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. Teresa

    Southern cooking does not usually mix meat and vegetables together in a dish, at least not the way my mom has cooked for the last 50 years. Her cooking is just like my grandmother's. Each vegetable is cooked and seasoned separately. That is, unless she's making chicken and dumplings. When I became friends with some folks from up north, much of their cooking is pasta with meats and sauces and vegetables mixed in. I never ate pasta growing up unless Mom could think of nothing else to cook except spaghetti. Most every meat was fried (Mom's 'yard bird' was the best until I started cooking it.). We had a slice of white bread with dinner when there wasn't enough time to make cornbread or biscuits. I could go on and on. I do want to agree that soul food is, in itself, a genre of its own. Bye y'all. I'm hungry!

    December 5, 2010 at 10:20 am |
  2. MikeM

    I'll admit, I came from a household where Yankee and Southern traditions had to exist together. But the fried chicken was real Southern stuff. So were the mashed potatoes. We had a few Yankee additions, but the vast majority of things derived from my mother's country upbringing. She made great corn bread and fantastic pies and cakes. Yet when she sat down for a snack, it was a white sandwich: white bread, mayo, slices of cold mashed potatoes and thick slices of onion, which she consumed with great appreciation.

    Poor people's cooking? We didn't know we were poor. That stuff was GOOD. Well, good-tasting.

    Much of the tradition in our household came from Poor Valley, TN, home of the Carter Family. Butter, sow belly and salt were the most important flavorings. Turnip greens needed vinegar to cut the grease, and green beans were olive drab by the time they were "done."

    But we also had fresh Turbeville cantaloupes that were luscious with vanilla ice cream and grown-at-home tomatoes and peppers that livened up dinners and sandwiches. Sweet potato pie for dinner and fried rhubarb for breakfast (on amazing butter biscuits rolled out on the kitchen table at 5 a.m.) were delicacies.

    A neighbor brought us pecks of fresh veggies every morning in the summer, a thanks for letting him plow some of our (rented) land. And the "sisters" would create Sunday lunches for after church that delighted some, but grossed out others. (The aforementioned turnip greens never did set well with me ... or my sister.)

    Yet the pecan pie recipes live on in northern California, recipe transported with reverence to my sister's new home out West 30 years ago.

    If you're not a farmer, sweating off all those calories and all that fat every day, you just can't eat like that all the time. But when you do, it's down-home GOOOOOOD.

    December 5, 2010 at 10:19 am |
    • MikeM

      Oh, I forgot to mention the jar of bacon grease in the refrigerator, which was used to fry whatever needed frying. Reusing and recycling aren't new ideas.

      December 5, 2010 at 10:25 am |
  3. Lizard

    Ya'll don't dirty up this post with responses to trolls, just ignore them. Enjoy your talk about Southern food!
    And me... I love me some good ALABAMA BBQ! Mmmmm!!

    December 5, 2010 at 10:18 am |
  4. Lisbeth

    I think that soul food is gross and very unhealthy. If someone loves him/herself, he/she would never put that in the body. Just my opinion.

    December 5, 2010 at 10:07 am |
  5. Denvergrl

    I'm from Denver, my fiance is from Georgetown, South Carolina. Our cooking styles differ like night and day. My man goes home 3x a year for his granny's cooking. He doesn't understand why we don't have grits in our grocery stores. I had never had collards until I met him (28 years old), black eyed peas and okra were pretty foreign to me as well. My mom bought me a southern comfort cookbook for xmas so that I could make my man feel more at home. I tried to the biscuits and dumplings recipe, but it just didn't compare to his nanny's cooking. Stewed tomatoes and rice with every meal is the key to southern cooking as well. I've learned to put my collards, my pintos, my oakra, my blackeyed peas on top of the rice. Pork chops are eaten once a week at our home. I love it! This is the best style of cooking and I feel cheated that I wasn't introduced to Southern cooking sooner. As a matter of fact I'm booking my tix to Charleston as I speak for the annual xmas hog roast. Fish fry's, oysters, shrimp and grits here I come!!! I love dating a southern gentleman!

    December 5, 2010 at 10:07 am |
  6. mike

    fried catfish, pecan pie, Carolina-style pulled pork BBQ, hush puppies, cole slaw (all HOMEMADE).... this is southern food.

    And piss off with the whole HERP DERP fat thing, I am 160 lbs and have been eating here my whole life. Even New England Clam Chowder will make someone a fat turd if they eat too much of it.

