All the women I grew up around could cook, except my mother, bless her heart. She loved to sew, not cook, so I grew up with a lot of KFC, and beautiful original pageant gowns! My grandmothers, great grandmothers, my soon to be sister-in-law all cooked delicious Southern food though, so I stocked up pretty often. They all cooked differently, but it was just the Southern way. The women are handed down recipes and cast iron skillets in wills left by generations before them. Yes, those skillets have been seasoned with years of cooking and they are like gold in the South. Family feuds have broken out over who gets Grandma's skillet after she has passed!
Sunday dinners are a thing of pure legend in the South. The amount of food there nearly rivals a funeral. My grandma's Sunday dinner, (the meal at NOON in the deep South) would always include at least two kinds of meat, a ham, and some beef or fried chicken, and so many home grown garden vegetables...well I just know I got more vegetables in me growing up than my yankee husband. Ok, well, they were fried or soaking in fat back, but hey, they were real home grown vegetables that I helped pick and freeze myself! And I ate lots of them too, so that has to count for something! My country grandma put a spoonful of lard and a spoonful of sugar in nearly all of her cooking. And it was mouthwatering, to die for, delicious. Fried Okra, black eyed peas, cornbread, and my all time favorite Southern special, fried green tomatoes! I can ashamedly eat those by the platter-fulls, all by myself.
A good Southern breakfast is good enough to last all the way till lunch, (dinner) and then we get to start again. And GRITS, Oh my goodness, what a delicacy of the South! For those who have never had grits, first, I'm sorry, second, my description of this fine fare could never do it justice. Grits are the tiny white center of corn after it's ground up. You can buy grits ready to make in a package like you buy rice. We don't have to ground them up ourselves anymore. That went out the door about the same time we got indoor plumbing! Grits can be served with cheese, a favorite of many a Southerner, but my favorite is with loads of butter and salt, for the health conscious, real butter, no chemicals that way, and sea salt works just fine. Put that with some eggs, sausage and bacon, buttermilk biscuits with sausage gravy and you've got a Southern breakfast feast!
And then there's the drinks! We always say, "Want a Coke Cola?", Even when we aren't offering coke. A cold drink is a "Coke" to a Southerner. Like "Soda" or "Pop" is to someone from somewhere else. Whenever we went to my Nanny's house, (Mother's mother) she barely let a second go by without offering us a coke, a real coke, from the back porch fridge, along with other treats and snacks from the snack corner of her kitchen. We had lemonade and of course sweet tea...The house wine of the South. No Southern home was ever to be without Sweet Tea, or fresh lemonade in the hot humid Southern summers. It is against the Law! And then there's the well-stocked Southern bar, filled with the men we all revere down South: Jim (Beam) Jack (Daniels) Mark, (Makers Mark) And throw in a little Mr. Bailey for our rich Irish heritage, and a bit of Wild Turkey, and the bar is open, am I right? We love our Southern men!
Eating in the South is as important as the kitchens we sit in to eat. My Nanny had an eat in yellow table in the center of her coffee scented nook and it was the busiest room of the house. Something always on the stove or in the oven, I cannot remember a single day ever of arriving through the back door into the warm kitchen and something not cooking on the stove or in the oven. In the South the kitchen table is the center of life. My favorite memories of growing up are centered around that table. This included so much laughter that I actually did spit takes as a kid, usually all over my poor uncle or aunt which I insisted on sitting in between at all times. I remember bursting into loud giggles with coke cola spewing out through my nostrils, and my uncle shaking his head, wiping off his face with a handy dish towel. In times of sadness, of hilarity, holidays and deaths, we were always sitting around that table. Life....was at that table. I now have it and feel I have a masterpiece. The kitchen tables of the South are where we eat, yes, but it is also where we share and bond and love and listen, listen to the stories of our families. Southerners are unique in telling stories. We are all natural born story-tellers, and we have an entirely unique way of handing down these stories to generation upon generation of wide eyed children in the family. And the stories are always told around food. Gathered around an old aunt or grandfather, biting into crisp, dripping, watermelon, always with a salt shaker nearby. Or sitting around the kitchen table over warm peach cobbler with a side of homemade vanilla ice cream, we listened to the the stories from the hilarious to the scary, for every good Southern tale has a ghost or two.
So I wear these extra lumps and dimples with pride. I was fed well, both with the food and the love that came with it.