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Origins of Southern Cuisine

The Southern cuisine is defined as the regional culinary form of states generally south of the Potomac River, and extending west to Texas.Modern definition The states in dark red are almost always included in modern day definitions of the South, while those in medium red are usually included. The striped states are sometimes/occasionally considered Southern.

The most notable influences come from African American, Scottish, Irish, French, American Indian, British, and Spanish cuisines.  Soul food, Creole, Cajun, Lowcountry, and Floribbean are examples of Southern cuisine. In recent history, elements of Southern cuisine have spread north, having an effect on the development of other types of American cuisine.

Many items such as squash, tomatoes, corn (and its derivatives, including grits), as well as the practice of deep pit barbecuing were inherited from the southeastern American Indian tribes such as the Caddo, Choctaw, and Seminole. Many foods associated with sugar, flour, milk, eggs (many kinds of baking or dairy products such as breads and cheeses) are more associated with Europe.

The South's propensity for a full breakfast (as opposed to a Continental one with a simple bread item and drink) is derived from the British fry up, although it was altered substantially. Much of Cajun or Creole cuisine is based on France, and on Spain to a lesser extent. Floribbean is more Spanish-based with obvious Caribbean influences, while Tex-Mex has considerable Mexican and native tribes touches.

American Indian Cuisine
Southern American Indian culture is the "cornerstone" of Southern cuisine. The immigrants could not have survived without the instruction and assistance of American Indians, who had mastered hunting, planting, and food processing in this environment thousands of years before the Europeans arrived. From their culture came one of the main staples of the Southern diet: corn, either ground into meal or limed with an alkaline salt to make hominy, also called masa, in an American Indian technology known as nixtamalization. Corn was used to make dishes from the familiar cornbread and grits to liquors such as whiskey and moonshine, which were important trade items. In most of America "hominy" came to mean lye hominy, or whole kernels that had been skinned but not ground.

The Indians also introduced Europeans to the concept of true slow cooking with smoke. In the 16th century, the Spanish introduced the pig to North America, while the Indians showed them how to cook it.

A lesser staple, potatoes were adopted from American Indian cuisine and were used in similar ways as corn.

American Indians introduced the first Southerners to many other vegetables still familiar on southern tables. Squash, pumpkin, many types of beans, tomatoes, many types of peppers and sassafras all came to the settlers via the native tribes.

Many fruits are available in this region. Muscadines, blackberries, raspberries, and many other wild berries were part of Southern American Indians' diet.

Southern American Indians supplemented their diets with meats derived from the hunting of native game. Venison was an important meat staple due to the abundance of white-tailed deer in the area. They hunted rabbits, squirrels, Virginia Opossums, and raccoons. Livestock, adopted from Europeans, in the form of hogs and cattle were kept. When game or livestock was killed, the entire animal was used. Aside from the meat, it was not uncommon for them to eat organ meats such as liver, brains and intestines.

This tradition remains today in hallmark dishes like chitterlings (commonly called chitílins) which are fried or boiled small intestines of hogs, livermush (a common dish in the Carolinas made from hog liver), and pork brains and eggs. The fat of the animals, particularly hogs, was rendered and used for cooking and frying. Many of the early European settlers were taught Southern American Indian cooking methods, and so cultural diffusion was set in motion for the Southern dish.

African-American influences
Main article: Soul food
Plantations were born after Southern settlers realized the region's great potential for agricultural profit. The wealthiest land owners began to cultivate the land in larger tracts, utilizing mostly African slaves to work the land.

Most Africansí diets consisted of greens, various vegetables, and also stews were common and rice was a familiar staple to them. Foods that became part of the Southern diet from African heritage include eggplant, kola nuts, sesame seeds, okra, sorghum, field peas, black-eyed peas, African rice and some melons.

The term "soul food" dates only to the first half of the 1960s, and to some extent can be considered an expatriate version of Southern country or home cooking familiar to both blacks and whites of the South. There are many stories about white Southerners going to other parts of the country and having to seek out African-American restaurants for the food they grew up on. In some cases they have been told they cannot get certain grocery items and to try the foreign sections.

Generally speaking, white Southerners traditionally eat the same food prepared the same way as black Southerners. However, there are subtle differences in preparation, such as types of spicing, and in certain regions, such as Florida, there are distinct variations between white Southern and black Southern cuisine. There are also class and/or racial differences affecting the Southern table in significant ways. For example, the less palatable or nutritious results of butchering, such as chitlins and pig's feet, were often the only meats available to slaves or people living in poverty (which affected a larger percentage of the African-American population), and creative solutions to making such food edible are therefore more a part of black Southern cuisine than white.

As more African Americans enter the middle class and become health- and weight-conscious, they find themselves confronted with the decision of whether to abandon certain high-salt, high-fat, low-nutrient food items previously eaten only from necessity, or to embrace them out of cultural loyalty or personal preference. Grits play such a role for some Southerners of both races in having become a fashionable "Southern" dish, but still being associated in the minds of many Southerners with the unvarying menu of their poverty-stricken up-bringing.

Much of Southern cuisine developed from African foods and traditions of preparation. Often in charge of Southern kitchens, from slave times on down to the institutional kitchens of schools, African Americans have played a pivotal role in the development of Southern cuisine. In addition, many famous Southern restaurants have had African Americans as their chefs, and barbecue restaurants, whether owned and patronized by blacks or whites, typically have an African American as pitmaster.

Southern Cuisine
A niche market for Southern food along with American comfort food has proven profitable for chains, which have extended their market across the country, instead of staying solely in the South. Other Southern chains specialize in this type of cuisine, but have decided mainly to stay in the South. Pit barbecue is popular all over the American South; many rural places even sport several locally run locations, although this is rare in most other parts of the country.

There are many individual family style restaurants based on the cuisine of the American South. Despite the down-home image of many Southern-influenced restaurants, some are more upscale. There are several chains with mass produced items of Southern cuisine on their menus, such as Cracker Barrel, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Bojangles' Famous Chicken 'n Biscuits, Church's Chicken, Mrs. Winner's, Sonny's, and Popeye's.

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