    December 5, 2010 at 10:04 am |
  7. Joe Fromaggio

    Considering the obesity rates of south'ners, y'alls . . . it used to be said Rumanian cooking killed more Jews than Hitler. Similarly, I think it can be said southern cooking has killed 100x more southerners than Sherman, Grant combined. Go Mediterranean or Asian but leave that greasy obesey kid stuff alone! Just 'cause your Momma made it doesn't make it good for you - wake up and smell the red snapper sauteed in olive oil! Maybe you'll clear the blood flow to your brain and vote democrat next time, too!

    December 5, 2010 at 10:02 am |
    • mike

      Go be a retard somewhere else... why is the stereotypical New Yorker a fat Italian-American slob then?

      December 5, 2010 at 10:06 am |
      • Joe Fromaggio

        Now, now Mike . . . you should visit New York - you'd see you don't know what you're talking about.

        December 5, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
    • Ian S.

      New York Italians don't eat like real Italians. They eat like Italian-Americans – which is why most NY Italians are fat too.

      December 5, 2010 at 10:12 am |
    • Lisbeth

      I could not agree more. Our generation must be smarter and break the negative cycle left by our ancestors although they did not know any better. Thank God for education! We all have free will.

      December 5, 2010 at 10:13 am |
    • Jeremy

      Fyi, down here we need the calories, but your right it is some of the most unhealthy food but only if you don't get up and do something like sitting is a cubicle or living in a city. I honestly think we would die eating some of the "healthy" stuff you guys eat just for the simple fact we need the calories, and the democratic thing is straight b.s. down here entitlements=shame unless you need it. In my younger years i was a democrat now i'm a libertarian, but for the life of me i can't see why people hate freedom so bad and vote democratic or fake republican.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  8. Ian S.

    Southern food = fat.
    Exhibit A: Southerners

    December 5, 2010 at 10:00 am |
  9. AuroraDawn

    LOL I am fantastic!!! I am all packed for my trip home. Can't wait to go. Hmmm...I may have to pack some go go boots!!! LOL
    It's going to cost mea fortune for extra baggage because of all the gifts I'm bringing home....I should have just shopped when I got there. Wasn't sure I could get the time off though...but I did!!!

    December 5, 2010 at 9:53 am |
    • RichardHead@AD

      Might be cheaper to mail the stuff ahead of time. No Fair-I thought the go-go boots were our thing. Did ya see my answer to EM on the NYC thread? Seems like a nice person.

      December 5, 2010 at 9:58 am |
      • AuroraDawn

        I did see that! You are such a sweetheart. Yeah EM seemed nice. Although.....I was stunned by all the heateful comments about Elaine herself...

        December 5, 2010 at 10:01 am |
      • RichardHead@AD

        I concur! Let's take it to 5@5 as this is the hot topic thread of the day and don't want to P/O anyone.

        December 5, 2010 at 10:04 am |
  10. poleshift

    Do not any southern dishes with sea food The Gulf was poisoned from the oil spill

    December 5, 2010 at 9:10 am |
  11. carolae

    I would have to say "deep fried" along with tons of "spices" makes what Southern food is all about. We lived in TN for several years and it was hard to find something to eat in a restaurant that wasn't deep fried. We don't eat fried foods at all or anything that is spicy. The type of cooking they do down in the deep south, is called Creole I believe. The spicier and hotter the better. Of course, eating foods like that all the time, will do a number on your stomach in years to come so be prepared! However, am sure some would say they don't care as it is so delicious. While living in TN for several years, I was told I had high cholesterol, which was funny as I never ate fried foods. Found out it was hereditary. The doctor told me to eat vegetables, which I don't since I never liked them but he said that "beans" would be fine. One day while out driving, we found this restaurant called Pardners and went in for lunch. On the menu, they had beans so I figured I'd try them to see how they tasted. Yummy came to mind after the first mouthful. After that, we were eating there 2-3 times a week. 3 months later when I went back to have my cholesterol checked, I told the doctor it should have really dropped since I was eating beans 2-3x a week. He asked if they were lima or the brown beans and I said, "no, Pardners beans", to which he had a shocked looked on his face and said, "no wonder you liked them, they are cooked in nothing but fat" and that is why they tasted so good! Of course when the results came in, my numbers were still high and since it wasn't due to what I eat, had to be hereditary. We always laugh at that story. Anyway, for those of you who can eat spicy/fried, enjoy it while you can!

