Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Little Soul for your Food

I'm not going to lie: if given the choice between a fine filet mignon and a plate of my grandmother's pintos, fried potatoes, and corn bread... I would take the latter in a heartbeat.

Being born and raised in the South, there is just something magical to me about cooking that shows us where we came from. My grandmother's famous pinto beans recipe didn't come to be because she is a legume enthusiast. Growing up poor in rural Arkansas, she had to make do with what her family could afford. So her mother adapted her recipes by adding what they had on hand or whatever was in the garden. This is the type of resourcefulness that creates the rich, complex flavors that Southern cooking is adored for.

But obviously Grandmother's story is nothing special. Most, if not all, classic Southern dishes have gotten their start from people's resourcefulness in hard times. Here are just a few fun facts:

Please Pass the Corn
Because the climate in the south is not conducive to wheat, corn was used in bread instead. Cornbread, hush puppies and johnny cakes are just a few examples of delicious corn-based recipes from the South. To make your cornbread a Southern delight, look for recipes with less sugar and more salt.
*Did you know? According to legend, hush puppies were created to keep the dogs quiet while transferring catfish from the pot to the table.

Why so fried?
Ever notice that a lot of popular Southern dishes are fried? Believe it or not, there was a method to the madness. Fried foods keep well without refrigeration and provided a lot of needed calories to farmers working in the fields every day. Frying also uses lard, which is an inexpensive way to add flavor and can be reused multiple times. Check out these recipes for a treat: Chicken Fried Chicken, Fried Okra, or Chicken Fried Steak.
*Did you know? The fried pie got its start from field workers who needed a sweet pick-me-up that could fit in their pocket.

Some of the greatest Southern dishes started off as table scraps. Leftover fish eventually became croquettes, stale bread became bread pudding and many of the liquids left over from preparing vegetables became "pot likker," which is a type of gravy or drink. This also led to pig's feet, ham hocks, chitterlings, pig ears, and hog jowl. Leafy vegetables like collard greens, poke, kale, cress, and mustard were also seen as "throwaway" foods that found their way into Southern cuisine.

Personally, I can't find my culinary wits without and an internet connection, but somehow years ago, people managed to create these delicious dishes using only what they had on hand.

What are some of the recipes or food stories that had you running to table on Sunday afternoons for dinner?



GREAT POST - how I'd love to go back to basics and not have to scrutinize every label on every product on the shelves at the grocer's! Love the article & the education :-)