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More Southern Food
July 8, 2012
Two cups grated cheese, 1 teaspoon ground white mustard, 1 teaspoon salt, 4 cup rich sweet milk, 2 well beaten eggs, 1. table-spoon butter, a dash of cayenne and a dash of black or white pepper. Melt the cheese and add the milk—then the eggs and other ingredients. Cook until the eggs are set, then take from the fire, place the pan in cold water and beat until thick and smooth. Chop as many Pimentos as come in a small can and add to the paste— spread between buttered bread or crackers. (Miss) Maxie King.
–Scott County Cook Book, Boatwright Printing Co., Gate City, VA, 1918
November 15, 2011
After the hogs had fattened themselves up during the spring, summer and fall, they were slaughtered during a weather-dependent period that ran from late autumn to early January, depending on the geographic area. The outside temperature had to be cold enough so that the meat wouldn’t spoil before it was used or cured but not cold enough to make the people doing the work miserable.
Hog-killing time was a social event as well as a time for work. Children stayed home from school, and neighbors came to help with the work and enjoy the fresh meat. While the men and older boys worked, children played together and the women caught up with news of new babies, brides and local goings-on as they prepared the midday dinner for the workers.
Work began at first light to maximize the available daylight. The hogs were killed, usually by a cut to the throat, and then dipped into huge kettles or barrels of boiling water to loosen the bristles, which were scraped off with a knife, sometimes on a door borrowed from the house.
After scraping, the hogs were hung by the feet from a tree limb or a timber frame and gutted. Hams, sausage, side meat and bacon were smoked, cured or both and were destined for consumption weeks or months later. The liver, neck bones, backbones, tenderloin, tongue, ears and tail were eaten in the first few days after killing day. The jowls were cured and saved for New Year’s Day to be eaten with the traditional field peas and collard greens. The head was used to make souse, a carryover from Elizabethan England. Almost every part of the pig was used, even down to the feet, which were pickled. Even the hog’s bladder was washed, scalded and blown up for use as a ball in the days before store-bought toys.
Excess fat, especially the leaf fat that surrounded the kidneys, was cooked down and rendered into lard, which was used for frying and baking.
In the days before home refrigeration, any type of meat not consumed within hours after the animal was killed had to be preserved by one of four methods: smoking, salting, drying or curing, which was a combination of the first three.
Two methods were used for curing pork—wet and dry. In the wet method, meat was soaked in a brine (sometimes referred to in early texts as a “pickling”) solution of salt, sugar or molasses and saltpeter dissolved in water. In both wet and dry curing, salt did the majority of the preservation work, with the sugar or molasses added for flavor. Saltpeter (potassium nitrate, for the chemically curious) assisted with some antimicrobial duties and improved the color of the meat, adding a more natural-looking reddish hue.
After the hams and shoulders had been removed and set aside for dry curing, the trunk of the hog was cut into pieces and immersed in a barrel filled with brine. The ribs were sometimes removed and reserved for smoking and curing to make bacon and then brined for preserving.
The salt solution penetrated deep into the cells of the meat and did an effective job of preserving it from bacteria and insects. The resulting brine-cured meat was referred to as salt pork, side meat or middling meat and is composed of the fat from the hog’s belly and sides, usually containing one or more streaks of lean. Salt pork is often confused with fatback, which is also belly fat but is not salt cured.
The side meat was stored in the family’s pork barrel and removed as needed as the nine months to a year between hog-killing times passed. The family with a full pork barrel was happy and secure; this gave rise to two American slang terms still in use today. When politicians allocate government funds for projects in their home districts that will make their constituents happy, the money is referred to as “pork barrel” funds. And if someone has run out of money or times are hard, they are said to be “scraping the bottom of the barrel.” This expression stems from the fact that (especially in colonial and antebellum days) salt was scarce and expensive, and none was wasted. When a pork barrel had reached the end of its days or when times were hard, the salt was scraped from the bottom and sides and reused. It wasn’t as desirable as fresh salt, thus the negative connotation of “scraping the bottom of the barrel.”
November 11, 2011
In the economic uncertainty immediately following the Civil War, some newly freed slaves remained on the plantations of their former owners, working the land as tenant farmers for a share of the crop.
They were joined by a new underclass of desperately poor whites, some of who had been marginally poor farmers who were forced off their land for being unable to pay the four years’ worth of back taxes demanded after the war by the federal government.