    December 5, 2010 at 8:59 am |
  12. FYI

    Y'all should find a copy of Marjorie Kinnan Rawling's book, Cross Creek and read the Chapter called Our Daily Bread. It's about how a non-Southern woman comes to appreciate and understand Southern Cuisine. She mentions a lot of the things listed here like hush puppies and cooking in cast iron as well as hearts of palm and gator meat (which I've never tried). Hers isn't the last word since she was limited to mid-Florida and these postings show the variety in Southern food based on the region but it is a good essay on some of the wonders of this area. Like these postings, though, reading it will make you hungry.

    You'll excuse me, but it's time to make my biscuits.

    December 5, 2010 at 8:52 am |
  13. Donna P. Moses

    I was born in Georgia and now live in Canada I am looking for the origins of a recipe my mother made and I make today It is tacos made with a filling of ground beef and shredded potatoes there are no seasoning packet just salt and pepper and everyone that tries them falls in love deep in love with them I seem to recall Dad saying it came from Tennessee if anyone could help would be appreciated!! I believe it could be a true southern dish?

    December 5, 2010 at 8:51 am |
    • Denvergrl

      I'm in Denver, but I make this all the time. My girlfriend from Guanajuato, Leon, Mexico taught me how to make these tacos. I cut my potatoes into squares though instead of shredding the potatoes. I also use ground beef and onions.....throw in some spices and use the little 7" corn tortillas....mmmmmm I find it interesting that this could also be a southern recipe.

      December 5, 2010 at 10:12 am |
  14. Marion

    The deep south states are Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. Just to list a few things that southerners cook very well are... fried chicken or pork chops, mash potato's with gravy, buttermilk biscuits,cornbread, cream silver queen corn,served with sliced delicious homegrown tomatoes , turnip greens or collards, catfish, shrimp (fried,steamed,grilled or w/grits), bacon, strong coffee, pecan pies, homemade from scratch banana pudding, creole (shrimp,chicken,sausage or anything that taste good in it!), gumbo, oyster stew, and I could on forever! Yes we use butter, bacon drippings or anything that might enhance the food. Sometimes the simple meals are the better meals, and they actually do not cost a fortune to create..

    December 5, 2010 at 8:48 am |
    • Hannah

      See what I mean? Stupid people....can't even spell. "Mash potatoe's"? What's that? Mashed potatoes? Ignorance has led to the South's having the highest OBESITY rate in the United States. I'll take my salads and lean grilled foods, thanks...with no okra-snot or grease drippings. UGH!

      December 5, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
  15. Kris

    I forgot to mention hot fresh boiled peanuts pulled green from the field and then slow cooked over several hours while we all went to church. By the time church was over we'd have a huge pile of boiled peanuts while we waited the rest of the meal to finish cooking!

    December 5, 2010 at 8:48 am |
    • Hannah

      Who BOILS ? Peanuts should be roasted. Food food food....gotta have it ready when "church" is over. No wonder the southern states have the highest OBESITY rate in the country! Shame on all of you.

      December 5, 2010 at 3:39 pm |
      • Kris

        Hannah, peanuts should be cooked however the person likes. I like roasted peanuts as well as boiled. Don't knock it until you try it. If you've never been to a farmers market in the south and gotten a pound of hot fresh boiled peanuts then please do us all a favor and never visit the south. We don't need people who look at southerners as obese uneducated hicks. Stay where you are and pleaes never come to the south.

        December 6, 2010 at 6:59 am |
      • Robert

        I thought it was interesting when I was in NYC once they had a barbecue cookoff in one of the squares and the lines were around the corners. I felt sorry for all those northern city dwellers who missed out regularly on good food. They go to restaurants that serve a little piece of fish and a few potatoes with a green bean or two and some chef's pretty artwork with mustard sauce and then pay $50 for it. How sad indeed.

        December 8, 2010 at 6:34 am |
  16. Kris

    I'm a southern native and know all about good southern food. Cooking a big meal for all of the family and friends is what we did several times a week. The food was rarely fried and usually pulled straight from the garden. Cooking was a social event and every meal took hours to prepare. While the women stayed in the kitchen and drank real sweet tea the men were cooking outside over a slow pit BBQ. No one was ever in a hurry to eat because the family time and good conversation were always the most important part. It's all about the love and time invested in the family. Once we started eating it took a long time and then we all helped clean up afterwards. It was a magical time in my life where everyone shared their freshly picked veggies as well as secret recipes, enjoyed hours of good conversation, and helped each other in every way possible.

