The Seven Essential Southern Dishes
November 24, 2015 6:54 PM   Subscribe

The Bitter Southerner never shies away from grand pronouncements, but when we make one, we try hard to make sure it’s based on substance. As the holidays — that special time of year when calories don’t count — approached, we wanted to challenge a great Southern food writer to do the impossible: Define the most essential Southern dishes, the ones that speak most clearly about who we are. Today, North Carolina writer Sheri Castle — the only person alive who can legitimately claim to have read every recipe ever published in Southern Living magazine — takes the big leap.”
posted by ob1quixote (97 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
I ain't seeing biscuits and sausage gravy on that list...
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:59 PM on November 24, 2015 [11 favorites]


No okra? No south.
posted by downtohisturtles at 7:00 PM on November 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


Seems more like a list of who Southerners were, not who they are today.
posted by Mizu at 7:08 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


. . . the only person alive who can legitimately claim to have read every recipe ever published in Southern Living magazine

Just put the magazine down and back away. No one strays on Sheri's turf.
posted by 3urypteris at 7:09 PM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


There is no possible list of seven dishes of the South that would not inspire argument, so I give her credit where credit's due for seven interesting choices. That's really all you could ask. It's an "honor society," no one's going to back down and everyone's going to say these choices are wrong and their seven choices would be better, so just enjoy.
posted by Miko at 7:15 PM on November 24, 2015 [16 favorites]


They do all look tasty.
posted by jonmc at 7:17 PM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


She got the cornbread right. I'll give her that.
posted by valkane at 7:19 PM on November 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm not a Southerner and I have not had a single one of these dishes, so um there's that.

And I agree they do look tasty.

I'd love to know what people would list instead of these...
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:21 PM on November 24, 2015


I'd love to know what people would list instead of these...

That question is SO hard.

My personal, very personal list, would be:
Boudin blanc
Lemon chess pie (not generic chess pie as seen here)
Fried okra
Pecan Pie
Barbecued beef brisket
Dewberry or mayhaw jelly
Chicken fried steak with cream gravy, with a lot of black pepper

The astute scholar of southern cuisine could probably pinpoint where I'm from based on that list.
posted by Miko at 7:25 PM on November 24, 2015 [16 favorites]


Oh my that red rice with shrimp and sausage...
posted by Navelgazer at 7:25 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


I wonder if this publication has seen that 'sociopaths like bitter food' study? Also, I think the list needs an exponential increase. What would people suggest instead of this?
posted by yueliang at 7:27 PM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Whoever's cooking Miko's feast just let me know when it's on and I'll do the dishes after.

Maybe there should be a separate list for beverages, both alcoholic and non.
posted by datawrangler at 7:28 PM on November 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


As a native South Georgian, I like the list. I'd definitely add fried okra, as it's on my last meal table, banana pudding, and pimento cheese.

And if snacks count, boiled peanuts have gotta be on that list!
posted by robstercraw at 7:32 PM on November 24, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm somewhat disappointed to not see pimento cheese on this list, I thought it was a shoe-in. Though I guess this is dishes and pimento cheese is more of a food group.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 7:32 PM on November 24, 2015 [11 favorites]


I think I'd go with maybe ... biscuits, cheese grits, collard greens & black eyed peas, bbq, boiled peanuts, sweet tea, coke.

My personal list is pretty boring, I guess. Charleston, with parents from upstate SC and NC.

I tried to look up what the "collard greens and black eye pea" dish was called and learned it was actually two separate dishes you were supposed to eat together? Eh.
posted by you could feel the sky at 7:32 PM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, off the top of my head, skillet fried chicken, and as the counterpoint to the aforementioned biscuits and gravy breakfast, I would suggest a biscuits and molasses mixed with butter, and hot coffee with PET condensed milk as your creamer.

Navy beans with onions and hamhocks. Sweet corn, cut and milked from the cob and cooked in a pressure cooker. Canned pickles. Country-fried steak and/or pork chops.

Snap beans, also cooked in a pressure cooker. And in season, game meats, mostly squirrel (with squirrel gravy), rabbit, pheasant, deer and a lot of different fish, mostly bass, bluegill and catfish.
posted by valkane at 7:33 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


native South Georgian.....pimento cheese.....boiled peanuts

I hadn't had either of those until I started dating a North Floridian and holy shit that corner of the country KNOWS WHAT'S UP, snackwise.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 7:34 PM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Part of the problem is that Southern food is still pretty broad. The red rice dish, for example, is pretty Cajun influenced, and that's a different thing altogether.

Also, in addition to what people have already said, fried catfish and hushpuppies.
posted by tau_ceti at 7:34 PM on November 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


Southern food is still pretty broad.

Yep, very true, there are a lot of micro-regions within "the South" that really vary - coastal/inland, Appalachia/lowlands, and French/Cajun/Hispanic-influenced vs. not that. All those things make a big difference in foods. Still, all are "southern." all part of what makes the region so interesting, culinarily speaking.
posted by Miko at 7:36 PM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is a good start. I approve.
posted by pearlybob at 7:36 PM on November 24, 2015


And if snacks count, boiled peanuts have gotta be on that list!

