Food, and the gathering together of family and friends to indulge, celebrate, and enjoy its flavors, is an essential source of sustenance and life beyond the kitchen and dining table.
Consider the role food plays in our all things house that make a home life.
Over the prepping, preparing, plating and partaking of a meal we connect with family and friends, build and strengthen personal and business relationships, indulge in the art of expression and discovery, and create delicious and lasting memories.
From sea to shining sea, coast to coast, the hallmark summer celebration of freedom revolves around the cuisine of summer.
The saltwater, freshwater and farm-raised cuisine of summer varies from coast to coast, but it is fried, boiled, steamed, blackened, poached, baked grilled and barbecued with this is how we do it love.
I love a good game of connect the food to the corresponding city and/or state.
When you think about it, food is the claim to fame of many cities and states.
Dedicated foodies travel coast to coast highways in search of gastronomy glory.
All gourmet restaurants, neighborhood cafes, seafood markets, crab shacks, beachside bungalows and river restaurants are open game.
Leave no oyster unshucked, no shrimp unpeeled, no stone crab unturned.
A misconception about Gulf Coast seafood dishes is that they are swimming in grease or hot sauce or both.
Granted, the key ingredient featured in many Gulf Coast region seafood dishes and recipes has been swimming at one time or another, but the measure of flavor, spice and heat varies from region to region.
I don’t need a map to tell me what part of the Gulf Coast I’m in- just point me in the direction of the kitchen (indoor or outdoor) and the in-house spice cabinet.
I can’t tell you how many times I have begun a what’s for dinner conversation with the words, “I wish I had the recipe for insert memorable dish here we had when we were in insert memorable destination here.”
Barbecue speaks the universal language of fire it up, throw it on and c’est si bon!
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 Southern dinner table in Tennessee style defined the spirit of what coming together for a meal is really all about.
Up first in the Texas vs. Tennessee Southern dinner table comparison taste tests is bread. In the thoughts and palettes of my Texas and Tennessee family there was and is no room for discussion.
When in Texas, fresh soft white bread places in a bread and butter saucer graced the dinner and supper table.
When in Tennessee, cornbread is considered the bread of life.
A hot black skillet swimming in Crisco seasoned the cornbread batter made from White Lily meal.
The thought process among the ladies that cook cornbread from scratch is that White Lily flour adds extra lovin’ for the oven, and guarantees the perfect golden crisp crust on the bottom, top, and edges.
Home grown tomatoes either fried or 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 the rule than the exception.
In the Texas kitchens, grease, and plenty of it, played an intricate role in the flavor quotient.
There was never any misunderstanding of the theory of the Tennessee Southern dinner table.
The recipe to make it work was one part the way it used to be done mixed with 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 paternal grandmother and her sisters believed cooking was meant to be an all day event.
Louisianians are also known for our epic all day into 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 Grace appropriately hung on the breakfast nook wall, 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 into the kitchen dining area for dinner.
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, this was the way it was done in my grandmother’s home, her mother’s home, and her mother’s mother’s home.
Size and space, or lack thereof.
The kitchens in the homes of my Tennessee family members were small spaces of utilitarian works.
Kitchen design and décor of the north, south, east, and west has come a long way, baby.
Grits and biscuits may be a Southern thing, but lack of space is a universal thing.
I don’t believe nor make the claim that the South holds the patent on dinner table philosophies.
What I do know from first hand experience and delicious feedback is there is a shared conclusion among the converted faithful who have witnessed, experienced, and savored the mechanics of the Southern dinner table that it is truly a unique case study of common threads running deep through blended traditions.
“Tell me what you eat, I’ll tell you who you are.”
Gathered in regional reverence, devout worshipers of the dining divine keep time to culinary tradition-nourishing the soul as well as the body.
Taking a meal at the Southern dinner table is a multi-layered celebration weaving through generations, tradition and culture.
A sudden wave of news copy on the popularity, rediscovery, and dare I say it, appreciation of Southern foods, has not only resonated with my taste buds, but my memories of times spent gathered around the Southern dinner table.
I surely don’t believe nor make the claim that the South holds the patent on dinner table philosophies, but sitting down to the Southern dinner table is an intended event.
It doesn’t matter if the table is set for cornbread, red beans and rice, or chicken fried anything with all the fixings, eating is far from simply a practice in sustenance.
Culinary tastes, rituals and traditions of cooking and dining vary from state to state, dining table to dining table across the South, but the core principles of preparing and sharing good food is uncomplicated, simple and basic.
If you cook, bake, fry, roast, barbecue, boil, grill, can, preserve or pickle it, they will come.
The differences between the ways of my Texas, Tennessee and Louisiana relatives always seemed to warrant a they don’t do it like this in whichever two states you were not breaking bread in.
The shared commonality between the Texas, Tennessee, and Louisiana masses boil down to simple dining vocabulary.
Dinner is the meal eaten in the middle of the day.
Supper is the meal eaten in the evening.
Breaking bread with the Texas family came with rituals and a throwback vibe all its own.
The dining room table was for the adults, and the kitchen table was for the kids.
Soft white bread on a porcelain bread and butter plate was as close to a bread basket as you were gonna get.
My Aunt Sis was as full of sass as she was wit, and lightening quick with an answer and a serving spoon.
This firecracker’s table came equipped with its own GPS system.
Grease was the answer for everything, a pressed glass compote dish filled with homemade pear preserves never left the center of the table, and salt was not an acquired taste.
It was a required taste.
The ladies of both my Texas and Louisiana family subscribed to the take down the china, fill the crystal to the rim, and put a hint of silver on the situation school of thought.
When questioned why a middle of the week dinner called for a fine lace tablecloth and a china pattern worthy of royalty, Aunt Sis would shoot back with a, “Well, hon, what’s the use of having the stuff if you don’t use it?”
I knew there was wisdom in her words, and they resonate with me to this day each time I open the doors to the china cabinet.
Life is too short not to use the good china, crystal and table linens every day.