    December 5, 2010 at 8:44 am |
    • Hannah

      They have so much leisure time because no one has a J O B. In the real world, that's called : "Get a life", stop being so dam lazy and get some exercise! That's when men told women to "sit and shut up", and they DID it! UGH Sitting on one's butts and fixating on food and gossip..............

      December 5, 2010 at 10:00 am |
      • Kris

        Hannah, you must be a troll. My family all had jobs and no one was obese because everyone was always hard at work. No one told the women to sit down and shut up because the women were all very strong. If you hate southerners then please do us all a favor and NEVER go south of the Mason Dixon line.

        December 6, 2010 at 6:54 am |
  17. Hannah

    Honestly, just looking at the descriptions of some of this stuff Southerners eat makes me want to puke. Take "whatever was available" and throw it in a pot? "BACOC CANDY"? Marketed as double heart-attack fodder?? Same mentality that keeps "Southerners" flyin' that ol' rebel flag! (Why have you not evolved beyond this?) Martha Stewart is gagging, right along with me.

    December 5, 2010 at 8:36 am |
    • RichardHead

      Here"s a bucket,You can wear it on your head when you are done!

      December 5, 2010 at 8:48 am |
      • AuroraDawn

        LOL Could be an avant garde fashion statement with the right accessories!!! LOL How you doing this fine morning??? LOL Did you notice all the nasty comments on the other thread??? Someone thought I must be in my mid 50's....that hurt!!! LOL J/K At least I don't come across like a teeny bopper.

        December 5, 2010 at 9:39 am |
      • RichardHead@AD

        Mornin' Sunshine! Think You would look Great in a mini-skirt and go-go boots. Yea, I saw that one. Plus a couple of others. You dong o.k. this morning?

        December 5, 2010 at 9:48 am |
    • Robert

      Come on now, where are your manners?

      December 8, 2010 at 6:29 am |
  18. Darryl

    Everyone here is essentially correct. If you were born into a family with roots in which meals were prepared from what was handy, you know your version of "Southern Cooking". I grew up in a family that was very poor and if we didn't grow it, raise it, and kill it, we didn't eat. I also remember working very long and hard days as a kid to make sure that things were maintained and put up for long cold winters. When meal time came around, you were about as hungry as hungry could be. It didn't matter what type of cooking was on the table, it all tasted real good. The most common fair in our home was "cat head" biscuits and gravy, chicken, pheasant, quail, rabbit, and just about any kind of potato you can imagine. These things were all very inexpensive or free for the hunting. I remember going to the store about once a month for 25 lb bags of flour and sugar and other small spices like salt and pepper. "Southern Cooking" was not something we even coined back then, it was just eating what was available. I thank God for people like my mom, who could take such simple foods and turn them into such great memories.

    December 5, 2010 at 7:37 am |
  19. Robert

    I remember saying one distinguishing characteristic of southern food was fatback. If you can't see your face in the collard greens, you haven't used enough. Also, I would add to the list cornbread, oyster pie, squash casserole, fried chicken of course and so many others. Thinking about it gets me hungry.

    December 5, 2010 at 6:53 am |
  20. Rowens

    Southern food- fresh? in the summer. Otherwise it's been canned (home canned). Grease? In everything- but just a bit- flavor, not greasy. Cooked-to-death or raw (cabbage, collards, greens, 'peas' all cooked-to-death. Fresh tomato- raw. except when you fry the green ones). Peas are not green down here, salads have 7 layers, cakes 16. The best parts of Southern cooking? corn (If you're from here you know what I mean- it's not on the cob, and it's not the pasty creamed corn in a can, it's grandma magic). grits (with shrimp). Hot ham biscuts on a cold morning. pickled okra. boiled peanuts. Sweet tea with everything. On special occasions, we might break out the Scuppernog wine (which is so sweet it makes you sing) Pimento cheese on white bread with the crusts cut off for fancy (wedding showers) or just left on- farmer cheese cut from ginormous yellow wheels at country hardware stores. All of the good things~

    December 5, 2010 at 6:14 am |
  21. Anonymous

    It's amazing how so many folks have something to say about things they really don't know about. I very rarely respond to posts, but I just had to get my nose in on this one.

