I've been thinking about the past lately. Actually, it started with the Great Mullet Smackdown between Canadian Kristy J and American SB Sarah. Although it was all in fun, it got me to wondering - are we really so very different?
When I moved to Alabama from Toronto Canada 40+ years ago, I think my answer would have been a resounding YES! Not only was I going from a large city to what I guess what would be termed a town (pop. 20,000), but I was entering what seemed to me to be the Twilight Zone. Southerners have their own ways of doing things.
For one thing - they cook food to death. Not that I cooked, you understand. Mom may have thought she was teaching me, but I somehow managed to dodge even the simplest basics. But a lot of our food - vegetables and fruit - in Canada were steamed, baked or just plain raw. Now I had entered the land of "if you can eat it, fry it" and if you can't fry it, boil it to death.
My first experience with cooking Southern was blackeyed peas. These were fresh from the garden, compliments of a first cousin belonging to John. So, you know, I cooked them as I thought they should be cooked. Like English peas. I can remember eating English peas straight from the pod, so you know they don't need much cooking. I proudly dished up my first attempt at cooking southern food and those blackeyes peas bounced around the plate like BB shot!
See, you're supposed to cook blackeyed peas at least 2 hours, after seasoning them with fatback or bacon strips. That's so you get a liqor (yes I spelled that right) to dunk your cornbread in.
John laughed his ass off (not that he has much of a one in the first place!). I was not amused.
Then I compounded my error due to differences in language. That same cousin dropped off some turnips, also fresh from the garden.
Well now. After the fact, I discovered that what we called turnips in Canada were called rutabagas down here. And lots of other places, for all I know. But I knew turnips as those big waxy things that are so hard to peel. Sort of all purpley and white. I do remember thinking Southern turnips were rather puny, but shrugged my shoulders and got on with preparing them. Cut off the tops (good lord, there were a lot of tops!), peeled the puny turnips and cooked them as I remembered Mom doing it with a pinch of sugar and salt and a slab of butter on top when they got to the serving bowl.
John couldn't eat them, they were so bitter. That's when I learned I cut off and threw away the wrong part. It's the green, leafy tops I was supposed to cook. Called turnip greens down here. You cook 'em with fatback and/or bacon and if you wish you can add a few cubes of the turnip, but not too many. They are bitter, you know. It is certainly a sign of true love when a man puts his stomach second to a woman. Romance, southern style.
I tried to make Brunswick stew; it scorched. We ate it anyway, with little flecks of black throughout it. Very decorative. My chicken and dumplings? I may be the only person in the south whose dumplings collapsed. I buy Sweet Sue now.
About the only thing I got good at was cornbread dressing. That's because I couldn't cook the wild duck without it drying out, so I boiled the hell out of it, stripped it off the bones and put it in a 13x9 baking dish of cornbread dressing. Not too bad. My guys did eat it, anyway. But that was when I was older and wiser and had become fairly familiar with my stove. I also discovered if you wrap dove breasts in bacon they won't dry out. Took me awhile though. And John kept eating questionable food. True love, I tell ya!
I've settled in down here and have found that people are people, no matter if they're north of the border or south. Southerners certainly don't talk like Canadians, but their values are the same.
And didn't someone wise once say 'variety is the spice of life'? If they didn't mean the South, they should have! The South, where a southern gentleman - in all senses of the word - will dutifully eat questionable food cooked by someone who could have been a damn Yankee, except she lived too far North.
It's true love and in it's own way, entirely romantic.