Southerners are known for many things, and cooking is one of them—but not just any old dish out of a generic cookbook, though—real, authentic Southern food. At the mere mention of grits, cornbread and collard greens, you know that you’re probably dining in the South.
|"Shrimp and Grits" is a Southern favorite.|
Certain foods are synonymous with the area below the Mason-Dixon Line. But why? Well, much is geographic fertility. For example, Georgia and South Carolina peaches are the sweetest available because of the soil and temperature. Our former president, Jimmy Carter, made Georgia peanuts famous because of his farm (and if you’re in the South, you’ve got to boil those peanuts instead of roasting them). To get a taste of a specific region in the South, gather your pecans in Mississippi, grind up some sugar cane from Louisiana, bake up some sweet potatoes from Alabama, or shuck a few ears of sweet, Southern corn from North Carolina.
Summerton, South Carolina, is surrounded by numerous farms and boasts some of the best produce around. As you drive though the countryside of Clarendon County, you’ll see corn, soybeans, peanuts, greens, squash, melons and tomatoes. Numerous tables in Summerton homes and at local churches and social gatherings are filled with the county’s plentiful bounty (minus the soybeans).
Many of the South’s foods have an African-American influence because of the plantations that dotted the Southern landscape. It is from where we get okra, and thank goodness for okra soup and fried okra and okra pilau (pronounced per-low)! Black-eyed peas and rice were staples on large plantations years ago and are still on Southern tables today. Benne seeds and sorghum were used in many dishes, and melons were a perfect treat in the relentless Southern heat. All have roots in African heritage and soil.
But by far the most influential component to Southern foods is family. Families pass down their recipes like they are passing down the crown jewels. Try to get your hands on some families’ prized fruitcake recipes or their barbecue recipes, and you’ll get your hand chopped off! Many Southern families identify themselves by their specific recipes. For some, their recipes make their families unique—and they don’t give away their “specialness” easily.
Whether or not you get your hands on a coveted recipe for sweet potato casserole for Thanksgiving, it’s all good, because even if some Southerners don’t share their recipes, they always share their food and hospitality.