Foods that are worthy enough to have earned the sumptuous descriptor, “Southern,” were established ages ago on Southern farms and plantations and have endured the tests of time, experimentation and variation. Frugality and locality were the heart of those original recipes, which were shared with family and friends for generations. Most grace tables now just as they did 200 years ago. The broad flavor palette – field greens, field peas, butter beans, sweet potatoes, hominy, pork, rice, peaches, blackberries, plums, okra, tomatoes, oysters, shrimp, crab and chicken – has given rise to a recent celebration of Southern recipes and cooks.
The mild flavor of silky, tender collard greens enhanced by smoky undertones of pork is enough to make one bow one’s head in thanks. High rise biscuits, light as air, complement crispy, hot fried chicken and cold, crisp coleslaw. Throw in sweet iced tea and sliced homegrown tomatoes and there shall be no finer meal in all the world. Following are timeless recipes for these staples, simple and open to experimentation and variation and worthy to be in any cook’s library, filed under the honored banner of “Southern Food.”
Sarah Edwards’ Fried Chicken
submitted by Fran Kendricks
Spending childhood summers at the Pawleys Island beach house of the Arthurs, their grandparents, was heaven for siblings Carlisle and Harry Oxner and Fran Kendricks. But what made this experience even sweeter was the cook from Pawleys, Sarah Edwards, who was queen of the summer kitchen. The Southern fare Sarah prepared for the Arthurs’ table every day of the summer was a gastronomic delight, and those fortunate enough to enjoy one of her meals have the experience seared into memory.
2 frying chickens, 2 1/2 to 3 pounds each, cut into pieces
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
1 cup milk
vegetable shortening for frying
1 to 2 tablespoons bacon drippings (rendered bacon fat)
Wash chicken and pat dry. Place flour, salt and pepper into a heavy brown paper bag and shake well to blend. Pour milk into a wide, shallow bowl.
Heat 2 to 3 inches of shortening in large iron skillet over medium heat. Add bacon drippings to hot shortening.
Hot grease is ready for frying when a drop of water dropped into the grease splatters. Dip chicken pieces into milk then place in bag and shake well to coat evenly.
Arrange chicken pieces in pan making sure to not overcrowd, which causes the shortening temperature to drop and leads to greasy chicken.
Fry chicken on one side until outside is golden brown and crisp, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Turn once to other side, reduce heat a bit, and cook this side until golden brown and crisp, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Remove from pan and let drain on another heavy brown paper bag or paper towels.
Add more shortening to pan and adjust temperature as needed to regulate and fry remaining chicken.
Katherine McWilliams’s Collard Greens with Champagne Vinaigrette
Katherine McWilliams shares a collard greens recipe that she is asked to prepare for every family gathering. Her grandmother owned a tea room in the 1930s in Plymouth, N.C., and this was one of the cook’s specialties. “Every time you make them, they come out differently, but always delicious,” laughs Katherine. “I also have two secrets that I was taught about collards. A whole pecan placed into the water with the collards will keep the strong smell of cooking collards to a minimum. And if you want to make sure your collards are tender, wash and chop the collards and put in a plastic bag and put in your freezer overnight.” Katherine explains that freezing breaks down the cell structure and makes the collard greens less tough.
1 to 2 bunches fresh collard greens
streak of lean (fatback) or slice of ham or salt pork
2 cups water
2 to 3 ham hocks or 2 to 4 smoked turkey necks or wings
2 to 3 tablespoons rendered bacon fat
1 tablespoon sugar
Strip or cut the tender outer green leaves of the collards from the tough center stems. Chop up leaves. In a large pot, sear a streak of lean over medium heat.
Add water and cover; boil meat for about 10 minutes. Add collards, packed in tightly because they cook down. Add ham hocks, rendered bacon fat and sugar.
Cover pot and simmer on low about one hour. Be sure there is 2 to 3 inches of water in the pot at all times. Do not cover collards in liquid, and do not dilute pot liquor.
Add hot sauce or a dried chile pepper to cooking collards, as desired. Once collards reach a tender, silky consistency, remove from heat.
Add some fresh, chopped green onion, about a teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of salt to about 1/2 cup of champagne vinegar. Mix well to create a nice topping for the collards.
Cedar Tree Cole Slaw
submitted by Gwen Smythe
Xan and Gwen Smythe operated a commercial hunting operation at Cedar Tree Plantation Hunting Preserve in Ridgeway, S.C. for several years. Gwen’s cooking was as much a highlight of a weekend stay as the hunting, and she kindly shares her coleslaw recipe.
4 bags angel hair shredded cabbage
1 purple onion
1 green pepper (optional)
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup oil
1 cup vinegar
1 teaspoon celery seeds or poppy seeds
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon salt
Pack the cabbage, onion and green pepper tightly into a bowl to prevent wilting. Pour sugar over the top of the packed ingredients (do not mix) and set aside.
Mix oil, vinegar, celery or poppy seeds, dry mustard and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour the mixture over the dry ingredients. Do not mix. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least four hours or overnight. Mix before serving.
Margaret Grate’s Coleslaw
For mayonnaise-based coleslaw lovers, the following recipe from Margaret Grate specifies Duke’s mayonnaise. And as those closest to Margaret know, never argue with her!
1 medium head cabbage, shredded
1/2 green bell pepper, sliced in very thin strips
1/2 cucumber, thinly sliced
1 carrot, shredded
1/4 cup vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Duke’s mayonnaise
Put cabbage, green pepper, cucumber and carrot into a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together vinegar, salt, sugar and mayonnaise. Pour over cabbage mixture and toss until well coated. Tomatoes are a nice addition, too, if desired. Serves 6
Margaret Grate’s Whole Milk Biscuits
2 cups self-rising flour
1 cup solid Crisco
1 1/2 cups whole milk
In a large bowl, cut Crisco into flour until mixture resembles coarse sand. Slowly add milk, mixing well but not overmixing – the goal is to just get it to come together.
Sprinkle extra flour onto counter and add some into dough if sticky. Pat dough out onto counter and cut with biscuit cutter and place on well-greased baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
Eleanor Ellison’s 1-1-1 Fruit Cobbler
Eleanor Ellison is a true “child of the land.” Whether crabbing in the creeks at Edisto, tending her herb garden or gathering wild blackberries, Eleanor knows how to find or grow fine ingredients. She also knows her way around her kitchen. She shares a simple cobbler recipe that creates a perfect blend of a golden, cake-like crust which gently envelopes without overshadowing the sweet bursts of flavor from either peaches, blackberries, blueberries or a combination of berries.
1 stick butter
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 dash salt
1 cup milk
1 cup fruit (peaches, blackberries, blueberries or a mixture)
1/3 cup sugar, to taste
Rinse fruit and drain. Use berries whole. If using peaches, peel and slice and sprinkle with lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. Dust fruit with sugar if it is not sweet enough.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in bottom of Pyrex dish in oven.
Mix together flour, baking powder, salt and milk.
When butter is completely melted, pour batter over top of melted butter. Then, dump fruit over top of batter. Do not stir. Place in oven and bake for one hour.
Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.
Put together, these recipes provide the perfect dishes for a great Southern meal. And while the French may say, “Bon appetite,” true Southerners say grace and then, “Chow down, y’all!”