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The impending disappearance of Southern Food


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I believe it is inevitable. Much like the disappearance of the rain forests, our beloved Southern Food, the hand made food of the working class is destined for extinction. Within my lifetime (I'm just 42!) I believe that hand made Southern food will only be found in expensive, white table cloth restaurants such as mine. Biscuits, once the everyday staple of survival are now looked upon as something exquisite and awe-inspiring. How did this happen? My folks grew up in very rural areas on the opposite sides of the country and basic cooking skills (really life skills) were necessary for their very survival. Those skills included hunting, fishing and butchering. You want fish for supper, better go catch and clean it....I saw a TV commercial the other day for FROZEN Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwiches. How pathetic are we? My contemporaries can't make a peanut butter & jelly sandwich but my Mom used to churn her own butter. How is it that an entire set of skills has vanished in only 1 generation?

The so-called Southern diners in town offer up a mere shadow of real Southern cooking. Vegetables are canned or frozen, macaroni & cheese is a prepared product, the barbecue is actually steamed or even worse it too is a convenience product and the fried chicken comes in a 50 pound box, already fried & frozen. Heat and serve fried chicken!

When I was 8 or 9 a family friend went duck hunting and gave us some wild ducks, feathers and all and that night my Mom served wild duck for supper. What would one of those so-called cooks at a Southern meat & three do with a freshly killed chicken?

We have 2 real newspapers in town, a Gannett owned dailyand a locally owned weekly and both of their respective food writers constantly offer recipes highlighting a variety of convenience foods. Canned this, frozen that. Do you see my point? Food Writers in a thriving, sophisticated Southern town CAN'T COOK! Where is the ghost of Bill Neal when you need him!

The signs are all there. Soon the skills that enabled our parents and grandparents to survive depression and war-time rationing will be looked upon as magical and mysterious. The food of the working class: handmade biscuits, buttermilk pies, chicken and dumplings, will be cooked by CIA trained chefs and served by polished waiters in white table clothed restaurants. The working class will continue to turn to food served at convenience stores and Bill will roll in his grave.

John Malik

Chef/Owner

33 Liberty Restaurant

Greenville, SC

www.33liberty.com

Customer at the carving station: "Pardon me but is that roast beef rare?"

Apprentice Cook Malik: "No sir! There's plenty more in the kitchen!"

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It is my belief that one of the primary reasons for the existence of the Southern Foodways Alliance is to help to stanch the flow of 'creative blood' from the Southern food we all remember and which is rapidly disappearing (as you so correctly note). God bless John T. Edge for seeing this need and for his work in fulfilling the mission and objectives of his group. Thanks for voicing your opinions here, Cynical Chef ... we can all learn much from the wisdom in your words, no matter how frustrated you have become.

the mission of the SFA is to celebrate, preserve, promote, and nurture the traditional and developing diverse food cultures of the American South.
from their website Southern Foodways.com

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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The so-called Southern diners in town offer up a mere shadow of real Southern cooking.  Vegetables are canned or frozen, macaroni & cheese is a prepared product, the barbecue is actually steamed or even worse it too is a convenience product and the fried chicken comes in a 50 pound box, already fried & frozen.  Heat and serve fried chicken!

I'll point out that restaurants (with few exceptions) have never been the place to find this sort of food. Even back when home cooks were butchering their own pigs and chickens and churning their own butter (very much part of my childhood), restaurants were places you ate if you were traveling, dating, or had nobody to cook for you. This latter category was highly suspect: either you were disreputable man who couldn't keep a wife, or you were a wimpy man whose wife was too "sorry" to cook for you.

Can you pee in the ocean?

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Or you were Barney Fife! I can do and shall carry on cookin' from scratch. I will carry my freak flag high! I refuse to bow to the frozen hordes. Good topic! This is exactly the forum to discuss this, for people all over the world cluster here to trade methods that the masses have given up or forgotten about.

There are very few times that my homebound disability is a plus, but the time I am able to invest in feeding myself and husband the way my mama and gram did would have to be A-1 on the debit sheet.

