- 1 Origins
- 1.1 Evolution of Southern cuisine
- 1.2 African-American influences
- 1.3 Southern cuisine for the masses
- 2 Southern cuisine by region
- 2.1 Cajun and Creole cuisine
- 2.1.1 Cajun cuisine
- 2.1.2 Louisiana Creole cuisine
- 2.2 Appalachian Mountain cuisine
- 3 Traditional Southern dishes
- 4 Traditional southern breakfast
- 5 See also
- 6 External links
- 7 Footnotes
- 8 References
- See also: List of foods of the Southern United States
The cuisine of the Southern United States has influences from the traditions of the various groups that have inhabited the area.
The most notable influences come from African-American, Native American, British, Irish, French, and Spanish cuisines. Soul food, Creole, Cajun, Lowcountry, and Floribbean are examples of Southern cuisine. In more recent history, elements of Southern cuisine have spread north, having an effect on the development of other types of American cuisine.
The food of the American South is actually quite multicultural. Many items like squash, tomatoes, corn (and its derivatives including grits itself to say nothing of types of cornbreads) as well as the practice of deep pit barbequing are likely inherited from the indigenous Americans. Many foods associated with sugar, flour, milk, eggs (many kinds of baking or dairy products like breads and cheeses) are more associated with Europe. The South's fondness for a full breakfast (as opposed to a Continental one with a simple bread item and drink) is derived from the British fry up, although it was altered a good bit. Much of Cajun/Creole cuisine is based on France, and on Spain to a lesser extent. Floribbean is more Spanish-based with obvious Caribbean influences, while Tex-Mex has considerable Mexican and Native American touches.
Evolution of Southern cuisine
Map showing the Southern United States in red
The first settlers to arrive in the South found the land to be fertile and agricultural opportunities abundant.
One of the most important things that happened in this period was interaction with the native tribes of the area and borrowing from Native American cuisine. From this interaction came one of the main staples of the Southern diet: corn (maize). Corn was an essential and versatile crop for the early settlers. Corn was used to make all kinds of dishes from the familiar cornbread and grits to liquors such as whiskey and moonshine, which were important trade items.
Though a lesser staple, potatoes were also adopted from Native American cuisine and were used in many similar ways as corn.
Native Americans introduced the first Southerners to many other vegetables still familiar on southern tables. Squash, pumpkin, many types of beans, tomatoes (though these were initially considered poisonous), many types of peppers and sassafras all came to the settlers via the native tribes.
Some fruits were available in the area. Muscadines, blackberries, raspberries, and many other wild berries were part of settlers’ diets when they were available.
Early settlers also supplemented their diets with meats. Most meat came from the hunting of native game. Venison was an important meat staple due to the abundance of white-tailed deer in the area. Settlers also hunted rabbits, squirrels, opossums, and raccoons, all of which were pests to the crops they raised. Livestock in the form of hogs and cattle were kept. When game or livestock was killed, the entire animal was used. Aside from the meat, it was not uncommon for settlers to eat organ meats such as liver, brains and intestines. This tradition remains today in hallmark dishes like chitterlings (commonly called chit’lins) which are fried large intestines of hogs, livermush (a common dish in the Carolinas made from hog liver), and pork brains and eggs. The fat of the animals, particularly hogs, was rendered and used for cooking and frying.
A woman preparing poke salad outside of Marshall, Texas in the 1930s
Plantations were born after the Southern settlers realized the great region's potential for agricultural profit. The wealthiest land owners began to cultivate the land in larger and larger tracts and in the process began bringing slaves.
Most Africans’ diets consisted of greens and various vegetables. Stews were common and rice was a familiar staple to them. Foods that became part of the Southern diet from African-American heritage include eggplant, kola nuts, sesame seeds, okra, sorghum, sweet potatoes, field peas, peanuts, black-eyed peas, African rice and some melons.
The African influence is present in traditional Cajun cuisine. Gumbo (a stew using chicken or seafood, sausage, rice, okra and roux) and Etouffe, (a thicker, less liquid gumbo served over a bed of rice) are all born from African cooking tradition.
The term "soul food" dates only to the first half of the 1960's. In the South the phrase is not used and it is simply thought of as home cooking. There are many stories about non-black Southerners going to other parts of the country and having to seek out African American restaurants for the food they grew up on. In some cases they have been told they can't get certain grocery items and to try the foreign sections. Generally speaking white Southerners eat the exact same food in the exact same way as traditional African Americans. There are some foods, however, like chitlins and pigs feet, that are more associated with poverty (even among white Southerners) and have simply been employed more over time with blacks than whites.
Southern cuisine for the masses
Southern food is steeped in tradition, as seen on a sign for the Granny Cantrell's restaurants in the Florida Panhandle.
A niche market for Southern food along with American comfort food has proven profitable for chains such as Cracker Barrel, who have extended their market across the country, instead of staying solely in the South.