I will thoroughly grant that I am a carpetbagger, but I have been in the South since not long after the towers fell, I at least hail from the Missouri side of the Ozarks, and I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would so badly mistreat a peanut.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:37 PM on November 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


I find that this is seven southern meals, not dishes.
posted by Night_owl at 7:37 PM on November 24, 2015


Also, no hamhocks and beans, no fried chicken, no Hoppin' John, no fried potatoes and onions, no fried pies, no buttermilk biscuits, this person is out their got-dang mind.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:39 PM on November 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


I find that this is seven southern meals, not dishes.

Sorta see what you're saying but cake and pie aren't meals. (I say that expecting the usual comedic responses). It's a mixed bag, which does confuse matters.
posted by Miko at 7:39 PM on November 24, 2015


Bound to piss everyone off if you try to distill this to just seven dishes! I'm a guy from Maine who was slow to accept some certain things - the first time I tried sweet tea I honestly thought I was being pranked - but now I love it all.

For everyone reading this with interest who has Netflix, I'm going to evangelize about the second season of Mind of a Chef, featuring Sean Brock of Husk fame. I'm old as shit so when I see a younger guy with facial hair and tattoos evangelizing about food, I was ready to do some major eye rolling and cursing of "hipster!", but best I can tell Sean is an awesome guy who cares hard about food, and isn't proud or snotty but genuinely curious. The West African roots of a lot of our food is especially fascinating to me. Having trouble linking directly but it's season 2, episodes 1-9 (I'm sure the rest of the show is glorious too).
posted by ftm at 7:59 PM on November 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


I liked the part where she said you could add chowchow as a garnish. I didn't know there was any way to eat it other than straight out of the jar your grandma gave you.

No catfish and hushpuppies? That's an omission worth noting.
posted by mittens at 8:00 PM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Classic Southern dishes, huh?

I don't see no Waffle House, moahfocka.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:01 PM on November 24, 2015 [4 favorites]



The astute scholar of southern cuisine could probably pinpoint where I'm from based on that list.
posted by Miko at 9:25 PM on November 24 [2 favorites +] [!]


Best I can do is Texas.
posted by sourwookie at 8:02 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


And Texas is in the South. So where's the GODDAMN BBQ, punk?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:02 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


This list is so weird. It's not wrong but it's definitely not all right either. For example, Brunswick Stew? Really? Others, grits, field peas, cornbread, greens are all indispensable southern foods, but I don't know that I'd call them dishes. The last one I've never even heard of, though it basically looks like jambalaya.
posted by echocollate at 8:04 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Brunswick stew makes sense to me, since it was a feature at every family reunion I've ever been to...but literally nowhere else have I ever seen it. The closest I've seen here in SC is Frogmore stew, which is an abomination.
posted by mittens at 8:06 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Mittens, don't let your grandma catch you eating out of the jar. You'll be standing for supper.
posted by datawrangler at 8:06 PM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yea it may be subregional. I'm from Mississippi and I've never heard of it. Or maybe I've just lived a sheltered life. :)
posted by echocollate at 8:07 PM on November 24, 2015


pimento cheese.....boiled peanuts

and if you get unboiled salted peanuts, you put them in the coca-cola
posted by hank at 8:10 PM on November 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Brunswick stew is for some reason what every fire station in North Carolina serves in the fall at their fundraisers. I don't know what they are fundraising for, or why, but when it hits about mid October you can't drive down a road in central North Carolina without seeing eighty signs for BUCKET OF BRUNSWICK STEW FOR THREE DOLLARS per block.

It's usually pretty yummy, too!
posted by winna at 8:19 PM on November 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's an "honor society," no one's going to back down and everyone's going to say these choices are wrong and their seven choices would be better

You're referring to Metafilter, I assume?
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:28 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


I just had the best Frogmore Stew of my life at Five & Ten in Athens Ga... and I used to live in Charleston, SC.

Dear god, it was a beautiful bowl of food.

My favorite part of the list was the field peas- that is the most essential part of a Southern diet to me, even more than greens and cornbread.
posted by rock swoon has no past at 8:31 PM on November 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


Is potato salad not Southern? For some reason, it was always something I associated with the other southern things my mom cooked. Also it is ubiquitous at most of our Texas gatherings.

I did learn something; I have noticed cakes made with old poundcake recipes get a tough crust in bundt pans. Next time I will do as she suggests and use an angel food pan.

And my love for chess pie is tempered by the fact that for years a friend of the family made some for us every Christmas, only she called it "Jeff Davis Pie" and when I realized who the hell Jeff Davis was, well >:(

Collard greens, grits, Brunswick stew and pot likker don't seem to be that big in my part of Texas. I think we replaced them with okra, chili, oatmeal (if you want a hot breakfast grain; or maybe Cream of Wheat) and cream gravy.
posted by emjaybee at 8:35 PM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Pie is as pie does.

I think we can all, regardless of origin, agree with that universal sagacious postulation.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:40 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


As a Texan, I don't count it as part of the South. The South is already a thousand microbiomes with a thousand different ways of keeping people fed. If you lump in the exclusionism inherent to Texas you'll practically double that. But that doesn't mean there isn't incredible BBQ in the South. Of course, it's a different animal, sometimes literally.
posted by Mizu at 8:41 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wow, that pound cake immediately sent me back to my childhood visiting my grandmother in Atlanta. I think I remember her making it for my birthday, since I was born around Christmas and that's when we would go down to visit. It was always moist and delicious.
posted by capricorn at 8:43 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


My grandmother always called field peas "white acre peas" and lawd how I wish I could get my hands on some now.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 8:45 PM on November 24, 2015


And I should say, Grandmama was the daughter of Greek immigrants and grew up in the Twin Cities, but after she moved to Florida and then Georgia, she embraced being a Southerner with all her heart, and that pound cake was proof.
posted by capricorn at 8:45 PM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Part of the problem is that Southern food is still pretty broad.