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This week I brought my neighbor a pie as a thank you for some help he'd given us: He was astounded that my pie was homemade, and that the crust wasn't a frozen or pre-prepared one. It's not just the American South that's facing a decline in standards of meals.

I'm going to guess part of the cause is the declining economy (we're working longer hours for less money, and most families *have* to have both partners working to fiscally survive)............that's means far, far fewer women dedicating long days together to the food in the kitchen. My grandparent's generation could reliably count on extended family to gather and cook meals.........grandmothers, maiden aunts, unmarried cousins, widows without children, etc., would all be cooking together in the same kitchen for the Sunday dinners, or the holiday meals. It's extremely hard for a single person to provide that standard of "man-hours" of labor.

I'm a canning clean freak because there's no sorry large enough to cover the, "Oops! I gave you botulism" regrets.

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My grandparent's generation could reliably count on extended family to gather and cook meals.........grandmothers, maiden aunts, unmarried cousins, widows without children, etc., would all be cooking together in the same kitchen for the Sunday dinners, or the holiday meals.  It's extremely hard for a single person to provide that standard of "man-hours" of labor.

SusanG, you have said this so well that all I can do is to tell you that I have often thought the very same thoughts while commuting from my job and doing a million errands ....

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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I can assure you this is a national crisis not a regional one,i think very few people have the time or inclination or even talent for that matter to prepare a meal from scratch,Demographics have changed, roles have reversed,the whole world is going freaking mad,Stop the planet i want to get off!!!!! Dave s

"Food is our common ground,a universal experience"

James Beard

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It's up to each and every one of us to ensure that the culinary traditions of the South are not lost. We can gripe, moan, and complain all day, but we need to teach our children how to make the biscuits, the greens, the chicken. These traditional foods will not become a relic where the only place to find some facsimile will be at the local Cracker Barrel -- as long as we don't let it happen.

Chef, you'll find a lot of kindred spirit here on eGullet and in the SFA. I encourage you to keep speaking up about this issue. And then show others how to carry on these great traditions.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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(By the way, how *would* one butcher a chicken, then get rid of the feathers and dress it?)

Well, the really key issue here is coming by a live chicken in the first place. They don't sell them at Publix, or even at any of the small farmers markets in the area, and my neighbors would take a very dim view of my building a chicken coop in the back yard. Though there were those people who kept a pair of peacocks...

Can you pee in the ocean?

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I'm going to guess part of the cause is the declining economy (we're working longer hours for less money, and most families *have* to have both partners working to fiscally survive)............

Hate to throw a wrench into our national lament about "tough times" and "working longer" to "survive."

I'm a product of those days some folks think were "better" -- as opposed to our current "declining economy." I think that most of our so-called requirements to "survive" are really just our never ending demands of more, more, more. We've got our "wants" mixed up with our "needs."

The days before people said they "*have* to have both partners working" were primarily a result of simpler times.

In my neighborhood, everyone had only one car. It was rarely new. It was kept running by someone fixing it in the driveway, or a "shade tree mechanic" elsewhere in the neighborhood. You shared the one car, and if that didn't work, you walked or took the bus.

Everyone had one TV, which you gathered around in the evening. Folks had gardens, and people "put up" food. Ordinary people rarely ate restaurant meals. Neighbors knew each other and swapped things of value, including time and skills. Sending kids to daycare, or expensive preschools, or costly private schools was reserved for the very wealthy. Items that broke got repaired, not replaced. (When was the last time any of you saw a darning sock? Even know what that is?)

And self-denial and restraint were considered to be virtues.

There was a saying in those days, which everyone believed and tried to live by: "Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do. Repair it or do without."

Quaint notions, right? Pretty funny, right?

So now, yeah, we DO need two or more incomes "to survive."

But the fact of the matter is that the definition of what is required "to survive" has changed drastically.

I'm not saying that it's for better or worse, but it is different. And I know people that still live simply. And even darn socks.

It's a choice.

