Friday, May 22, 2009
In the day of a global economy with refrigerated food carriers it’s hard to believe that until very recently in history people ate what they could find locally. That being the case, around what products did southern cuisine grow and develop?
First of all, there’s corn. Europeans who settled in the south in the colonial period didn’t know about corn. The Indians had to tell them. Okay, what can you do with corn? You can start with hominy which was often served as a breakfast cereal. Leftovers could be fried for supper later that day. You could also make cornbread, hushpuppies, grits and spoonbread so delicate you needed a spoon to eat it. People also make ashcakes, hoecakes, and journeycakes. Don’t forget popcorn either.
The second mainstay of southern cooking was pork. Pigs aren’t native to the United States. Hernan de Soto’s army brought pigs with them when they came to explore Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. Some of the pigs escaped or were stolen by the Indians and became the ancestors of modern pigs. Southerners do love their pork. Nothing beats a good salty country ham or a nice smoked ham. Mmm. Pork barbecue. Love it. I grilled a nice pork steak for dinner the other night too.
The third agricultural mainstay was brought to the United States by African slaves. They planted collard greens, peas, okra, yam, watermelon, and sesame. It’s traditional in the south to serve collard greens on New Year’s Day. If you do you’re supposed to have wealth in the coming year. You also serve black eyed peas. I have those two things plus a nice ham.
Lastly, southern cooks learned to appreciate local foods. Squash is delicious, especially if you fry it nice and crispy. If you don’t like fried you can stir fry it with a little onion. Season it with basil, oregano, garlic, and thyme, and you have a dish fit for a king. Pumpkins, rice, venison, oysters, fish, rabbits, squirrels birds-all were available locally and taste good.
Of course, southern cooking varies according to where you live. Cajun or creole for example doesn’t have much resemblance to traditional food in upstate South Carolina.
Please check back next week for a look at the foods my mother cooked when I was growing up. I’ll be sharing some recipes too.