The actual problem, as Miko alluded to, is that Southern food is intensely variable by region, and you wade into as many problems saying "Southern food is _______" as you do saying "Southern people think ______." There's no universality, and perpetuating the myth that there is is harmful.

Food in Georgia is different from food in South Carolina, which is different from food in Mississippi, which is different from food in Alabama, which is different from food in Texas, and on and on and on. Hell, Texas and Alabama and South Carolina can't even agree on barbecue. Different parts of Texas can't even agree on barbecue.

The South isn't a monolith. I think you could argue that mile for mile, it's maybe more diverse *culturally* (not respectably, and not demographically, and certainly not racially -- hell no) than any other part of the country.

I think I'm probably still sensitive because of the recent Metatalk thread on how Metafilter deals with the South. That said, this article punched all sorts of buttons for me. "Define the most essential Southern dishes, the ones that speak most clearly about who we are" -- that's bullshit, because there is no universal, Southern we. And even if there was, there's no way the fictional we could narrow essential Southern food down to seven dishes.

I love talking food, and I love talking Southern food, but articles like this piss me off.

(No offense to ob1quixote, because I especially love reading about food, even if I don't agree with the writer's premise.)
posted by mudpuppie at 8:56 PM on November 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


Sorta see what you're saying but cake and pie aren't meals.

this is the wrongest you have ever been
posted by poffin boffin at 9:08 PM on November 24, 2015 [9 favorites]


Grew up in Georgia, south of Atlanta, in a displaced Alabama clan. Some on the list are 100% my comfort food. Never heard the terms "chow chow" or seen a piece of chess pie in my 48 years, though.

Pecan pie, yes. Peach pie. Fried catfish, hush puppies and cole slaw. Fried chicken and mashed potatoes (or potato salad, if at a potluck). Chicken & dumplings. Pimiento cheese on white bread sandwiches. Pinto beans with ham hock. Cornbread & buttermilk. Biscuits & gravy. Buttered grits. Chicken fried steak. Hamburgers & hot dogs, of course. Peanut butter! Sweet tea with every meal.

From the garden, snap beans. Corn on the cob. Black eye peas, fried okra, yellow crookneck squash. Collard greens with Dad's homemade pepper sauce. Sandwiches made of fresh, hearty tomatoes sliced thick, with mayo and pepper. Watermelon chilled and laid out in big slices, spread out on newspaper on the back porch table.

And yeah, like capricorn, that pound cake reminded me of trips to Grandma's in eastern Alabama. A hunk of pound cake in one hand and a glass of milk in the other and I was in heaven!

God, I've eaten some good food in my day.
posted by darkstar at 9:09 PM on November 24, 2015 [13 favorites]


Getting ready to bring cornbread and collard greens to Thanksgiving with a bunch of Europeans. I've introduced a few people to these dishes over the years, and it's always kind of hit-and-miss, but my desire to share Southern food is strong enough that I am willing to risk it. Maybe the rise of kale will make the collards less scary this time.
posted by scose at 9:09 PM on November 24, 2015


Maybe the problem is that the piece is titled "The Seven Essential Southern Dishes", instead of simply "Seven Essential Southern Dishes", which probably nobody would argue with. Then again, maybe that's why the author added that leading "The"....
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:11 PM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


The article has made me want to go crack open my Julia Reed books again. She writes about southern cuisine, with an emphasis on Mississippi and Louisiana, but with detours up into Nashville, with such zeal and verve, it'll get you in the kitchen cooking at 10 p.m.
posted by sobell at 9:26 PM on November 24, 2015


I really like this list because it's full of things people outside of the South often have zero concept of when I talk about them. Do you know how many of my friends think I'm screwing with them when I tell them I grew up eating Brunswick Stew with squirrel? Or how hard it was to find a recipe for chess pie when I first left home, moved away from the South, and didn't have access to my family's church cookbook collection (and the WWW wasn't quite as robust and user-friendly as it is now)?

These are not the first dishes that come to mind when I think of home*, but they're definitely representative.


