You hear a lot about Southern cooking. Having spent a few months in North Carolina shortly after I was born, more than three decades in Kentucky, a year and a half in Washington DC, and nearly fifteen years now in Athens, I’ve lived in the South my entire life. I’m no expert, but I do know a few things about Southern cooking.
One thing I know is that Southern cooking varies quite a lot from one place to another. Up in Lexington we ate burgoo, hot browns, and beaten biscuits with ham–dishes they’ve never even heard of down here in Athens. Unless things have changed, Lexington restaurants served unsweetened tea, even if you wanted it sweet, and barbecue was meat or chicken covered with a sweet, tomato-based sauce rather than the vinegar-based sauce served here in Athens.
My partner of nearly ten years was born and raised in the next county over. He’s also a bit of a foodie and does 99.9% of the cooking in our house. He’s exposed me to a lot of foods I might not otherwise have eaten that have now become favorites. Here are a few things we eat that I consider to be particular to this part of the country.
Grits. I know, grits are served throughout the South and even in parts of Kentucky. Before I moved to Athens, I could eat grits, now and then, but only with the yolk from an over-medium egg mixed in and a piece of toast to sop up the mix. At a seafood place we like here in Athens (Off the Hook), they keep a big pot of grits on the counter for customers to serve themselves. Now I can’t imagine eating fish without my free grits as an appetizer.
Black-Eyed Peas. Maybe my Kentucky friends will weigh in with an opinion, but seems to me we were more likely to eat pinto beans and cornbread than black-eyed peas. I don’t think I ever had black-eyed peas growing up, and the first few times I had them here, I wasn’t really a fan. I still love me some pinto beans, cornbread and green tomato catsup, but I also have come to enjoy black-eyed peas.
Okra. Unless it came breaded and fried, okra was one of those foods I just refused to eat. Now I love it any way you want to serve it–sliced and sauteed in a little butter, stewed with some tomatoes, or thrown into soups or stews. Breaded and fried is my least favorite way to eat it. Who knew?
Boiled Peanuts. The first time I had boiled peanuts, my ex and I stopped to buy some from a roadside vendor. My ex is from Minnesota and knew everything there was to know about everything–just ask him. He said you had to eat them whole. Several years later I learned to shell them first which made them a lot more palatable. They taste a lot like beans.
Brunswick Stew. To this day I’m not exactly sure what all goes into Brunswick Stew–tomatoes, corn, and some kind of finely shredded meat or chicken or maybe both. Everything is finely chopped, making it more like a good gravy than a stew or soup. It’s served with a chicken, pork, or rib plate from any of the local barbecue places, along with slaw (topped with a couple of bread and butter pickle slices), a little bag of potato chips, and two slices of white bread. My partner sops his stew up with the bread. I like it as a dip for my chips.
Chicken Mull. I’ve only had chicken mull once, or more accurately, a few times several days in a row. It has the same consistency as Brunswick Stew but the ingredients are chicken, saltine crackers, and milk. It has a smokey flavor to it because it’s usually prepared in a giant pot over a wood fire. If we remember, we buy several quarts of this delicacy the second Saturday in December from a little church in my partner’s home town.
Those are a few of the foods I’ve come to enjoy since I moved to Athens. If you’re ever in this neck of the woods, give one or two a try. Who knows, we might even be serving them here in…
My Glass House