A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: Food, Family and Memories

I still crave my grandmother’s cooking, although she’s been gone now for more than 15 years.

My Granny

My Granny

She wasn’t a “chef,” or a fancy cook, but she prepared delicious, abundant meals and she poured her love for her family into every casserole and every slice of cornbread. I think because she and my granddaddy had lived through the Depression, when times were so hard and food was scarce, it was important for her afterwards to make a feast of every family meal.

Sunday dinner at my Granny’s was a momentous occasion. (And Sunday dinner means lunch, by the way.  In the old South, “supper” is the evening meal.)

She started cooking for Sunday on Saturday morning.

She always had two or three meats (ham, a beef roast, fried chicken, fried catfish or country-fried steak with white gravy) along with one or two types of potatoes (mashed with gravy/sweet potato casserole/potato salad), a vegetable medley casserole, macaroni and cheese, black-eyed peas, fried summer squash, fried sweet corn, green beans, slow cooked turnip greens with fatback, fresh sliced tomatoes in the Summer and fried green tomatoes in the Spring, and my all-time favorite, cornmeal–battered okra (the super crispy, slightly burned pieces are the best).

Hushpuppies, fresh-baked cornbread, yeast rolls and biscuits to sop up the gravy, or to slather with butter and her homemade plum jelly.  Coconut cake, banana pudding, pecan pie, strawberry shortcake and peach cobbler would satisfy your sweet tooth (should you have any energy left to open your mouth.)

I have dined at some of the finest restaurants in this country. I’d trade every one of those meals for one more chance to sit at her table.

Of course, she never sat at her own table. She bustled throughout the entire meal, filling up glasses with iced tea and water, fetching a fresh batch of biscuits from the oven, replenishing the chow-chow. After everyone else had stuffed themselves senseless, and the table was cleared, she might stop a moment for a small plate for herself.

She was always urging you to eat more. “But your plate is empty!” she’d wail.

Biscuits, butter and jelly

Biscuits, butter and jelly

Bulging eyes, tightening belts, groaning tummies and protests of being “full as a tick” had no impact: She’d just sniff and mourn that “you must not have liked it.”

Jewish grandmas got nothing on Southern grannies for food and guilt.

There are days when I yearn for for the food of my childhood.

Her food.

I’ll pick up squash and fresh tomatoes from the farmer’s market.  I even bake biscuits. I have the technology, recipes and equations that should make them taste the same, but they never do.

Southern food is au courant.  Farm-to-table is all the rage.  You can spend a fortune on something called “soul food” in trendy restaurants in New York, Chicago and L.A.

The true soul of Southern food isn’t just grits and greens, though; it’s the passion that goes into making them.

It’s the time and care in the cooking, the bond of the family at table; the joy of generations sharing stories and sustenance, passing down the memories along with the recipes.

It’s my Granny,  piling up my plate not just with food, but with her love.

“We believed in our grandmother’s cooking more fervently than we believed in God.” ― Jonathan Safran Foer

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12 thoughts on “A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: Food, Family and Memories

  1. now this is a site i can appreciate! tho i was born in the north, i moved around a lot and atlanta is my favorite place of all. hope to someday return to my “hometown!”
    the southern drawl and bless your heart comics – downright hilarious!
    and coke is it! my hub is from michigan and calls it pop, but works for coca cola – ha! i’ve always called soda a coke – it’s the best!
    and i appreciate the “yes ma’am” – always can tell when i meet a southerner, most still use it, definitely need more respectful southerners!
    happy a to z-ing!

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  2. Thanks for sharing your Granny’s love for dinner time and her cooking and you, Kimi. My tummy is rumbling at the thought, fueled by your delicious writing and photos. One question: How did you stay thin and fit? 🙂

    I remember my Polish great-grandmother, definitely from the North, preparing ethnic food for Sunday dinner in her steamy Brooklyn apartment when I was a little boy. And she used to declare to pudgy little kindergartner me: “Eat, eat, you too tin anyway!” Which through her accent, thin I was not, not, not!

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    • Grannies (and great-grannies – is it Babcia in Polish?) make the best food. I could eat my Granny’s cooking until I popped. And no one ever claimed I was thin and fit when my Granny was alive. I was full of grits and fried chicken! However, we were always “forced” out of doors in good weather to “go and play out in the yard,” but I’d sneak under a bed with a book and a flashlight whenever I could.

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      • I called my grandmother on my father’s side my Bobci, yes indeed, Kimi. Good call there, my friend.

        Yes, I always played outside, too, every day of my youth. That’s how I ate all that kielbasa and pierogi and lost the baby fat. 🙂 Sounds familiar in my north and your south. When it got dark, I read, read, read.

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