I'm just saying.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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With all due respect to your reasoning, Jaymes, I still think that the answer to Cynical Chef's initial query is to be found in Varmint's single line about teaching our kids the rudimentary skills of cooking southern foods like biscuits, greens, etc.

and Cracker Barrel isn't anything I want my children to consume ... :sad:

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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With all due respect to your reasoning, Jaymes, I still think that the answer to Cynical Chef's initial query is to be found in Varmint's single line about teaching our kids the rudimentary skills of cooking southern foods like greens, etc.

And that's absolutely true. But it's a lot easier to learn the 'rudimentary skills of cooking southern foods,' or any foods, when one is hanging around your own home kitchen with the cook.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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While speaking of Cracker Barrel -

Is it that bad? It is one of my favorite chain restaurants. Now, I can certainly cook up anything they make far better myself, but when I am on the road, it looks a lot more appealing than Applebees or McDonalds (now Western Sizzlin or Golden Corral is another story altogether, but what can I say, I am sucker for all-you-can-eat. Iron Skillet also ranks up there ;) ).

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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My experience is that southern cooking is still going strong in enough restaurants to keep it going for a few more generations, at least. I've never had a problem finding solid traditional from scratch cooking as I've driven about on my various forays. I've only had one home cooked Southern meal in the past year, and based on that sample of one, right down to the delicious cobbler cooked up by a little Varmint, the tradition carries on.

Then again, the frozen food departments of the Food Liions and the Wynn Dixies aren't getting any smaller.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

Twitter

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With all due respect to your reasoning, Jaymes, I still think that the answer to Cynical Chef's initial query is to be found in Varmint's single line about teaching our kids the rudimentary skills of cooking southern foods like biscuits, greens, etc.

and Cracker Barrel isn't anything I want my children to consume ... :sad:

Cracker Barrel is ok as an I-95 long trip "pit stop". It isn't dreadful (which is what a lot of non-chain and chain restaurants are).

I'm not sure I get the drift of this thread. Too bad there's not more "southern cooking" - or too bad that there's not more "home cooking" - or too bad that "us women's" actually went to school - got educations - and don't feel like staying home washing clothes - ironing shirts - and making biscuits?

I don't know that I ever needed to work - but I'm trained as a lawyer - and I wanted to work. I wanted to get out in the real world - make money - use my brain - and be capable of being financially independent. To me - I'd rather know how to invest a bond portfolio than make collards. It's a more useful skill - and it pays a heck of a lot more. Plus - in case you haven't noticed - guys who live in the real world that I live in have an unfortunate tendency to dump wives my age whose sole qualifications for wifedom are sitting home raising kids and putting biscuits on the table.

I do know how to make collards now - but when push comes to shove in terms of time and obligations (both financial and non-financial) - the collards will have to go on the back burner.

By the way - I have a healthy respect for southern culinary traditions - but I'll allow professionals to do the heavy lifting in terms of carrying the torch. Robyn

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I'm going to guess part of the cause is the declining economy (we're working longer hours for less money, and most families *have* to have both partners working to fiscally survive)............

Hate to throw a wrench into our national lament about "tough times" and "working longer" to "survive."

I'm a product of those days some folks think were "better" -- as opposed to our current "declining economy." I think that most of our so-called requirements to "survive" are really just our never ending demands of more, more, more. We've got our "wants" mixed up with our "needs."

The days before people said they "*have* to have both partners working" were primarily a result of simpler times.

In my neighborhood, everyone had only one car. It was rarely new. It was kept running by someone fixing it in the driveway, or a "shade tree mechanic" elsewhere in the neighborhood. You shared the one car, and if that didn't work, you walked or took the bus.

Everyone had one TV, which you gathered around in the evening. Folks had gardens, and people "put up" food. Ordinary people rarely ate restaurant meals. Neighbors knew each other and swapped things of value, including time and skills. Sending kids to daycare, or expensive preschools, or costly private schools was reserved for the very wealthy. Items that broke got repaired, not replaced. (When was the last time any of you saw a darning sock? Even know what that is?)

And self-denial and restraint were considered to be virtues.

There was a saying in those days, which everyone believed and tried to live by: "Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do. Repair it or do without."

Quaint notions, right? Pretty funny, right?

So now, yeah, we DO need two or more incomes "to survive."

