 2, 2010 at 7:09 pm |
  24. Rachel

    I'm from Kentucky and to me southern food is about love and tradition. Trying to replicate the biscuits and gravy your Mammaw made for you as a child and sharing it with your family. And partly being able to make a great meal with what little you might have to eat. There is nothing better than making a meal and knowing people appreciate and enjoy it. Do you save your bacon drippins? :)

    December 2, 2010 at 6:38 pm |
  25. Lori-Ann

    Was there really a comment from the one and only Paula Deen? Paula -Totally a fan and would love to cook with you sometime!!!!

    December 2, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
    • Cricket

      I'm not a fan of Paula Deen's. I'm from the south and I can't stand to hear her talk...her accent is over done. Her son's are cute though and her brother's restaurant in Savannah is great.

      December 3, 2010 at 11:18 am |
  26. Tee Jay

    For those of you not fortunate enough to have granny's skillet, a good substitute can be bought @ Cracker Barrel. They sell skillets made by Lodge, in South Pittsburgh, TN. Google "cornbread festival" for info on a real southern good time every spring.

    December 2, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
    • Kasey

      You can buy a Lodge skillet at Target, Walmart and, too. :-)

      December 2, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
    • Kristy B

      YES YES YES....true that!!!

      December 2, 2010 at 8:31 pm |
    • I Believe I Can Fry

      I've picked up at least a dozen old Wagner & Griswold skillets at local junk stores; like Lodge, they are American-made, but are 70+ years old and smooth as glass. Even an old rusty, crusty cast iron skillet can be easily restored to it's former glory aslong as the iron itself isn't cracked and the piece isn't warped. My favorite one is a Griswold picked up for $10; I saw the exact same style/size one on eBay going for $130.

      December 2, 2010 at 9:00 pm |
  27. Melissa

    If you don't know what southern food is, you've never had it.

    December 2, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
  28. Tee Jay

    A real po' folks dish is This N That. A potato, an onion, some fresh okra, a green tomato, and a couple of yellow crook neck squash. Cut and mix together with cornmeal, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Fry in a cast iron skillet with your choice of fat until tender and lightly brown. OMG! A great way to us the remnants from the garden!

    December 2, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
  29. Snowbunny

    Fried Chicken?

    December 2, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
  30. Mary

    Also, what about sweet potatoes? Sweet potato fries, sweet potato pie...

    December 2, 2010 at 3:38 pm |
  31. eatteachresearch

    In Louisiana, you can mark the calendar by the food you eat. Red beans and rice on Mondays. Catfish and shrimp po boys on Fridays during Lent. Gumbo when the weather gets cooler (we even call it “good gumbo weather”). Jambalaya at church fundraisers on Sundays. Strawberry pie at the Strawberry Festival in Ponchatoula in April. Crawfish boils in the spring.

    I grew up in the South, and yet I think the Louisiana South isn’t like the rest of the region. We have our own foods, our own holidays and parties. Hell, we even talk differently from the rest of the South. Any good Louisianan knows that potato salad on gumbo is heaven in a bowl, and when it comes to crawfish, you always gotta suck the heads.

    Southern food to me is taking advantage of what’s cheap and local. Of taking such simple ingredients and making magic in the kitchen. It’s as much about the love you pour into the food as the ingredients you use. We love our food as much as we love God, the LSU Tigers, and the Saints—in other words, food is part of our religion down here.

    December 2, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
  32. Mary

    I don't see much mention of bean soup (or "soup beans" as many in the mountains) call it. Cooked long and slow with ham, this is truly a favorite. More of an Appalachian/Southern border thing for cold winters. And what about Hashbrown Casserole? Just don't take Paula Deen's advice and put like a 1/3 cup of butter in on it. Yes, it will improve the flavor a bit, but nutritionally unnecessary!

    December 2, 2010 at 3:35 pm |
    • KentuckyFarmBoy

      Soup Beans, cornbread, fried taters, and a fresh green onion from th garden!!. MMM MMM Good.

      December 3, 2010 at 11:27 pm |
  33. TN_cornbreadgirl

    This poem by Nikki Giovanni has been taped to my computer monitor forever. It evokes my Tennessee childhood food memories perfectly.

