Sunday, May 23, 2004


My food blog has got me thinking on the subject of southern foodways.

This is all new to me, you understand. I moved to Tennessee in 2000, and then to Georgia in 2001. The only experience I'd ever had with southern food was an Arkansan stepmother who planted okra in the garden and ate her hamburgers with mayonnaise.

But anyone who knows me will tell you I love food. I love to eat it, I love to prepare it, and I love to learn about it. There's hardly a cuisine I haven't tried to replicate in my kitchen. The s.o. is from Alabama and is an excellent cook himself, so I have let him guide me as I've learned to cook, buy, and eat some things I'd never dreamed of until I moved here.

I'm sure I'm leaving some things out, but here's what springs to mind:

Blackeyed peas
They're weird. They have quite a strong flavor for a bean, and they're definitely an acquired taste. Two or three years ago I tolerated them at best. Now I sometimes crave them. The s.o. orders them practically every time he eats at a meat & three, and he'll often crack open a can of them when we need a quick side dish.

Collard greens
Actually, greens in general. I always thought my family ate a lot of vegetables, but southerners will sometimes have several vegetable side dishes per meal. One of these side dishes is usually collards or turnip greens. They soak up the "pot likker" with cornbread so as not to miss out on any vitamins. Wow.

Golden Flake potato chips
Made in Birmingham, Alabama. The "Sweet Heat" flavor is the best one.

Boiled peanuts
They require a little bit of getting used to, but they're really good. They resemble chickpeas, which makes sense because peanuts are legumes, after all.

Pickled okra
The hot and spicy variety. We are hoping to pickle some of our own later this year...

Fried catfish
Catfish is a strong-flavored white fish with oddly meaty-textured flesh. I gather that today's farmed catfish has nowhere near the heavy, dirty flavor of wild catfish in times past. That's a good thing, I think. Catfish is fried in a spiced cornmeal and flour mixture and served with hot sauce. Mmm!

Bama jelly
Especially the grape flavor. Bama is now a subsidiary of Welch's, but southerners are brand-loyal anyway. I can't really tell the difference, but I buy it to make the s.o. happy.

Sweet tea
Southerners all have stories about going up north and trying to order sweet tea. The waiter brings them a glass of unsweetened iced tea and some sugar packets, as if somehow, magically, the sugar will dissolve in the cold liquid and not just lie in a sandy little pile at the bottom of the glass. Sweet tea is made by dumping about a cup of sugar in the bottom of a quart jug, pouring boiling water on top of it, stirring, and plunking in a family-size Luzianne bag until the tea is quite dark. Then you pour the concentrated tea syrup over a big glassful of ice cubes.

Fried corn
Fresh corn, cut off the cob and pan-fried in a little butter or bacon grease with diced onion. This is really good.

Field peas with snaps
This means field peas, which look like small reddish-brown blackeyed peas, cooked with green beans. You can buy this combination in cans at the supermarket here.

Pulled pork
Pork shoulder, smoked in big barrel-shaped outdoor smokers, shredded and tossed in a vinegar-y, peppery, slightly ketchup-y sauce, and served with Sunbeam bread.

Pimiento cheese sandwiches
A heart attack waiting to happen. Ground cheddar cheese, diced canned sweet pimientos, mayonnaise, and seasonings, spread thickly between two slices of bread. The homemade version is addictive, probably one of my great downfalls. Good thing I haven't learned to make it myself yet.

There's a lot more soul food and southern quirkiness out there, but that's all I can think of for now...