    Catfish is not "seafood". Not only can it be fried, it can be baked or broiled. I cook in an iron skillet that is 70 years old. I can live off of homemade cornbread cooked in an iron skillet, white acre peas, field peas with snaps, cream 40's, sweet potatoes straight out of the garden, squirrel and rice, back-strap, 1 cup cobbler and other wonderful and healthy southern delights ; I live in North Florida, not far from the Georgia line and a just a stone's throw from the Alabama line. Oh, and I am educated too!!

    Be open to enjoy what each place you visit has to offer; yes, we all have differences, but on this one, we all love good food!

    December 5, 2010 at 2:18 am |
  22. Grandma

    Well, being from Texas isn't strictly 'Southern', but we do have our own take on things. We always had the pecan pies, chocolate pies, and my own Nannie's famous macaroni and cheese which even now I'm not fully able to duplicate! My biggest memories are of fried chicken (only my other Grandma could really make it!) and like you've said her buttermilk biscuits and gravy! Of course, one mustn't forget the chicken fried steak or BBQ! I've lived out of the country for several years now, but the first day I arrive back in Texas I head to the kitchen and start duplicating these dishes! I know how to 'cook' them overseas, but the ingredients never seem to taste the same. Hopefully, I'll be able to 'pass on' to my own grandkids a love of at least some of these foods, because as one of the other posters said it is the love in the preparation that is the real key to Southern cooking!

    December 5, 2010 at 1:23 am |
  23. Ozzi

    Southern food was always about what you got from the land. The South having more of it than other states. We were the original breadbasket for the colonies and able to grow stuff such as rice, tomatoes, strawberries better than most until California joined the Union.

    I was always told that Soul Food was the stuff that the rich folks wouldn't use such as chitterlings, scrapple, potatoes, and other foods that was reminiscent of poverty or Europe.

    But both Southern and Soul Food used lots and lots of butter and lard.

    December 5, 2010 at 1:10 am |
  24. LP

    Southern food is the food that everybody wants but that most are too afraid to eat for whatever reason. For some it's because of their health, for others it's because they want to portray a different image of themselves to others. More often, though, I think it comes from Southern food giving non-Southern people an image of themselves that they don't want. They want to believe they are above traditional dishes and are foodies or gourmands or whatever they want to call themselves. Ironically, these are often the same people who blame the rich for all of their problems and identify with being liberal...

    December 5, 2010 at 12:01 am |
    • Ozzi

      They only think they have problems, dear.

      December 5, 2010 at 1:12 am |
  25. William

    Historically, one has to look at the South's past to understand its palate; an economically downtrodden population for centuries had to make the most out of the least. That tended to be cornmeal, pork, chicken (often not the choicest parts of either) and whatever was hauled fresh from the field, forest, or sea. Deep African roots introduced new foods such as okra and peanuts that were suitable for the hot climate as well as open-pit cooking of pigs and goats. Today's pig pickin' has turned into serious big money competition. All that, along with the cultural isolation that allowed Southern cuisine to develop as an independent style made food a cultural element that is taken wherever Southerners settle. It is possible to go to Brooklyn and smell collards cooking, or to Chicago where specialty merchants sell grits, or to California where visiting Southern relatives take country hams to expatriots.

    December 4, 2010 at 11:32 pm |
  26. SouthernBelle

    I think that true southern food isn't necessarily as much about the food but where you got the recipe. It is more about passing a recipe on for many generations and "making it the exact same way as my mama made it."

    For example, in my family we have passed on the same Friday LUNCH (my great-grandmother made a near-Thanksgiving dinner from scratch every Friday for the whole family) recipes down from my great-grandmother's grandmother (and probably further). It includes mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, ham, gravy, fried okra, beans, and corn.

    In a generic definition, my friends and I always "joke" that in the south, we will fry anything and for years we didn't know that some vegetables were edible without batter and grease. We do use bacon a lot – but we equally use the grease. Pork and beans has bacon on top, a poor-boy has bacon wrapped around it, we put bacon in our green beans, we put bacon on our hamburgers (constantly), and for breakfast, we love eating the bacon, but the gravy is just as wonderful.

    But being from the south, the recipes are what does it. Just because you pull a recipe from the internet for fried okra doesn't make it southern. But my grandmother's recipe for it is – to me.

    December 4, 2010 at 11:04 pm |
  27. Kathleen

    I'm from New Orleans and I agree with Ben. Fried shrimp and fried oyster po boys, seafood gumbo, stuffed crab......
    Everything in moderation. I can only eat fried food occasionally, but when I do, it is so good.
    I remember a friend of a friend who was in town and came to dinner with a group of us here in N.O. We went to Mosca's Restaurant. Well, this guy was critical of us when we ordered Mosca's oyster dressing. I believe his statement was "The only time I eat oyster dressing is at the obligatory Thanksgiving meal at my Mother's house". I'll never forget the way this guy practically licked the plate after placing the last bit of Mosca's oyster dressing in his mouth.

