Friday, February 10, 2012

Southern cuisine

It's funny how West Virginia is thought of as a "southern" state despite a portion of it being above the Mason-Dixon Line. Instead of only the geographic location, this is more characterized by the culture. The southern states have their own distinct history, customs, literature, music, and - yep- you guessed it, cuisine.

The cuisine for the southern United States is characteristic of comfort foods. While it gains influences from Scottish and German to Native-American and African-American, southern food varies greatly. In Southern Louisiana, there is Cajun and Creole cuisine. Rice was historically an important crop in the coastal areas of South Carolina. Barbecue has many regional variations in the South. Virginia produces Smithfield ham; Tennessee is known for its country ham. Oklahoma has grain- and bean-based dishes; Mississippi has catfish; Maryland is known for its crab; Georgia for its peaches.


Appalachian is one subcategory within the southern cuisine. Appalachian cuisine is characterized by pigs and chickens, locally caught fish, other wild game, buttermilk biscuit, ramps and berries. A few of these I plan to blog about individually because they're extra important to me. Generally speaking, many parts of the Upper South specialize more in pork, sorghum, and whiskey, while the low country coastal areas are known for seafood (shrimp and crabs), rice, and grits. The western parts of the South like Texas and Oklahoma are more into beef, and the eastern parts are more into pork.

Most of WV falls under the southern category, even if some parts go into the "northern" part of the United States. I go to, literally, southern WV every so often because my boyfriend, Chris, lives in Princeton. I never really noticed a distinct difference in cuisines, because, hey, it's only four hours south (three if you drive fast). But when I really took a deeper look recently, I noted some characteristics of a more southern cuisine, not only in that area but statewide.

Buttermilk biscuits & gravy? Chicken and dumplings? Fried Chicken? Cornbread, morel mushrooms (which I used to pick with my grandma), and soup beans are all here. I especially noticed that nearly every restaurant has a version of a pulled pork sandwich. And I realized I didn't "know" a southern cuisine because it's what I'm already used to. I just made myself more conscious of it and then it started to sink in. So, I wanted to list some of the foods that I, and many others, are used to around these parts. I picked and chose what I remember from my childhood from this Wikipedia list:

  • Chicken and dumplings
  • Fried chicken
  • Fried fish and seafood
    • Catfish
  • Corn 
  • Beans - often cooked down with chunks of ham, bacon grease, or onions 
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Peas
  • Potato Salad
  • Tomatoes
    • Fried green tomatoes
  • Yams
  • Biscuits
  • Hush puppies
  • Apple butter
  • Cole slaw
  • Deviled eggs
  • Bread Pudding 
Any childhood favorites you'd add to your own list? It's hard for me to characterize something as "southern," when it just feels "normal" to me. But, hey, it is what it is. I know I only touched briefly on Appalachian food, but who really wants to read an incredibly long entry? I wanted to give some basics and set some groundwork for some future blogs I plan on doing, like about ramps and morels and maybe even pepperoni rolls.