*The dishes that do come to mind: Country-style steak with mashed potatoes and gravy, hush puppies, fried chicken, oyster dressing, banana puddin', pig-pickin' cake, and of course eastern NC BBQ.
posted by rhiannonstone at 9:36 PM on November 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


(Chicken pastry! I forgot chicken pastry on that list.)
posted by rhiannonstone at 9:44 PM on November 24, 2015


This non southerner has found through Roadfood:

Tamale spread AR
West Indies salad AL
Brunswick stew served as one of the 3s at meat &3s in GA
Pork neck bones and Lima beans, mustard bbq SC.
Liver pudding at breakfast in the Carolinas
Vinegar BBQ, fatback at breakfast ,oblong instead of ball shaped hushpuppies NC
Savory peanut soup VA
Pepperoni rolls WV
Half smoke, DC
Calf brains &scrambled eggs , BBQ bologna, Lebanese steak houses ( which serve hummus, pita and tabbouli before the beef and potato) OK
Queso instead of guacamole, bbq brisket served with half a sleeve of saltines, beef chili with no beans TX
Old Bay seasoned dishes MD
Hot fried chicken TN
Mutton bbq KY
BBQ oysters (in a butter sauce), debris poboy LA

I haven't yet figured out which regions are more likely to serve bready instead of noodley dumplings with chicken.
posted by brujita at 9:49 PM on November 24, 2015


I'm from the Appalachian part of the South (NC mountains), and what I haven't seen mentioned yet:

Soupy pinto beans with pan-fried potatoes on the side
Green beans cooked within an inch of the lives with a chunk of fatback
Pickled green beans (my mom's favorite)
Cracklin' bread, which is cornbread made with little chunks of rendered pork fat mixed in
Deviled eggs with any company meal or picnic
Cornbread crumbled into an ice cold glass of sweet milk or buttermilk, and eaten with a spoon

I call grits with crumbled bacon and an ice cold glass of sweet tea in the mornings "breakfast of champions"
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 10:03 PM on November 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh, and bbq brisket burnt ends and pig ear sandwich in MO.

I've traveled in MS, but don't recall having anything specific that I didn't also have elsewhere in the south.

So far my only FL travel has been Disney world sophomore year in college.
posted by brujita at 10:09 PM on November 24, 2015


I liked this because she kept it simple. None of her choices are particularly regional ('red rice' being the exception, the nod to New Orleans) which is a hard thing to pull off I think. Country ham over choosing a side in the barbecue debate, for example. Cornbread and potlikker over biscuits and gravy any day.

I can't forgive the lack of okra though. Southerners love an underdog, how can you not sing the praises of okra?
posted by bradbane at 10:21 PM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Where the fuck is Waffle House?

edit: on reading the thread, it looks like Cool Papa Bell said that too.
posted by qcubed at 10:22 PM on November 24, 2015


I am about as Northern as a person can get without being Canadian so, while I have zero opinion about this article, it's made me very hungry and the discussion here is not helping. There is just too much delicious in the South. (Although that Chess Pie looks like just a sugar custard and wow, I dunno…)

And incidentally, while I didn't grow up with anything on this list I did grow up with potato salad, and I'd call that "Americana" not "Southern". Although back in Minnesota it was as likely as not to be German potato salad and I don't know how common that is elsewhere.
posted by traveler_ at 10:26 PM on November 24, 2015


Bless her poor, misguided heart.
posted by kamikazegopher at 10:41 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


This thread just reminds me that I missed my calling. Should've been a cook. Not a journalist. Should've been a cook.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:52 PM on November 24, 2015


Deep dish blackberry cobbler, with dumplings. Fried chicken, breaded with buttermilk and flour. Pinto beans with hamhocks, fresh onion, cornbread, and buttermilk. Squirrel, cooked on a stick, over an open fire.
posted by Oyéah at 11:56 PM on November 24, 2015


In terms of ubiquity, for me the big ones that I'd guess span most of the southern states (or at least "deep south"?): fried chicken, greens, pork chops, country ham, cornbread, grits, fried catfish, hushpuppies, slaw, barbecue, country fried steak, black eyed peas, fried okra, green beans, biscuits, gravy, mac and cheese, pecan pie, sweet tea (I've lived in NC, SC, GA, FL, TX, LA)

For me, personally: gumbo, red beans and rice, etoufee, Creole tomatoes, greens, catfish, grits, hashbrowns, po-boys (roast beef, shrimp, or crawfish), oysters (made all the ways), boiled crawfish, South Carolina barbecue, cornbread, buttermilk biscuits with sausage gravy, bread pudding with whisky sauce, red velvet cake, sweet tea
posted by taz at 12:27 AM on November 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


What darkstar said. That's the southern cooking I know. I grew up in the south but my parents were originally from the midwest, and not really interested in food or cooking or being foodies at all, but even school lunches had chicken fried steak and the like.

And Frito pie! Never forget the Frito pie!
posted by zardoz at 2:24 AM on November 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


She did pretty well picking her 7!
My mom is from Eastern NC and we had Brunswick stew once a week during the winter growing up. Also pound cake, collards, skillet cornbread and grits hit the mark for me.
I now need to buy an angel food pan! I wish I had planned to make a pound cake for Thanksgiving now...
posted by natasha_k at 2:41 AM on November 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


> Hell, Texas and Alabama and South Carolina can't even agree on barbecue. Different parts of Texas can't even agree on barbecue.

Different parts of North Carolina can't agree on barbecue - tomato or vinegar?
posted by research monkey at 3:41 AM on November 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


And Texas is in the South. So where's the GODDAMN BBQ, punk?

Barbecue isn't a thing, it's concept. I'd argue that it is the central American food, with a recognizable through line across much of the nation but substantial regional variation. It's study can create principles that can be distilled, debated, refined, and reconsidered, and those principles can be use to coherently judge and discuss individual types, while still leaving room for taste.

I mean, I firmly believe that the people who think barbecue has something to do with cows are probably heretics, but barbecue is a big church.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:45 AM on November 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Different parts of North Carolina can't agree on barbecue - tomato or vinegar?

Eastern style (vinegar with no tomato whatsoever) is the objectively best barbecue, of course, but it’s even more complicated than that. The other main NC style, Lexington (with tomato) is still quite vinegary and not thick or sweet when done right. There is actually a mountain style in far western NC—starting like Lexington style but with a heavier hand on the tomato and more sugar, drawing influence from the wet Tennessee styles, which are sweet and thick and more like what you get when you buy “BBQ sauce” in a grocery store. There are even pockets of mustard-based styles in the far south of the state, spilled over from South Carolina.

Then there’s the part of the pig that is used. Eastern NC style traditionally uses the whole pig, while Lexington and many other styles are centered on the shoulder (butt). You can get good ribs in NC, but they’re not the centerpiece of any of the styles—that’s Memphis or Kansas City.

Even within the Eastern NC style, you will find that some folks expect the pork to be pulled, while others expect it to be chopped or even sliced. Some places give you a choice, just as many places offer both Lexington and Eastern style, often both well-executed, but never on a truly equal footing at a particular location.

As far as I can tell, none of these styles have ever been successfully exported outside the state, at least more than an hour’s drive from the border. As a rule of thumb, anytime you see “NC” or “Carolina” barbecue sold, it’s a dead giveaway that it isn’t. If it were, they would know there is no such thing.

Southern food is intensely local because the history of the South is intensely local.
posted by musicinmybrain at 5:03 AM on November 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Eastern NC BBQ should have been on there seven times because it's so good, and so important.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:18 AM on November 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


My Mom was a red dirt, Depression era Georgia farm girl so this list is quite familiar. Well, except for the shrimp and rice. That's definitely Gulf Coast. My Mom had never seen a shrimp, much less eaten one until she moved to Houston as an adult. Her sister lived her whole life on the original homestead so we were always well supplied with homemade chow chow and piccalilli. Compared to our own Southern table the list is noticeably missing fried chicken, rutabagas, "relish trays" (melon, tomatoes, green onions, etc) and giant glasses of sweet iced tea...
posted by jim in austin at 5:25 AM on November 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


This non southerner has found through Roadfood:

I haven't yet figured out which regions are more likely to serve bready instead of noodley dumplings with chicken.


Brujita, you’ve eaten better than a lot of folks born in the South, and you’re making me hungry.

Next time you’re in Maryland (a Northern state, but still), go for pit beef. It only exists in the Baltimore metro area, and it’s the closest thing to a regional barbecue style within at least six hours’ drive of the DC metro area. It’s not barbecue because it’s not cooked slowly over many hours; instead, it’s made from a beef roast, usually some kind of round, cooked over a hot and smoky charcoal fire to medium rare or so and then sliced thinly right when it’s served. Horseradish and onions are good toppings to start with, although several other choices are usually offered.

I haven’t found a geographical pattern in the style of dumplings in chicken and dumplings either. I’m pretty sure it’s one of those things that comes down to particular families and particular grandmothers. Mine made them noodle-style, rolled out on the countertop. I suspect the biscuit style became more popular when canned refrigerated biscuits became available in the 1930’s–1950’s. Southern cooks and homemakers have always worked hard and long, and have historically been eager to adopt time-saving conveniences. It would be interesting to see some historical research on this.

As another example of how regional food can be, the DC metro area, including Northern Virginia, is barely over an hour’s drive from Richmond—yet I have never seen simple, traditional Southern food of any type. There are plenty of “Southern” places, but they are at best fancy fine dining places vaguely inspired by Southern ingredients, and at worst sloppy and ersatz imitations able to survive only because their customers (bless their hearts) know no better. Even then you’re more likely to see Texas-style brisket or Low Country seafood than traditional food from, you know, the rest of Virginia.

An entire genre of food that is missing from both the article and the thread so far is casseroles.
posted by musicinmybrain at 5:37 AM on November 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


I only lived briefly in the south, but when I did the most popular restaurant in town, far and away with huge lines out the door on weekend mornings, was Cracker Barrel.

An entire genre of food that is missing from both the article and the thread so far is casseroles.

I think of casseroles as midwestern, but there must a be a separate southern tradition.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:44 AM on November 25, 2015


What a fun and unanswerable task. So many potential points of contention, including what constitutes The South. Personally I feel like the western limit of the South is Arkansas and Louisiana. Texas is a region unto itself, and Oklahoma seems more western than southern to me. For that matter, one could credibly argue that Louisiana's iconic culinary traditions are sui generis.

I, too, was surprised that chicken and dumplings didn't make the cut. Chicken fried steak, not so much. I see that as mostly a Texas thing that spread east. And therein lies the problem with a lot of these things. Many of these things have come to be considered "pan-Southern" only in relatively recent times -- say, the last 75 years or so -- and may not have been all that Southern to begin with. Take pimento cheese, which has been mentioned a few times in this thread. Turns out it's not all that Southern.
posted by slkinsey at 5:55 AM on November 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I will absolutely die on the cross of noodle-style chicken and dumplings. Biscuit-style people: what the hell, man?
posted by slkinsey at 5:57 AM on November 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I call grits with crumbled bacon and an ice cold glass of sweet tea in the mornings "breakfast of champions"

You just made my entire body yearn for bygone days.