    December 4, 2010 at 10:55 pm |
  28. Kathleen

    I found a beautifully written story in Gourmet (I miss it so much!) magazine about the food writer, Edna Lewis. They reprinted her article "What Is Southern?" originally published in Jan. 2008. Google this and enjoy.

    December 4, 2010 at 10:36 pm |
  29. big bo

    I am second generation cajun. Its almost hilarious reading some of these posts. Southern cooking can be broken down into different regions, each with its own specialties, healthy and not so healthy. Remain quiet and be thought a fool, speak and remove all doubt.

    December 4, 2010 at 10:26 pm |
  30. Violetrx

    Biscuits with butter and cane syrup. Sooo gooood!

    December 4, 2010 at 10:22 pm |
  31. Fit-Foodie-Coach

    Southern food equals high obesity rates! There is nothing healthy about southern cooking!!! F-A-T-T-E-N-I-N-G!!!!

    December 4, 2010 at 9:26 pm |
    • LP

      Really? Google collard greens and the nutrients in them. Still feel smart and better than others?

      December 5, 2010 at 12:03 am |
  32. PennSue

    Born in Virginia, living in Pa- Southern food is about freshness, gardens in jars, family and fun. Want to gain weight try some Pennsylvania Dutch food. Sweet Jesus I sure could use a slaw dog and sweet tea right now.

    December 4, 2010 at 9:03 pm |
  33. lorelei

    After reading all of these comments, I am prepared to answer the question posed. What is southern food? Ham hocks, fresh vegetables, peach cobbler, and sweet tea.

    December 4, 2010 at 8:18 pm |
  34. GRIT

    I'm a GRIT (girl raised in the south). My mom is Georgian, and dad is Tennessee. Raised me in rural NC. Yes, there are a lot of wonderful regional specialities, but it has to be FRESH and made with love and attention, no matter what it is.

    Growing up, my parents plowed under a square acre and that was our veggie garden. The folks next door had a grape arbor, and down the street, a neighbor had a huge strawberry patch. Blackberries and raspberries grew wild by the nearby lake.

    When it was supper time, my mother would tell use to go get some corn, potatoes, tomatoes, whatever. Things were either slow cooked and well seasoned, lightly breaded and fried in a skillet, or sliced fresh & raw and served with a vinegar/mayo dressing. A huge home grown tomato with a dab of mayo was a favorite side dish.... When mom wanted to make a pie, she'd hand me a colander and tell me, "Go down and get some strawberries from Mr. Nelson's patch, and tell him to send one of the kids up and pull some carrots (or whatever we had just coming up)".

    That is it. Fresh, local, and simple – and well (but not TOO) seasoned. No matter what. And it was always made with a kitchen full of people conversing. Seafood was what we caught ourselves and took home to mom. Cakes and biscuits were made from scratch, no recipes. Grandma never wrote them down; just eyeball it. You guys need to stop over-thinking this. :)

    Man, I could eat some johnny cake with butter on it right now....

    December 4, 2010 at 7:23 pm |
  35. bigB

    When I go South to visit relatives in Northern Florida, I love to eat me some fried mullet, cheese grits, okra fried and okra cooked with Black eyed peas, boiled gulf shrimp, anything from Joe Patti's in Pensacola, barbeque, bolied peanuts. YUM

    December 4, 2010 at 7:16 pm |
  36. LovesGrits

    As a native South Carolinian, just thinking about cheese grits, liver pudding, lime congealed salad, pimento cheese, fried chicken, boiled peanuts, fried okra, red-eye gravy and my grandmother's pound cake sends me to heaven. And for all of you who have dissed the South and its food, I will gracefully say 'Bless Your Heart'.

    December 4, 2010 at 7:09 pm |
  37. cre8tivman

    SuthrnLuv, I'm with you on that. I grew up in a little town called Brinkley, in eastern Arkansas where the Delta region begins. I still remember standing in the back yard with my grandmother and a salt shaker just eating the tomatoes right off the vines. All about were the sounds of cicadas and the rich humidity that made everything grow so beautifully.

