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Southern Food [moved from South board]

I'm doing some research for a project and the crux of the question is "What is Southern Food?"
I'm really interested in asking some of you here what you consider Southern food to be.

All I know is fried green tomatoes (from the a movie! never had them) and fried chicken. I am heading out to some southern style restaurants this weekend, but i thought I could get some feed back from everyone here!


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  1. Wow... let's see... grits, collard greens, pork bbq, hushpuppies, fried okra, catfish, sweet potatoes (pie too), she-crab soup, boiled peanuts, brunswick stew, succotash, biscuits, chicken fried steak, pimento cheese, black eyed peas, etc. And you wash it all down with sweet tea and a Krispy Kreme!

    At least that's how it's done in Charlotte NC.

    1 Reply
    1. re: lynnlato

      Don't forget the bisquits and sausage cream gravy for breakfast. (Originally from Ks/Mo)

    2. You're going to get a million different answers from everyone on that question; asking "what is Southern food" is like asking people to describe the wind. To me it's always been more of a concept than any particular recipe. It's food that's created with fresh, local ingredients and cooked with lots of love, whether it's love for the people you're feeding, love of the land, or just love of food.

      I'm a child of the South - born and raised here and have been in the Carolinas my entire life - and I have a ton of great food memories. I think most Southerners do! I remember my grandmother making biscuits three times a day in a big wooden bowl of flour that stayed on the kitchen counter covered in a clean dishtowel. I remember my mom making us "hot dog pie" with cut-up franks baked in homemade cornbread with cheese on top. I also will never forget my grandfather's funeral at the family's little country church in Fuquay Varina, North Carolina, and the potluck that followed: fresh fried chicken, country ham, and veggies that had been growing just hours earlier.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Suzy Q

        "It's food that's created with fresh, local ingredients and cooked with lots of love, whether it's love for the people you're feeding, love of the land, or just love of food."

        I think that that could describe any U.S. region or any country for that matter... not just the south.

        1. re: lynnlato

          Then let me be more specific, if that suits your tastes.

          Butter beans, fried chicken, fresh biscuits, fruit cobblers, homemade ice cream, corn (on the cob and off), Coca-Cola cake, hummingbird cake, black-eyed peas, Frogmore stew, shrimp and grits, chicken-fried steak, cornbread...

          1. re: Suzy Q

            deep fried fish (grouper, yum!) and hushpuppies, collard greens, field peas, white acre peas, corn pone....fried gulf shrimp with tartar sauce (oh, now i am homesick...). ICED SWEET TEA! boiled peanuts. mmmmmmmmmm......

            1. re: alkapal

              Yes, one thing that I completely forgot was that Iced Tea (sweet), is served all year long, not just between Memorial Day and Labor Day, as some, in Yankee climes, choose to do.

              Thanks for that,

      2. http://www.mattleeandtedlee.com/

        I don't agree with these guys about everything but this is a good start.

        Good luck!

          1. re: Windsor

            Thanks everyone.
            I know it is such a vague question, so I appreciate the feed back i have received. I was talking to a friend last night who lived in North Carolina for a stint and she says that food from the carolinas is different then say Nashville, because Nashville is closer to
            the midwest?
            Is this true?

            1. re: paprgrrl

              That's an interesting question about food in the Carolinas vs. Nashville. My brother has lived in Nashville for years, so I've eaten there often. One difference I've noticed is the BBQ. The Carolinas tend to be more chopped/sliced pork, where there seem to be more rib joints as you get into west Tennessee toward Memphis and Kansas City.

              1. re: Suzy Q

                Yep, they are more seafood-based, and quite significantly more so as you get closer to the coast. Don't know about North Carolina, but in most of South Carolina, rice-and-gravy" is often served in place of mashed potatoes-and-gravy (at Thanksgiving and Christmas as well). I guess it is just a nod to history. Rice plantations made South Carolina rich from Colonial times until around the 1830's.

                1. re: deibu

                  You have that backwards! In other parts of the US, they serve mashed potatoes instead of rice for some reason.
                  I never heard of serving mashed potatoes and gravy at Thanksgiving until I saw it when I was close to 30 years old! Why would you have white potatoes and sweet potatoes at the same meal?