None of her choices are particularly regional

Brunswick stew fundamentally didn't exist in my part of Texas. I think the first place I ever encountered it was a cookbook.

I'd argue that it is the central American food

I should make an FPP on this, but barbecue is one of the most interesting topics in food history and has been getting a lot of new scholarly attention in the past couple years. Not because of debates about whose is what and which is "proper," but because (a) it transcends the continental US, having gotten its foothold in the Caribbean and then traveled with the African diaspora and spread of Atlantic culture, and (b) it's tied all up complicatedly in the US and in Europe with race. Here's a great segment from one of my favorite podcasts on the topic. The only reason I haven't FPP'd it is that it seems like all discussions of barbecue descend into arguments over which is the One True Barbecue.
posted by Miko at 5:59 AM on November 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I almost closed the window in disgust when I saw that the pound cake recipe contained cream cheese. CREAM CHEESE. It is called a pound cake because the traditional recipe contains a pound each of butter, sugar, flour, and eggs. You might as well casually drop into a Texas cooking thread with a bean-chili recipe.
posted by Mayor West at 6:02 AM on November 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


I only lived briefly in the south, but when I did the most popular restaurant in town, far and away with huge lines out the door on weekend mornings, was Cracker Barrel.

My grandparents - who were the most amazing cooks I've ever known, my grandmother preserving her own jams and jellies and ketchups and making cakes from scratch daily and my grandfather fishing, foraging, and maintaining a garden and small orchard that would make a hipster locavore drool - loved nothing better than lining up at the Golden Corral buffet with the after-church crowd. Depression kids, they loved the abundance and the fact that no one had to work, cook, or do dishes. That didn't make much of a dent on their home cooking skills, though.

You might as well casually drop into a Texas cooking thread with a bean-chili recipe

THE HELL YOU SAY
posted by Miko at 6:02 AM on November 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


As another example of how regional food can be, the DC metro area, including Northern Virginia, is barely over an hour’s drive from Richmond—yet I have never seen simple, traditional Southern food of any type. There are plenty of “Southern” places, but they are at best fancy fine dining places vaguely inspired by Southern ingredients, and at worst sloppy and ersatz imitations able to survive only because their customers (bless their hearts) know no better. Even then you’re more likely to see Texas-style brisket or Low Country seafood than traditional food from, you know, the rest of Virginia.

You should give Flavors in Falls Church a try.
posted by candyland at 6:13 AM on November 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, except for the shrimp and rice. That's definitely Gulf Coast.

Low Country SC too. Those people even put shrimp in their grits.

Y'all, this thread is making me so homesick. My whole family is all dispersed now, and the few times we do get together it's usually at a hospital or nursing home or funeral home rather than packed into a little kitchen and dining room, and anyway I'm a big lefty vegetarian with Opinions On Food now so it'd be all fraught even if we did get back together, but I miss those meals. My biscuits are pretty good but they're not my mom's or grandma's or aunt's biscuits. My gravy is, I think, delicious, but it is missing being made from the crisco can full of drippings that my papa kept by the side of the stove. I can't even slice tomatoes the way we used to have them out on the table, though maybe that's because the idea of a store-bought tomato would've seemed like waste to them, when you can grow so many outside, with their strange delicate marbling of reds inside. And even though I always kinda hated sausage because it might've been made from a pig you'd met on your neighbor's farm, I still miss how the sliced off ends would fatten up in my grandma's frying pan. And anyway food tastes better when you're eating it with a thousand cousins.

I invited my mom over for Thanksgiving, but nooo, she already had plans to go out to some restaurant. She is over cooking, or apparently even being near cooking.

Sigh.
posted by mittens at 6:17 AM on November 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yeah I was ignoring the cream cheese in the pound cake, that's yummy but not really necessary. My mom would have considered that overly complicated. She had her regular pound cake, then she had a chocolate version that used cocoa powder, for holidays. She seldom managed to get either one frosted or glazed, as we tended to hover around it as baking time concluded.

Cream cheese she preferred to eat thusly: put brick of it on plate. Dump salsa over it. Get out chips or crackers of your choice and go to town.

We did make a mashed potato recipe one year that included cream cheese. It was really rich! But I think we also decided it was a little too much. Regular mashed potatoes were so good already.
posted by emjaybee at 6:23 AM on November 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is a list of compromises. My family is from Appalachia in Southwest Virginia and Brunswick Stew, despite debatedly being invented in Virginia, is not anything that even inched toward our dinner table for consumption. So going off of that revelation, I wasn't shocked that I was startled by a number of the other options, if not heavily frowning at the part of the grits recipe which called for adding cheese to it. I think this writer, either blinded by hubris or humbled by assignment, must have had to craft any number of Venn diagrams criss-crossing across the South and picked the few things which managed to levitate in the center of them.

But, lord all mighty, I would roll over any day for a nice hot, salty slab of country ham.
posted by Atreides at 6:48 AM on November 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Any list like this is basically impossible, but I think this is a good start. I don't need two desserts, but chess pie was the first cooking I ever did, so I'm glad to see it included. I also liked the inclusion of chow chow, which I think may be a dying thing? Pickles are pretty trendy these days, but I don't feel like I see chow chow anywhere, even though DC loves to gussy up Southern food. It's also a nice list for its simple meals: beans and vegetables, greens and cornbread, a basic "anything goes" stew. On the other hand, I'm the son of a North Carolinian woman who maybe hasn't read every Southern Living recipe ever, but did get their yearly cookbooks for decades, so maybe she and I are just cut from similar cloth.