    Knoxville Tennessee

    I always like summer
    you can eat fresh corn
    From daddy's garden
    And okra
    And greens
    And cabbage
    And lots of
    And buttermilk
    And homemade ice-cream
    At the church picnic
    And listen to
    Gospel music
    At the church
    And go to the mountains with
    Your grandmother
    And go barefooted
    And be warm
    All the time
    Not only when you go to bed
    And sleep

    Nikki Giovanni

    December 2, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
  34. NCBoy

    Opinions are like a—holes everyone has one. The truth is Southern cooking is different by Region, State, City and County. We all use fresh ingredients that we grew or caught and yes we all had the same vegetables and meats, but things taste different depending on the soil they are grown and the spices used and fish taste better when you caught it yourself Y'all

    December 2, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
  35. CD

    American by birth. Southern by the grace of God!!!

    December 2, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
    • junior

      Me too!

      December 2, 2010 at 3:50 pm |
    • darnerflyz


      December 2, 2010 at 8:12 pm |
  36. Ben

    I would post some pictures but CNN doesn't allow links in their post. :-/ Here are some of my favorite "Southern" dishes:

    – Pralines

    – Turkey Gumbo

    – Cajun Blackened Chicken

    – Crawfish Etouffee

    – Cajun Boudin

    – Shrimp Po-Boy

    – Beignet's

    – Bananas Foster

    – Cajun Dirty Rice

    – King Cake

    December 2, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
    • Kasey

      All good dishs, Ben, but a really narrow focus to Cajun/Creole NOLA cooking. Most southerners to not make King Cake (some probably don't even know what it is), gumbo, etouffee,beignets, etc. Those are pretty much strictly Louisiana. Branch out for som Hoppin' John, Okra fritters, corn fritters, collard or turnip greens, pinto beans with cornbread and fried onions and potatoes, catfish and hushpuppies, the list goes on... As another poster said, Southern food is very regional.

      December 2, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
  37. ps3chick

    Southern food to me is fried okra, greens (turnip or collard) with ham, corn pone (skillet fried cornbread), red eye gravy, black eyed peas with ham, and skillet fried chicken, all with hot pepper vinegar sauce. My family comes from south Georgia and my aunt has a farm where she harvests everything from corn to lima beans. Whatever is in season, along with ham that my uncle cured himself. Nothing compares to the fresh veggies and meats prepared by hand that my family brings down for the holidays – I have neither the time or the means to replicate this. But I can get frozen greens, and prepared with some skillet fried ham, or bacon pieces, and a touch of sugar, they're not bad when you're looking for the taste of home.
    Suvir: thanks for that lovely excerpt!
    Truesouthernlady: thank you for your recipe...I've never had this but I'm sure gonna make it at Christmas (and maybe once or twice before as a test run)

    December 2, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
    • Suvir Saran

      My pleasure to share that excerpt. But it seems like most everything today, people seem too lost in the moment or what they are thinking to look at a bigger picture.
      Loved your post, your honesty and your practical approach. How you can use frozen greens and find the taste and flavor and experience almost similar and it is that which we have to understand to accept authenticity and life and experiences. Anything static is nothing more than that, STATIC!

      Now back to more ramblings....

      There is no reason for Southern Cooking to be understood as something that cannot be experienced at the hands of a master chef. Why should it be only acceptable when cooked by a mother or father or a chef at home?
      Why can it not exist in more than one plane?
      why allow old stereotypes, be they positive or negative to keep Southern Cooking in a ghetto?
      I have enjoyed Southern food in homes, on the roadside, in fancy and hole-in-the-wall places and have had memorable and worthy experiences at all these places. Not always, but often enough. Just as I have had similar luck in the North East, in France, in India, in Morocco, In Sri Lanka, in Hong Kong, in Japan or many other parts of the world.
      There is beauty and brilliance and depth in a cuisine that can have excellence across the spectrum.

      As chefs and artists of the culinary world come of age and create their playing grouds (their restaurants) in cities across the South – it is foolish to fight them and treat them as an aliens rather than celebrating their cuisine as a logical next step in the evolution of the cuisine, the people, the region and life.

      But I guess I could be wrong in thinking that the world moves forward and does not always tarry with yesterday. Being mindful, respectful and connected to the past is great. But to inhibit ones growth today with a pedagogy that is stifling to all is nothing to be proud of. Call me foolish, I am happy being that, if it means I enjoy life, growth and evolution of all kind.