                  1. re: MakingSense

                    1. Because they're both REALLY good. 2. Because that's what you grew up with, which makes it somehow sacred.

                    Of course, the widely preferred way of preparing sweet potatoes is the deal with brown sugar and marshmallows, which I have never really liked, so I have abandoned the practices of my upbringing and serve only mashed Irish potatoes for TG dinner. Still, I feel the lack of SOMETHING orange on the table - can't completely escape my raisin' - so I cook some winter squash and serve that.

                    1. re: Will Owen

                      I was joking, Will. Growing up in South Louisiana, a day without rice was a day without sunshine and we ate potatoes pretty rarely. Mostly potato salad.
                      I always loathed T'giving sweet potatoes with the icky marshmallows and now I love them just with salt and pepper. My kids still won't touch 'em with a stick.

                      Just a regional difference between the coastal, rice-growing South and much of the potato-eating US. We've now added potatoes at T'giving for my mid-Western son-in-law who was crushed at his first with us when he found only rice.

                      1. re: MakingSense

                        Having been someone's Midwestern son-in-law (ummm, several times!) I can relate. "What the hell am I gonna put the gravy on?" Actually, in our family rice and gravy was a fairly common accompaniment to pork chops. NOT pork roast, NOT pork steak, just pork chops. And not much of anything else. I had to leave home to find out about arroz con pollo...

                        You will notice that I said "Irish potatoes", which is a Southernism of the same sort as "English peas". It indicates that the other kind of potato or pea has equal (or better) status in the local cuisine - especially true of peas, of which the English variety is damned hard to grow much south of Illinois, if you want to eat them fresh.

                        1. re: Will Owen

                          Grew in in KC with Missouri cooking ancestors. We had Pork chops, Rice and Gravy at least once a week for the first 21 years of my life.
                          Always pork chops. True.
                          There's a whole series of edge cities like Louisville,St.L, KC, DC, Tulsa, Houston and others that kind of circle the outer ring of the South and provide transitional cuisine between different regions. Different from the deep south for sure. And I don't know what you guys do with Florida.

                          1. re: Will Owen

                            Yep, peas are things like crowders and black eyes. Green peas came in cans because they didn't grow in the Southern heat.
                            There were quite a number of unfamiliar foods, among them apples which don't grow in the Deep South. I never did appreciate, and don't much to this day, the Yankee appreciation for them. We read about bobbing for apples, apple orchards, taking them to teachers, etc., in school books and they were as strange to us as reading about building snowmen, sledding and even leaves changing color in the Autumn.
                            The only apples in the stores were terrible cold-storage things and we couldn't see why anyone would choose them over the terrific local figs or citrus that was just coming into season in the Fall or the new crop pecans that just fell off the trees in our yards.
                            Local sweet potatoes were cheap and fresh but the white ones came from far away.

                        2. re: Will Owen

                          Will, we never put marshmallows on our sweet potatoes .We would usually open a can,and add brown sugar and butter to them and that';s it.Or we would by yams or sweet potatoes and roast them in the skin,and just put some butter on them.We would also have mashed potatoes for TG dinner.My dad grew up in Hot Springs,Arkansas in the 1920s and 30s,before moving back to Milwaukee,during the Depression.
                          Only southern food we ate at home was like blackeyed peas,cornbread, mustard,collard and turnip greens,and on occassion my dad would buy a can of poke greens.And of course we had fried cat and other fish and fried chicken and spareribs and ham.
                          Since both my grandparents were German,they made I think more of that type of food.
                          My great grandparents moved to Hot Springs in 1911 to due great grandpa's health.
                          You don't have to put marshmallows on sweet potatoes,and I'm sure southern cooks back in the 1880s or earlier didn't either.I think it was a way to promote marshmallows,just like the now familiar green bean casserole made with french's fried onions in a can.
                          We NEVER had it at Thanksgiving or any time. We would have canned aspergaus,drained of most of the liquid,put into a baking dish,covered in Hollandaise sauce,and baked.Or it might be some other veggie,but no bean casserole.
                          I like rice and make rice and chicken,but don't know if I would have it for Thanksgiving though it would be okay with me.
                          We had fried potatoes and onions at home,and sometimes my dad would add bacon to them as well. The ones with bacon added he'd call Polish potatoes.

                  2. re: paprgrrl

                    I find more similarity between Nashville and Memphis, than Eastern Tennessee and North Carolina. Factor in Eastern South Carolina and it changes again.