But the fact of the matter is that the definition of what is required "to survive" has changed drastically.

I'm not saying that it's for better or worse, but it is different. And I know people that still live simply. And even darn socks.

It's a choice.

I'm just saying.

This is all phrased in a very politically correct way - but the bottom line is you're not talking about "partners" - you're talking about husbands and wives. And the husband is out in the real world - while the little woman stays home. I don't know many people in my parents' generation where the guy stayed home - and the woman went to work - or where the "partners" were both of the same sex. Robyn

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It is true that it is not just in the south that this is happening, in fact, the south is really the last bastion of people being self-sufficient but even that is fading.

Things changed gradually and part of it is because of advertising that went into high gear to convince us that we "needed" things and doing things as our mothers and grandmothers did was "drudgery". Appliances were touted as enabling women to "get out of the kitchen" and more involved with the family. However children were getting the message to pay more attention to cartoons and advertising of convenience foodstuffs.

In my lifetime I have seen things change in housing. Through the late 50s, young people who left home and took a job, did not move into an apartment alone, they took a room in a boarding house, a transitional home that allowed them to be independent but still have a sort of family on which to rely. The majority of these were in homes of widows with their own families and some were in very nice homes. I read a book many years ago in which the author stated that, in his opinion, some of the best cooks in America were in these establishments. He traveled the country extensively, gathering data for his stories and usually stayed at boarding houses for weeks or months at a time. Sadly, I can't recall the name of the author or the title of the book. (must be the Old-Timer's disease)

Television has had an enormous influence on our entire society, and it is so evident in the way meals are taken. It is not unusual to see every family member take their food to a different place in the home and consume it in solitude. There is no interaction and this can be disappointing to a cook who enjoys cooking and would like to see the family enjoy it.

I can kill, pluck and dress a chicken and have never broken a gall sac. (Which will spoil the entire carcass) I can't even remember when I learned, but I was quite young. I do know that it was a lot easier to get my hand inside a chicken back then. Now, with arthritic joints, it isn't easy.

I have tried to continue the traditions of my family by continuing to prepare foods that are seldom made in the home nowadays. I don't have to do it, it does cost more than buying mass-produced items, but I feel that what I make is better, it is done with care and pride and I feel a great sense of accomplishment in producing something that is special. Even though I am not living in the south, I was born and raised there.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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It is true that it is not just in the south that this is happening, in fact, the south is really the last bastion of people being self-sufficient but even that is fading.

Things changed gradually and part of it is because of advertising that went into high gear to convince us that we "needed" things and doing things as our mothers and grandmothers did was "drudgery".  Appliances were touted as enabling women to "get out of the kitchen" and more involved with the family.  However children were getting the message to pay more attention to cartoons and advertising of convenience foodstuffs....

What is self-sufficiency? As a lawyer with some experience in domestic relations matters (as little as possible I might add - it's truly a hateful area of the law) - I must say that it doesn't have anything to do with "womanly" or "wifely" skills. Our society values those at zero - or next to zero. Always has. Always will. Ever see a male foodie fawn over his 60 year old wife the way he'll fawn over some celebrity chef? Doubt it. Or notice that his shirts are done properly with the right amount of starch. Gimme a break.

Self-sufficiency is when you're a woman - and you can afford to buy the things a wife used to do. And everything else you need. So you don't have to rely on a man. Believe me - my mother and mother-in-law are from the generation where women didn't write checks. Had to ask for permission to spend $50 here - $100 there - even when they had inherited the money and it was theirs! I don't think most women my age want to live like that - and we don't want it for our daughters. Reminds me of one definition of nostalgia - "good old days multiplied by a bad memory". Robyn

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No - I don't think so.

It just kind of depends "who your people" are. My people still cook. Always have, always will. Even the men in this generation have become accomplished cooks. If you brought something store bought to a family reunion, you would either be banished or laughed at the entire time. It's never been done or rather, It's just NOT done.

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I'm going to guess part of the cause is the declining economy (we're working longer hours for less money, and most families *have* to have both partners working to fiscally survive)............

But the fact of the matter is that the definition of what is required "to survive" has changed drastically.

