Southern culture is a fascinating, complex phenomenon and it centers around a good meal. Food is a symbol, a memory, an emotion and there is a food for every, yes every occasion. Gather round a picnic table, grab some family and friends and enjoy these classics for yourself…if you’ve got a magnolia tree above you, Georgia red clay beneath you and country tunes all around, well, you’re doing it right. And, while you’re at it, check out these 8 Signs You’re From the South
1. Hushpuppies: Impossible to accurately describe (“umm… kind of like… well… imagine fried corn dough”) but impossible to stop eating once you’ve had a taste, this Southern staple can be found everywhere from a historic hole-in-the-wall (The Loveless Cafe) to an upscale Southern landmark (Husk). They may be served with ketchup, tartar sauce or even remoulade (a spicy, creamy, mayo-based sauce) like at my family’s Cajun restaurant in Atlanta. Simultaneously crispy and creamy, sweet and savory, hush puppies come in many varieties, but they all seem to be the perfect side dish for Sunday dinner or a summer fish fry.
2. Grits: Way beyond the bland instant breakfast imposter, grits are the epitome of Southern food. Ideally, every bite is laced with cream, and if you’re lucky, even a hint of cheese (like these Cheddar and Corn Grits). Although perfect on their own, they are often mixed with shrimp or crawfish in more coastal areas (hello Charleston). Grits, made from ground corn kernels, are just another reason to absolutely love corn as an ingredient (cornbread, kettle corn or moonshine anyone?) and we southerners love grits so much, we even use the word to describe ourselves (GRITS= Girls Raised In The South). Overboard? Maybe…
3. Pimento Cheese: Dubbed the “caviar of the South” (haha it’s not nearly as classy), this mix of shredded cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, pimento peppers and other optional ingredients like hot sauce or cream cheese can be served on crackers, sandwiches or even deviled eggs. This is definitely an acquired-taste kind of food, but it truly is a classic. My dad used to eat this cheese slathered between two thick slices of white bread (healthy, I know) and it can regularly be found at tea parties, club meetings and sporting events. Tangy, creamy and yes, a little strange, pimento cheese is making a comeback and can now be found paired with foods like grits, mashed potatoes and burgers.
4. Peach Cobbler: Coming from the Peach State (Georgia), I am probably a little biased towards this sweet, doughy delicacy. Imagine fresh picked peaches doused with a sugary, cinnamon mixture and then topped with a flaky crust (or even buttermilk biscuits!) and finally baked to a golden brown, steaming perfection. Don’t forget a generous scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and you’ve got yourself a good idea of a family’s go-to dessert around here. We’ve been eating this stuff for years; every grandma has their own recipe and every eater has their own opinion on the crust-filling ratio. No matter the differences, a midsummer’s night meal is just not complete until a bowl of peach cobbler has been served up.
5. Sweet Tea: Many Southerners legitimately do not understand that iced tea can be made without sugar. This is our regional addiction and can be found in any restaurant, grocery store or refrigerator at any time of the year. Everyone has their own opinion as to the best sweet tea (Chick-fil-a and Publix are big contenders) and people regularly make a stop for tea and only tea. Leave hot tea to the Brits and anyone with a cold and just ban unsweetened tea altogether. This is a lifestyle. Further evidence? My computer does not recognize the word “unsweetened.”
Bonus: Waffle House: Even though not technically a single food, this restaurant is an initiation of sorts to proper Southern culture (Need proof? See The Best Stories From Everyone’s Favorite Breakfast Restaurant). The ultimate late-night snack and the definitive winner when up against IHOP, Waffle House offers both a tasty meal and prime people watching: everyone from prom groups to truckers populate its booths. Just remember Cardinal Rule #1: The only appropriate hours to eat that chocolate chip waffle and those smothered hash browns are between midnight and 5 AM. And, yes, the waitress did actually just call you honey…