                2. I would check out John Egerton's Southern Food book. Just about everything you ever wanted to know about the history of Southern food is in there. Plus there are recipes too!

                  1. The dishes already mentioned are really good examples of southern style food, but I'd like to add fried potatoes and onions and cream gravy.

                    1. I think the region of the South you are from, dictates what is "your" Southern food. My husband and I are both from KY. But many foods I grew up with, he didn't. And foods his Mother cooked, I had never had. She made Derby pie, before it was trademarked and became something else. I had pool hall chili, hot water corn bread. We both had KY country ham. Southern food is very big on frying stuff and pouring gravy over it. Jam cake was one of my family's favorites. I don't think my DH has ever had it. My DH grew up with little slick dumplings, more like wide puffy noodles, with baked chicken. He had soft dressing with turkey, my family had hard dressing that we then poured giblet gravy over to soften. And our dumplings were almost like a biscuit. And of course in the South you have sweet iced tea.

                      I think you need to pick a region. Comparing Ky food to the wonders of NC food is almost the same as French food compared to Italian.

                      1. Perhaps it might help to paint dominant ingredients with a broad brush:

                        1. Flesh: pig (especially cured and charcuterie and fat) and poultry.
                        2. Grain: white cornmeal; long grain rice; soft wheat flour.
                        3. Pulses: beans (fresh and dried) and peas (dried); peanuts (fresh boiled and roasted)
                        4. Vegetables: greens (virtually everything); tomatoes; peppers - and way more
                        5. Seasonings: salt, pepper and chillies; vinegar; sugar
                        6. Beverages: sweet tea; Coke & Dr Pepper-type sodas; corn whiskey

                        Cooking methods: boiling; frying; slow-roasting (aka BBQ)

                        12 Replies
                        1. re: Karl S

                          Nicely stated! Especially since your profile has you in Boston!
                          If I might expand on your list just a little:

                          Vegetables- Southerners tend to have gardens and corn, squashes, eggplant, greens, field peas, sweet potatos, tomatoes, peppers, okra, and bush beans grow beautifully. Now, many Southern cooks, especially of a certain age, love to put some manner of pork into their vegetables and then cook the living daylights out of them. It's tasty, but we've been learning a little better lately.

                          For your grain, don't forget grits!

                          Southerners love a fruit dessert! Banana pudding, peach cobbler, berry pies or cobblers. Figs, peaches, plums, blueberries, blackberries, watermelon- juice will run right down your chin and you won't care, it's so good.

                          Coconut cake and pecan pie are also beloved. Boiled peanuts also. Bourbon is Southern; deviled eggs never get a chance to reach that 40 degree danger zone.
                          Smoke is considered an important seasoning. And Southern women tend to show love through food.

                          1. re: WCchopper

                            Well my profile says that I'm from Ontario but Mrs. Sippi is from..... you guessed it!!!

                            "Southern cooks, especially of a certain age, love to put some manner of pork into their vegetables and then cook the living daylights out of them."
                            This is very prevalent and don't underestimate the amount of cooking vegetables get. Mrs. Sippi's corn on the cob is limp when she picks it up.\
                            Also, big in the south is to keep ham bones and throw them into pots of peas (by that I mean of the black eyed variety), beans (of the green variety) or greens (Usually collards but can be mustard, turnip, etc.).

                            "For your grain, don't forget grits." Grits = white corn.
                            Always remember, "No self respecting southerner uses instant grits."

                            Deviled eggs have relish or chopped pickles in them usually. At least, any that I've had in the Ms, Al, Ga area.

                            Southern food, as eluded to in this thread, is also a philosophy. It's usually slow cooked (Nothing moves fast in the south), plentiful and usually well seasoned. Ether with wood, salt, herbs/spices or leftover animal (Mostly pig) stuffs. It's quite often served ala "Meat and Three" in restaurants.
                            It's pour your heart into it and make sure there's plenty to go around.
                            Most dishes are passed down mother to daughter. They have family history/memories built right into them.
                            Recipes are afterthoughts. That said, many of the dishes southerners cook you can find right on the package of flour/rotel/grits/cornmeal they're using. Sometimes they don't even know it. It's just how their mother and grandmother made it.
                            Yes, it's a little like asking people to define the wind but to me, to paraphrase, "I don't know how to define southern food but I know it when I eat it."


