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TDG: Southern Foods: Is They or Is They Ain't?


Fat Guy
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Defining Southern food, dish by dish.

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Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I love the list--

Is Southern . . . . Ain’t Southern (Not Anymore, Anyway)

Grits for breakfast . . . . Cheese Grits Casseroles

Sweet Potato Pie . . . . Sweet Potatoes

Cornbread Stuffing . . . . Cornbread

Boiled peanuts . . . . Roasted peanuts

Fried corn . . . . Creamed corn

Red-eye gravy . . . . Country ham

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I really enjoyed reading this article, however I am not sure I agree with all of Ruth's points. She mentions "Pimiento Cheese" dip as an exemple of how southern food is no longer southern because she found it in a supermarket in Penn. What about other ethnic/foreign foods?? Falafel is sold all over the US and the world now. Does that mean we can say that Falafel is no longer a middle eastern food. The same goes for Italian food, Spanish, Indian or French. I believe that certain foods should be attributed to their place of origin no matter how far they've traveled. So, even if folks in Seattle are making exceptional fried corn, fried corn is still southern!!

FM

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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One more thing about pimento cheese.....I have been living in the South for most of my life and am pretty sure I have never seen it served formally as a dip. It is used as a sandwich spread and while it is widely available pre made in stores here, any self respecting pimento head makes his or her own. That goop in the jar is salty and not very good. Homeade pimento cheese is a fine thing, especially on some good bread, with a good ham, grilled until the cheese is melted slightly. MMMMMM :raz:

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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I find it interesting that the author would find "collard greens (turnip, mustard, poke, etc.) and pot likker" a Southern food by her definition (a food or dish which is popular all over the South, but is rarely, if ever, eaten anywhere else; not a food or dish that has been routinely eaten in another part of the country for at least fifty years).

There are plenty of people a few blocks north of me (that's Harlem, if you're wondering) who would beg to differ.

--

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Well, Sam, you're getting into the question of "what is Southern food, and how does it differ from soul food?" Maybe Ruth can give us a definitive response to that one, too. I'd love to read it, personally.

Mayhaw Man, pimento cheese squirted (from a pastry bag fitted with a star tip) onto celery sticks was a covered-dish standard in Greensboro, NC, where I grew up. Which is closer to "formal" and "dip" than your tasty ham sammich, but now I'm really splitting hairs. :rolleyes:

Thanks for a great read, Ruth. I'm torn between agreeing with you (rational brain cells) and wanting to claim all these wonderful foods as Southern since I am a Southerner (emotional brain cells).

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Mayhaw Man, pimento cheese squirted (from a pastry bag fitted with a star tip) onto celery sticks was a covered-dish standard in Greensboro, NC, where I grew up.

Malawry, your the only person other than Xanthippe's mother and her mama's sister I ever heard refer to a "covered-dish" supper. They both were from Durham, NC. Is that strictly a North Carolinianism, or is the term used all over the south? Where I grew up (Oakland, CA), we called them potluck dinners.

Good article. Xan. liked it too.

Edited by Jason Perlow (log)
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Mayhaw Man, pimento cheese squirted (from a pastry bag fitted with a star tip) onto celery sticks was a covered-dish standard in Greensboro, NC, where I grew up.

Malawry, your the only person other than Xanthippe's mother and her mama's sister I ever heard refer to a "covered-dish" supper. They both were from Durham, NC. Is that strictly a North Carolinianism, or is the term used all over the south?

We used to have "covered dish" suppers in my church, growing up in east Texas. I've never heard it outside of that context.

Maybe it's a southern Baptist thing?

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Mayhaw Man, pimento cheese squirted (from a pastry bag fitted with a star tip) onto celery sticks was a covered-dish standard in Greensboro, NC, where I grew up.

Malawry, your the only person other than Xanthippe's mother and her mama's sister I ever heard refer to a "covered-dish" supper. They both were from Durham, NC. Is that strictly a North Carolinianism, or is the term used all over the south?

We used to have "covered dish" suppers in my church, growing up in east Texas. I've never heard it outside of that context.

Maybe it's a southern Baptist thing?

Yeah, it's all over the South, and mostly in association with church activities. It would be hard to track the part Baptists might have played in popularizing the term. Most of my churchgoing/native Southern friends are non-Baptist, and they all use it.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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Malawry,

I should have been more specific. Celery and pimento was a holiday staple on every relish tray I ever came across in my part of the South when I was growing up (Rural North Louisiana). I was just making the point that, even at very casual functions or seeing people eat at home, I have never seen anyone put it out as a dip. I however, on a regular basis, dip it with my finger out of the 2 qt. mason jar I keep it in :biggrin:

I tried to pull it up on NOLA.com, but the Times Picayune Website is basically a useless piece of crap, but there was an article last year by Marcelle Bienvenue (TP food writer and friend of Emeril Legasse, she is on his show alot) who wrote a very good piece on pimento cheese and it's many variations.

