Wednesday, August 5, 2009

South of the Mason-DIxon

Last weekend the Farmer and I were having dinner with some old friends when the conversation turned to travel. We had spent the evening with these same friends the night before we left for our adventure in Belize and Guatemala. Just talking travel triggered my legendary wanderlust.

The next morning, as we were driving to the store I turned to the Farmer and said, "I need to get to Tennessee."

I was born and raised an Illinoisian.... Illini?? What IS the word for someone from Illinois? Anyway, although I'm totally midwestern by birth and upbringing, I'm southern by parental lineage. There's something to be said for genetic memory because I've always felt right at home in the south and if I'm away too long I feel like a fish out of water.

I've had people tell me that although they've never been south, they love the south or they "feel" southern.

It's hard to put your finger on what draws you but I spent some time thinking about it. You could blindfold me and I'd still know. There are distinctive smells and sounds. In the area in Arkansas where we intend to retire, it's the smell of piney woods and the deafening call of tree frogs. In the Florida panhandle and parts of Alabama and Georgia it's piney woods mixed with sandy soil.

And Tennessee? It's the magnetic draw of lands that have been in the family since just after the Revolutionary War. Land is magnetic, land draws you. Wasn't Pearl Buck's character in The Good Earth convinced of the importance of a plot of earth?

Here's my sister, standing on a cold windy hillside, her back to our family cemetery and facing our great-great-grandfather's homestead.

For me, the south is about the people and the food. There are more characters per square mile than anywhere else on earth. Our northern community seems bereft of these characters. There was Murdoch, Edie, Cricket, Polly Weems and Mr. Wickham, who created an entire forest of concrete characters.


The south is also about the food. Close your eyes and you can smell the hardwood smoke slowing roasting the whole hog. Never trust a barbecue joint that doesn't have a pile of wood out back.

There's Blue Plate Mayo, country hams and Savoie Roux in a jar down in Louisiana. There's Paula Deen, the doyenne of southern cooking and hospitality.

You can imagine my surprise, in the atmosphere of magazines folding left and right, to find a new publication on the magazine rack. It's called TASTE OF THE SOUTH. Further investigation reveals they've been publishing for awhile. This is the first time I've seen it on the newsstands around here though.

I'll admit to having been drawn in by the piece of cake pictured on the cover. Caramel cake??? Oh, be still my heart.

Look, they're promising 4 Perfect Pies! That particular article starts with the question, "How far would you go for a really good piece of pie?"

Are you joking me? How far is Timbuktu from here? THAT FAR. Omigosh, there's a photo of a gorgeous piece of coconut pie and a recipe that promises that's it easy.

This magazine seems like a keeper and I'm seriously thinking about getting a subscription. They offer a free trial issues if you're interested. And no, they didn't pay me to say that! Heck, I'm waiting patiently for someone to pay me to say anything!! HA.

How about you? If you're in the south, I'd love to hear what you think makes the south special. If you've not southern, do you "feel" southern or are you fascinated by southern culture?

Farmer - if you're reading this (I know you do), I need a dose of the south. Tennessee (8 hr. drive) would be fine, Arkansas (11 hr. drive) would be good also.

Bon appetit, y'all.


Jenni said...

My mom's family was from the south. Her mother was born and raised in New Orleans. Her father was born and raised on a family farm owned for generations near Vardemon, Mississippi. After my grandparents married and my grandfather's military career was over, they settled in Corpus Christi to raise their family. We still have family in Baton Rouge and Vardemon that I've never met.

I was born in Texas and spent part of my childhood there. I also lived in Meridian, Miss for 3 years when I was growing up, but I have never been to Vardemon.

My dad's family was from New Jersey and had been there for several generations. Maybe the midwest seems right for me because I'm a halfbreed:o)

I think that beyond a particular region, it's a tie to the land and the natural environment that is important. That's what I loved about The Good Earth. When Wang Lung got too far from the land, whether physically or through distractions (women and riches), he also got too far away from his true self. He lost his identity and he lost sight of what was important when he lost contact with the land.

Becky K. said...

For me the charm of the South comes in the moss draped trees, the columned homes and the sweeeeet tea!

Have a great day!

Becky K.
Hospitality Lane

chocolatechic said...

Having lived in the South for 9 years, all during my teen years, the South is very special to me.

South= sweet people...friendly people. People who will literally give you the shirt off their back if it will help. People who wave to you when your driving by, even if they don't know who you are.

Also, South= grits, deep fried Okra, Chicken Fried Steak made only how Texans can, Fried Chicken, and pie...glorious pie.

South also = adorable phrases like "your twinkies today"~~meaning you look alike.

or "It's close out here"~~meaning it is humid.

or "wach out, they just laid down fresh chat"~~meaning they just tarred the road.

Over yonder.

Big belt buckles, sweaty baseball caps, chew, 4 wheelers, and the pride in working hard.

Stickhorsecowgirls said...