                            1. re: Davwud

                              No self-respecting human being from ANYWHERE uses instant grits. QUICK grits is different - not equal in any way to your cook'em-an-hour stoneground guys, but a decent breakfast dish in their own right, and a good basis for making a fast batch of garlic cheese grits.

                              By the way, has anyone mentioned pimento cheese? Or shrimp & grits?

                              1. re: Will Owen

                                Will, I made my own pimento cheese from scratch not to long ago and it was wonderful. If you're interested, I'll post the recipe.

                                I think we should ban the import and sale of instant grits to the south, hideous things they are.

                                  1. re: bkhuna

                                    Here's where I got the recipe:


                                    Duke's mayonnaise makes all the difference.

                                      1. re: bkhuna

                                        duke's is on sale right now at harris teeter (at least in northern virginia).
                                        unlike hellman's duke's has no sugar added! quite a different flavor, i agree, bkhuna. (i just got your name, duuh!)

                                    1. re: Will Owen


                                      I picked up a bag of REAL stone ground grits this summer and had them fro the first time. Compared to quick grits, which are fine in their own right, the SG ones are on another planet. It's remarkable how much of a difference there is.


                                      1. re: Davwud

                                        Grasshopper, you are now ready to try your hand at shrimp and grits:

                                        Back in 2000 the Charleston Post and Courier did a section of recipes from famous Charleston restaurants. I have it in .pdf if anyone wants a copy.


                                        1. re: bkhuna

                                          I have an S&G recipe from Southern Living that my wife and I love. It's a bit different from what I've seen on TV from the Low Country. It's more
                                          Cajun than LC.
                                          I've even made andouille cheese grits to have with it.

                                          I'd love a copy of it.
                                          You can email it to me at davwud@gmail.com


                                1. re: Karl S

                                  Sodas, or "cokes" also include Cheerwine and don't they have "Ale 8" in KY??? I also recall a yummy cheese in KY called beer cheese (it was a spread) that we used to have when visiting friends.

                                2. It's a nice question, but waaaaaaaay too broad as a thesis, unless you can further specify what you want to know. "Why are grits an inherently Southern dish?"

                                  Look at it this way: What's California cuisine? Ask people in San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Fresno, and San Francisco--you'll get as many different answers.

                                  Have you considerd narrowing your question? Perhaps, "Which foods typify classic Southern cooking?" But then you run into another problem. Which South do you mean? Cooking in New Orleans is nothing like that in Durham, NC. Also, what about Texas? If you include that as "South," then you bring in the whole issue of Tex-Mex.

                                  You might approach this question from the other end to make things easier and clearer. Start with, say, five or ten classic Southern dishes and ask what makes them Southern.

                                  8 Replies
                                  1. re: KenWritez

                                    Is Cajun/Creole southern food??
                                    or Low Country cooking??


                                    1. re: Davwud

                                      There are no "hard edges" with either Cajun/Creole or Low Country cooking. Both of those styles centered around port cities at the mouths of rivers. The inland influences traveled to them and their influences affected the inland areas around them.
                                      The household servants in the cities were from the surrounding rural areas and their cooking had an influence. When those servants carried new city-learned ways back to rural areas, they changed those rural techniques and tastes.
                                      Much of New Orleans left the city during the months when malaria was a threat, retreating well inland taking their staffs with them and also maintaining second households at rural homes where the styles of cooking melded.
                                      There are many rural Southern influences in the cuisines of both urban centers and vice-versa.

                                      1. re: MakingSense

                                        I understand that. But do they follow under the "Southern food" umbrella.

                                        I'm replying to Karl as well.


                                        1. re: Davwud

                                          Both the Low Country and Creole/Cajun cuisines are definitely Southern. They were, if anything, less isolated than other areas of the South because of they were major ports and their locations at the mouths of prominent rivers. People from surrounding areas and up the rivers and along the coasts came and went because of trading and bought and sold things in the cities. They stayed for a time, ate things there, carried new ideas and ways back to rural areas or left some of their ways in the cities. You see much more ripple effect from the port cities in the South and more varied cuisines than you do in inland areas of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia away from the coasts.

                                          Growing up in New Orleans, I had all the usual Southern food as well as the local Creole plus the Cajun from my father's relatives in the River Parishes. The same thing is true from Charleston to Sea Island - all the fine elegant foods, traditional Low Country plus down-home Southern.