I use the following recipe alot (or some slight variation). It is out of Craig Claibornes Southern Cooking (sadly out of print) . He is percieved as a New yorker, but was born and raised in Mississippi and knew that which he wrote about. You will notice he points out that it is to be used as a spread or as a sandwich filling, not a dip.

1/2 pound mild yellow Cheddar or longhorn cheese

1/2 pound white aged sharp Cheddar cheese

1 can (7 ounces) pimientos

1 cup chopped scallions, including green tops

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon finely minced garlic

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

6 drops Tabasco sauce

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Use a meat grinder, if possible, to grate the cheeses, using the cutter with large holes. Otherwise, use the coarse side of a cheese grater. Put the grated cheese in a mixing bowl and add half the juice from the canned pimientos. Dice the drained pimientos and add them along with the scallions.

Combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice, and garlic, and add the cheese mixture. Add the Worcestershire, Tabasco, and pepper and blend well.

Serve at room temperature as a spread for crisp crackers and raw vegetables or use as sandwich spread.

Yield: 8 to 12 servings.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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My mom always used the term "covered-dish" and she is far from Southern. I think it was pretty common while I was growing up; now "potluck" has taken over. We did go to a Baptist church for a while, but not the Southern kind.

It's funny that Ruth mentioned rice pudding, since according to my NC-raised friend it's impossible to find down south, at least it's not on every diner menu like it is here. I always thought of it as quasi-Southern fare, but changed my mind after I heard that. Anyone know the real story?

Queen of Grilled Cheese

NJ, USA

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Butterbeans, watermelon rind pickles, chicken salad (more the protocols - white meat, celery, Hellman's mayo, salt, white pepper, and anything else - other than the occasional halved green grape, or taragon leaf - rendered it unSouthern and you Trashy), cornbread w/clabber or in buttermilk, white coconut cake, and real pecan pie.

Drool, and pass the lipitor,

T.

Sharon Peters aka "theabroma"

The lunatics have overtaken the asylum

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"iced tea presweetened without asking your preference" -- gosh, that's almost the only way you'll be served the stuff in our neck of the woods, western Canada. A decidedly unsouthern location, needless to say. Sadly, the stuff here tends to be a pale, tinny imitation of the real Southern brew. Thanks, Ruth, for a mouthwatering report.

R.

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In North Carolina, Baptists, boy scouts, and little league teams all call "potlucks" covered dish suppers. Never attended a potluck until I moved to DC.

Mayhaw Man, thanks for your recipe. Mm mm! I admitted I was just splitting hairs and givin' ya'll a hard time but I appreciate your mention of your family relish trays. I LOVE relish trays, they are the BEST part of Thanksgiving with my folks.

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Well thanks to y'all for the covered-dish vs potluck information. The use of different foodisms is an interesing topic.

Xan's. mother and aunt also said "tea towels' rather than dishtowels. That was always kind of quaint to me.

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As a native New Yorker ( 20 odd years) this is probably the first time I am stepping to bat in defense of southern food.

Southern food is not the ingredient, but the technique. The South in question can easily be compared to any region in Europe.

It's not the Fried tomato in question, it is the technique of frying in a certain fat, doing things in a certain way. This makes the south no different than Provence or Alsace. If you cook in a particular medium, do things a certain way, does it make the food regional ? Is confit regional, or is it French ?

Is a tomato any more Italian then Southern, or Provencale ?

No. ...If anything maybe more Southern.

The South will always be linked to a more rustic, freeflowing cuisine. As will Provence, Alsace. No difference.

I ate hot dogs growing up, but never questioned whether sauerkraut was German or New Yorkian.

"Southern" is an American food style, similar to Alsacian, or Provencale.

If you cook a piece of Turbot caught off the coast of Normandy and sautee it with tomatoes and garlic, it is Provencale.

Same deal with any American ingredient handled, or cooked in a "southern" way.

nb

Edited by Neil Borscht (log)
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I have always heard the terms covered dish and pot luck used thusly:

covered dish: refers to a dinner at an institution (primarily churches and service organizations like Garden Clubs etc. ) where participants are asked to bring a dish that can be shared with others.

pot luck: same as above except that the event is in a private home

There is one other term that you don't hear much anymore except in the South and that is "Dinner on the Grounds". This term (unless specified otherwise in the bulletin) implies a covered dish lunch that will be held directly after the service. If you are ever invited to one of these......go. There is some "culinary showing off" going on that should not be missed.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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