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Southern Cuisine: OriginsBy Region | Traditional

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Southern Cuisine by Region

Southern cuisine varies widely by region: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.

  • In Southern Louisiana, there is Cajun and Creole cuisine. Louisiana is also a large supplier of hot sauces with its peppers, as well as being the largest supplier of crawfish in the country.

  • Rice was historically an important crop in the coastal areas of South Carolina, leading to local specialties like "Hoppin' John" (a mixture of rice and black-eyed peas flavored with salt pork) and Charleston Red Rice.

  • Barbecue has many regional variations in the South. Barbecue sauce also varies by location.

  • Virginia is noted not only for its Smithfield ham, but also for its major supplies of apples and peanuts.

Oklahoma has a reputation for many grain- and bean-based dishes, such as "cornbread and beans" or the breakfast dish biscuits and gravy. Mississippi specializes in farm-raised catfish, found in traditional "fish houses" throughout the state. Arkansas is the top rice-producing state in the nation, and is also noted for catfish, pork barbecue at restaurants, and chicken. Tennessee is known for its country ham and Memphis, TN is known for several famous barbecue restaurants and a major barbecue cooking competition held in May. Maryland is known for its blue and soft-shell crabs, and Smith Island Cake. Florida is home of the Key lime pie and swamp cabbage. Orange juice is the well-known beverage of the state. Georgia is known for its peaches, pecans, peanuts and Vidalia onions.

The Appalachian areas have ramps (onions and their relatives) and berries aplenty. Kentucky is famous for Burgoo and beer cheese. Texas specializes in chili, while Brunswick stew originated in the eastern parts of the South. Generally speaking, many parts of the Upper South specialize more in pork, sorghum, and whiskey, while the low country coastal areas are known for seafood (shrimp and crabs), rice, and grits. The western parts of the South like Texas and Oklahoma are more beef-inclined and the eastern parts lean more towards pork.

Creole and Cajun Cuisine
Southern Louisiana developed significant culinary traditions: Louisiana Creole cuisine in southeastern Louisiana centered on New Orleans and Cajun cuisine in central to Acadiana in southwestern Louisiana. Both share influences of the traditional cuisine of France, though with greater use of rice. Both Cajun and Creole cuisine also had access to many native coastal animals, such as crawfish (commonly called crayfish outside the region), crab, oysters, shrimp, and fish. These seafoods were incorporated into their diets and are still seen today in the various dishes of the region. Fruits such as figs, plums and grapes are also grown in the region. Additionally, pecans and peanuts are native to the region, providing an alternative protein source.

Cajun Cuisine
Main article: Cajun cuisine
Cajun cuisine includes influence from the Acadia region in Canada. Rice, which could be used to stretch meals out to feed large families, became a major staple food. Today we still see that resourceful influence in many Cajun dishes which are served over a bed of rice. And again, stretchable corn was a major staple. In addition to the above listed foods, Acadian families were introduced to vegetables such as okra, which is a key ingredient in gumbos and étouffe as well as many other Cajun and Creole dishes. Many Southerners also enjoy deep-fried or pickled okra.

Louisiana Creole Cuisine
Main article: Louisiana Creole cuisine
Southeastern Louisiana was more heavily influenced by France, Spain and Latin America than Acadiana. The region maintained more trade with France, and incorporated more recent French culinary traditions well into the 19th century. The major city of New Orleans, long known for its fine restaurants, allowed development of more gourmet variations of local dishes. In 1979, Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme opened a popular restaurant in New Orleans which started significant influence of Cajun food on to Creole traditions.

Lowcountry Cuisine
Main article: Lowcountry cuisine
The Lowcountry region of the coastal Carolinas, Virginia, and Georgia shares many of the same food resources as the Upper Gulf Coast—fish, shrimp, oysters, rice, and okra. Not surprisingly, it also displays some similarities to Creole and Cajun cuisines.

Appalachian Cuisine
Travel distances, conditions, and poor roads limited most early settlements to only foods that could be produced locally. For farmers, pigs and chickens were the primary source of meat, with many farmers maintaining their own smokehouses to produce a variety of hams, bacons, and sausages. Seafood, beyond the occasionally locally caught fish (pan-fried catfish is much loved) and crawdads, were unavailable until modern times.

However, Appalachia did offer a wide variety of wild game, with venison and squirrel particularly common, thus helping compensate for distance from major cities and transportation networks. As wheat flour and baking powder/baking soda became available in the late 19th century, buttermilk biscuits became immensely popular. Salt was primarily available from Saltville, Virginia, but until black pepper appeared, few other seasonings were used.

Women were often herbalists, and used local plants like spicebush in seasoning.  Chicory, which can be grown or gathered locally, was historically used as a coffee substitute during times when coffee was not freely available, such as during the American Civil War and the 2nd World War.  The two primary sweeteners in Appalachia were sorghum and honey--the sugar cane molasses of the lowland South never was a dominant sweetener.

Today, a breakfast of buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy is also very common throughout the region, as well as places Appalachian people have migrated.  Pork drippings from frying sausage, bacon, and other types of pan-fried pork are typically collected and used for making gravy and in greasing cast-iron cookware.  Chicken and dumplings and fried chicken remain much-loved dishes.  Cornbread, corn pone, hominy grits, mush, cornbread pudding and hominy stew are very common foods, as corn is the primary grain grown in the Appalachian hills and mountains.  Fruits that tend to be more popular in this area are apple, pears, and berries.  Sweetened fried apples remain a common side-dish. Maple syrup and maple sugar is occasionally made in the higher elevations where sugar maple grows.

Wild morel mushrooms and ramps (similar to green onions and leeks) are often collected. In Appalachia one may find festivals dedicated to the ramp plant . Home canning is a strong tradition here as well.  Dried pinto beans are a major staple food during the winter months, used to make the ubiquitous ham-flavored bean soup usually called soup beans. Canning included green beans (half-runners, snaps) as well as shelly beans (green beans that were more mature and had ripe beans along with the green husks).  Kieffer pears and apple varieties are used to make pear butter and apple butter.  Also popular are bread and butter pickles, fried mustard greens with vinegar, pickled beets, chow-chow (commonly called "chow") and a relish called corn ketchup.

Tomatoes are canned in large numbers, and fried green tomatoes are common. Fried green tomatoes with shrimp remoulade is a southern/creole combination served at the Upperline Restaurant and many others in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The hot fried tomatoes have a natural affinity for vinegar which is provided by the cold tart remoulade sauce.  Along with sausage gravy, tomato gravy, a roux thinned with tomatoes, is very popular.  A variety of wild fruits like pawpaws, wild blackberries, and persimmons are also commonly available in Appalachia.

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