                                        2. re: MakingSense

                                          Well stated. It might be stretching a metaphor, but one could argue that the cuisine of cities like New Orleans and Charleston represented the "royal" or "palace" version of Southern cuisine, where wealth and trade encouraged a culinary refinement not found in more land-locked and less wealthy areas of the region.

                                          1. re: Low Country Jon

                                            We should add several other areas like the Virginia Tidewater, Atlanta, Mobile, Natchez, Baltimore and many other cities that had refined food and entertaining. It is all too easy to lump all Southern food into the stereotype of down-home cooking, poverty and making do.

                                            That being said, it is still interesting to note that even the most refined tables make use of local products that appear in the most humble homes, but the presentation sets them apart and above that daily fare. Few Southern tables used expensive imported products. The skills of the cooks, the surroundings, quantity, variety, and the presentations were often all that separated them.
                                            A poor man and a rich man might both shoot ducks out of the sky. For one, it is the entire evening meal turned into a gumbo, while for the other it's only the entrée served on fine china.

                                        3. re: Davwud

                                          Well, Low Country usually refers to the coastal/island areas of South Carolina and Georgia.

                                          Cajun and Creole are two different cuisines in Louisiana (though arguably Creole-like cuisines may be said to be part of some other coastal cities in the Deep South). Creole food being the food created by mostly enslaved Africans for whites in the cities of former Spanish/French territories (hence, Creole), while Cajun food being developed in bayou country by white French Acadians in diaspora from the Canadian maritime provinces after the British defeated the French in the 18th century.

                                          1. re: Karl S

                                            Creole and Cajun cuisines are much more complex than that and much more inter-related than most people think.
                                            Creole cuisine (as we use it for New Orleans and South Louisiana cooking) refers to the application of French cooking techniques to the local products found in the the Louisiana Territory by the predominantly French settlers who arrived there at the end of the 17th century. It was not all haute cuisine. Most of them were not wealthy and did not have household servants much less slaves. When the wealthy began to acquire slaves, many were from the Caribbean, which had a great influence on the cuisine, but the household staff was trained in the French ways and certainly did not cook in their own fashion.
                                            The French culture was well established when the Spanish took possession of the Territory in 1765 and they referred to the locals as "criollos," corrrupted to "criado," and then called "creole" by the French-speaking natives. "Criollo" was the Spanish term for a European born in the colonies.

                                            Cajun food is a combination of the foodways brought by the French who came to Louisiana via Canada, influenced by Germans who had arrived decades before them, the Spanish who settled South of New Orleans, the Choctaw Indians in the Atchafalaya Basin, and blacks both slave and free.
                                            It was affected by the frequent visits of the Creoles from New Orleans to their homes along the Mississippi River as well as the arrival in the Western part of the State of many French noblemen in the late 1700s fleeing the Revolution and Madame Guillotine. The small town of Petit Paris came to be known as St. Martinville, deep in the heart of Cajun country near Lafayette.
                                            The Cajuns were not just poor wandering souls with no outside influences. They learned much from many sources and taught the foreign arrivals how to live off the land, all of which helped everyone to survive.

                                      2. Years ago, I read an article about what constitutes Southern literature, which suggested that a good starting point is whether or not there is a dead mule somewhere in the story. If so, it's on the right track.

                                        Likewise, for Southern food, you could probably ask "Is there pork somewhere on the plate?" (Either out in the open, or hiding somewhere in a vegetable dish). If so, it's a good start (though obviously this is really simplifying things).

                                        1. FWIW, I never had a fried green tomato until after that movie, and then only in restaurants going for a "southern" theme. I'm curious what part of the South that dish is traditional for.

                                          12 Replies
                                          1. re: danna

                                            Anyplace that still has vines loaded with green tomatoes when it gets too cold for them to ripen, that's what part! They're also used to make pickled relishes, like chow chow. You know, after having been fed all the propaganda about how frugal New England yankees are, it was an eye-opener to see how much Southern food is about using every damn edible bit of anything you can find. A lot of that came from the slaves, of course, but the poor whites had to scrape by too, and much of that hardscrabble cuisine turned out to be good enough to keep when things got easier. Poke sallet springs readily to mind...

                                            1. re: Will Owen

                                              My mom must have been too carried away making that damn chow chow to fry any green tomatoes. She gives me chow chow about quarterly. Usually I just take it say thanks, sometimes I say "you know I don't really like this, right?". Apparently it's mandatory.