    I remember the little diner about 8 or 9 blocks from the house that served the best catfish in the universe–big fried fillets of catfish with cole slaw. This always came with sliced onions, cherry peppers, lemon and chow chow. It's been at least ten years since I have had that catfish and my mouth still waters to think of it.

    Although life took me to Illinois, I still grow a garden and can chow chow every fall, in addition to what else happens along. I still make cornbread in the same iron skillet that has been in the family for more than a century and my family and friends always manage to know just when it goes into the oven. Each time I pull out that skillet, I think of the generations before me. Every time I make biscuits or fry chicken, I think of my greatgrandmother who taught me how to make those and a million other things.

    That is the soul of my Southern cooking........

    December 4, 2010 at 6:50 pm |
  38. Sandapple

    I think my husband's breakfasts, while a bit over the top, are prime examples of southern food. He likes to make biscuits, sausage gravy, fried eggs -over medium-, corned beef or roast beef hash, grits, hashbrowns, bacon, ham and steak. Or, like today, he just make biscuits with pork tenderloin, ham and steak. Meats all cooked on a griddle so they aren't greasy. Southern food doesn't mean greasy food.

    I just skimmed some posts so I may have missed it, but I didn't see anyone mention butter beans. I love butter beans! When I've talked foods with northern friends, if I mention butter beans they have no idea what that is.

    Proud Tennesseean for 26 years.

    December 4, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
  39. hookapooka

    Home grown tomato gravy with cracklin cornbread-okra lightly battered with cornmeal and fried-speckled butter beans-home made macaroni and cheese-spring onion straight out of the garden-sweet iced tea and blackberry cobbler for desert!

    December 4, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
  40. justhome

    please..please do not cofuse Paua Dean with rhe real southern cooking...... She has made too much money and has forgtten where it came from. Southern cooking is from what has been left .....

    December 4, 2010 at 6:37 pm |
  41. Willyboy

    lorelei: It's not the baby carrots that bug me, we had those if that's the state they were in when we pulled them, it's the pretentious nature of the "presentation". Short Ribs, fine. A garden salad, sure. I never, in my life, saw anything at all even close to what these people are calling their "Southern Cooking Secret Meal". Never. Ever. As I said before it looks tasty, but it's not Southern – not Southern USA at least. One other comment.... We should be careful not to totally conflate Soul and Southern. They intermingle and share, but ultimately they are distinct.

    December 4, 2010 at 6:37 pm |
    • lorelei

      Willieboy: I agree with you. I used that baby carrot as the symbol of all things pretentious.

      December 4, 2010 at 7:26 pm |
  42. Brenda Jean

    What is Southern cooking? Food prepared with a purpose. Feeding people. Satisfying appetites and taste buds together. My mother and her mother and her mother have made delicious Southern delicacies for generations. My mother's biscuits are perfection and she never twists the cutter (she is very superstitious and recently shared with me that she couldn't talk on the phone due to her work in the kitchen perfecting her already perfect biscuit). Now that I think of it, this is what Southern food is all about. Taking the ordinary and making it better. And ya know, she's done this, along with her sisters, my entire life. From the best cornbread from Kentucky to Florida (she nearly fainted when she learned that Three Rivers brand cornmeal was no longer on the market), to marvelous mayonnaise based salads, fried chicken, dumplings, dressing, poke sallet and beans seasoned "to life," they all tell a story of what it means to be from the South. Now, after all this talk, I'm swallowing hard! (coutesy Paula Deen, our Southern expert). Cheers y'all!

    December 4, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
    • cre8tivman

      Brenda, you mentioned the magic dish-poke sallet. I remember many years of picking it and cooking it with my grandmother as a kid. And I know just what you mean about the mayonnaise based salads, especially fried chicken salad and the macaroni salads that were everpresent. I guess my cornbread dressing, another old family recipe, has become legendary. I was so proud and mad at the same time when both pans that I had leftover from Thanksgiving were gone in one day, along with two gallons of turkey gravy.

      December 4, 2010 at 6:58 pm |
  43. lorelei

    I just watched the video. A single baby carrot has never graced any plate in my house. That is not southern food. I don't know WHAT that was.

    December 4, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
    • cre8tivman

      I have to agree, even though I was really trying to keep an open mind. I could just hear the hell my grandmother would have raised if somebody pulled up her carrots before they were finished growing!