Things I would add if you made the list, say, 15 dishes:
Pimiento Cheese: a product of the industrialization of the South, so much contemporary Southern cooking is about making the new traditional and this is the perfect example.
Some kind of peanuts: a ubiquitous snack, roasted, boiled, dumped in coke
Sweet Tea: Yeah, it's not a food, but it's so common and important
Fried Chicken: Probably the Southern dish that has the most global reach, and a perfect Sunday meal
Biscuits: Classic, essential, and the perfect way to eat country ham.
Fried Okra: I don't have anything thoughtful to say here, just so delicious.
Fried Green Tomatoes: Already said better than I can say it here.
Barbecue: Whatever that might mean to you, I'm trying to be ecumenical here guys, don't make me say what I really think. EASTERN NC BARBECUE RULES
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:26 AM on November 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


My southern wife got the old family recipe book, the binder with all the favorites from friends and family (think Charleston Receipts, only older) and their respective cooks. Fascinating reading. You will find recipes asking for such things as "one glub molasses".
posted by BWA at 7:42 AM on November 25, 2015


Chicken and pastry (noodle style - the ONLY style) is found in Eastern NC bbq places on certain days of the week. There's usually a hand written sign somewhere near the cash register letting you know which days to expect velvety goodness.
posted by mightshould at 7:55 AM on November 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


You might as well casually drop into a Texas cooking thread with a bean-chili recipe.

I am from Texas. I think I first encountered the idea that chili should be bean-free right here on Metafilter; it certainly wasn't a thing when I was a kid.
posted by purpleclover at 7:58 AM on November 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


posted by mightshould at 10:55 AM on November 25

Eponysterical
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:00 AM on November 25, 2015


Oh, and my North Texas list would go something like this:
- banana pudding with Nilla wafers
- chips and queso (the kind made of Velveeta and a can of Ro-Tel)
- chicken fried steak with black-pepper cream gravy
- fried okra
- one of those flat plates of Tex-Mex lunch special: cheese enchilada, refried beans, rice, a ground beef taco in a crisp she'll
- pecan pie
- corny dogs (yes, with a Y.)

I didn't think of pound cake as being southern until this very moment, but now I realize that of course it is. Also I'm considering a last-minute swerve to serve chess pie at Thanksgiving tomorrow.
posted by purpleclover at 8:05 AM on November 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Bulgaroktonos : Fried Green Tomatoes

Again, even more than pimento cheese, fried green tomatoes are not as southern as one might think. Not to mention only really "a thing" for around 25 years, meaning that no, our beloved grandparents weren't likely eating fried green tomatoes during the Depression.
posted by slkinsey at 8:24 AM on November 25, 2015


One thing I appreciate about Southern food is the way it represents the blending of white and African-American cultures. No one at a church social fusses over whether Brunswick stew is a white thing or collard greens are a black thing. It's just good Southern food and sit down and enjoy it.

That being said, there's an important new book about Southern food called The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks that is a scholarly investigation of cookbooks and pamphlets by African-American authors going back to the 1820s. Interesting stuff, both from a cook's point of view and as cultural history. Here's a review of the cookbook and a long excerpt.

I'm from Texas, specifically Houston, I've always felt Southern food was pretty familiar. So many visits to Luby's. But Houston is a marvelous place because it has so many different cooking traditions. Tex-Mex, Creole, Cajun, Southern, barbeque, German, and Vietnamese are all local Houston cuisine with their own local evolution and spin.
posted by Nelson at 8:48 AM on November 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


I had deeply unhinged dreams because of this thread, you are all on notice.

im so hungry
posted by poffin boffin at 8:52 AM on November 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


> chow chow, which I think may be a dying thing?

Not in Durham, at least the places we like to go eat (e.g. Scratch, Pompieri Pizza where chow chow will make an appearance as a pizza topping, various food trucks that include it in a sandwich, etc.).

And adding to Nelson's book recommendation above, I would like to recommend The Edible South, a food history of the American South. Review of the book, an interview with the author, Marcia Cohen Ferris, professor of American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is also the author of Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South, which documents southern Jewish foodways over three centuries..
posted by research monkey at 10:24 AM on November 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


I grew up in the mountains of NC too -- but my family ran a kosher deli, so my experience of Southern food wasn't very typical (mostly a list of things to avoid -- it was no surprise to see so much bacon fat and lard in the article's recipes). We ate grits all the time, and there were some places where we could eat the biscuits or hush puppies, but that was about it. Oh, and my family always would have black-eyed peas on New Years' Day (cooked with beef not pork, of course).

Needless to say, the Matzoh Ball Gumbo book is of interest to me, thanks for the recommendation research monkey!

And if anyone knows somewhere around Pittsburgh with good hush puppies, I'd love to know...
posted by janewman at 12:20 PM on November 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


As a lifelong Southerner, and as someone who is literally a subscriber to The Bitter Southerner:

Those dessert choices are bullshit.