                                              1. re: Will Owen

                                                There's an old saying in the south, "We use everything but the squeal." when it comes to pigs.

                                                You also have to remember that due to the "Late great unpleasantness" food was rather scarce period. For rich and for poor. People had to get by on whatever they could get their hands on and make it last. Waste wasn't an option.


                                                1. re: Davwud

                                                  Nobody was "rich" after the devastation of the War. Recovery was slow and the Depression and two World Wars added to the burden for everyone. The South was largely rural and no one had easy access to food other than what they grew, raised or hunted/fished for. There were few stores in which to spend the very limited money that anyone had. They were limited to what was on hand so they used every scrap in creative ways. Rural electrification was slow in coming so there was no means of refrigeration. A lot of what we call "soul food" is based on government commodity programs and shelf stable products that included cheese, powdered milk, dried macaroni, and canned goods. The face of rural poverty was and continues to be just as likely to be white as well as black. Everybody shares a common cuisine.

                                                  1. re: MakingSense

                                                    Indeed. During the depression, my grandfather traveled from rural NC to the rural midwest. Even though his family owned a farm in NC, apparently to earn any actual cash, he need to work for farmers outside the South. He shucked corn somewhere in the midwest I've forgotten, and ended up working for a "rich" dairy farmer in Wisconsin before coming home.

                                                    Later, in the 40's, he owned a small country grocery store, and my Mom says there were families in the community that would have gone hungry if he hadn't turned a blind eye to their growning credit accounts. I think at that point my Grandparents must have been wealthly by community standards...as far as I know there was always plenty of country ham, and no weird stews made from squirrel.

                                                    Of course, by urban standards, quite the opposite: there may have been plenty to eat, but there was no crystal, no silver flatware. As we parse out my recently deceased grandmother's things, the Pan She Made Biscuits On appears to be the most coveted "heirloom".

                                                    Which reminds me...My grandmother had hot tea every morning at 10:00. Any idea where she got this habit? Is this old-time Southern?

                                                    1. re: danna

                                                      I can't say precisely where your grandmother may have picked up her tea habit, but the tea tradition has always been very strong in the South. While tea's popularity took a big hit in the North after the American Revolution, it never suffered quite the same decline in the South. It's worth noting that when Charlestonians staged their own tea party, they seized the tea and kept it for themselves rather than dumping it into Charleston harbor. Much more civilized I think. The origins of ice tea date back not to the St. Louis World's Fair, but much further back to the tea punches popular in Charleston, Savannah, and other well-to-do southern cities during the 18th and 19th centuries. Examples include Charleston's St. Cecilia's Ball Punch and Savannah's Chatham Artillery Punch. It's also interesting to note that until the mid-19th century, the most popular tea here by far was green tea, and that's what was usually called for in these punches. Beyond these party punches, it is safe to say the popularity of "taking tea" has survived to this day in the South, especially among the descendents of the plantation aristocracy, the "old money" if you will.

                                                      1. re: danna

                                                        The South was originally settled by wealthy British who were given large grants of land by the Crown to grow crops, develop trade and sent things back to England. They maintained as much of their traditions as possible in the New World and the custom of how one took tea was certainly one of those. They set the tone for life in cities and rural areas from Tidewater Virginia southward.
                                                        This is different from the Puritans who settled New England escaping religious persecution who were more likely to settle in villages, and those who had harsher lives as explorers and trappers. The North became industrial and financial while the South remained agrarian. Think of the differences between Boston and Charleston.
                                                        In both cases, they established ports to send goods back to England but what they sent was different.
                                                        The Gulf South is affected by the traditions of the French and Spanish with whom they traded through their ports and they tend to drink more coffee.

                                                        Iced Tea the "House Wine of the South." Tea plants grow in the coastal Mid-Atlantic region from the Chesapeake Bay to the Low Country. They are the same plants that grow in the region in China famous for tea. I probably lost mine this summer in the drought but you can use the leaves for green tea.

                                                        1. re: MakingSense

                                                          Thanks Jon and MS for those interesting tidbits about tea drinking. It is amazing how food traditions become so meaningful. Making our little cups of Earl Gray or Jasmine tea and dropping in a cube of sugar was a big deal to me as a kid, and the minister actually mentioned the granddaughters' fascination with the tea ceremony at MaMa's funeral.

