First, a disclaimer: As a Texan, I had never set foot in North Carolina or, for that matter, traveled east of the Mississippi River before I moved here for graduate school. While Texas may be geographically south, it is culturally foreign to “The South.” My first (and easiest) point of entry into Southern culture was its food - I have gradually started to replace breakfast tacos with biscuits, rice with grits, and beef brisket with pulled pork.
However, my grandparents are from Pearl, Mississippi and I eagerly look forward to any holiday or event that involves my grandmother’s cooking. I asked her to share a few of her memories:
“I suppose as in all regions of the country, southern cuisine originally was built using foods that were available… no Kroger. Every southerner with even a small patch of land had a garden. Vegetables were the basis of their menus and for the most part were plentiful. The Mississippi County Cooperative Extension Service had agents available who met with church ladies and ladies clubs to teach safe methods of canning so summer vegetables were available all year round. Of course, most women were taught this in the home growing up but just in case. Women took great pride in their canning as evidenced by the competition in all county fairs. In addition to canned vegetables, jams, jellies and preserves were also judged.
Almost all early cookbooks were compiled by these ladies groups and were lovingly typed on an old typewriter and, of course, credit for the recipe was given to the one who submitted it. These pages of recipes were held together with rings and obviously were a source of pride judging by the pen and ink drawings. The first really big mass produced cookbook was the Betty Crocker Cookbook in the red and white checked cover. If you couldn’t have Mama by your side to teach you to cook, you had Betty. Many of my recipes are written on paper napkins and check book deposit slips as they were shared by friends around the table.
Delicious fruit and berry pies were also enjoyed by southern families. Frugal homemakers saw that fruit trees were planted on the property and kids kept the blackberries picked. One of my favorite pies that called for purchased ingredients was a lemon icebox pie. I always felt very special when I was called in quietly to lick the condensed milk can and also the mixing bowl. When my mom made pie crust she always made a little extra, rolled it out, cut it in strips. Sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar and cooked it on a cookie sheet. A real treat.
Favorite foods that I remember and are now my “comfort” foods are oatmeal (no instant, please), chicken n dumplin’s, meat loaf and mashed potatoes, corn bread, and biscuits with gravy.”
Happy Archives Week!