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Southern Girl Academy: Food

One of the most unifying things about being a Southerner is Southern Cooking. I do not claim to be a Southern cook. Many of my practices and preferences (for instance, I don’t like gravy) could risk me being chased out of town. But, I know what one is.

Becca in cooking class

Taking a pasta cooking class. Lesson learned: you can just buy pasta.

For starters, the kitchen is the heart of the home. Where I’m from, only strangers/new people came to the front door, and you became a little suspicious if someone rang the doorbell. The back door is always right beside the kitchen. It’s where homework is done, family meetings are held, and supper (not dinner) is devoured every night. If you dine in a southern home, there’s a good chance you’ll leave with some extra food in hand.

Simply put, Southern Cooking stems from two factors:  Proximity, and Affordability. It isn’t fancy, by any stretch. It’s cheap. It’s not complex, but in that way it’s pure. It features the foods that are in their prime. It’s time-tested: Cornbread has been around since before the 17th century, country fried steak the 18th, and biscuits and gravy showed up in a cookbook around 1839. These recipes haven’t changed much for a reason-they’re that good.

There are traditions… and superstitions. On New Year’s Day families are supposed to eat black-eyed peas and greens. The peas bring luck, and the greens, money. People get very particular about how recipes are made. These recipes are passed down generation to generation.  To bad-mouth one can be viewed as the equivalent of  slapping that person’s mother (and NOT in a good way!)

Southern Cooking isn’t going to jump on any of the latest food trend bandwagon. For that matter, it has no regard for low fat/low calorie.  I’ve seen vegetable dishes that call for an entire stick of butter. Dishes are fried or drowned in gravy, and there are Always desserts. If you’re worried about fat, don’t ask the cook why your eggs (or vegetables, or anything) tastes great. The answer will likely be: Bacon Grease. In a Southern kitchen there is good grease and bad grease (I honestly can’t tell you the difference in the two, but I do know Bacon is always in the ‘good’ category and is kept in the fridge).

Pecan Pie

Pecan Pie, made from the recipe handed down Mom

If you want to learn how to cook Southern food-get in the kitchen of a cook’s food you enjoy. Don’t ask for a recipe. For starters, an ingredient or two will likely be adjusted or even left out entirely. Plus, many southern cooks don’t use solid measurements. You’ll be told “a couple shakes,” “a dash” “just a bit” and “To taste” more than cup, teaspoon and tablespoon. While writing down the recipe you may feel discouraged about the possibility of recreating it- don’t. You will likely be used as an apprentice, to watch and see how the food comes together, taking careful notes of smells, consistency and techniques used.

Above all else the main thing that goes into Southern Cooking is Love.

Love of tradition and moving it forward to a new generation.  Love of the food and ingredients that are cultivated and go into making the dishes. And Love of the people who enjoy it.

Becca BuerkleBecca Buerkle is a writer who resides in Little Rock. When she’s not browsing recipes, or in her kitchen, she can often be found at her local grocery store. Besides cooking & food Becca loves music and reading. She believes in Thank You Notes, the healing power of a good laugh, and the comfort of a warm meal.

6 Responses

  1. I love this post a bushel and a peck! You can cook for me anytime, ma’am!

  2. I love this line: ” I’ve seen vegetable dishes that call for an entire stick of butter.”

    One thing that I recall about Southern gravy is that what you guys call gravy is white and I’m not quite sure what it’s made with (buttermilk? flour? bacon grease?). I call that white gravy. It seems like it can be served on anything, right?

    And what I call gravy is brown (perhaps you guys call this brown gravy) and is only ever served at Thanksgiving. Also, people in Little Rock call stuffing “dressing,” which I still don’t understand!

    I love these kinds of differences.

  3. Samantha,
    Yes, we have ‘white and brown gravy’ I’ve also heard white gravy called ‘cream gravy’. Gravy is also dependant on what meat is served.

    There is a difference in dressing and stuffing. With southern food, dressing is an (important) accessory. Many families don’t stuff the bird, it’s a ‘dressing’ on the side.

  4. Southern writers should still know grammar, though 🙂 It’s “could risk MY being chased out of town” not “could risk me being chased out of town” since gerunds take the possessive, y’all.

  5. Well bless your heart, Linda J.

  6. Love it, but darlin, if your grease is grimy, it’s bad. If it ain’t, it ain’t. Keep it comin!

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