                                                          My Camelia Sinesis (sp?) died a few years back. Must need coastal moisture or something. Have you tried the Charleston Tea Plantation tea? (only tea grown in America) I really like it.

                                                          1. re: danna

                                                            Camellia Sinensis is cold hardy to zone 6 and grows inland pretty well. Try again in memory of your MaMa. It's a pretty shrub that you can pick the young leaves from for tea.
                                                            We don't grow tea commercially in the US and I imagine that many have forgotten that you can pluck it from your own garden just as so many don't use rose hips or other things out there as people did once upon a time.

                                                            You were fortunate to have the lovely tradition of tea parties. Those things are often forgotten as people associate Southern food with only things like BBQ or "poor folks" types of eats but ritual always played an important role. Church suppers, Sunday dinners, ladies luncheons, dances, holiday meals, card parties, family heirlooms, etc. were important for all income and social levels.

                                                            1. re: danna

                                                              Yes, Charleston Tea Plantation's tea is quite good, especially for bag tea, which I normally avoid. I went to the plantation's first flush festival this spring and snagged some of their first flush loose leaf tea. They still cut the leaf too fine for my taste, but it makes a very good cup of black tea, with a nice overripe fruit aroma to it.

                                                  2. re: danna

                                                    My kin on my mamma's side are all from the Vidalia, Georgia area and I grew up eating fried green tomatos. Of course, when you're a sharecropper with a bunch of kids to feed, you eat anything that doesn't make you sick, except possum. That's where my granddad drew the line.

                                                    1. re: bkhuna

                                                      Supposedly possum is good if you keep it in a cage for a couple of weeks and feed it chicken feed. According to an old man I knew who actually ate the things, this would clean out all of the nasty flavors from the other stuff a possum will eat. I'm not terribly interested in finding out what a possum tastes like but this sounds like a logical method of purging a possum.

                                                      Catfish would be another example of this. Bigger, older catfish can have muddy taste that I really don't like. I met an old man once who had a bathtub on the bank of Black Creek for purging fish. He would keep a steady flow of well-water running through the tub and out the drain to the creek. After a night of breathing in clean water the fish would taste sweet and clean ( according to the guy with the tub).

                                                  3. What I think of Southern Food as (I'm in Texas, and do consider most of our food Southern) is covering anything and everything with cream gravy. Scrambled eggs and/or biscuts in the morning, fried steak or fried chicken in the evening. If my mom fried anything in a skillet, she made cream gravy.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: GenieinTX

                                                      A cast iron skillet if I don't miss my guess.


                                                    2. lynnlato pretty much got it head on.... I would have to say fried chicken, biscuits, coleslaw, sweet tea, hushpuppies, fried okra, sweet potatoes, grits, cornbread, collards, apple pie. Bojangle's fast food, too.

                                                      1. Whole hog barbecue. THE authentic form of barbecue in America. The style which all others pale by comparison.

                                                          1. I'm originally from Atlanta, Georgia, but I now live in Connecticut, and this posting made me rather homesick for southern food! Here are my ideas of "southern" food:

                                                            Fried Chicken
                                                            Biscuits with (white) gravy
                                                            Green Beans (cooked to death with bacon fat or lard)
                                                            Fried Okra
                                                            Red Velvet Cake
                                                            Ritz Crackers with cream cheese & pepper jelly
                                                            Fried Fish
                                                            Barbecue Pork Sandwich

                                                            7 Replies
                                                            1. re: ctflowers

                                                              ctflowers, I had completely forgotten about cream cheese and pepper jelly. My great aunt used to make her own and I can't say I've had it since she died four years ago. I just can't bring myself to get any "store bought" pepper jelly. :-(

                                                              1. re: Suzy Q

                                                                I have a friend who mad some homemade jalapeno pepper jelly...I'll try to get the recipe from him & will post it on the board...out of this world!

                                                                1. re: Suzy Q

                                                                  Try the Foster's Market 7 Pepper Jelly. It's really, really, good. I like to put a tab on top of crab cakes and the like, but I suspect it would make a great cream cheese and jelly app. (which seems so pedestrian, but tastes so good)

                                                                  1. re: danna

                                                                    I'll do that. Thanks for the rec! :-) I've been craving cream cheese and pepper jelly ever since reading this thread.

                                                                    1. re: danna

                                                                      Where do you get the Foster's Market 7 Pepper Jelly? (Is Foster's Market a grocery/specialty store?)