      December 3, 2010 at 8:23 pm |
      • AuroraDawn

        Everything in the universe evolves....why not food. I think the fusion of different cultures,ingredients etc is amazing. Once a month 5 friends of mine get together at my home,and everyone brings a box of ingredients for each course. I may supply ingredients for a main,and someone else brings ingredients for an appetizer etc. Then we switch boxes and...whatever we come up with is dinner! There has been some amazing success. It's interesting to see what someone else would do very differently from myself,with the same ingredients.

        Southern fare is so interesting to me because it has such colourful history. It is rustic yet can be very complex.

        December 3, 2010 at 8:40 pm |
  38. Lestalk

    WOW, there is a whole lot of South in the US! I think when you move into different regions of the south, the food changes. There is a big difference from Florida to California – and they are all Southern States. Perhaps they are talkin' "Confederate Food", you know, South of the Yankees, but East of the Center of the US!

    December 2, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
  39. Ben

    What a crock... Southern food is quite possible the best food in the world. I've been to Europe, Canada, and N. Africa and can say that nobody and I mean nobody has better seafood than South Louisiana. Sorry it is true. Go ask Emeril Lagasse about that. He has made how many millions cooking cajun/creole food? So I am sorry but not all Southern food is crap. :-) My wife is from Pennsylvania and I can say when I visit the food is not nearly as flavored. You peeps up North like it too bland and dry. Sorry... You're missing out in my opinion.

    December 2, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
    • James Dolan

      Have you ever been to the West Coast or New England? Most people with a sophisticated palette wouldn't touch warm water seafood.

      December 2, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
      • AuroraDawn

        Is there a point to the pretentious nature of your posts? I have travelled quite extensively,and eaten at some of the finest restaurants. There is a lot that the "sophisticated palette" enjoys strictly because they believe that because it is rare or expensive it is good. This is not necessarily true. While I do love Foie Gras,White truffles,and good wine. I also enjoy food from my youth. Disparaging on someones culture isn't a refined or "sophisticated" action. Rather pompositiy overcompensating for your own shortcomings.

        December 2, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
      • Truth@JDolan

        Why don't you go $@#& yourself.

        December 2, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
      • lowcountry love

        If you were truly sophisticated, you'd be open to trying all kinds of different foods rather than spouting off pretentious comments that lack flavor...just like the food you eat. PS, warm water seafood probably doesn't want you to touch them either, you a$$.

        December 2, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
      • darnerflyz

        yeah...monkfish is soooooooooooooo much better than Mahi Mahi or Grouper...jeez, what were us southerners thinking to eat food we actually caught...ever eaten a shrimp????? Oh thats right...they're warm water seafood....what northerner would dare????

        December 2, 2010 at 8:17 pm |
      • Kristy B

        yeah...monkfish is soooooooooooooo much better than Mahi Mahi or Grouper...jeez, what were us southerners thinking to eat food we actually caught...ever eaten a shrimp????? Oh thats right...they're warm water seafood....what northerner would dare????

        December 2, 2010 at 8:19 pm |
    • Snowbunny

      I'm from the North and I don't like it bland and dry. To each his own.

      December 2, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
  40. Biscuitmaker

    Do I see the term "biscuit cutter" in this? The only biscuit making tradition I know abhors cutting biscuit out. Rather, a dollop of dough was pinched off by floured hand. Part of the working of the dough was the rolling and shaping of that into a biscuit. I was taught how to do this by my grandmother (born 1891), who represented 150 years of a very rural Southern cooking tradition. Some of those fancy town Southern biscuit makers might have used a cutter, but I think the hand-formed method was the choice of rural cooks.

    December 2, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
    • tj

      Amen no southern woman I know of would ever use a biscuit cutter. My poor mama never id make great biscuits but my aunt made them just about every day of her life. Flour from a flour can, she didnt use lard but Crisco, it was better for you. And because she worked that dough everyday her hands were the softest I think I have ever felt. thanks for helping me remember.

      December 2, 2010 at 2:38 pm |
    • Kasey

      My one granny did indeed use her hands to squeeze out blobs of dough, but the other used a cutter, mainly because her biscuit dough was worked into thin layers of buttery flaky goodness and she didn't want to handle it more to avoid tough dough. Who knows? Perhaps she was a bit more sophisticated southern?? But she was definitely southern.

      December 2, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
  41. NCBoy

    Grits, BBQ, cabbage and cornbread the Holy Grail or aka Last Supper in the South

    December 2, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
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