Sharecroppers, both black and white, often fell victim to the “crop lien” system, in which they received food, seeds and supplies on credit from the landowner or the local store.
In 1938, the Works Progress Administration interviewed African American sharecroppers in Mississippi about their diet. They reported that the “furnishing men” supplied a peck of cornmeal, three pounds of salt meat, two pounds of sugar, one pound of coffee, one gallon of molasses and one plug of chewing tobacco, essentially the same rations their grandfathers had drawn as slaves.
As these “furnishings” were advanced at inflated prices against their earnings from their share of the crop, most found themselves in debt to the landowner at the end of the season and beholden to work another year to pay off a debt that could never be paid.
Although these weekly “furnishings” were nearly identical to what they had lived on during slavery days, there was a major shift in their diet because of the crop lien system. The small patches of land used for the personal vegetable gardens that supplemented their diets during slavery were given up in order to grow more sale crops to help pay the debt. Soon the truly poor, black and white, were living almost exclusively on poor-quality cornmeal and molasses with no vegetables or meat other than fried hog fat. While they were taking in enough raw calories, their diet lacked enough protein and vitamins. This led to widespread malnutrition and disease until steps were taken to enrich cornmeal and flour with vitamins.
August 22, 2011
Perch, brook trout, catfish, and all small fish are best fried. They should be cleaned, washed well in cold water and immediately wiped dry inside and out with a clean towel, and then sprinkled with salt. Use oil if convenient, as it is better than drippings or lard. Never use butter as it is apt to burn. See that the oil or lard is boiling hot before putting in the fish.
–Mrs. Charles H. Gibson’s Maryland and Virginia Cook Book. Baltimore: John Murphy & Company, 1894.
August 17, 2011
An excerpt from An Irresistible History of Southern Food by Rick McDaniel, published by The History Press.
On March 3, 1791, the newly minted United States government imposed a federal excise tax on stills and distilled spirits. This didn’t set well with the Scotsmen who settled the rugged coves and hollows of the Appalachian Mountains, as it reminded them a little too much of the tax the British had made them pay back home. Since they had dodged the British tax collectors for years, they pretty much ignored the tax and started making liquor on the sly.
For someSoutherners, it was the amount of tax levied by the government that kept their whiskey making on the other side of the law. As one mountaineer explained to Horace Kephart, author of Our Southern Highlanders (1913): “Nobody refuses to pay his taxes for taxes is fair and squar’. Taxes costs mebbe three cents on the dollar; and that’s all right. But revenue costs a dollar and ten cents on twenty cents’ worth o’ liquor; and that’s robbin’ the people with a gun to their faces. Now, yan’s my field o’ corn. I gather the corn, and shuck hit, and grind hit my own self, and the woman she bakes us a pone o’ bread to eat—and I don’t pay no tax, do I? Then why can’t I make some o’ my corn into pure whiskey to drink, without payin’ tax?”
Although moonshining occurred in many areas of the South, it was mostly concentrated in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee and northeast Georgia.
Corn liquor was a valuable trading commodity in a region where cash money was scarce.
Someone who had corn liquor could trade for powder and shot, flour, gingham and calico for the lady of the house, chewing tobacco or whatever else they needed or wanted to make life in the wilderness more pleasant.
Oftentimes would-be moonshiners went in with family or friends to pool resources to purchase a used still or to procure the parts to assemble a new one. The basic still consisted of a sealed copper kettle or pot in which to cook the mash and a copper condensing coil called a worm.
The distillation process for moonshine required a fire to “cook” off the alcohol. Since this produced large amounts of smoke and steam, the process was carried out at night far back in the woods, where the fire was indistinguishable from any normal campfire. Since the operation was carried out by the light of the moon, the word moonshine entered the American vernacular as both noun and verb.
July 3, 2011
June 23, 2011
An excerpt from An Irresistible History of Southern Food.
Bog is a casserole or thick stew served in the Lowcountry.
If you want to attract a politician in North Carolina, all you have to do is start cooking a pig and at least three people running for office will magically appear and start shaking hands and kissing babies. The same is true for bog in South Carolina.
There are many variations on the theme; some add more vegetables such as lima beans or corn. Bog is also frequently made with shrimp instead of chicken. This recipe is based on several from the early twentieth century.
