Tag Archives: stuff southern people like

Rerun 68: Funeral Food–Love in a Casserole Dish

10 Jul

mikeWhen I packed up my car and moved away from the South nearly 20 years ago, my brother said “Don’t forget your raisings!” And thanks in part to his constant reminders, I haven’t. A month ago today, Mike Holloway passed away in his sleep. I’m sharing this post in honor of him.

Most Southern ladies of a certain age keep at least one casserole in the deep freeze at all times. You never know when somebody will up and die, so it’s best to be prepared. However, if you’re momentarily casserole-less, not to worry: grieving Southerners always welcome fried chicken, even if it’s store-bought. I’d like to put in a plug for one (or more) of those chicken nugget platters from Chick-fil-A (unless somebody dies on Sunday, when all the Chick-fil-As are closed). I’m still grateful to the kind soul who delivered one of those when my mom died.

Photo by softestthing
Flickr Creative Commons

I should mention that funeral food isn’t actually served at the funeral. You bring it to the home of the deceased so the grieving family members and the people who drop by to pay their respects have something to eat. When Southerners lose a loved one, they rarely lose their appetite, but almost always lose the desire to cook.

Of course, you needn’t only bring savory sustenance. Sweets are an essential part of a Southern mourner’s diet. And for the love of all that’s holy, do not make funeral sweets with Splenda, people! Grief and dieting go together like…like…ok, they just don’t go together AT ALL.

Photo by Chris and Jenni
Flickr Creative Commons

If you want to bring over some meat-flavored vegetables, that’s great. But a salad probably isn’t your best bet. No, not even a congealed “salad.” Especially if the recently departed had been hospitalized for any length of time before their departure. Nobody wants to be reminded of institutional gelatin, even in the best of times.

In case you’re in a quandary about what to bring, consult this handy guide:

Banana pudding: YES!
Photo by Jason Meredith
Flickr Creative Commons

Great Southern Funeral Food:
Casseroles (anything made with cream of something soup is most welcome)
Deep fried anything
Chicken ‘n dumplings
BBQ
Lasagna
Potatoes (preferably mashed or au gratin)
Homemade mac ‘n cheese
Bread
Ham (spiral sliced preferred, but not required)
Chili or hearty soup (Not chicken noodle; no one’s getting better anytime soon…)
Deviled eggs
Homemade sweets of any kind (remember, no Splenda!)

Suitable Southern Funeral Food
Cold cuts and sandwich fixings
Egg/potato/chicken/pasta salad
Store-bought sweets (think Sara Lee, not Little Debbie)
Ice cream

Crudité: NO! P.S. Where's the dip??
Photo by Robyn Lee
Flickr Creative Commons

Ill-advised Southern Funeral Food
Green salad
Crudité platter
Fruit basket
Low-cal frozen entreés
Tofu of any variety
Chewing gum

If you can’t get over to the home of the deceased right away, don’t despair. In fact, I’d recommend avoiding the rush and swinging by with snacks a few days later. Trust me, the bereaved will appreciate a fresh supply of comfort food.

When my mom died, I can’t remember eating much else but cold fried chicken and some kind of cake (caramel, maybe?). But I do remember my relief at not having to think about fixing something to eat. While food isn’t a panacea for grief, it does serve as a small island of pleasure in an ocean of pain.

What’s your all-time favorite funeral food? And do you have a casserole in your freezer right now?

Rerun: 16. Catfish (The “Deep-Fried” is Implied)

25 Jun

In an effort to be timely, I’m offering this rerun in honor of National Catfish Day (which I’d never heard of till I checked my Twitter feed this morning).

Ok, a lot of these posts feature food (or drink), and I reckon you can guess why: We Southerners loves us some food. Hey, Mississippi didn’t get to be the fattest state in the US for nothing!

So while folks here in Seattle are swooning over salmon, my peeps back home are loyal to the good old-fashioned fried catfish. With hushpuppies (which one of my Seattle friends mistakenly called “puff daddies.” Of course, the name stuck).

Though I now regularly buy organic produce and “hippie eggs,” I’m still of the opinion that farm-raised catfish is the way to go. Sure, maybe wild catfish live happier lives, but they are notorious bottom feeders. For me, eating free-range catfish would be akin to munching on a fried vulture. Ick. As an aside, when I lived in LA, I was extolling the virtues of farm-raised catfish to a work friend who said, “Farm-raised? I thought it was a fish!”