                                                                      Someone I work with made homemade jalapeno pepper jelly that's out of this world...I'm going to nicely ask him if I could have or even buy a jar.

                                                                      1. re: ctflowers

                                                                        If I understand correctly, Foster's Market is a popular food store/cafe in Durham , NC. I have been buying their 7 peper jelly from a restaurant in Landrum SC that has a little market, but you can also order from...


                                                                        1. re: danna

                                                                          You're right about Foster's Market - it is in Durham. Sara Foster (owner) once worked under Martha Stewart. Foster's Market has been opened for at least 15 years - not sure exactly how long. I live very close to it.

                                                                          Sara Foster has 3 cookbooks published - all on Amazon - do a search for Foster's Market cookbooks.

                                                                2. Edna Lewis of course was the doyenne of Southern food, but I also have a cookbook I love called "Cleora's Kitchen, the Memoir of a Cook" by Cleora Butler. It's filled with wonderful stories and recipes from her eight decades as a home and professional cook in Texas and Oklahoma. Her recipe for "New Potatoes with Early Green Peas in Cream Sauce" is a classic and her "Menu for Members of the Board of Education, Muskogee Ok 1916" includes baked ham with horseradish sauce, green beans, candied sweet potatoes, waldorf salad, dinner rolls, crabapple jelly, lady baltimore cake and homemade ice cream. Public service never sounded so delicious.

                                                                  1. Hm-m, you chose a very broad area for culinary research. Asking what “Southern Food” is, is tantamount to asking what constitutes Mexican Food. You are covering a lot of territory and a lot of different heritage. Why, just in the little area of the Deep South, that I grew up in, we had three different cuisines within eighty-five miles along the MS Gulf Coast. Starting in New Orleans, we had Creole with a hint of Cajun influences. In Gulfport, it was more typical Mississippi - fried everything. Going to Biloxi, with its French and Spanish influences, it changed to be a bit of a combo of Gulfport, plus New Orleans (though they did their first).

                                                                    When I first visited Charleston, I was surprised to find several decidedly different cuisines, and all of them claimed to be “Southern.” There was the Low-Country, with a lot of fish stews, Hoppin’ John (had never heard of this dish, though I’d had black-eyed peas for decades), major Soul Food (similar, though not identical, could be found in New Orleans), and a lot of baked seafood, unlike the MS Gulf Coast.

                                                                    In the Carolinas, there is a major difference in the B-B-Q, depending on where you are. It gets even more complicated, when you go to Memphis.

                                                                    Look to the Carolina and Tennessee mountains for some fabulous cured meets, especially pork. We never had any of that on the Coast, other than a fried pork rind bakery. Same thing for a heavy reliance on freshwater trout, pan-fried, smoked, or baked. Because of our location, it was almost exclusively saltwater fish, and they were usually deep fried, or, if not a great game fish, done with a red, tomato-based sauce, á la a courtbullion from New Orleans.

                                                                    Since the South was a bit more agrarian than much of the country, and a bit more rural, folk made do with what was readily available. That is what separates the Cajun cuisine from others nearby, in say New Orleans. There was little dry land to raise cattle, but pigs did OK. The critters trapped in the swamps and the hummocks of semi-dry land are not on many menus in Milwaukee. Same for the fish in the bayous and swamps. That is often why the sauces are piquant and rather thick – to mask the taste of some of the protein. This is why you have rice, rather than other starches.

                                                                    Yes, fried chicken seems to be fairly ubiquitous, but there are not that many dishes, that encompass the entirety and diversity of the South. For me, growing up, I think that fried catfish was more so, but that was because of its availability. Back then, we had no catfish farms, and most of ours was saltwater catfish. OTOH, I could also say the same for speckled trout, mackerel and redfish, because we caught and fried so many. Or, I could point to brem (under a dozen different names), a freshwater sunfish. They were plentiful in the lakes just inland. For us, fried was the way that most protein was prepared. Just a hundred miles to the west, most protein was done in a heavy sauce.

                                                                    While writing this, I have tried to come up with a common thread for Southern Food, encompassing LA, MS, TN, AR, SC, NC, AL, GA and VA, but cannot. I’m leaving out TX and FL, as they are more often, than not, not considered as part of the South. Maybe others can provide you with more info, or maybe I have just missed something very obvious.