Other Southern chains which specialize in this type of cuisine, but have decided mainly to stay in the South, are Po' Folks (also known as Folks in some markets) and Famous Amos. Another type of selection is Sonny's Real Pit Bar-B-Q. Pit Barbeque is popular all over the American South with many rural places even sporting several locally run locations although this is rare in most other parts of the country.
Southern chains that are popular across the country include Stuckey's, and Popeye's. The former is known for being a "pecan shoppe" and the latter is known for its spicy fried chicken. Other popular chains with Southern roots include Krystal, Shoney's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Waffle House and Hardee's. Krispy Kreme has become popular for their unique sugary donuts.
There are many individual family style restaurants based on the cuisine of the American South. Despite the down-home image of many Southern influenced restaurants, some are more upscale. Similar restaurants are even overseas.
Southern cuisine by region
Southern cuisine varies widely by region. In Southern Louisiana, there is Cajun and Creole cuisine. Rice was historically an important crop in the coastal areas of North Carolina and South Carolina, leading to local specialties like "Hoppin' John" (a mixture of rice and black-eyed peas flavored with salt pork) and Charleston Red Rice. Although North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas are particularly noted for their barbecue, it is extremely popular throughout the South with many regional variations of its own. Virginia is noted not only for its Smithfield hams but also for its major supply of apples as well. Louisiana is a large supplier of hot sauces with its peppers and Texas is more known for BBQ sauces. Florida is home of the Key lime pie and swamp cabbage but is also a big orange growing state as Florida orange juice is well known everywhere. Georgia is more famous for its peaches and peanuts. The Appalachian areas have ramps and berries. Kentucky is famous for Burgoo. Texas has its chili, while Brunswick stew originated in the eastern parts of the South. Generally speaking, many parts of the Upper South specialize more in their pork (such as ham with the hog killings), sorghum, and whiskey, while the low country coastal areas are known for their seafood (shrimp and crabs), rice, and grits. The western parts of the South like Texas and Oklahoma are more beef-inclined with the eastern parts being more pork-inclined.
Cajun and Creole cuisine
Dishes typical of Creole cuisine
Southern Louisiana developed significant culinary traditions, Louisiana Creole cuisine in southeastern Louisiana centered on New Orleans, Louisiana, and Cajun cuisine centered on Acadiana in southwestern Louisiana.
Both share influences of traditional cuisine of France with greater use of rice and local Louisiana resources as well as African imports such as okra.
These settlers also had access to many native coastal animals such as crawfish. (commonly called crayfish outside the region), crab, oysters, shrimp, and fish. These seafoods were incorporated into their diets and are still seen today in the various dishes of the region.
Fruits such as figs, plums and grapes were also grown in the region. Pecans and peanuts were grown in the region, providing an alternative protein source.
Creole cuisine was long better-known nationally until the explosion of interest in Cajun food in the 1980s.
Cajun cuisine includes influence from Acadia in Canada. Rice, which could be used to stretch meals out to feed large families, became a major staple food. Today we still see that influence in many Cajun dishes which are served over a bed of rice. And again, corn was a major staple.
In addition to the above listed foods, Acadian families were introduced to vegetables such as okra, which is a key ingredient in gumbos and etouffe as well as many other Cajun and Creole dishes. (Many Southerners also enjoy deep-fried okra.)
Louisiana Creole cuisine
Southeastern Louisiana was more heavily influenced by Spain and Latin America than was Acadiana. The region also maintained more trade with France and incorporation of more recent French culinary traditions well into the 19th century. The major city of New Orleans, long known for its fine restaurants, allowed development of more gourmet variations of local dishes.
At the start of the 1980s Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme opened a popular restaurant in New Orleans which started significant influence of Cajun food on to Creole traditions.
Appalachian Mountain cuisine
Food served in the Appalachian Mountains differs slightly from other southern cuisine. Terrible travel conditions and poor roads limited most settlements to only foods that could be produced locally. Seafood, beyond the occasionally locally caught fish, was unheard of. Diets were almost meatless, except for wild game, particularly during the winter. Pigs were raised and the meat cured for later consumption, but often, the meat was used as a flavoring instead of as the main course. For example, sausage was often cooked in small portions primarily to obtain grease for use in gravy instead of as a main course. Cornbread was eaten regularly since corn grew well locally. As flour became available, biscuits and johnny cakes became more popular. Salt was available, notably from Saltville, Virginia, but until black pepper appeared, few other seasonings were used. Women in this area were often herbalists, and may have used local plants in seasoning. Chicory, which could be grown locally, was a well known coffee substitute. Corn whiskey, milk, and water were available from the farm. Coffee, sugar, and tea were all slower to become available. Things that tend to be more popular in this area are berries in general as well as apples. Morel mushrooms and ramps (a kind of wild leek that has a very strong smell) are grown here but are much less common in other parts of the South. In the mountains you'll find ramp festivals and recipes for things like fruit dumplings and wilted lettuce with dressing. Home canning is a strong tradition here as well (including "soup beans")
Traditional Southern dishes
- See also: List of foods of the Southern United States
An example of a traditional Southern meal is deep fried chicken, field peas, turnip or collard greens, cornbread, sweet tea and a dessert that could be a pie (sweet potato, pecan and peach are traditional southern pies), or a cobbler (peach, blackberry or mixed berry are traditional cobblers).
