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Roots- A Brief History Lesson on Southern Cuisine

I’m kind of a nerd. I start thinking about things and wonder how they started, where they came from, who made it, why, why is it called what it is– and then I study. Not because I have a project due or a deadline, but because I’m a curious person that likes to learn.

A couple of years ago someone asked me what my favorite kind of food was. I jokingly responded, “The kind you eat.” The thing is, I’m not a picky eater by any stretch of the imagination. I’m very adventurous when it comes to trying new foods. After I giggled at my smart aleck remark, I answered seriously with, “home-style southern food”. If you put a five-star restaurant plate with something exotic and beautiful next to a plate with collard greens ‘n ham hocks, fried fat back, corn bread, and black-eyed peas, then told me to pick a plate–I’d go for the latter.

Sweet Tea- SouthernGalsCook.com

Click for recipe

I got to wondering about why Southern cooking is different from other places in the country and where our southern food traditions come from. So, being the nerd I am, I got to reading up on a little Southern Cuisine history.

As I figured, influences stemmed from the multicultural population, crops, livestock, wild game, and necessity. After all, necessity is the mother of invention. Is it not?

The influential multicultural groups included African, English, Scottish, Irish, and Native American, just to name a few.  Not only did their style of cooking form our roots of southern cuisine, but also the ingredients that they brought with them from their native homes largely affected the culinary style we know today. The BIGGEST influences of Southern food, in my opinion, were the Africans. I’ll get more into this in a minute.

Because the growing season weather is hot and humid, and because most of the dirt in the south is clay, some crops thrived in the south while others had to be imported from surrounding regions.

Southern Cornbread

Click for the recipe

Now, the part that I found to be the most interesting was the huge influences that the slaves had on the foods that I love so much. One of the things that I read told how the slave owners would give the slaves the parts of the butchered pigs that they found inedible, such as pig ears, pig’s feet, ham hocks, etc. The Africans would use those piggie parts to season their cooking. That is why, still to this day, we cook down a mess of greens with a pork product. They also breaded some vegetables and fish in cornmeal, such as squash, okra, and catfish, then deep-fried them in pork grease. {Yum!} They introduced okra, black-eyed peas, and many other things to the Southern table.

Roots- A Brief History Lesson on Southern Cuisine

Greens- A Southern Staple

Barbecue is a Southern tradition that can be traced to our Native American ancestors. Barbecue varies in every region and every region “has the best and only way to eat bbq!” HAHA! I’m not kidding! People get crazy competitive {and snobby!} with it! Everything from the wood used to smoke it, the sauce to baste it, the rub to massage it, and the way to cut it is up for debate! Don’t even get me started on the different sauces!

Our love of pies and cobblers go back to our European ancestors that showed us amazing things that can be done with flour, butter, sugar, eggs, fruit, and imported vanilla and cocoa.

Peach Cobbler- SouthernGalsCook.com

Click for the recipe

I enjoy knowing my Southern heritage. I like knowing why we do the things we do. I love being Southern. I’ve enjoyed sharing with you. And, as the southern comedienne, Minnie Pearl, would say “I’m just so proud to be here”.

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