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More Southern Food
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.
April 22, 2011
An excerpt from An Irresistible History of Southern Food, copyright 2011by Rick McDaniel
Barbecue: Nature’s Most Perfect Food
Barbecue is one of the South’s most beloved foods and has long played an important role in the foodways of the region.
As much as we Southerners love our country ham, tenderloin biscuits and smothered pork chops, we will run over them all to get to a plate of barbecue. It is a subject that is guaranteed to get two people from different parts of the South into a spirited discussion ending in either a lifelong friendship or a fistfight.
Almost everywhere in the region, but especially in North Carolina, barbecue is spoken of in the reverential tone usually reserved for ’65 Mustang convertibles, large bass that slipped the line and the cheerleader everyone was in love with in high school.
The word barbecue more than likely entered the English language via the Spanish, who observed native people in the West Indies using a method of slowly cooking meat over coals they called barbacoa. Native Americans were cooking meat over coals using essentially the same method as the West Indian peoples, and the English settlers who set up shop in the South were soon happily cooking pigs over hot coals.
The typical method for barbecuing a hog was to dig a pit or trench and build a hardwood fire in it. After the fire had burned down to coals, the hog was placed on poles or a sheet of corrugated iron laid across the trench. Barbecue made by this method came to be known as “pit cooked,” and the term is still in use today. Even in modern barbecue restaurants where the hole in the ground has been replaced with concrete block cookers, they are still called pits, and the person who is the head cook is called the pit master or pit boss.
In the modern South, the word barbecue is most often used as a noun, as in a plate of barbecue. It is rarely used as a verb, as in “we barbecued a pig.” Most people who do so simply say they cooked a pig, with the cooking method implied. In a final note on usage, nothing will mark someone as a barbecue novice and possible Yankee spy quicker than referring to a grill as a barbecue or using the term in any connotation when referring to cooking hamburgers or hot dogs.
April 15, 2011
An Irresistible History of Southern Food is the first book by Southern food historian, chef and author Rick McDaniel. The book examines how European, Native American and African influences, foods and cooking techniques combined to form the unique blend that is Southern cooking.
From the earliest interactions between Spanish explorers and Native Americans to the Farm to Table movement of the 21st century, An Irresistible History of Southern Food is a history lesson that will make your mouth water.
The 240 page hardback features more than 150 recipes for traditional Southern favorites from whole hog barbecue to jambalaya to brunswick stew, with an extensive chapter on elegant Southern desserts. The book features color photographs of many of the recipes as well as rare archival photos, many of them seen for the first time in print.
An Irresistible History of Southern Food is available at bookstores nationwide. For a hardback copy signed by the author, use the buy now button to order by credit card, debit card or PayPal.
March 26, 2011
“As the name would indicate this punch is dear to the hearts as well as the palates of the southern people and is used always to entertain distinguished guests. All the presidents and distinguished potentates have drunk deep of this delicious concoction. In spite of a declaration of a distinguished southerner,that one glass of this punch would make you climb the nearest lamp post, two glasses will make unable to reach the lamp post, the third, alas! will make you fight yourself.
One and a half gals. (6 qts.) Jamaican rum, 8 qts. Apollinaris, 2 lbs. sugar, 1 jar or can of maraschino cherries, 1 and 1/2 dozen lemons, 1 can sliced pineapple,1 small tumbler raspberry cordial. Reserve 3 qts. of apollinaris; just before serving add, to produce an effervescent effect. It is best to place a bowl of punch on a block of ice for some times before serving, instead of in the punch. Then look out for the nearest lamp post!”
—Jacquieine Harrison Smith and Sue Mason Maury Halsey, Famous Old Receipts Used A Hundred Years and More in the Kitchens of the North and the South, Contributed by Descendants. Philadelphia: John C. Winston and Co., 1906.
January 15, 2011
Collard greens have been a part of Southern foodways and folklore for centuries; collards were among the first crops brought to the South by the English. Native Americans called collards “Quelites” and adapted them to their agriculture, and enslaved Africans brought their tradition of simmering them slowly over low heat until the collards are tender and the water has boiled down to a nutrient-rich liquid called pot liquor.
