We’re moving on up and over a few states to the country road, rolling hills and mountains of East Tennessee for The Southern Dinner Table: Part 2.
Take me home, country roads and See Rock City signs!
Southern in style with only the slightest hint of hillbilly coming through, the delicious differences that set the Tennessee Southern dinner table defined the spirit of what coming together for a meal is really all about. Up first in the Texas vs. Tennessee comparison taste tests is bread. In the thoughts and palettes of this part of my family there was no room for discussion. Soft white bread was for a sandwich, not the supper table. You’ve heard it said that football is a religion in the South, well, according to this bunch, cornbread is bread of life. A hot black skillet swimming in Crisco seasoned the cornbread batter made from White Lily meal and flour added extra calories, extra lovin’ for the oven and a guaranteed golden crisp crust on the bottom, top and edges so divine it seemed a shame to consume, but consume we did. Home grown tomatoes topped with a thin layer of mayonnaise and a thick dusting of fine black pepper claimed the title of table staple. Fresh vegetables were more a rule than an exception, and just as it was in the kitchens of Texas, grease, and plenty of it played an intricate role in factoring in the flavor quotient.
There’s was never any misunderstanding the theory of the Tennessee Southern dinner table. The recipe to make it work was one part the way it used to be done and one part the way it used to be done. In other words, forget about teaching these old dogs a new trick. The ladies of Fountain City, Northwood, Oakwood and central Louisiana stood in an unairconditioned kitchen cooking from mid-morning until late afternoon. My grandmother and her sisters believed cooking was meant to be an all day event. We Louisianians are also known for our epic all day and all night cooking marathons. Slow and low, just the way Southern flavor intended.
Practicality suited this anything but pretentious crowd, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. A framed copy of Eric Enstom’s photograph, Grace, appropriately hung on the breakfast nook wall, and was the one memento I requested to have “one day”. Wafer thin china plates perfectly matched to equally thin iced tea glasses completed the last step before calling the men in for dinner. Wait, what? That’s right, the women and girls moved into the living room where we sat patiently in the air conditioning waiting for the men to eat dinner. An archaic practice at first impression, doing it this way was how it had been done in my grandmother’s home, her mother’s home and her mother’s home and here’s why, size and space, or lack thereof. Utilitarian didn’t begin the decor style of the homes. Gravy, grits and biscuits may be a Southern thing, but lack of space is a universal thing.
As I stated in my previous post, I surely don’t believe nor make the claim that the South holds the patent on dinner table philosophies. It is however, a shared conclusion among the faithful and the converted who have witnessed, experienced and savored the mechanics of the Southern dinner table that it is a unique case study of common threads running deep through blended traditions.
“Tell me what you eat, I’ll tell you who you are.”
~Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin