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Column: Food and how it intertwines with Southern culture
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

So many of our Southern-isms center around food. Some of them are names of vegetables. Others are events.

A man I knew lost his wife a few years ago. He was one of the most eligible older bachelors in his town. Widows who lived there would bring a casserole to him. They would put their name on a piece of tape on the bottom of the casserole dish. The man would wash the dish and bring it to their home.

This usually would result in a visit for coffee or maybe a meal. He was besieged with food.

“Honey, they about casseroled that poor man to death,” a lady told me.

I love that.

Speaking of casseroles, churches are famous for having events involving casseroles. Not that folks in other parts of the country avoid casserole. They just seem to be a mainstay at some events.

We don’t add the word dinner or supper. We just say, “We’re going to have a covered dish next week.” No one has to explain what will happen. 

Then there are the names for a quantity of vegetables, such as a “mess” of turnip greens, a “cat head” biscuit or referring to any type of green bean as a string bean.

There are a lot of folks from elsewhere that don’t know about some vegetables, like okra, particularly fried okra. Another rarity was poke salad, a green that grew wild. It was similar in texture to turnip or collard greens.

A mess can also be used in place of a helping, as in, “I’m going to fix a helping of squash.”

Fix is another Southern term.

“I’m going to fix a meatloaf.” We know the meatloaf is not broken, it just needs to be prepared.

We also like to “whip up” things. You might be known for whipping up a pound cake. 

We also like to put things together. “She’s going to put some stew together.” What else would you do?

I also liked recipes that were the favorite of someone famous.

A friend of mine has a recipe for Georgia U.S. Sen. Dick Russell’s sweet potato casserole. Sen. Russell, who died in early 1971, never married and lived in a studio apartment in Washington. When he came home to Winder, he stayed at the family homeplace.

Somehow, I have a hard time imagining Russell as a cook. He usually had dinner on Sunday nights with his close friend, Lyndon B. Johnson.

He was so close to Johnson that his daughters called him “Uncle Dick.”

The friendship fell apart after Johnson threw his support behind the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

We’re not alone in our regional lack of knowledge around some foods. I was 11 when I had my first restaurant pizza. A revival preacher went to Athens and brought them to Social Circle. It drew a lot of kids to the revival meeting.

 Prior to that, our only experience with pizza was a frozen one from the grocery store. We also had some they made in the lunchroom at school. It was akin to eating a steel belted radial tire.

My folks were meat and taters people. That may have limited my exposure to other foods, but  here’s a part of me that is glad I didn’t end up somewhere else.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns publish weekly.