Speciality Foods of the Deep South
Tastes: Hot, sweet and spicy
Staples: Seafood like catfish & mullet, corn, fried chicken, black-eyed peas
Speciality Dishes: Ribs with southern barbecue sauce or the big Southern breakfast with grits followed by sweet pecan pie
Types of cooking: Cajun, Creole and soul food
Watch out for: The deadly hangover cure!
The Deep South is famed for its food and its high sugar and fat content – this is no place to start a diet! Savoury dishes are often sweetened sugar or honey and desserts are legendary like the pecan pie and Mississippi mud pie (actually made from sticky chocolate!). Fried chicken from Kentucky is a popular dish of Creole origin, and corn on the cob, okra (ladies fingers) and black-eyed peas are traditional staples, as is ‘grits‘, a tasteless corn porridge. Barbecue ribs or other meat smoked on the fire and served with a hot and sweet southern sauce is great summer food fave. Soul food and Creole cuisine are rich legacies of the African-American slave tradition, dishes include chitterlings (pig’s tripe), catfish, crawfish and gumbo soup. Cajun food is from a poor, white man’s tradition and a jambalay (spicy rice with assorted seafood and veg in a hot tomato sauce) is about the most hearty meal you could desire.
If you’re uninitiated and planning on going for the traditional Southern fried breakfast then make like a boy scout and be prepared… perhaps by working up an appetite for a day or two beforehand. You could treat it a bit like climbing a mountain, because the Southern breakfast certainly comes piled high.
The full Southern breakfast consists of eggs, ‘grits’ – a hot cereal of ground hominy seasoned with butter and salt, breakfast meat (bacon, ham or beef) and biscuits-and-gravy (that’s the American biscuit – the English ‘scone’), all for about $6 with juice and coffee (not including the bucket).
Oysters, shrimp, catfish and mullet are seafood specialities of the Deep South. Mullet in particular was popular during the World War II when it came in as a substitute for meat, which was scarce, and it subsequently became known as ‘Biloxi Bacon’. Today, upstanding residents of the Gulf Coast hold an annual mullet festival to honour the southern staple and local mascot, which includes a mullet tossing competition.
Oyster Hangover Cure
The oyster hangover cure is really a Bloody Mary mix with Tabasco and egg. It made seem strange to drink more spirits to sober up, but the theory is to have a bit of the snake that bit you as an immunity cure, and the tomato is rich in vitamins and free radicals which soak up the excess of alcohol in your stomach.
If you’re in Alabama you probably won’t be using this as many counties are ‘dry’; it is illegal to sell any alcohol in 26 of its 67 counties, and drunk driving is a serious felony offence. In fact, drinking alcohol outdoors is generally prohibited all over the Deep South, notable exceptions being festivals, on Beale St in Memphis and on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, where alcohol is tolerated. Don’t even try it if you’re under 21, or you’ll be in deep in trouble in the Deep South.
Prairie Oyster Hangover Cure (just in case!)
1 ¼ – 2 ounces vodka (optional)
1 whole egg or 6 oysters
3 ounces tomato juice (or V-8)
Worcestershire sauce, squirt of lemon or lime juice, Tabasco sauce, salt and black pepper to taste
The egg should be swallowed whole, the oysters can be mixed in the glass. If made without alcohol, place ingredients in a shot glass and swallow all at once. (Note: raw eggs may contain salmonella and should definitely not be taken by pregnant women).
If you’re looking for the best of Southern Regional, Cajun, Low-country and All-American home cooking, you’ve come to the right place.
Want more? Join Ian Wright as he journeys through America’s Deep South, home to the civil rights movement, the American civil war, and blues, jazz and rock – and gritz of course!