Much like the culture, Southern food isn’t native to the land, but a reflection of its history and the blending of traditions and customs that shaped the south into the place it is today. A melting pot of flavors and ingredients, many dishes became southern staples based on necessity and availability. Here’s how a few of our favorite dishes became dinner table delicacies.
Collard Greens: Dating back to prehistoric times, this first member of the cabbage family was a staple in both the Mediterranean, as well as, Africa. In the 1600’s, as Jamestown was settled, collards became one of the few crops African Americans were allowed to grow and harvest. The leafy greens became a staple of their diets and during the Civil War destitute southerners began eating them.
Chow- Chow: As the Acadians settled in Louisiana from Nova Scotia they also brought the introduction of chow-chow. Used as a condiment on foods or enjoyed by itself, there are numerous recipes for chow-chow, each with different ingredients and flavors. The dish originated as a way to utilize end of the season produce along with salt, vinegar and pickling spices.
Grits: Whether they are served at breakfast or dinner, they are an integral part of a balanced southern diet. Made from coarsely ground dried, mature corn kernels, grits are rooted in Native American culture. Not only were they nutritious, but they were filing and inexpensive. Today, you can find grits served as a side item with breakfast or with the ever- popular shrimp and grits. They are as versatile as they are popular below the Mason Dixon.
Fried Chicken: Recipes for this delicacy can be found in cookbooks dating back to the 1830s. Scottish immigrants introduced frying chicken in fat and the Africans added spices to the breading, thus creating fried chicken. Introduced to Southern households prior to the Civil War, fried chicken was not only a family favorite, but the dish travelled well in hot weather in the days prior to refrigeration.
Catfish: There are roughly a dozen species of catfish native to the south and can be found in ponds, streams, lakes and rivers. While southerners have enjoyed the flaky white fish for centuries, it was the Native Americans that first called it dinner. Restaurants across the region have one thing in common, they all believe catfish is best enjoyed breaded in cornmeal and deep fried.
Fried Green Tomatoes: Not only was “Fried Green Tomatoes” a 1991 classic starring Kathy Bates, but it’s a southern fried treat. Rather than wasting the unripe tomatoes, in true Southern fashion, farmers began coating the vegetable in cornmeal and frying them to golden perfection. While the origin of fried green tomatoes can be debated, did they originate in Los Angeles, the south, or from Jewish mid-western cookbooks? We can agree that Ninny’s reaction in the film is similar to many across the south.
At The FEED Co. Table & Tavern, we may be a little partial to Southern cooking. From crispy, crunchy deep fried goodness to locally grown vegetables, Southern food is more than just a category. These staples are a way of life, its enjoying time with friends and family, sharing recipes and tradition and, of course, dining on mouth-watering goodness. What can we say, people retire and move South for a reason.