The “Sh*t Authors Would Like to Say” post was so popular that I thought I’d start a series of such columns. For better or worse, I have enough bad reviews to do at least two or three or more posts on that. But if you have ideas, please leave them in the comments. I probably can’t do “Sh*t My Boss Says.” Because, you know. Anything else?
Anyway, I disappeared yesterday after an unexpected Senior Adult crisis that is okay for now. Today, I’m off having a dermatologist tell me the reason I have so many odd bumps and spots is too much sun exposure in my ne’er-do-well youth. So if I’m late responding to comments, that’s why.
So, anyway, I think the subject of banana sandwiches came up last week, and it made me think about the stuff Southerners eat–or at least the ones I grew up around in rural Alabama. I’m sure every region has its own oddities. “Hot Dish.” I mean, what is that?
There is also no single Southern cuisine, as it varies very much from spot to spot. My best friend grew up in L.A. (Lower Alabama), and she thinks it’s perfectly normal to put yellow cornmeal in cornbread and eat banana sandwiches with fried catfish. Abominations!
I should note here that Southerners, lacking any other reference as to how to eat a thing, will batter it and deep fry it, or they will slap it between two pieces of white bread on which a healthy dollop of Blue Plate or Duke’s mayonnaise (depending on what your mama ate) has been slathered. So there are many things such as pineapple sandwiches and onion sandwiches that are not on my list because I personally have not eaten them.
So here, in no order, are the roots of my raising, as the late Merle Haggard sang. Note that while I lived in New Orleans for many years, my formative years were spent in the far northwestern corner of Alabama in a small cotton mill town which served as a model for Penton. Also, note that a lot of Southern foods and “traditions” were developed during the years after the Great Unpleasantness, when this area was extremely poor. Well, it isn’t exactly wealthy now….
- Lane Cake. This is the world’s best cake, bar none. And it was recently adapted as the state cake of Alabama. I suspect that was to deflect public attention from the morbid fascination of tapes featuring our 73-year-old governor making sexy talk with his “consultant.” (shudders). Anyway, Lane Cake–in my world–is made up of three or four layers of moist white cake, with a boiled icing that is similar to that of German Chocolate cake except with no chocolate–it’s all eggs and pecans and coconut and white raisins and a very healthy dose of bourbon. The Baptist version I grew up eating had no bourbon, but I have since been heathenized by the non-Baptist version. And everything is better with a little Black Jack.
- Banana Sandwiches. Some Yankees have picked up on this and, probably influenced by Elvis, eat banana sandwiches with peanut butter on them. But having grown up 20 miles from Elvis’s birthplace, I can assure you Elvis didn’t grow up eating pb on his “nanner samiches.” They have white bread (the mushier the better), a healthy dose of mayonnaise, and sliced bananas. Period. If you want to be fancy, you eat them with chips.
- Tomato Sandwiches. Again, this requires soft, mushy white bread, mayonnaise (never, ever, ever should the abomination known as Miracle Whip–it’s a miracle everyone who eats this sweetened nonsense isn’t horse-whipped), and thick slices of tomato, preferably fresh off the vine, heavily salted and peppered.
- Fried Bologna. Now, this is good on a sandwich with mayo and black pepper (white bread, of course), but it also makes a decent breakfast meat if one is poor and can’t afford bacon. There’s an art to fried bacon. It needs to be scored about 1.5 inches at the four poles; otherwise, it will curl up in the pan and will not lie nice and flat on one’s sandwich.
- Biscuits. Are made with buttermilk, flour, baking powder, and a pinch of salt. Period. They must be rolled and cut, never dropped. If you want to be fancy, brush the tops with a little butter before baking. This is Law.
- Sweet Grits. Okay, this is peculiar to my part of the state, as my friend from L.A. goes into spasms of horror when I first confessed it. Yes, I grew up eating my grits sweetened. So sue me. I thought everyone ate them that way, so imagine my horror at the idea of shrimp and grits, now one of my favorite dishes in the world. But presented a plain bowl of grits, I’ll still slip out the sugar packets.
- Sweet Tea, with or without lemon. In the South, until a few years ago, if you ordered tea at any restaurant, it would arrive so sweet it would make your teeth fall out. Now, most restaurants offer both “sweet tea” and “unsweet tea.” You know, for visiting Yankees.
- Cornbread. This is the source of much debate among Southerners. I grew up eating and making cornbread made with white cornmeal mix, buttermilk, and oil, baked in an iron skillet. I can still cook that with my eyes closed standing on one foot. So I pooh-pooh anyone who works with yellow cornmeal or–oh for the love of all that is holy, don’t do this–adds flour or sugar. That is not cornbread; that is cake, people.
- Peanuts and Coke. This was never a favorite of mine but I’ve seen it consumed a lot. One takes “parched peanuts” (i.e., roasted) and floats them in one’s Coca-Cola (a real one, of course). I also have friends who are wild about boiled peanuts, which I find completely vile. They’re mushy and gross. They’re boiled in the shell, salted, and sold out of the back of pickup trucks on the side of the road. Ugh.
- Fried Green Tomatoes. Okay, this bit of awesomeness has made its way out of the rural South now but I grew up eating them. Pull ’em off the vine green, slice them about 1/8 inch thick, batter them in cornmeal, and fry until they’re tender, then eat with salt and pepper. This is also an excellent way to eat dill pickles–sliced or quartered, battered and fried.
As I said, it probably explains a lot! What’s the oddest thing you grew up eating in your neck of the woods…and does any of the above sound good or totally gross you out? I’ll give away a $5 GC to one commenter. I have two weeks’ worth of winners that will be announced on Sunday!