The Art of Southern Cooking

spincyclesmallThis week’s Spin Cycle topic is Arts and Crafts. Since I got married at age 17, and lived “out in the country” for 24 years, raising three boys,  trying to keep a house clean, pay bills, nag my extremely lazy southern husband into occasionally “cutting the grass” or changing the oil in the car  and all the while, working different part time jobs or sewing to earn some money – I didn’t have much time to devote to arts and crafts.

What I did learn how to do was grow a garden, can beans, tomatoes, potatoes and make pickles.

I also learned how to cook – Southern-style, of course.


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My holiday menu never changes much from year to year. It’s a conglomeration of recipes that I’ve thrown together from all the southern cooks in my family. I don’t know if it could be classified as bona fide southern, but it’s a good representation of what folks in southeastern North Carolina like to have on their plates at Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Here’s my usual menu:

From Grandmama Gladys: Roast Turkey (in a Brown N Bag)

From my mom: Oyster Dressing

From Grandma Henry: Rice with Giblet Gravy

From Grandmama Gladys: Collard Greens (fresh, boiled with ham hocks, drained and chopped fine and warmed over in a cast iron pan with a bit of fat back grease)

From Uncle Daryl: Fresh or frozen Butterbeans, seasoned with pork neck bones

From Southern Living: Orange Ginger Cranberry Sauce

From Grandma Dot: Seven Layer Salad

From Grandmama Gladys: Marinated Carrots

From Cindy Henry: Almost Yeast Rolls

From Grandma Henry: Sweet Potatoe Pie

From my mom: Ice Box Lemon Pie

The one thing you have to keep in mind about southern food – we like to use a lot of various ingredients. The more the merrier! For instance, my husband (a true Yankee, bless his heart) was going to make green beans with barbecue chicken and instant mashed potatoes when we first got married. He opened the can, poured it into the pot and turned on the burner.

I asked him, “What are you going to season them with?”

To which he said, “Huh? Season? What’s that?”

See, no self respecting southern cook worth her weight in ham hocks ever served green beans straight out of the can, y’all. They have to be seasoned, which means adding ingredients. Preferably a nice piece of ham, salt, pepper and a little sugar. Bacon grease or fat back will do in a pinch. Or, a tablespoon of olive oil and a beef boullion cube (if you’re serving some Yankees) but never plain, y’all!

A few years ago, I worked with a nice lady from Upstate New York. Watertown, to be exact. Don’t ask me what she was doing in North Carolina. I think maybe it was to try and convince the natives that a tobaggan was something you ride on, rather than something you knit for your grandmother for Christmas.

Anyway.

One Thanksgiving I was talking to my sister-in-law on the phone at work about our upcoming, shared, family Thanksgiving dinner. We were talking about what we needed to get from the store.

After I hung up, my Yankee co-worker (who had been shamelessly eaves-dropping) said she had a few questions, if I didn’t mind.

“Not at all,” I said. “Shoot.”

“Well,” she began, nervously. “I think I’ve about got this figured out.”

She began to list items she had heard me discussing.

“The neck bones are going in the butterbeans.”

I nodded.

“I know the fat back is for the collards. I think the sweet potaoes are for the pie, the oysters are going in the stuffing, the orange is going in with the cranberries, the condensed milk is for the lemon pie and the can of peas is for the salad.”

“Very good!” I said, impressed that she had been paying such close attention. “So what’s your question?”

She looked perplexed. “I just don’t understand what you’re going to do with the tomato soup and the boiled eggs!”

Well, duh.

“The soup is going into the marinated carrots,” I explained, patiently. “And the boiled eggs are for the giblet gravy.”

Really, you’d think these Yankees would figure this stuff out!

What about y’all? What shows up on your holiday table? Do you have regional favorites, or recipes that you cherish? If you’d like to have any of these recipes, just let me know.

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4 thoughts on “The Art of Southern Cooking

  1. My name is Jen, I’m a Yankee, and I serve my green beans without seasoning. *SOB!*
    There is such a difference between my history and yours, but something tells me if I would have about 2 weeks in your hometown where the food is made to come alive, I would be a good 20 lbs heavier by the end of it!
    Icebox lemon pie? Yum. I would love the recipe for that!
    You’re linked!

    • Thanks, Jen. Hey, try throwing in a bouillon cube and a tablespoon of olive oil next time you make green beans! Even my husband has learned to love them that way.

      I’m going to dig out mom’s recipe for the lemon pie and post it sometime today.

  2. LEMON ICEBOX PIE

    1 can Eagle Brand milk
    3 lemons
    3 eggs, separated (save whites for meringue)
    1 graham cracker crust
    cream of tartar
    granulated sugar

    In a mixing bowl, beat egg yolks until creamy. Add milk and juice from lemons (remove seeds first). I like adding a little extra lemon juice for a kick.

    Mixture will thicken on its own. Pour into graham cracker crust and top with meringue.

    To make meringue: Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Add 2 teaspoons cream of tartar. Mix well.

    Add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time until desired sweetness. Pour over top of filling and bake in 375°F oven until nice and brown. Allow to cool before cutting.

  3. Woman, how can you hide the recipe for icebox lemon pie on the comments section (never mind that I missed this post all together when you wrote it)? You must move it – move it, I say! – and make it its own post.

    You’ll be doing those Yankees a favor, you know. And me, because I haven’t made one in years; I’ve been all about lemon chess pies.

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