A taste of the south in your mouth

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 21, 2004

You can take a girl or a guy out of the South, but you can’t seem to take the South out of the girl or guy. My husband and I lived away from Dixie for more than a decade, and it was easy to get homesick for good ol’ southern cookin.’

There were times I found myself craving a &uot;garden supper&uot;, like the ones Mama used to fix for our family.

On those august occasions, almost everything on the kitchen table came from the family garden: slices of red, ripe tomatoes, plenty of pink-eye, purple hull peas (seasoned with a strip of thick-cut bacon from Tucker’s Store), sweet creamed corn and Irish potatoes, sliced thin and fried crispy brown around the edges. There would be a plate of cornbread cooked in Mama’s cast iron skillet, piping hot and ready to slather with butter.

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We’d fill up our plates with these &uot;foods of the gods&uot;, add a big glass of Mama’s sweet tea – and it was almost enough, as my old friend Janet Cobb would say, &uot;to make you want to slap your grandma.&uot;

South Dakota’s hydroponic tomatoes sure looked big and pretty – but they were about as tasty as a cardboard carton. Peas up north were what we commonly call English peas, not the field peas I grew up eating.

The iced tea in restaurants was generally mediocre to dreadful (I still shudder when I recall the vile concoction created by the Bonanza in Dayton, Ohio.) Of course, it never came pre-sweetened at any restaurant.

We always knew we had arrived in the ‘real’ south on our trips home whenever we stopped at a restaurant, ordered iced tea and the waitress asked us, &uot;Sweet or unsweet?&uot; It was music to our ears.

There was almost always a pitcher of sweet tea in the Long fridge, no matter what the season. Sure, there might be five-foot drifts of snow outside with a numbing wind chill of 40 or 50 below. We transplanted southerners just had to have our iced tea.

Benny has always loved that salty southern treat, boiled peanuts. If he even mentioned &uot;boiled peanuts&uot; to his Yankee Air Force comrades, they got a funny look on their faces.

He’d buy the boiled peanuts in a can on trips back to Alabama. Every so often he’d open a can, heat them up on the stove and pig out. Those ‘pre-fab’ peanuts couldn’t compare with the ones the Shriners prepare over in Luverne every year, but they’d do in a pinch.

We also took back cans of Castleberry’s Brunswick Stew and Barbecue Pork and Beef for a periodic taste of home. There were cans of field peas (not as good as the pink-eye purple-hulled ones Mama put up in the freezer, but any port in a storm, as they say).

I never appreciated how wonderful southern cooking was until we were 1600 miles away from it. As the song says, &uot;you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.&uot;

Angie Long is a reporter for the Greenville Advocate.

She can be reached at 382-3111 or via email at angie.long@greenvilleadvocate.com.