Kay Moss and Kathryn Hoffman, authors of The Backcountry Housewife – A Study of Eighteenth-Century Foods maintained that one reason for the popularity of greens in the Carolina Backcountry (where there were initially few African Americans) was that the 17th century Scots were accustomed to eating greens or potherbs “from the yard” along with their oatcakes or oatmeal. The switch to corn cakes or mush along with their greens in the18th century Carolina backcountry probably wasn’t too difficult of a transition.
In an editorial in the Charlotte Observer in 1907, Joseph P. Caldwell extolled the virtues of pot liquor, writing, “The North Carolinian who is not familiar with pot liquor has suffered in his early education and needs to go back and begin it over again.”
The benefits of pot liquor consumption are even part of the Congressional Record. Huey P. Long, senator from Louisiana during the Great Depression, included a treatis on the benefits of sopping up pot liquor with cornbread in a 15 1/2 hour filabuster on the floor of the United States Senate.
“The North Carolinian who is not familiar with pot liquor has suffered in his early education and needs to go back and begin it over again.”
– Joseph P. Caldwell, editorial in the Charlotte Observer, 1907.
August 17, 2010
So called because made of stale bread, which would be a loss
Six thick slices of stale bread, soaked in sugared milk,
flavored with vanilla ; drain and dip in beaten egg, fry in hot
lard, browning on both sides ; sprinkle with powdered sugar
and serve hot.
Mrs. Franklin L. Morgan.
—Echoes Of Southern Kitchens, Compiled and Published by the Robert E. Lee Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy No. 278, Los Angeles, 1916
May 30, 2010
Make a rich lemonade, using two lemons to one pint water.
Rub some of the rind with loaf sugar, so as to extract the oil,
say about four lemons to a gallon. Take the whites of eight
eggs beat to an icing, adding pulverized sugar; about two
pounds sugar to a gallon, including the icing, is about the
quantity, but it depends upon the size of the lemons and the
amount of juice they have. A quarter of an ounce of Cox’s
gelatine [sic] dissolved and added is a great improvement.
–Mrs. Charles H. Gibson’s Maryland and Virginia Cook Book. Baltimore: John Murphy & Company, 1894.
February 17, 2010
To one quart of flour add one teaspoonful salt, one pinch soda, sift these alltogether, then mix in one tablespoon of lard, which has previously been on ice. (It must be cold and stiff.) Moisten all with half a pint of milk, which also has been on ice and in which two tablespoonfuls of crushed ice is put. Mix all well together, beat or work in machine until light, and bake in a moderate oven. A hot oven blisters them.
—Laura Thornton Knowles, Southern Recipes Tested by Myself. New York: George H. Doran, 1913.
December 24, 2009
A menu, typical of those found in wealthy Southern homes at the end of the nineteenth century.
Celery. Olives. Salted Almonds.
Blue Points. Grand Chateau Yquem.
Green Turtle Soup. Sherry.
Broiled Porapano with Pommes Duchesse.
Roast Turkey. French Peas. Asparagus. Chateau Lafitte.
Terrapin, a la Maryland. Champagne.
Red Head Ducks. Fried Hominy. Currant Jelly.
Burning English Plum Pudding, Brandy Sauce.
Ice Cream, a la Noisette.
Fruit. Salted Almonds. Bon Bons.
Creme de Meuthe, with Crushed Ice.
—Mary Ann Bryan Mason, The Young Housewife’s Counsellor (sic) and Friend: Containing Directions in Every Department of Housekeeping, 1875.
October 22, 2009
Stew apples and strain them: whip the whites of 3 or 4 eggs: add to them pulverized sugar; to this slowly whisk in the apples. Eat with cake.
— Mrs. William S. Donnan, ,A Collection of Virginia Recipes. Richmond, VA: Whittet & Shepperson, 1891.
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