Some other foods commonly associated with the South are mint juleps, pecan pie, country ham, chicken fried steak, grits, biscuits, especially with gravy or sorghum, sweet tea, pit barbeque, catfish, fried green tomatoes, cornbread, bread pudding, fried chicken, okra, butter beans, pinto beans, "greens", and black eyed peas. A common snack food, in season, is boiled peanuts.
Fried chicken is among the region's best-known exports, though pork is also an integral a part of the cuisine, with Virginia ham being one renowned form. Barbecue (usually written BBQ) is always understood to be pork, unless specified as some other meat, and there are many regional "cookoff" competitions. A traditional holiday get-together featuring whole hog barbecue is known in the Carolinas as a "pig pickin'." Green beans are often flavored with bacon and salt pork, biscuits served with ham often accompany breakfast, and ham with red-eye gravy or country gravy is a common dinner dish. A bit of fatback is added to many vegetable dishes, especially greens, for flavoring.
It is not uncommon for a traditional southern meal to consist of only vegetables with no meat dish at all, although meat or meat products are often used in the cooking process. "Beans and Greens," which consists of either white or brown beans alongside a "mess" of greens has always been popular in most parts of the South. Turnip greens are generally prepared mixed with diced turnips and a piece of fatback. It is often said that Southerners tend to cook down their vegetables a little longer and/or use more seasoning than other Americans, but it often depends on the cook.
Traditional southern breakfast
Breakfast is an extremely important meal in the South. Southerners will often eat breakfast at all hours of the day due to its popularity. Many restaurants and fast food chains with Southern roots will often specialize in this fare, serve breakfast all day or include a separate menu just for breakfast. Cracker Barrel does all of these. Other examples of this include the Waffle House, Shoney's, and International House of Pancakes.
Some things that are typical as breakfast items include:
- traditional pork sausage in patties
- link sausage, less often
- Canadian bacon
- chicken fried steak
- country ham with red eye gravy
- eggs prepared in a variety of ways including scrambled with cheese or as an omelet with onions, peppers, olives and other items.
- grits cheese, butter or salt are often added.
- tomatoes Usually served fresh, sliced. Not usually cooked unless sauteed with eggs.
- muscadine Eaten separately or made into jam to eat on toast or biscuits.
- biscuits often with either milk gravy or with some kind of jam. Other variations include hot chocolate gravy where the biscuits are served piping hot and pinched up in a dish with a little butter added before pouring on the chocolate gravy. Also certain meats like stewed roast beef hash can be served with biscuits for an alternative taste. Tomato gravy on biscuits is popular in parts of Mississippi.
- hot sauce is often added to sausage, gravy or eggs
- Some kind of fruit, grapefruit is probably most common
- juice, Florida orange juice is common, or more rarely, Georgia peach juice.
- pancakes or waffles topped with fruit or syrup
- doughnuts like Krispy Kreme
- Other pastry items like the Creole/Cajun Beignets
- Livermush is a pork product made with liver and cornmeal. Popular in North Carolina.
- Tex-Mex cuisine
- Cuisine of the Southwestern United States
- Cuisine of the United States
- Southern Foodways Alliance
- Southern Food & Beverage Museum
- North Carolina barbecue primer
- ^ soul food. Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.0.1). Lexico Publishing Group (2006). Retrieved on 2006-11-09.
- Harris, Jessica. On the Side: More than 100 Recipes for the Sides, Salads, and Condiments That Make the Meal. Simon & Schuster, 2004. ISBN 0-7432-4917-8.
- The Junior League of Charleston. Charleston Receipts. Wimmer Brothers, 1950. ISBN 0-9607854-5-0.
- Lewis, Edna and Peacock, Scott. The Gift of Southern Cooking: Recipes and Revelations from Two Great American Cook. Knopf, 2003. ISBN 0-375-40035-4.
- Neal, Bill. Bill Neal's Southern Cooking. University of North Carolina Press, 1989. ISBN 0-8078-4255-9.
- Neal, Bill. Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie. University of North Carolina Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8078-5474-3.
- Neal, Bill. Good Old Grits Cookbook. Workman Publishing Company, 1991. ISBN 0-89480-865-6.
- Snow, Constance. Gulf Coast Kitchens. Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2003. ISBN 0-609-61011-2.
- Taylor, John. Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking. 1992. ISBN 0-553-08231-0.
- Walter, Eugene. American Cooking: Southern Style. New York: Time Life Books, 1971.
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