The Lowcountry is proud of its Southern cooking – and rightly so.
The appeal of Southern food crosses social, racial and geographic lines. Young and old, black and white, rich and poor flock to restaurants where fried chicken, collard greens, barbecue and cornbread dominate the menu.
Of course, the term “Southern” means different things to different people. Near the coast, folks gather for oyster roasts and Lowcountry boils, with seafood and rice as key ingredients in many meals. In upstate South Carolina, fish fries and pig roasts are reason for celebration. And in Louisiana, Cajun and Creole epitomize “Southern” cooking.
However, no matter what the name, all Southern cuisine shares certain qualities.
First and foremost, fresh food is a defining characteristic of the Southern table. Food in the heat of a Southern summer spoils without the benefit of refrigerators and ice boxes. Which is why freshness is a core part of the cuisine.
Historically, Southern cooking blends several distinct cultures. These include Western European, African and Native American cuisine. All of the influences come together in the Southern antebellum kitchen of the ante South. Native Americans taught early settlers how to grow, process and cook corn. Cornbread, hoecakes, hushpuppies, grits and whiskey all incorporate corn. Many foods typically considered “Southern,” such as field peas, okra, peanuts, yams and eggplant, were actually African in origin and were brought to America by slave traders.
Pigs were the other major food source in the South for several reasons.
Requiring little maintenance, pigs often roamed wild and caught later for butchering. Lard, fatback and bacon add flavor to cooked vegetables and the meat could be cured and eaten later. Barbecue continues to play an important role in the South’s regional identity.
Another distinguishing feature of Southern cooking is the sense of tradition and heritage inherent in popular dishes. Generations hand down recipes for many, many years. Nostalgia plays a large part in “comfort food,” inspiring memories of Sunday dinner for many.
The final, and perhaps most important cornerstone of traditional Southern cuisine, is hospitality. This can be found in great abundance throughout the Lowcountry.