Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

Foods of Southern and Southwestern American Region


American Southern Regions Foods

“Take two and butter ’em while they’re hot!” refers to the southern predilection for a variety of delicious home-baked hot breads and beaten biscuits, which are eaten at almost every meal. As famed as southern hospitality are Virginia ham, southern fried chicken, hog’n hominy (pork and pork products served with corn grits), cornbread, hoecake and compone and a delectable array of desserts like tifle, Sally Lunn, Tipsy Pie, pecan pie and George Washington cake.

Many specialty dishes of African-Americans, enjoyed as “soul food” originated from the humble foods served with imagination by the early West African slaves. Well-cooked greens of all types, wild and cultivated, such as kale, collard and mustard greens, and chicory are enhanced with bits of salt pork, bacon fat or pig’s innards, hocks or ears. Other dishes include those made with pork and chicken. Melons are the favored fruits, eaten sweet, juicy and fresh.

Specialties in the southern states include Hush Puppies, cornbread batter fried to golden crunchy perfection and Southern Spoon Bread prepared with white cornmeal and separated eggs baked high and fluffy, not unlike a souffle. In fact, it is so delicate, it requires a spoon to eat.

Beaten Biscuits with their silken texture are a Southern specialty properly served cold, split and filled like sandwiches. The ingredients are simple, just flour, lard, milk and salt. The trick is in the lengthy kneading or beating with a wooden rolling pin till the dough blisters. Then it is rolled out, cut in rounds and pricked with a fork before baking.

Southern Fried Chicken is famous across the United States but likely no two recipes are identical, and even the exact technique is dependent on location and tradition. Seasoned and floured chicken pieces may be browned in a skillet or deep fried.

Texas Barbecue Lima Beans are often served with barbecues. Cooked lima beans are layered in a casserole with a thick spicy tomato sauce laced with grated cheese. More cheese tops the casserole before it is baked till bubbly.

Candied Sweet Potatoes: In the South, ‘potato’ means yams, white ones are called Irish potatoes. Cooked potatoes are tossed in a skillet of bubbling butter and brown sugar. When glazed and heated, they are served, usually with ham. The same meal might feature Vegetable Scrapple, finely chopped cooked vegetables are stirred into cooked white cornmeal, then smoothed into a loaf pan, chilled, sliced thickly and browned in butter.

On a lighter note there is Shortn’n Bread, rich tender cookies made with flour, butter and light brown sugar. The traditional Christmas dessert Ambrosia is prepared with oranges, bananas or pineapple sprinkled with sugar and freshly grated coconut (if available) then chilled.

In the hot southern climate cool drinks are always welcome. Raspberry Shrub, a classic Southern summertime drink, is prepared from homemade raspberry syrup sharpened with cider vinegar. The syrup may be diluted before serving over crushed ice. An Orange Julep features orange juice, lime juice and sugar, carbonated water and ice, garnished with fresh mint and usually served with bourbon.

American Southwestern Region

Strongly influenced by traditional Mexican and Spanish cookery, tamales, tacos, enchiladas, frijoles all vie with local tropical and semi-tropical fruits and vegetables to create an usual and distinctive cuisine.

The influence of the Hopi, Pueblo and Papago Indians have also helped to make beans, squash, chili peppers, and corn staples of the southwestern diet. The famed Texas chili contains no beans but is a slow-simmered stew of diced beef flavored with a mix of seasoning now known simply as “chili powder” (actually a combination of oregano, hot and sweet peppers, cumin, sugar and paprika) thickened traditionally with the same corn flour (masa harina) used to make tortillas. Chili is popularly served with a side dish of Texas beans, a hearty casserole of kidney,or pinto beans simmered in water with onions and garlic.

Blessed with a mild climate and fertile soil and encouraged by efficient irrigation systems, California enjoys a diverse cuisine and is usually in the forefront of food trends. An emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables and simplicity in food preparation have always marked California cooking. Yet there is also a flare for the setting, for the presentation and for the combination of ingredients that somehow distinguishes California food traditions.

Barbecues are the specialty of southern Californians. Grilled meats, fish and seafood are often accompanied with a choice of several salads as well as tacos, enchiladas, caramel flan and other Mexican and Spanish specialties.

Sourdough breads, avocados and artichokes and the plentiful varieties of fish and seafood make eating a delight.

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