Yield: 6 servings
1 chicken, about 3 pounds
6 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup long-grain rice
½ pound spicy bulk sausage
2 tablespoons poultry seasoning
2 hard-boiled eggs, finely chopped (optional)
green onion, chopped (optional)
Place chicken in a 6- to 8-quart Dutch oven and add enough water to cover to a depth of one inch. Add salt and onion and boil until chicken is tender, about 45 minutes. Remove chicken, let cool and de-bone, reserving the cooling liquid.
Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Skim fat from the cooking liquid and pour 3½ cups of this broth back into the Dutch oven. Add rice, chicken pieces, sausage and poultry seasoning.
Bring pot to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until rice is tender, about 30 minutes. Garnish with egg and green onion if desired. Serve with coleslaw and corn bread.
June 3, 2011
Here are the dates for some upcoming events for food historian and author Rick McDaniel:
Sat 9 July 3 pm, Blue Ridge Books, 152 East Main St., Waynesville, NC
Sat 23 July 12 Noon,Fiction Addiction Greenville, SC (Offsite Author lunch, advanced reservations required, click here for details and to register)
Sat 30 July 1 pm,Gaston Co. Museum, 131 W. Main,Dallas, NC
Sat. 10 September 12-3 pm A Southern Season, Chapel Hill, NC
Sat-Mon, 17-19 Sept Southern Independent Booksellers Assn, Charleston, SC (other Charleston area signings this weekend, also)
Thurs 29 Sept Cooking class, (time TBA) 1425 Inn, Columbia, SC
30 Sept, Noon Author Lunch and Signing, 1425 Inn, Columbia, SC
May 8, 2011
An excerpt from An Irresistible History of Southern Food by Rick McDaniel.
Ask any Southerner to picture in their mind a lazy summer day, and chances are that vision will include a porch, a rocking chair and a glass of iced tea. So how did a drink made from a plant that grows on the other side the world become, as many have called it, the house wine of the South? Iced tea begins life as the leaves of a bushy evergreen shrub indigenous to Tibet and western China. There’s some controversy as to exactly when the Chinese started drinking tea, but it was so popular by the sixth century that merchants commissioned a book extolling the pleasures of drinking it.
Tea drinking spread to Europe in the sixteenth century, when the English began trading with China. The English began exporting tea and then switched to growing it themselves in their Asian colonies.
Despite attempts in the early 1800s to grow tea in South Carolina, the British continued to dominate the tea market after the American Revolution. In 1859, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company began selling tea at one-third the price of British tea and later grew into a chain of supermarkets under the name A&P.
One of the most enduring myths associated with iced tea is that it was “invented” at the 1904 World’s Fair. While this might have been the earliest commercial sale of iced tea, and definitely served to popularize black tea (instead of the green tea popular since colonial days), Southerners had been enjoying this cool and refreshing drink for at least a generation prior to the dawn of the twentieth century.
Although there were recipes such as Regent’s punch (essentially a spiked version of iced tea) dating back to colonial times, iced tea became an essential part of Southern life sometime around the mid-nineteenth century.
It’s been theorized that the birth of iced tea probably occurred in New Orleans sometime after the first commercial ice production began in 1868, but there are recipes for other iced drinks that predate commercially produced ice by at least three decades. The earliest mention of iced tea in print is a passage from Sea-Gift, a novel written by North Carolinian Edwin Wiley Fuller in 1873.
Mary Ann Bryan Mason, another North Carolinian, gave this advice about iced tea in 1875: “Three things it would be well to avoid in tea—tea of inferior quality, weak tea, and cold tea, unless persons desire iced tea—then it should be well iced. Tepid tea is nauseous, especially if weak.”
The earliest printed recipe for iced tea is found in Marion Cabell Tyree’s Housekeeping in Old Virginia (1877), so by at least the early 1870s, iced tea was a well-established part of Southern cuisine.
How to Make Southern Iced Tea
Start with a 4- to 6-quart nonreactive pot and fill it with three quarts of cold water. Put four to six regular (or three or four family-size) tea bags into the cold water, cover and bring to a boil, then immediately remove from the heat. After three or four minutes (depending on how strong you like your tea), remove the tea bags (don’t squeeze them) and pour the hot tea into a gallon pitcher. Add a small pinch of baking soda to counter any bitterness, and add sugar to taste—1 to 2 cups, depending on whether you like your tea sweet, seriously sweet or stand up and bark sweet. Add enough cold water to fill the pitcher, stir well and let the tea cool to room temperature before pouring; otherwise the hot tea will melt the ice in the glasses and the tea will be watery. Do not refrigerate until the tea is completely cool or it will become cloudy. To serve, fill a tall glass three-quarters full of ice. Quarter a lemon and squeeze it over the ice, then drop in the lemon and pour the tea over the ice.
