We all have this notion that southern cooking is the only cuisine in
I grew up in
I heard for years about Mrs. Wilke’s Boarding House Restaurant in
Now, like I’ve said before, I am not trying to disgrace the memory of Mrs. Wilkes, God rest her precious soul. She was a good Nouvelle-Southern American dump cook. She simply knew no different, and probably wouldn’t have changed a thing if she had been told. And damn it! I respect that.
Southern food has always been based on poverty. Like most great dishes of the world, southern food centers around making great things from meager offerings. The southern magicians of yore turned tough meat full of connective tissue into succulent piles of smoky goodness. They took intestines and organ meat and made them sing on high. They ground sassafras leaves, tamed slimy okra, and took corn and made it into everything from smooth bourbon to velvety grits. They did all this, with little more than fat, salt, sugar and water; and sugar was something special.
Then a strange thing happened. Widespread distribution along with food canning and preservation made it cheaper to buy vegetables and things in cans than straight from the ground. Farms moved towards large Del Monte conglomerates and our corn crop began largely going to feed the high fructose corn syrup monster. The only thing that didn’t change was that southern cooks were still poor as the dirt they farmed. So they began reaching for cans and soup powders that cost pennies and promised authentic results.
Time marches on, but hunger stays the same. After a while conventions shifted to where no one even noticed these products as strange. Children turned into grand-children and within one or two generations, the glory that was southern cooking and all it’s Euro/African influences has become brought to you in part by the Campbell’s Soup Company. Mmm mmm Good.
Well I can’t cure poverty. And I’ll never be able to convince people that Paula Dean is a hype-monger that is dragging the southern name through the red
Taps is blowing over the centuries of hardship and innovation. The honeymoon is over on southern cooking. All that's left is congealed salad with Cool-Whip, potato casserole with crushed Ruffles on top, and Broccoli with Cheese Whiz.
Want some mayonnaise with that?