You Are What You Ate — Southern Food Identity Posted by: Aaron Stearns | 0 Comments
Everyone has that food item that reminds them of home. Whether it was cooked up with love by parents or grandparents, it’s the dish you most identify with. Maybe it’s chicken fried steak. Maybe it’s pork chops. Or maybe it’s grits or collard greens. You are what you eat, and often what you eat brings back memories of home, childhood and a sense of self. This phenomenon probably happens up North, but we know it’s something Southerners do.
In fact, the Southern Foodways Alliance — which graciously contributed to our barbecue compendium — has started a project called A Spoken Dish, to document the food identities of Southerners. It’s gotten some notice with a write-up on NPR’s food blog, The Salt.
The food identities there are very specific. For example, the story has one man’s anecdote about egg bread, a recipe with egg, buttermilk, cornmeal and bacon grease.
“Greasy, flat, thick, moist. Just good stuff. If you weren’t killing hogs or cows or chickens because there weren’t any ready, and the vegetables weren’t ready, you made egg bread.”
Southerners quoted in the story also mention pig ear sandwiches, chicken livers and fish frys. You can submit your food identity to the project via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram using the hashtag, “#aspokendish”
And we know food identity is inherently an individual thing, but we’re going to assign one to each Southern state just for fun. If we’re wrong, we know you’ll tell us. If you want to play along, feel free to include your personal food identity below.
ALABAMA — Blackberry cobbler
If you were lucky, your grandmother took you out to the thorny blackberry patches on the side of a country road with a bucket and a machete (for the snakes). You spent hours picking them, then a few more hours waiting for them to be washed, sugared and baked into a cobbler with a buttery crust made from scratch. Pair it with homemade ice cream, and it’s the picture-perfect Southern dish.
Runner up: Fried green tomatoes
ARKANSAS — Cheese dip
Little known fact: Arkansas invented cheese dip. It’s true. It was created in a place called Mexico Chiquito in Little Rock and has since been added to the menus of every. single. restaurant. in the state. No joke. Arkansans cannot get enough of that stuff.
Runner up: Fried catfish
FLORIDA — Key lime pie
The person who thought to combine key limes and condensed milk is a culinary genius. Or maybe the person who accidentally spilled condensed milk into a bowl of juiced limes and decided not to cry about it, but to see what it tastes like — in a pie crust — that person was a genius. However it happened, we’re glad it did.
Runner up: The Cubano sandwich
GEORGIA — Cheese grits
Yes, Georgia is known for its peaches and barbecue, but they’ve absolutely perfected grits. So much so that it was named one of the state foods. And though they’d never consider dousing them in sugar, any bowl of grits could be made better with a little cheese.
Runner up: Peaches
KENTUCKY — Burgoo
We know you love your burgoo, Kentucky. It’s soupy, spicy and pretty much the state’s official dish. It’s best when paired with mashed potatoes or cornbread, and you can find it in most restaurants — even as a side dish in ones that serve barbecue.
Runner up: Pimiento cheese
LOUISIANA – Crawfish
To be from Louisiana is to spend your spring and early summer days at crawfish boils. You watch the poor critters go in brown and then emerge redder than a sunburn, and if you’re lucky, with a dose of spice that will cauterize your taste buds. It’s more of an event than a meal, which makes it quintessentially Louisiana.
Runner up: Red beans and rice
MISSISSIPPI — Banana pudding
Oh, Mississippi. Thank god for you. Are you tired of hearing that yet? Banana pudding sort of sums you up. It’s simple, sweet and unpretentious. It’s also a requirement at any Southern gathering, and it makes the other desserts look sophisticated by comparison. But have you ever seen banana pudding leftovers? No, you really haven’t.
Runner up: Comeback sauce
NORTH CAROLINA — Sweet potato casserole
This state is the number one producer of sweet potatoes. And every North Carolina cook knows they taste best when mashed, buttered and baked with a brown sugar-coconut topping. While other states are whipping up this dish only at Thanksgiving, North Carolina leads by example and cooks it up year-round.
Runner up: Moravian spice cookies
OKLAHOMA — Fried okra
Your food identity should honestly be warm beer, Oklahoma. But we kid. We kid.
Yes, when you grow up in Oklahoma, is there anything better to do than eat fried food? Here they have perfected the art of battering and oil-dipping an array of things, but hardly any vegetable takes to the deep fryer like okra.
Runner up: Chicken fried steak
SOUTH CAROLINA— Mac and cheese
Sure you’ve built a reputation for pit barbecue and that liquid gold mustard sauce, but we know your heart really races for macaroni and cheese, South Carolina. And we can’t blame you. It’s on every menu in every town, and there’s even a competition to find the best mac and cheese in Charleston.
Runner up: Benne wafers
TEXAS — Brisket
Could we say anything else? Of course it’s brisket. If Texas were going to a desert island and could only bring one food item, it would be brisket. But if we know Texas, they’ll also find a way to sneak in some beer and barbecue sauce.
Runner up: Chili
TENNESSEE — Pork ribs
We almost said cocktails, Tennessee, and you know why. But pork ribs wins out for being so damn ubiquitous. We’d wager Tennessee has a barbecue pit in every town, and it’s probably possible to spend your entire life sampling its offerings without successfully tasting all of it.
Runner up: Hot chicken
VIRGINIA — Brunswick stew
Though Virginia is for lovers — and lovers of ham — the state is particularly great at Brunswick stew. It’s at heart a meat and vegetable stew with a tomato base, but the beauty is in its customization. With a varying array of vegetables and meats, the options are endless. But in Virginia, it’s all good.
Runner up: Salt water taffy
WEST VIRGINIA: Apple butter
The first time you encounter a jar of apple butter, you might wonder, what does this go on? Is it jelly? Is it butter? The answer is, it pretty much goes on everything. That’s right. Everything. Put it on biscuits. Put it on chicken. Put it in dessert. It’s far more versatile than you suspect, and West Virginia has got it going on.
Runner up: Pepperoni roll
We think that’s a pretty good start, so now tell us your personal food identity?