There’s a reason I’m writing this blog, people.

Now if you happen to be in the South and are itching to try some catfish, I recommend Jerry’s in Florence, MS. Not necessarily because it’s the best, but because it may be the one and only place you’ll eat catfish in an igloo. Yes, I said igloo.

Jerry's Fish House, Florence, MS

It’s been a long time since I’ve been there, and I can’t really remember whether the catfish or hushpuppies are anything special. But it’s one of few places where I, an avowed fish hater, will actually eat fish.

What’s your favorite catfish joint?

Update: I’ve since learned that my local organic grocery store, PCC Natural Markets (which may stand for Politically Correct Cooking) endorses farm-raised catfish. They pass out a pocket-size Seafood Watch guide that lists the most sustainable choices for fish-loving folks. In case you’re interested, click for additional reading on why farm-raised catfish (but not salmon!) is best.

Rerun: 2. Deep Freezers–Like Closets, But Colder

7 Jun

freezer ad

While I’m on the subject of appliances Southerners can’t live without…

Everybody I know in the South has a deep freeze. Everybody. Care to guess how many deep freezers I’ve seen between here and L.A.? Yep, that would be none.

So why do Southern folks love deep freezers? Frankly, I don’t really know. I could speculate that they need the extra room to store a hunting season’s worth of venison, but more often, they’re packed with Kid’s Cuisines and Costco bags of chicken breasts. Oh, and ice. You can always use an extra bag or two of ice. Never know when the gas station up the road will run out. And then how will you make margaritas?

My sister asked me a few years back why I didn’t have a deep freezer. I believe I was living in a basement apartment at the time, so I figured the answer was obvious. Anyhow, like the Albert Brooks character in “Mother,” I am of the belief that not everything belongs in the freezer, which is why they make it smaller.

Fast forward a few years to the day I noticed our freezer was on the blink. First hint? Soft-serve ice cream. Geoff and I took a field trip to Lowes and Home Depot in search of a replacement. After great debate (well, not exactly Lincoln and Douglas, but still) we settled on a top-freezer Frigidaire with an Energy Star rating. Imagine my surprise when we got it home and I noticed that the freezer compartment was considerably smaller than our previous model. I must admit, I have begun to reconsider my position on deep freezers.

The other day, as I was attempting to wedge a Costco bag of pecans into the freezer door shelf, I made the executive decision to banish Geoff’s square egg maker (don’t ask) and stainless steel pitcher to the countertop. Upon noticing his exiled stuff, Geoff picked up the pitcher and said, “This is the foamer for my espresso machine.”

WHAT?

“You mean,” I say, “The espresso machine that’s been in the basement since we moved in? I’ve been working around this thing for FIVE YEARS?”

Indeed. And he’d been working around it in his old freezer for countless years before that.

So then I proceed to look for more dead weight in the freezer. I hold up one of those cold pack thingies and say, “What about this? Do you use this?”

“That came with the refrigerator,” he says.

I reckon once I finish tossing the useless crap, I won’t need a deep freeze after all.

What all do you keep in your deep freeze? Could you live without it or even want to?

Update: For the better part of the last year, I’ve been lobbying for a deep freeze. I really need more real estate for storing cookie dough, French macarons, and buttercream frosting. Not to mention the ginormous freezer bowl for the KitchenAid ice cream maker. Oh and all the ice cream and sorbet made in it. Besides which, I’ve been meaning to get around to trying my hand at freezer jam with the overabundance of plums from our backyard tree…Geoff is of the opinion that I need not stockpile frozen treats. I agree; I don’t need to. But I WANT to! Show of hands, who thinks I should get one?

Photo credits: GE Freezer by Deluxx, Flickr Creative Commons.

Rerun: 17. Air Conditioning–Don’t Stay Home in June Without It!

5 Jun

"Air conditioned" -- a key selling point in Texas! Dixie Motel's vintage neon sign. In Brenham, Texas.Well, folks, I’m back in Seattle, but thought I’d share a few more old posts regarding some of my favorite Southern things. Depending on the time of year, air conditioning ranks in the top 10.