I'm not saying that it's for better or worse, but it is different.

This is all phrased in a very politically correct way - but the bottom line is you're not talking about "partners" - you're talking about husbands and wives. And the husband is out in the real world - while the little woman stays home. I don't know many people in my parents' generation where the guy stayed home - and the woman went to work - or where the "partners" were both of the same sex. Robyn

Actually, my "bottom line" is just what I guess I need to repeat (since you appear to have overlooked it): "I'm not saying that it's for better or worse, but it is different."

And I think that our busy lives (frequently in a misguided quest of consumerism), whether for better or worse, have had the single largest impact upon all homemade food, and upon passing down the skills that, frankly, I learned at the elbow of my FATHER.

The type of serious, time-intensive home cooking that was commonplace when I was a child growing up in the 40's & 50's, has now been relegated to the "hobbiest." It's a different kind of cooking, and requires one to make a concerted effort to pass along, instead of it being through a sort of culinary osmosis that one soaked up simply from being in the kitchen with the family cook. Whomever that was. And as I said, in my case it was my father.

(And, just for the record, in addition to many other places, I also have lived in Alaska, where I can promise you that being "self-sufficient" has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with relying on a man. I knew many women there that packed in their cache for the winter, chopped wood, shot game, smoked fish, and in every other way imaginable were self-sufficient. And yes, they even darn socks. But they'd laugh at your notion that the term is some sort of reverse "politically-correct code-speak" for relying on men.)

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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(And, just for the record, in addition to many other places, I also have lived in Alaska, where I can promise you that being "self-sufficient" has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with relying on a man. I knew many women there that packed in their cache for the winter, chopped wood, shot game, smoked fish, and in every other way imaginable were self-sufficient. They'd laugh at your notion that the term is some sort of "political speak" for relying on men.)

I am with you on this one Jaymes

One of the tougest people on the west coast in the early days was a women

Mertle Phillips- Alta Lake ( AKA Whistler BC)

She was a hunter-fisher-mid wife-doctor-hostess-cook-lodge owner with partner, her husband, she did it all, and what sex she was did not matter.

In the outdoors you must takecare of yourself or you die.

steve

Cook To Live; Live To Cook
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Robyn -

You must not be from the south or maybe the men in the family were Yankee transplants.

The day my grandfather (who was a lawyer) married my grandmother in the early '30's, he told her they might have to economize but she should never economize on food. My mother still has a copy of the letter he wrote to my father when they married advising him to do the same thing. The gist of it is that he would only be punishing himself. It's one of the best letters I've ever read.

And I don't buy this angry feminist stuff either. While the women do most of the cooking in my family, the men are accomplished in their own right. (Albeit my dad had to call me the other night to find out how to cook a baked potato because my mother was at a business networking event - in my family, the women are equally accomplished in business).

Good southern cooking and a healthy appreciation for it are family traditions that are passed down. Some parents are too lax in making their children eat vegetables when they are young and can develop a taste for them so they have no appreciation as adults of the best staples of a southern diet. Others have mothers (that rhymes) :hmmm: who are incredibly talented cooks but won't let anyone in their kitchen - and so the children never learn and the traditions die.

Everyone I know who enjoys cooking is not back in the kitchen trying to please a man. Heck, if that was all it took, I'd have 10 husbands, a line out the door and a waiting list. They do it to please themselves and for reasons of pride, tradition and creating family bonds.

My mother has had an extraordinary career and accomplishments but they were about her own intellectual fulfilment - not about some angry feminist agenda. She still managed to have a meal on the table every night no later than 7:30 (a meat, two vegetables and a salad) without fail and without hired help - not because of outdated times or expectations but because she wanted to create quality time with her family every evening.

A good southern woman knows how to juggle her priorities and is certainly not a militant feminist. Hell, where I come from, if she doesn't need a man, she either shoots him or divorces him. And if she resents cooking for him, she poisons his food. Otherwise, men tend to come in handy every now and then and like it or not, we need them to help create the next generation of little foodies that will carry on the tradition of southern cooking. (Of course, there is the turkey baster but that's completely off topic). :raz:

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