      December 4, 2010 at 6:52 pm |
  44. hereinthesouth

    I have lived in a small farm town in the South for 5 years. I can say for a fact, the food is horrid. If it an't drippin in grease, it comes from a can or is processed. Perhaps 100 years ago it was something, but grease and 1940's "modern foods" make up 99% of the Menu today, even home cookin. Poor people food, yes! But t cmpare it to the wondful, aritstic and healthy Italian poor folk food is crazy. Southern food is a myth. It is grease and canned food, let's not kid ourseves.

    December 4, 2010 at 6:18 pm |
    • Mary J

      You've lived there 5 years? I've lived in Alabama all of my life and so have generations of my family. This canned food you're speaking of may be prevalent where you lived, but as for my grandmother, she always grew her own veggies. Fresh okra, tomatoes, green beans, greens, cucumbers, etc. Yes, we tend to cook with grease and butter. But true Southern cooking is from scratch, not a can.

      December 4, 2010 at 6:51 pm |
    • LP

      Wow, five WHOLE years? Well, then you obviously know more than the people here recounting their decades of life in the South. In case everyone was too polite to tell you, and I'm sure they have been, this is why they don't like you. I don't think I've eaten anything out of a can in about 25 years. Real Southern food is never from a can. Lol, talk to us in another 20 years and we'll hear about what an expert on the South you are. (btw- people are out there growing their own delicious foods- your food is from a can because you aren't)

      December 5, 2010 at 12:13 am |
  45. SuthrnLuv

    Southern summers in Arkansas meant meals right out of the garden (which was the whole front yard)..fresh corn, fried okra, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, fish fried and caught that morning in the lake..fresh preserves and sorghum (Papaw and family got...the whole process took a week), red eye gravy, honey from the beehives we had...on and on! And sweet tea.

    December 4, 2010 at 6:10 pm |
  46. D

    I'm from Mobile & around there it's knowing how to cook a roux, cook with rice, white pepper & okra. I think fried chicken floured in a brown paper bag & hot, hot grease. Pecan pies without the chocolate or caramel like they seem to do in Atlanta.

    December 4, 2010 at 5:46 pm |
  47. misthang

    Yankees know what is best about food and that is why all the good restaurants are North of Virginia. Japanese have the best food in the world.

    December 4, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
  48. Polemos

    Well, let's all enjoy it while it's still here, before the federal government determines that American citizens are consuming too many biscuits and too much butter, which leads to dietary-related health risks, which in turn overburdens the health care system. Nothing spices up a menu like the federal fun police.

    December 4, 2010 at 5:39 pm |
  49. Southerner Always

    Are any of you aware of the southern icon Oprah Winfrey? Her brand and her essence is born of the south. If one wonders why the charm of the south is espoused so passionately here, just look to what Oprah has accomplished with her good old southern self.

    The south differs from all other regions in very specific ways, food included. Tradition, grace, family........and traditionally the mothers and grandmothers cooking are at the heart of a home. I have always lived in the south, having a father with tenant farms we would visit each afternoon to pick fresh corn or beans for dinner as a child, to doing my first tour in Europe at age 17 with my mother. I can still recall the utter deliciousness of a true french croissant at the Crillon and roast duck at the french market, paella and sangria at the Ritz in Madrid, and high tea at the Dorchester. Throughout my career I have traveled globally as well as having worked in every region of the US on various projects. Each region does have foods and traditions that are unique, but few have food that flows from a gracious and friendly place.

    You see, in the true south to rush someone, or to be curt in your manner, or to not welcome one more to your table is the worst of insults. My greatest pleasure this year was to teach my daughter how to plant tomatoes, grow them, then harvest and can them. Additionally my mother still makes the best ever watermelon and fresh pack cucumber pickles I have ever tasted. I can still recall my father picking ripe big boy tomatoes from our garden, washing it off at the outdoor spigot, and then handing it to me to eat like an apple in the summer heat.

    It is about more than the food, it's the culture and it's the belief system, as well as the lifestyle. I would never live in another part of our country, so deeply held are those beliefs and traditions in my soul. That does not mean I cannot appreciate other regions and their traditions, food, and culture. But few have met similar criteria for pure welcoming hospitality and yes, it's part of the flavor within our food ;)

    December 4, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
  50. bobcat1a

    Any kneading of biscuit dough is too much. Stir together until it almost hangs together and then gently pat into a slightly raggy 3/4 inch thick round. I cut mine out with the top of a jelly jar. Always light and fluffy. If you use self-rising flower and buttermilk, you need to add a pinch of baking soda to the mix.

    December 4, 2010 at 5:16 pm |
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