My ancestors came to Arkansas from Kentucky in the 1830's. Most of the family left Arkansas in 1883 to settle south of San Antonio. But I was born and raised here, a great-great-grandaughter of an officer in the Confederate Army.
I definitely believe that Southern culture is distinct in character. It's the accent, the attitude (don't trust Yankees)lol -and the FOOD!!! And yes, the SWEET TEA! I was raised on fried okra (the best), fried chicken, purple hull peas, sliced tomatoes and watermelon! Summers running barefoot--yes, I love it all! If you are interested in Southern culture, read "Run With the Horseman" by Ferrol Sams! V.

Val said...

My hubby's grampa was a farmer from Tennesee, and he yearns to get back there...He travels alot and has been all over the the South, he said its a much different culture in that part of the country and a colorful one at that. Really we live in such a great country where there is unique-ness in all different corners and in between this land. I have gypsy blood in me so I want to experience all of it.

Never underestimate how workin dirt can build character.

Southern drawl....wooo-weeee someone fan me!!! There is a reason its called southern charm.

Kitty said...

Hey Suzanne--I'm right here just a few miles from the geographical center of the state of Tennessee! Although I'm a Texan by birth (and I get that itchy feeling and have to go back for a visit now and then) my home has been in middle Tennessee for the last 27 years. I love the changing of the seasons here and the beautiful landscapes of the rolling hills and lots of trees. Come by and we'll go eat some home cookin' and have a big ol' glass of sweet tea!

Seriously, if you are passing through my area, I'd love to meet you!

scmom (Barbara) said...

I am Southern, in my heart. I'm also Italian, in my heart. I think it's because I cook Southern and Italian, or maybe that's why I cook Southern and Italian.

I was born in Cincinnati -- just a river across the line. We lived in Florida during my teenage years, but that's truly not the south. Too many geographic cultures all mixed up. Now I'm in central Ohio, just a few short hours from the Mason Dixon line.

J'Ollie Primitives said...

Polar opposite here. Northern Maine.
They make some pretty good pie up there.

Captain J said...

I've lived in North Carolina all my life. I love it! I've traveled all over the world, but NC is always home. It's the sayings, food, and general "traditions" that people move here for. Its funny to me when they say things like "where's this southern hospitality I've heard about", right after a comment that can not find the store/place they had back home.

Rue said...

Hi Suzanne :)

I was raised by people that were raised by Texans on all sides, so yes, I feel Southern. A little mid-west is thrown in there too because my grandfather was born there, but his mom and dad were from the South so he was a mix.

You can tell by the way I talk... coke is any kind of pop, the fact that I say pop at all, also the many sayings I use, such as... slower than molasses, more problems than a pay toilet.... people looks at me strangely when I say things like that LOL

I will say though that when I lived in Virginia, it didn't feel right, but that may be because Virginia is not very Southern anymore. Too many people from the North live there now. Mississippi, Louisiana, the Carolinas'... I felt right at home. Funny thing is I feel most at home right here in Ohio, but I think that's because all the Southerners from Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee moved here. I find more Southern accents here than I did in VA LOL

I think I'll have to go get that magazine, because that is one thing I do have in common with my ancestors... a love of Southern food ;)


Vickie said...

All my people are from Tennessee. My parents were both born here in Texas. I was raised here, and will live here for the rest of my life, Lord willin'. The South's traditions, the Texas drawl and ways of sayin' things, the down-home food, the family ties, the farmin', the people - the kindness of neighbors and strangers alike, they all run in my blood, and yes, even the heat. I love the landscapes of the South, the swamplands, the hill country & desert areas of Texas, the pine forests, the mountains, the coastal areas, ALL of it. It's so diverse but so together in spirit. It's a feelin' - almost indescribable - you either have it in your soul or you don't - you either understand it in your heart or you don't. And I feel the South in my heart and soul.

Heather said...

I was born in Louisiana and lived there until the 3rd grade. I haven't lived there since, but it's still home to me. Isn't that funny? My dad lives just outside of New Orleans now and we love to go visit. I'm destined to retire on the gulf in a pink beach house. I just know I am. I will drink sweet tea and eat shrimp and look like Paula Deen. I love the south.

Lori said...

Oh my gosh woman, you are speaking to my heart (and my tum). There is a draw for me as well and my family includy immediate ancestors were born and raised midwesterners. Can't put my finger on what it is but IT IS!Thanks for the tip on the mag, I'm ordering it today.

StitchinByTheLake said...

I've always lived in Arkansas, Suzanne, and though I've traveled to the four corners of the U.S. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. The pace is slower here, which means it's more restful and less stressful. We expect people to be nice and friendly and when they aren't we are genuinely surprised...every time. Compassion was bred into our souls and helping others is as natural as breathing. The food is not always healthy but it's always good and it's always plentiful and we're bound and determined to share it so "ya'll come to supper." blessings, marlene

dina said...

My Dad was born in Louisiana, and by the time he was crawling his parents had returned home to Mississippi. My Mom was born to parents born in Arkansas and Missouri. My maternal great-grandparents were from Tennessee. My parental - well - everyone - pretty much Mississippi.