Pecan pie and coconut cake. Extra points if you can claim it's the Rich's Bakeshop Coconut Cake recipe, which no one REALLY has.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:01 PM on November 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


A northerner, but here are southern foods I dream about:
1) Eastern NC barbecue
2) Shrimp and grits
3) Collards
4) Fried catfish
5) Key lime pie
6) Hoppin' John

Tomorrow I will be making oyster dressing. Happy thanksgiving, Y'all!
posted by acrasis at 2:56 PM on November 25, 2015


Just want to say that there is nothing wrong with a sad streak in a pound cake.
posted by Public Corruption? at 4:07 PM on November 25, 2015


Pecan pie, yes. Peach pie. Fried catfish, hush puppies and cole slaw. Fried chicken and mashed potatoes (or potato salad, if at a potluck). Chicken & dumplings. Pimiento cheese on white bread sandwiches. Pinto beans with ham hock. Cornbread & buttermilk. Biscuits & gravy. Buttered grits. Chicken fried steak. Hamburgers & hot dogs, of course. Peanut butter! Sweet tea with every meal.

From the garden, snap beans. Corn on the cob. Black eye peas, fried okra, yellow crookneck squash. Collard greens with Dad's homemade pepper sauce. Sandwiches made of fresh, hearty tomatoes sliced thick, with mayo and pepper. Watermelon chilled and laid out in big slices, spread out on newspaper on the back porch table.


My grandparents grew up on farms in Alabama and Tennessee. You have described the core of my grandmother's cooking, right down to the items in her backyard garden.
posted by Fleebnork at 8:15 AM on November 26, 2015


One grandmother grew up in rural southwest Virginia, in a town of about 1500. My other grandmother grew up in rural West Virginia. I was born and raised in NW Ohio, but when I think of "home," it's in SW Virginia, at the second grandmother's house.

Foods I grew up with that I'd have to put on a list like this:
Kentucky Derby pie (like a pecan pie, but with walnuts and chocolate chips,
striped bass you caught yourself on Smith Mountain Lake and brought home to your grandmama to cook,
Great-Grandma Oni's boiled custard,
Daddy Gob's bread and butter pickles,
Uncle Danny's egg salad that you have to keep a Tupperware full at all times, since he stops by a couple-three times a week for lunch,
buttermilk with pepper on top,
pintos cooked with ham hock and cornbread on the side,
melons with a sprinkling of salt,
Jello salad (my favorite is cherry jello, with mashed banana, crushed pineapple, and thawed frozen strawberries mixed in, two layers of that with a layer of sour cream in the middle, and the juices of the pineapple and strawberries mixed together in dixie cups to go in the freezer with popsicle sticks for later) (and my least favorite is lime jello with carrots - seriously, whose idea was that???),
and sweet potato casserole with brown sugar, walnuts, and mini marshmallows on top.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 3:46 PM on November 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Cream cheese she preferred to eat thusly: put brick of it on plate. Dump salsa over it. Get out chips or crackers of your choice and go to town.


My family does this except with pepper jelly on top rather than salsa. I tried setting one out with the rest of the cheese and crackers at a party I co-hosted while living in Boston, and no one ate a bite of it except for me.
posted by naoko at 4:30 PM on November 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'd love to know what people would list instead of these...

Late to the thread, but will answer this anyway because I crave attention:

1. Mixed greens (collards, turnips, dandelions, kale, etc.) cooked with ham hocks. Bonus points of these are wild greens that you gathered out on the fields of your granddad's farm.
2. Fried chicken, soaked in buttermilk before frying, of course. Bonus points if the milk came from a cow you milked yourself.
3. Grits. There used to be a time where you would automatically get a side order of grits with every meal ordered as a Southern diner. One of the reasons I love Waffle House is that I can get served grits there.
4. Black-eyed peas and cornbread.
5. While I support the inclusion of pound cake on the original list, I'm stunned at the lack of cobbler! For my list, I think it's a toss-up between blackberry cobbler or peach cobbler, but--in honor of the hours my cousins and I spent down by the railroad tracks among the blackberry thickets, fighting our way past snakes and thorns the size of knitting needles in order to gather fruit for Aunt Hilda's Blackberry Cobbler (a.k.a. the Best Damn Cobbler in the Commonwealth)--I'm going to come down on the side of blackberry cobbler.
6. (Cat Head) Biscuits and Sausage Gravy
7. A good cured country ham. I just sent my uncle one of Father's Country Hams as an early holiday gift, and he and my aunt are already planning all of the deliciousness they'll be able to coax out of it.

Honorable Mentions:

1. Something with persimmons, for pity's sake. Persimmon pudding, persimmon cookies....
2. Pecan pie
3. Sweet potato pie
4. Sweet potato biscuits
4A. Really, sweet potato anything. We love sweet potatoes in the South!
5. Fried corn
6. Banana pudding
7. Green beans
8. Macaroni and cheese. Not the travesty foisted by Kraft Foods on an unsuspecting public, but actual macaroni and cheese the way God intended (and yes, He has an opinion, because mac-and-cheese is a staple at church suppers, so if you're bringing that dish into His house you had better come correct).
9. BBQ pork. I love BBQ pork ribs, and pulled pork is well-known, but in the South we'll barbecue every part of the pig but the oink.
10. Fried fresh fish. Around here that means catfish, bass, croppie, bluegill...
posted by magstheaxe at 5:50 AM on November 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


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