Friends and family back home are shocked to hear that I (along with most folks and businesses in Seattle) do not have air conditioning. The horror! The horror!

The thing is, Seattle gets unbearably hot for about two or three days a year, but in many parts of the South, the heat starts up in April and sticks around till October. (One of the reasons I love the state fair so much is that it almost always marks the transition into cooler temperatures. Hence the term “fair weather.”)

I am truly a child of the late 20th century and cannot even fathom how folks in the South could tolerate summers without air conditioning. Wearing hoop skirts and petticoats! Heck, I can’t even fathom how folks today go outside in business suits and/or pantyhose anytime after May. (A good argument for self-employment if I’ve ever heard one.)

Southern folks are not known for moving at a particularly rapid pace, but perhaps you’ve never seen them in the summer. It’s always a mad dash from the comfort of an air-conditioned car to the safety of an air-conditioned house. And by “safety” I mean safety. People die out there in the heat. Or wish they would.

One summer I was at my parents’ house when the air conditioner went on the blink. Within minutes, my mom and I were packed and headed to the family’s cabin on the Pearl River. Normally, I wouldn’t be all that enthused about spending time in the cabin, but that day we couldn’t get there quickly enough.

For the first few hours there, my mom and I lay on the bed underneath the air conditioner reveling in the glory of an icy cool breeze. I only wish I’d known at the time how precious that moment was. I’d be willing to endure any number of summers in the South if my mom were there with me. I’d love to hear her just one more time say, “It’s hotter than HELL!” (pronounced “Hey-You’ll.”)

Update: During my tour of the South, some places had beautiful weather (Savannah, Knoxville), some were cool and drizzly (Oxford, MS; Charleston, SC), and one featured what could only have been a tropical storm (Jekyll Island). During the last week of my visit, MS was exactly the way I remembered: HOT! Also, HUMID. While I was complaining about temperatures reaching upwards of 90 degrees, folks back home reminded me “It’s not even HOT yet!” Oh. My. I truly have acclimated to the milder climate here in the Pacific Northwest. For me, visiting MS in August would be like strolling across the surface of the sun, while wearing a parka. I’m a wimp, y’all.

How do you cope with the heat? I, myself, will admit to eating far too many shaved ice treats (complete with sweetened condensed milk) from the Snow Biz stand in Brandon. We don’t have anything like that here in Seattle (that I know of) which is probably a good thing…

Rerun–43. Cracker Barrel: Putting the Kitsch in Kitchen

10 May

2658965445_b485f917caSo, the evening after I revisited Stuckey’s, Cracker Barrel lured me in with their ever-present billboards. I think it was the one about “homemade dumplings” that won me over. Wish I’d reread this post before eating there:

You’d think the novelty of nostalgia would have worn off by now, but judging from the ever-crowded parking lot, I reckon not. But then Cracker Barrel combines two of Southern women’s greatest loves: eating and shopping. Also, you can get in quite a bit of gossiping, too, depending on who you run into and how long you have to wait for a table.

I’m not going to extol the virtues of Cracker Barrel’s food, because I fail to see any. Ok, I’ll admit, they do have some good pecan pancakes that come with wee bottles of maple syrup. I know this because whenever I’d come home to visit, Mom would wake me up WAAAAY early the next day (like around 9:00) to go get some pancakes.

What Cracker Barrel lacks in culinary skills, they make up for in kitsch. Where else are you going to find cornbread pans, patriotic clocks, wooden toys, and old-timey candy all in one place? Ok, maybe your grandmother’s house. But the candy will likely be not so much old-timey as just plain old.IMG_0241

There’s plenty to look at while you wait, and the fun doesn’t stop after you’re seated. Who’s up for a challenging round of the peg game? You know the one with a triangle-shaped piece of wood featuring pegs filled with golf tees? The object is to “jump” and remove the other tees, leaving only one tee standing. It sounds more exciting than it is. But then, maybe I’m just bitter because I’ve yet to win.

I’ve only ever been to Cracker Barrel for breakfast because from what I hear, that’s the only meal worth eating. However, I can’t imagine the food would be any worse than the short-lived “Po Folks” that we used to patronize frequently in college. Because, hey, we WERE po folks, and most anything beats Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

Though I do enjoy poking around in the general store, I haven’t eaten at Cracker Barrel in the last three years. My mom loved those pancakes enough to endure breakfast with a grumpy, jetlagged daughter, and it wouldn’t feel right eating them without her.