I was born in Southern California - does that mean I'm from the South?! LOL! While I know it doesn't, my heart is closely knit to the South. Not just because I have about 55 bazillion Mississippi cousins, aunts, uncles, and so forth. The other side of the family finds pretty much everyone else in Texas nowadays.

I grew up eating fried okra, amazing brisket, ribs, and the like, coleslaw, corn bread seasoned with bacon grease, etc.

I have a dream of taking my kids from here in Oregon on a road trip through the South - introducing them to all of their wonderful kin that they've never met. My step-daughter was actually born in Kentucky. My husband was pastoring a small rural church in SE KY when we met, after his first wife was killed in a car accident. My first year of marriage was spent in the 23rd poorest county of the US. But know what? Amazing people. As warm, kind, and willing to step up and help as anyone I've ever met.

I'll shut up now... I could go on! :)

Stickhorsecowgirls said...

Ya'll c'mon down, ya'll heah?! We'll have some biscuits an' gravy an' pecan pie or banana puddin'. We could fry up some catfish and have us some hush puppies 'n' a pot o' greens with cornbread to soak up the pot likker! All washed down with sweet tea!

I've traveled all over, and I love all parts of our country and some abroad. But am born and bred a southerner--I love Arkansas!! And my folks are country, country. I love it!! C

Heidi said...

You need to come NORTH!!!! LOL I can put on a big dress and talk southern if that will get you up here sooner!!! I have always wanted to go to Tennessee, Kentucky, Georigia, Mississippi - ok ALL the southern states... Can I retire with you and the farmer???

Steph said...

Give me one month to move into our house, and we'll have a guest room with your name on it! Of course, its not Tennessee or Arkansas, but Alabama is the "Heart of Dixie"! What could be more southern than a cotton growing, chicken farmer!?

Jody Blue said...

I have the call of the north, born in central(that doesn't mean Mpls/St.Paul it means right dab in the middle up and down-side to side central)Minnesota. Now live in SE WI, and its not north enough for me.

I do love to visit the south, love to visit any where , but home to the north for me.

Anonymous said...

I have lived North of Atlanta, GA for 13 years and have been married to a true southern gentleman for 11 months. I was born in Massachusetts and call that home, but I love the South and don't plan to return to the North to put down roots.

Springtime in the South is most beautiful; vivid colors everywhere with the emerald grass as it starts its regrowth, the bright lemon daffodils, purples of the rhodadendron...the colors seem surreal.

What I love most about the South is my husbands family. They are the family I never had. His mom (who is 72) has the sweetest Southern accent and she is unbelievably caring and loving. She said she prayed for my husband to find someone like me for years and I'm the answer to her prayers. It's the way she gets misty eyed and the sound of her voice when she says it that touches my heart.

"I love you" flows easily when we're all together...It's no wonder my husband is a fantastic man he had great examples to follow. His father is a man of character, is solid in his beliefs and love of his wife. It shows in the way he looks at her and the way he takes care of her. My husband looks at me the same way...

We grow our own food in a big ole garden, he hunts. We put our food up for the winter and I have learned to fry okra, make turkey dressing and make bread nad butter pickles.

I love living's a different way of life.

Susan Z
Acworth, GA

Betty Terry said...

Hello, Suzanne. My name is Betty Terry and I am the food editor for Taste of the South magazine (and also the author of the story "Pie Heaven.") I'm glad you like our magazine; it's great to know that people appreciate what we do. Yes, we have been publishing Taste for five years. This summer, we came out with a special edition of our favorite recipes from the magazine's first five years. It's called Southern Favorites and it's literally the recipes that we have loved and cooked over and over again. You can find it on our Web site if it's not available at your local magazine stand. I think you'll find quite a few recipes in it that will remind you of the South. I hope you do subscribe.

Colste Stables said...

My southern roots run deep! I live and breathe southern. We are proud of our heritage, our culture, our food, our everything. I am truly blessed to have grown up in the South. I was born in raised in Southern Alabama (yeah, so far South that we grew up saying everything above I-10 is "Yankee", spent 4 yrs in Tuscaloosa at the University of Alabama (Roll Tide) and now live in New Market, TN just outside Knoxville and really close to Pigeon Forge / Gatlinburg / Smoky MTns.

I love TN but my heart will always belong to Alabama. It's such a great state. Who else has a song as wonderful as Sweet Home Alabama?!?!

Alabama is.... neighbors that invite you over as soon as you move in to give you grocery bags full of veggies from their's waving at every car you pass and everyone who is sitting out on their porches in the afternoon, it's drinking sweet tea even for breakfast, it's hot and humid (the air you can wear!) It's the accents, adding an s to the end of words that shouldn't have one like walmarts or sonics, defining distance by minutes instead of miles, having fried chicken after church on Sunday, and working hard all of your life and not complaining about it. And so much more!

Living in the South is ....well, home. I can't see myself anywhere else.

from our front porch... said...

Come by and give us a visit! We live in the mountains of East Tn. We raise Arabian horses, farm, and live in a 110 year old farm house. And we heat by wood!

Love your blog, very special place to stop by!

Blessings, Misha