Southern cookin' is more than food; it is a tradition, and as with all traditions, without educating and passing along the information - regardless of where we reside - the legacy will end.
Southern cookin' is about a feeling, an emotion and about sharing with family. Southerners typically have large families, and if your family is gettin' together, your family is eatin'! Food and family go hand in hand in the south. I can hardly remember a family function that didn't revolve around food. Actually, I don't think we did much of anything without some vittles on hand. Wether it was smokin' some meat, BBQ'n some ribs or cookin' up a seafood gumbo.
Even today, the quantities that my family makes and I make within my own home are large and geared towards family functions. We don't just boil a few crawfish... we have an entire backyard boil and invite the entire family. When gumbo was made in my house, people showed up that you had not seen in a long time.
In the south, we even make death into a justifiable reason to gather and eat. A long time Southern Tradition is if someone you know loses a loved one, it is customary to show up at the person's home with some type of dish cooked in large quantities, of course. Typically, when you would get there, every single surface in the person's kitchen would be covered with food. The reasoning behind this was to prevent the grieving person from having to make food for themselves, or any of the visitors during the wake and funeral services.
I grew up in a very small, rural community in Southern Mississippi and the major influence in my life, in passing along these traditions, were my paternal grandparents who lived right across the dirt road from us. My grandmother was the matriarch of the family and she kept us all together and especially in line. She would put on family functions and make all of the food herself, clean her house from top to bottom and even find time to sew matching outfits for all the grandchildren to wear!
The road we lived on was named after my grandfather, who was born in his parents' house only about a quarter of a mile up the road. He lived his entire life within this small radius of the community.
My grandparents were "God Fearing Christians", cornerstones in the community and within their church and everyone spoke very highly of each of them. I never even heard either of them swear, except for those summer mornings when I could hear through my window my grandfather yelling and screaming all of the varations in name that he used for Jack The Mule, who was responsible for pulling the antique plow through his fields. My grandfather referred to this as "bellyaching" and he continued this ritual of bellyaching with his mules up until his own death at the age of 72 years old.
My grandparents were considerate of others, always giving and never expecting anything in return and each were honest, hardworking people. They were fairly self-sufficient people, raising chickens and goats and growing their own fruits and vegetables.
My grandmother worked up until her death, at a "Movie Star" factory, sewing lingerie for large department stores. She would return home from work in the late afternoon and cook large enough meals to feed her and my grandfather, as well as all of her sons and their immediate families, who lived on various plots of land surrounding their concrete block house.
My grandmother was always sharing her collection of recipes with others. Of course, you could never duplicate what she made because you would never know how much to use of each ingredient, especially if her recipe mentioned a 'cup' was it a small coffee cup, a large coffee cup or the cup she used as a scoop in the tin of flour? I have a collection of some her most favourite recipes and all are scribbled across the back of someone else's pay stub, or some advertisment from the factory where she worked.
I have carried on the Southern tradition and have continued to cook Southern and Creole foods, sharing with my family and friends locally in Toronto. A true southerner I am - no one is able to escape 'gettin' their religion' at the table. This means you not only eat the food, but you get a bit of learnin' about it. How is it made? What are the origins? How is it served? When would you eat this? Why is it important to Southern folk? I guess I am doing my part in keeping the traditions alive by passing it on.
When I moved from the South to Canada several years ago, an uncle of mine told me pointedly "Ya' left the good life". I have looked back at many points in my life and realized he was right. Yes, indeed, I had left the good, simple life but I left it for another life with good of it's own. I have now spent several years of life in Canada, outside of the South and I can honestly say I did leave the good life but when I left I took a little piece of the "good life" with me to share with others.
President, and the Mississippi Queen
Mississippi Queen Foods
Proud member of the Southern Foodways Alliance