There are some foods that are considered distinctly Southern: cornbread, peach cobbler, a tomato sandwich. Then there are some, still considered distinctly Southern, but more on the wild side of today’s kitchen table: pickled pigs feet, rabbit stew, fried gizzards.
With a quiz going around on social media, The Times decided to run it past a couple of tried-and-true Southerners.
Mike McConnell, who had 33 of the foods on the list, said the only reason he’s had so many of these Southern foods is because he’s old.
'Fess up your score 😋 pic.twitter.com/mjIbDReUOT— It's a Southern Thing (@southernthing) June 11, 2019
The 70-year-old grew up in Mississippi and found that most of the foods on the list were pretty much the norm around his home more out of necessity than anything else.
“I was in a real country community,” McConnell said. “You would go out of my driveway and either way you went, you'd be on dirt road about six miles and the closest house was probably about a half mile. So it was a lot of woods. So we hunted.”
That’s the reason he’s had so much squirrel in his life. Back then when he was growing up in the 1950 and 1960s, they’d go out in the woods with a .22 or a shotgun to hunt squirrels and bring them back to use as protein in a number of different recipes.
“As a kid, we ate a lot of squirrell,” McConnell said. “It was a normal thing people ate back then. Fried squirrel or squirrel and dumplings was quite common in my community.”
He even has a squirrel mulligan recipe — which is a type of stew — that he adds to his church’s bulletin “just for the fun of it” sometimes.
He’s also had plenty of chicken fried steak, fried green tomatoes, deviled eggs and fried gizzards in his day.
“My grandmother used to tickle me,” McConnell said as he remembered his childhood. “She didn't have any teeth but she loved fried gizzards. She'd get to chewing on them like you would bubble gum.”
There were some items on the list that made Crevolyn Wiley laugh. Wiley, who’s also a food columnist for The Times, has tried 31 of the foods on the list.
She said there’s just something about frog legs that she “has to smile about.”
She remembers eating them when she was young and not really knowing any different.
“I thought it was just like chicken,” Wiley said. “My dad would always fry them when he'd fry fish outside, and now, when I look back at that, I'm like, ‘I can't believe I ate them.’”
She wasn’t forced to chow down on frogs legs or anything. She actually liked them.
“They're so good is the thing,” Wiley said. “If you don't know what they are — especially like I was as a child who had no idea — they're really good.”
Another thing on the list she said she loved is chocolate gravy. She said it’s made similarly to gravy with a whisk in a pan, but it has sugar and cocoa powder, so it’s sweet instead.
“It's almost like a thin, chocolate icing,” Wiley said. “It is so good. And it's just kind of a drizzle over hot biscuits. It's so good.”
And of course, she’s had the staples on the list: fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits, peach cobbler. Chicken fried steak — she calls it country fried steak — has also been a staple around her house. Her children ate as they were growing up just like she did throughout her own childhood.
“My kids ate everything I cooked, so they ate all of this,” Wiley said of the foods on the list.
There were some things she said she has never tried and probably never will. Even though she’s had chicken livers before, she said she's not interested in liver mush.
“I've had chicken livers, and that's not actually the worst thing to have,” Wiley said. “Poor Richard's has the best chicken livers, actually. If you're ever going to have them, that's the place to have them.”
She’s also never had burgoo, souse, fried gizzards, chitlins or fried squirrel. She draws the line at pickled pigs feet and probably won’t be having rabbit stew any time soon.
“I'm not sure I would ever give that a try,” Wiley said of the stew. “I'm pretty adventurous, but that … no, thank you.”
McConnell’s never tried burgoo, hoppin’ John, corn pudding, chocolate gravy or oyster casserole. Some he hasn’t heard of and others he just hasn’t gotten around to. But with a score of 33, he considers himself about as Southern as they come.
But there’s one item he’s had that’s not on the list and that we bet you’ve never tried.
Even though they’re not technically of Southern origin, McConnell said he was surprised to not see Rocky Mountain oysters on the list. Growing up a little closer to the Rockies than he is now might be why he thinks that way, but still, he was surprised something that he considers so Southern wasn’t the list.
Rocky Mountain oysters, for those that don’t know, are bull testicles. Often they’re coated in flour and fried.
McConnell recalled his first experience with the food when he was in college.
“Some of my redneck friends came over and said, ‘Come over and have lunch with us,’” McConnell said. “I asked what they were having and they said to just come on over. They didn't want to tell me what it was and man, they had a platter piled probably six inches high with something fried. It looked kind of like fried livers or something like that.”
His friends told him they were Rocky Mountain oysters, and he figured it didn’t sound too bad.
“I tried it and it tasted pretty much like anything else fried, but it was a little bit mushy and I didn't particularly like that so I didn't eat anymore of them.”
That’s the same reason he said he hasn’t tried liver mush.
“I think I've heard of that, but it doesn't sound very appetizing,” McConnell said.