Dip your spoon into a Cajun-style gumbo; savour a layered muddle of snapper, potatoes, onions, and poached eggs; feast on okra soup coloured with red-ripe tomatoes; eat Hoppin’ John for luck on New Year’s Day.
Nancie McDermott’s Southern Soups & Stews serves up recipes seasoned with history—from Nathalie Dupree’s Lowcountry Okra and Shrimp Gumbo to Summer Squash Soup with Black Pepper and Thyme, to Collard Greens with Pot Likker and Dumplings—offering us a glimpse of how people farmed, cooked, and continue to celebrate life over time. Travel around the South and you will find folks still eating the dishes today because the meals are delicious, compelling, and certain to attract and please a big table of family and friends.
The nature/nurture debate ends right here. I’ve had a full-on obsession with Southern cuisine as far back as I can remember. It is my favourite food. If I ever have the misfortune of being on death row, my last meal request will be Leah Chase’s Fried Chicken, Patti LaBelle’s Over-The-Rainbow Mac ‘N Cheese, Lee Bros. Fried Green Tomatoes, James Villas’ Candied Sweet Potatoes, Mrs. Wilkes’ Boardinghouse-style Biscuits and some sweet tea with bourbon. I could then die in peace.
But where did I develop my admiration for Southern food? I mean, it’s a reasonable question and one that’s often asked. I’m a French-Canadian dude who lives far north of the Mason-Dixon line. I didn’t grow up under a cypress tree in Charleston nor did I visit any relatives in Augusta during summer break. I was raised squarely on escargots, soupe à l’oignon and Coquilles St-Jacques. Not a biscuit to be found for kilometers. So really, there is no explanation other than I’ve coveted fried okra and peach cobbler since my beginnings. I’ve long ago surrendered to the fact that I was just born with smothered chicken gravy running through my veins. And why should I fight it? There are worse fates than having an innate ability to cook fried chicken and shrimp & grits. When it comes down to it, I am drawn by the cuisine’s hallowed traditions and unique cooking styles, its use of fresh ingredients, but mostly to its ability to provide feel-good old-fashioned comfort.
It is for this reason that every year I play host to a group of friends who indulge me in my zeal to create a Southern tradition north of the border. And I’m more than happy to be their comfort food ambassador. Here are some pics from this year’s “Southern Dinner.”
Bon Appétit Skillet-Fried Chicken
Light, crispy, juicy, tender and delicious. This best describes Bon Appétit Skillet-Fried Chicken or as the magazine describes it, “the only fried chicken recipe you’ll ever need.”
Tart and brimming with brisk flavour and apple-like crunch, these fried tomatoes are topped with a refreshingly creamy butter-milk lime herb dressing. This dish is unusual and one that my friends clamor for every year.
This blog entry is as much about friendship as it is about food. I have been blessed with some of the most supportive and lovesome friends. Forever there to help, to lean on and to let me be me. Elbert Hubbard once said, “The friend is the person who knows all about you, and still likes you.” And for that I am ever so grateful. And tis no better way to give thanks to my inner circle of most beloved than with the annual Southern Dinner.
For me, life without fried chicken would be an unworthy existence. I’m confident that I was raised as a southern boy in a previous life. And I find solace in the fact that this type of food provides the ultimate comfort, to me and to my pals.
Behold this year’s feast which consisted of fried green tomatoes, followed by fried chicken, mac n’ cheese, salad, whipped sweet potatoes with pecan topping and for desert, a lemon layer cake.