Hushpuppies delicious, iconically Southern, and no one seems to have a clue where they came from. Which isn't to say that people haven't tried to explain their origin. Plenty have. The problem is that no one has really tried hard enough.
All too often, chicken and dumplings gets labeled as a thrifty meal invented during the Great Depression as a way to stretch out an old chicken. But as you look into the history of chicken and dumplings—and when you eat them, too—you soon realize that, far from some sort of humble economy dish, it's actually a rich, luxurious Southern icon.
Banana pudding has a strong, genuine Southern identity that stretches back more than half a century. Earlier versions of the dessert go back even further. The real question is not whether it's Southern, but when and how it got that way.
This is chicken mull, the traditional barbecue stew that no one has ever heard of. A thin, buttery concoction, usually pale yellow in color, it's basically a soupy stew with fine bits of slow-simmered chicken in a rich broth thickened with crushed saltine crackers. But it's also a window into the deepest folds of Southern food history.
For a long time, if offered a plate of collards and Hoppin' John on New Years, I would have been inclined to say, "keep the change," for I never understood why anyone made a fuss over a mushy mound of rice and black-eyed peas. The problem: none of the ingredients used to make taste like they did when the dish was first invented.
With its pineapples, pecans, and coconut, ambrosia is full of ingredients associated with Southerners love, but how did it come to exist at all, and why did it become a Southern Christmas tradition?
These days, frying turkey is an American birthright. But it began as a Cajun specialty, little known outside crawfish country.
A true old-fashioned Southern Thanksgiving would be a pretty spartan affair, for that particular holiday feast was all but unknown in the South for most of the 19th century. Thanksgiving was a Yankee holiday, birthed in New England and adorned with that region's symbols and traditions—and cultural conflicts.
A few years ago, Southern Living opened a recipe feature by declaring, "It doesn't get much more Southern than a plate of Fried Green Tomatoes." 25 years ago, that would have been dead wrong.
Country captain's origins lie in India, not the South. Tracing the links between the two takes us to a New York City steakhouse, kitchens on Army bases, and letters from society wives.
Gumbo in America evolved slowly over the course of three centuries, taking on new forms and variations as it went. And then, suddenly, in the 1980s, it was transformed almost overnight, and that transformation by all accounts was due to a single very influential chef.
Gumbo is closely associated with Louisiana and, more specifically, with Cajun cuisine, and for good reason. But it's actually far older than the Cajun presence in Louisiana, and historically, it has a much broader regional footprint. It's a prime example of how West African foodways took root in the Southern colonies and, over time, gave birth to some of the region's most iconic dishes.
Though today celebrated as an icon of Southern home cooking, pimento cheese originates in the north, as a product of industrial food manufacturing and mass marketing. Here's how it arrived in your picnic basket.
Sometimes a truth is so self-evident that you can't present an impartial case for both sides. So I'm just going to say it: sugar has no business in cornbread. To know why, you need to dig deep into the history of corn.
When it comes to Southern foods, what could be more iconic than shrimp and grits? The funny thing is, until just fairly recently, there weren't a whole lot of Southerners eating shrimp and grits. In fact, most Southerners hadn't even heard of the dish.
No survey of regional barbecue styles would be complete without a word about the other dishes traditionally served alongside slow-smoked and pit-cooked meats. And as with everything else, regional variations abound.
If there's any one thing that distinguishes the barbecue style of one region from another, it's the sauce that's used to finish the meat. It's also the single element that barbecue fans argue most passionately about—what ingredients should go in it, whether it should be poured over the meat while its being chopped or pulled or added later at the table, or even whether it should be used at all.
Of all the elements of American barbecue, rubs and basting sauces are where pit masters differ the most from each other, even within the same regional style. Some use complex rubs; others don't. Some baste the meat while it cooks; others leave it completely alone.
There's more to a pit master's choice of meat than their regional specialty. Skilled barbecue takes think about other factors: breed, fat, and how an animal is raised.
When it comes choosing their wood, barbecue cooks take into account the way that it burns and the flavors that it gives to meat. But there are more practical factors at play, too.
Gas-powered and gas-wood hybrid smokers offer a lot of advantages to the barbecue cook: they're faster, don't require tons of wood, and are far less physically demanding to operate. But do they make good barbecue? In the right hands, yes.
Whiskey lovers have discovered that rye can be every bit as smooth a sipping spirit as bourbon, and America's distillers have responded, bringing out entire new lines of rye whiskeys. Here are five of the best we've found.
The rich variety of American barbecue can be attributed to many factors—the kind of wood used, the types of meat selected, and the way that meat is seasoned, cooked, and served. But the differences between one regional style and another begins long before the brisket or pork shoulder ever encounters smoke and heat, and that's with the design and construction of the barbecue pit itself.
These 5 bourbons may not be quite as well known as Pappy Van Winkle, but they very much deserve a spot in your liquor cabinet.
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