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Sweet Potato Pie and Shut My Mouth
Southerners are superior cooks. There, I’ve said it. I’m not so verbose as to claim that we are masters at French or California-chic cuisine but as per straight-up American cooking, we reign righteously.
This being illustrated by the fact that my Canadian in-laws think I’m a culinary goddess. I might be slightly above-average, but a goddess I am not. We Southerners just have very different beliefs about the importance that food plays in our lives.
The first trip I made to Canada was a 20-hour expedition with a 3-year-old and infant in tow. A few hours outside of our destination in Ontario, my mother-in-law rang to advise us not to eat before we got there, that she had dinner waiting for us (note, she didn’t say supper). Thank you, Jesus! My mouth started to water as images of such “company’s coming” preparations flooded my senses.
Any time we expect overnight guests, I (and my mother before me) have always set out to prepare a receiving party feast for our weary travelers as well as to stock the kitchen with such sustenance as homemade chicken salad, sliced baked ham and pound cake for the visit. I couldn’t wait to get there to see what wonderful spread awaited us!
Knocking the snow off my boots, armed with a baby and a suitcase, exhausted and starving, I made my way inside and was swiftly ushered to the kitchen where we were served the farthest thing from what I was expecting as could be imagined: frozen meatballs swimming in a crock pot of cream of mushroom soup with a side of plain white rice. I love my mother-in-law dearly so that’s all I’m going to say about that meal.
I once spent a week just south of the Hamptons with an old sorority sister that was so authentically Italian her given name was literally Cacciatore. I was looking so forward to feasting on the likes of braciole and osso buca that I could smell the garlic and basil on the plane! In honor of my being there, her mother had prepared a “Southern Meal” for everyone: shake n’ bake chicken, canned biscuits, frozen sugar peas and instant mashed potatoes served with cream of mushroom soup as gravy. Again with the cream of mushroom soup and again, I smiled graciously and kept my mouth shut.
I’m sure our culinary prowess stems from the importance we put on food. For me, it’s a way to tell you that I love you, I care about you, I want you to be comfortable, you are welcome here! It’s how we say thank you, we mourn with you, congratulations and farewell. And if we’re going to say all that with food, it better damn well be good!
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