Unlike other parts of the country where food is merely considered a commodity to be digested when hungry or entertaining, food in the South is more like a deity to be worshiped, cherished, and shared. That’s why once you get past the Mason Dixon line, the waist lines increase. Perhaps that is why America has embraced such Southern cooking greats as Paula Deen. She truly understands that food is not just a nourishing supplement but a social ritual.
In the South one cannot enter someone’s home without hearing the all to familiar “Ya eat yet?” This actually means: “Are you hungry? I have home made soup in the fridge, and a fresh baked cake .”-God forbid in Texas, that you not have a meal and or a dessert ready to serve should an unexpected guest come by. Food in the South is a way of showing people you care about them. It is also considered polite to take a casserole or baked goods when visiting. When I go to visit, I don’t dare show up empty handed. I always have what we in the South call a hosts gift, it might be food, pictures, or a nick knack. I also never return from a vacation without a bag full of souvenirs for my loved ones. On a recent trip to Texas I brought back my 6 year old step daughter a stuffed jack a lope, to which she replied, ” It looks weird as she reluctantly took it from my hands”, my over weight 11 year old son a box of pecan praline, which he devoured in 10 minutes, and my boyfriend who attended the University of WA, and has a 200 handi cap a long horn golf shirt. The gift does not have to be practical it is the thought that counts.
Southerners often substitute giving food on occasions where the rest of the world gives flowers. Such as child birth, weddings, & funerals, I thought my ex-husband was going to split a seam when my great aunt sent us a fruit cake as a wedding gift. I guess she figured we were getting married so close to Christmas & thought “Baked goods are so much more personal than china or silver.” Either that or she saw my wedding announcement picture & thought that my husband to be had starved me down to skin & bones. This would have been close to the truth, he didn’t like curvy women. But even if I had curves-she would have sent the cake. Southerners will be the first ones to tell you you’ve put on a few extra pounds, as they are forcing a second helping on your plate.
My grandmother is the worst at over feeding me. There is a ritual with my now 98 year old, Ma-maw that she and I go through every time I fly home for a visit. She meets me in the drive way & asks me that all too familiar question “Ya eat yet?” to which I dare not reply “yes” even if I did. Then she escorts me into the kitchen where she has fried chicken, fried steak, with collar greens, sweet potatoes, cornbread & some sort of bean dish all warming on the stove. She piles my plate full to where all the juices run together-that way you have something to sop your cornbread in. At the end of a meal in Texas it is customary to wipe your plate with your bread till it is squeaky clean. I guess you could compare this with the way a dog licks its bowl clean if you give them their favorite wet food or dinner scraps. If just one tiny morsel of food is left on the plate, my grandmother assumes the meal wasn’t any good, & she’ll then begin to offer me other things to eat. Once the meal is complete, she cuts me a piece of fresh pie or cake & puts it onto my plate whether I want it or not.
After we finish eating we adjourn to the living room where she proceeds to tell me ever so bluntly that I’ve put on weight and am looking fat. I can condemn her though I think I do the same thing to my son who at age 11, is 165lbs-thank God he is 5’6 and still growing or he’d probably look like the girl from Willy Wonka who ate the blueberry. When people tell my son he is heavy he tells them, “I can’t help it my Mom is a great cook!”
Growing up in the South there are two kinds of women, those who cook, & those who don’t. You can always tell who is who by looking at their families. One look at my son & it is obvious I am the type that can cook. The poor kid stands out like a sore thumb having grown up on the west coast where food is just about eating. Having been raised by a Southern woman, my son is learning the fine art of food socializing. He knows the minute anyone comes over the first thing am going to do is offer them something to eat. He just prays I don’t offer them ice cream, with my Texan accent it comes out “Ass Cream” which always elicits snickers from his friends.