What’s your favorite part of the Cracker Barrel experience?

pancakesUpdate: Last year, I went with my sister and dad to have the pecan pancakes again and they did not disappoint. Wish I could say the same about my meal last week. I had the frequently touted chicken and dumplings and they were just sad, y’all. Not as sad as the straight-from-the-can, lukewarm niblets, but almost. Of the fried okra, I will not even speak. In their defense, the biscuit was edible.

What puzzles me is that in my infinite quest to find a go-to chicken and dumplings recipe, I keep running across ones that claim to taste “Just Like Cracker Barrel,” as if it were a good thing. Huh?

So after a spectacularly underwhelming supper, I decided to go back for breakfast. Thought maybe I could drown the bad memories with a little bottle of maple-esque syrup. Low and behold, it worked. Note: Notions like this hardly ever work, but never underestimate the power of pecan pancakes.

Photo credits: Cracker Barrel exterior by Keith Lam, Flickr Creative Commons; pics with bad lighting by yours truly.

Rerun: 41. Stuckey’s–Home of Pee Breaks and Pecan Logs

1 May

Stuckey's, Coffee County, Tennessee by naslrogues

Hey y’all! I’m at the beginning of Dixie Expedition 2013, wherein I’ll be visiting seven states in 30 days. Whee! After a visit with family over the weekend, I took to the road yesterday landing in Tallahassee, FL, on my way to Jeckyll Island, GA for The Southern C Summit.

During my travels, I’ll be visiting some places I’ve never seen (Savannah, Charleston) and reconnecting with some old haunts along the way. I thought it might be fun to share some of my previous posts with updated commentary. Here goes:

Every road trip I ever suffered through as a child included at least one stop at Stuckey’s. Which was often the highlight of the whole ordeal. How to describe Stuckey’s to the uninitiated? Hmm…a gas station, restaurant, souvenir shop, ice cream parlor, and candy store all in one. Kind of a low-rent version of Disneyland, sans rides, dorky hats, and teenagers sweltering in Disney character costumes.

Anybody who’s ever been to Stuckey’s knows I’m building it up way too much, but y’all have to admit that to a road-weary kid, Stuckey’s is pretty awesome. Except for the bathrooms. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a clean bathroom in a Stuckey’s. But, hey, look! There’s a figurine made out of a clam shell! A rubber alligator! Peanut brittle!

What I remember most about Stuckey’s is that they used to sell their own brand of melt-in-your-mouth peppermint balls. I remember this because I’ve spent the rest of my life (so far) trying to find a decent substitute. If y’all know of any, please let me know.

My sister and I never left Stuckey’s without new “Yes and Know” books in hand. These were filled with trivia questions or word games, and you revealed the “invisibly printed” answers with a “magic pen.” As I got older (or perhaps my eyesight improved), I realized you could read the “invisibly printed” answers without the use of the “magic pen” AKA yellow highlighter. However, until I Googled them just now, some thirty-odd years later, I didn’t catch anything odd about the tagline “Hours and hours of by-yourself enjoyment.” Hmm.

My mom always had to have a box of sesame sticks (which were WAY exotic back in the day) and the ever-popular Pecan Log. This is not as gross as it sounds, but almost. I don’t remember anything my dad enjoyed about Stuckey’s other than getting the hell out of there and back on the road. Of course, we didn’t often get to-go drinks because a pit stop was to “empty” not “fill up.”

Anytime I happen to be on a road trip in the South, I can never pass up a Stuckey’s. They’re harder to find these days, but if you’re on the road from Jackson, MS to Memphis, there’s one in Vaiden. Last time I checked.

Alas, while they do still sell a bunch of Stuckey’s brand food-like substances, the peppermint balls are long gone. However, I’m happy to report that the bathrooms are just as nasty as ever.

What do y’all remember about Stuckey’s?

Update: I’ve been informed that the Stuckey’s in Vaiden has long since closed, but I stopped at the one in Hattiesburg, MS, yesterday and it hasn’t changed a bit (nasty bathrooms and all). Snapped a couple of pics for y’all. Also, I bought a package of pecan divinity, but haven’t worked up the nerve to eat it yet. Something tells me it will not live up to its name…

Classic Stuckey's literature.

Classic Stuckey’s literature.

All manner of pecan candy.

All manner of pecan candy.

128. Krystal–It’s Hip to be Square.

10 Apr

2926707617_c888f07a59_mWhen White Castle burgers made their debut on grocery store shelves a couple of decades back, this Mississippi girl was perplexed. The label said “White Castle” but I’d always known the wee burgers by another name, Krystal. These so-called White Castles featured the same sliver of meat sandwiched between a spongy square bun, complete with the diced onions and dill pickle slices.

White Castle and Krystal. Separated at birth?

White Castle and Krystal. Separated at birth?

Imagine my surprise when I learned that Krystal–a Southern staple since 1932–was a late-blooming imitator of America’s first fast-food burger chain. Apparently, everybody in the Northeast grew up eating White Castles, while those in the South ate Krystals. (I believe folks on the West coast learned about square hamburgers toward the end of the 20th century when they started appearing on appetizer menus as “sliders.” I should mention that this unfortunate name also originated at White Castle.)

My apologies to White Castle fans (who go by the name “cravers”), but my first-hand knowledge about The Original Slider® is limited to the frozen variety I last tasted back in the 90s. Krystals, however, hold a special place in my heart, much like an old friend with whom I cross paths a couple of times a decade.

My first memory of Krystal comes from the 70s when an elderly family friend (whose name I have forgotten) would occasionally pile a bunch of kids in the car and take us for burgers after church. On those days, I felt like I’d won the lottery (although I should substitute the word “bingo” seeing as Baptists consider gambling a sin). Not only did I get to skip out on eating yet another detestable Sunday pot roast, I got stickers! Note to kids today: Back then stickers were as rare as cassettes are today. (Let’s have a moment of silence to mourn the passing of mix tapes.)

70's Krystal stickers=swoon!!

70’s Krystal stickers=swoon!!

Sometime during the 70’s Krystal decided to branch out into fried chicken, but it never really caught on, seeing as the logistics were far too complicated. If you wanted bird, you had to go to an annex around back for it. Not really worth the bother. Before I graduated high school, they’d abandoned this practice and now you can get fried chicken as part of the regular menu. Sort of. They’ve taken away the bone and added a bun. Plus, it’s called “chik’n,” which seems a bit dubious to me, but I’m nothing if not skeptical.

The late 80’s/early 90’s were my peak Krystal-loving years, seeing as I was a college student and Krystal was A. cheap and B. open after the bars close. I must confess, I still believe those to be Krystal’s key selling points.

College kids' dining budget...

College kids’ dining budget…

So how does Krystal’s food taste? I hoped you’d never ask.

For tastebuds influenced by nostalgia and/or alcohol, Krystal burgers can be quite satisfying. The steamed buns offer the ideal pairing of spongy white bread and beef fat. The sliver of meat provides a canvas for Pollack-style spattering of diced onions and mustard embellished with a pickle chip. A slice of American cheese served slightly askew can be had for just a few nickels and dimes more.

Hot-off-the-grill Krystal burgers are best when eaten immediately. Like before your car pulls away from the drive thru. Seriously. If you must wait till you get home, I beseech you to treat the burgers to a quick trip in the microwave. To quote an old friend and Krystal-eating companion, “A cold Krystal is DEATH.”

The only way to eat a Krystal...

The only way to eat a Krystal…

I have fond memories of Krystal’s lemon pie, but they can’t be trusted, seeing as they were formed before I properly developed my dessert palate. It’s not that I’ve become a dessert snob so much as…Ok, yes it is.

Had I not been indoctrinated into Krystal eating as a child, I’m not sure what my opinion of the burgers would be. Certainly, I’ve had better tasting sliders, but they’re just not Krystal’s. The restaurant’s latest slogan sums it up: “Krystal®–Nothin’ Like It.” Unless you count White Castle.

Have you eaten at Krystal? White Castle? Both? How do they compare?

Photo Credits: Krystal Restaurant by Scott Beale, Flickr Creative Commons; Loose Change by Rich Renomeron, Flickr Creative Commons; Hot sign by Jonathon Coleman, Flickr Creative Commons.

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