April 29, 2011
An excerpt from An Irresistible History of Southern Food by Rick McDaniel.
Any Southerner will tell you that the miracle of the loaves and fishes was the only churchsupper in history that didn’t include fried chicken.
For those of us who grew up in the post–World War II South, chicken was a pretty regularpart of our diet. But prior to the end of the war, chicken was a rare treat for most Southerners.
The reason for this was economic: unlike hogs, which had to be killed to use them for food,
chickens produced eggs, a renewable food source.
Like hogs, chickens were essentially self-supporting and free range. They were able to feed
themselves on bugs, grubs and animal droppings. Chickens are good mothers, and unless a
predator got in the henhouse, chicks usually reached adulthood.
Eggs were not only food but could also be bartered for goods or sold for cold, hard cash. This
meant that chickens were generally left alone until after they had stopped producing eggs, at
which time they were ushered to the chopping block.
These mature hens needed to be cooked for long periods of time in moist heat to make them
tender. Dishes such as chicken and dumplings, stewed chicken and chicken country captain
evolved to make use of these older birds.
The dry heat and short cooking times used for frying requires a young, tender chicken, one
capable of egg production. For Southerners of modest means, sacrificing one or more laying
hens so their guests could have fried chicken was the ultimate expression of hospitality, one
reserved for Sunday dinner with company or when the preacher came calling.
After the Second World War, commercial poultry production finally made the Republican
campaign slogan of 1932 a reality: a chicken in every pot.
Fried Chic ken
The first mention of “Southern fried chicken” in print was in 1925. An earlier mention of
“Fried Chicken—Southern Style” is found in Kate Brew Vaughn’s Culinary Echoes from Dixie,
published in 1917. The dish itself goes back to at least the early 1800s. The earliest published
recipe for what Southerners would consider fried chicken was in the third edition of Mary
Randolph’s The Virginia House-wife, published in 1828.
Although it may come as a shock to some below the Mason-Dixon line, Southerners didn’t
invent fried chicken. Nearly every culture on earth has some dish involving a chicken and a
skillet or pot of hot fat, from pollo fritto in Italy to ga xao in Vietnam. As to how fried chicken
came to the South, the most popular theory credits African slaves. The Scots also fried several
different foods, including chicken, so the jury is still out.
There are almost as many ways to prepare a chicken for a date with a pan full of hot grease
as there are people who want to snatch a drumstick when it’s done. Sarah Rutledge had one
of the simplest formulas for fried chicken in The Carolina Housewife (1847): “Having cut up a
pair of young chickens, lay them in a pan of cold water to extract the blood. Wipe them dry,
season them with pepper and salt, dredge them in flour and fry them in lard.” She goes on
to give directions for making gravy, which is good information to have if the preacher is on
his way for dinner.
Other variations on the theme involve replacing the water bath with buttermilk, sweet milk
or no bath at all; dipping the pieces in an egg and milk mixture before or during breading; and
replacing the flour with cornmeal, cracker crumbs or some combination thereof.
Traditionally, rice was the most common side dish served with fried chicken, along with
cream gravy made from the drippings from the frying pan and hot biscuits. Some Southerners,
particularly in Maryland, serve the gravy poured over the chicken, but the gravy is most
commonly served on the rice instead.
Basic Fried Chicken
Yield: 4 servings
2 cups cold water
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 chicken, cut into serving pieces
fat for frying (vegetable oil, lard, shortening
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
In a shallow baking dish, combine water and salt. Place
chicken pieces in dish and refrigerate for at least 30
In a 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, place enough fat (vegetable oil, shortening or lard) to come to a depth of about two inches. Heat the fat until it shimmers but does not smoke, about 350 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer.
Whisk remaining ingredients together in a shallow baking
dish. Remove chicken pieces one at a time from water, drain them and dip into the flour mixture,
then carefully place them into the hot fat. Cook for five minutes, then gently lift with tongs to see
if chicken is cooking evenly; rearrange pieces if necessary. Continue cooking until chicken is evenly
browned, about five more minutes. Turn chicken with tongs and continue cooking until brown all
over, about 10 to 12 minutes longer.
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