All generalizations are false, including this one.
As I've mentioned in a previous post, I've been living in North Carolina for almost six years now. I guess I had preconceptions about what it would be like living in the south. While planning for our move my thoughts often ran to dark images of starchy, high-nosed women bearing over-sized hats, rundown appliances and a tractor sitting in an overgrown front yard, BBQ doused with vinegar, and (typing with lightly treading fingers)...remnants of bigotry. I thought at very best, it would be like Steel Magnolias. Choosing to come with an open mind and positive attitude, I quickly discovered I was quite off base! Yes, this IS a pearl-wearing, sweet-tea-drinking, pork-loving kind of place. (Nothing against pearls or pork!) But, I quickly discovered there is an intangible charm about the south--a magical quality you don't find in most places.
I'll try to explain my findings:
(I know I'm stereo-typing, please forgive.)
People really are more hospitable and friendly in the south. They stop by your house to check on you. They offer many invites to theirs. They send thank you notes for thank you notes. And they always offer you cake--wherever you go!
In one word, Charleston. If you have never been to Charleston,South Carolina it is a MUST EXPERIENCE kind of place! The buildings and historical markers are almost incomparable in the US. Loaded with art galleries, street musicians and gourmet restaurants on every corner; it's a city you hope to get lost in!
The language here not only encompasses the alluring draw we think of, but many smile-jerking slang terms as well. Conversations are sprinkled with amusing expressions that are completely new to me. I'll list a few I've recently heard and just had to write down..."Well, that just dills my pickle!" "You know that boy is slicker than frog skin." "I'm sweatin' like a fat girl writin' a love letter!" "That's about as useful as a pogo stick in quicksand." "It's cold enough to freeze the balls off a pool table!" "You know, the sun don't shine on the same dog's tail all the time." "She’s tighter than the skin on a grape."
People still smoke in the south! Maybe it's not a high note, but a curious discovery, none-the-less. Asheville is considered something of a health utopia; yet it's unbelievable how many people smoke here! I think it has something to do with the fact that there is at least one tobacco field on EVERY country road.
Southerners are very proud of their history, culture and architecture. They are aware--and in many cases--even apologetic about their shaded past, but they know their history well and tell richly colorful stories. They seem genuinely happy to share interesting facts about their town and local heroes. And they celebrate the unique art and music culture they have cultivated.
But most of all, I have discovered the wonders of Southern Cooking! It is serious business down here. There are culinary rules steeped in tradition that must be followed! Until our move, I was unaware that cornbread MUST be baked in a cast iron skillet--and in bacon grease. Any other way will only produce a cheap imitation. Dishes like squash casserole, tomato pies, tomato jam, boiled peanuts, fried pickles, soft shell crabs, and fried green tomatoes were completely foreign to me. Now that I have been enlightened, I don't know how I could ever live without soft shell crabs or fried green tomatoes! Also, I'm almost certain I had never had grits before living here. Sure, I had eaten POLENTA plenty of times...but grits, no. And did you know that their is a difference between Cajun and creole cooking? I had no idea! They come from completely different origins.
I am forever a student of my environment, and I plan to pay close attention in class!
Here is a recipe I came up with shortly after moving here. We had Shrimp and Grits at a local restaurant and just had to run home and make it. Enjoy!
Shrimp and Grits
1 cup stone-ground grits
3 Tb. butter
2 cups shredded fontina cheese
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ lb. bacon, chopped
½ lemon, juiced
2-3 Tb. chopped parsley
1 small bunch chopped green onions (3/4 cup)
1 large garlic clove, minced
Salt and Pepper
Traditionally grits are white corn and polenta is yellow corn, but YES they are pretty much the same thing!
In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Add grits, ¾ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. pepper. Whisk well to avoid clumping. Reduce heat to lowest setting and cook until water is absorbed, 10-12 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter, cheese and 2-3 dashes of cayenne pepper. Cover until ready to serve.
Fry the bacon over medium-high heat in a large skillet. When crisp, remove bacon with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel to drain.
About the bacon...I like to cut my bacon with kitchen sheers, it's a little easier than using a knife. Also, remove it from the pan when it has JUST turned brick red, not brown. If you are listening carefully, you'll here the sizzle change when it's ready!
Add shrimp and another dash of cayenne pepper to the bacon grease and sauté until pink—about 3 minutes. Immediately add onions, garlic, parsley and lemon juice. Toss and remove from the heat.
No need to salt the shrimp, since it's going into bacon grease.
Divide grits onto plates and top with the shrimp mixture and bacon. Serves 4.