What makes a recipe Southern? If a Brooklynite makes sweet potato pie, is the pie still Southern? If a born and bred North Carolinian makes spaghetti… is it then Southern spaghetti? Does the chicken come first, or the egg? The cook or the recipe? And, while we’re ruminating on the mysteries of The Universe, what makes a recipe a holiday recipe? After all, there is no rule against having green bean casserole at non-holiday meals.
The answers to these questions are, of course, dependent on who is answering them. I think it’s safe to say that there are recipes that we hold close to our hearts. There are dishes we designate for special occasions and for special people. I also firmly believe that while there are recipes and cooks that can be firmly placed in the Southern category, the art of Southern holiday cooking is open to anyone with a desire to learn, a heart for nourishing, and a tub of lard at-hand. Sidenote: did you know they make Crisco in sticks now?! I can hear all of my great-grandmothers give a collective harrumph.
I am also of the opinion that I reach “peak-Southern” during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. I want everyone around me to be filled with cheer and food. This flows, I am sure, from a deep need I have as a Southern woman to show affection through food – and is to blame for the reason that none of my recipes are made to feed less than 8 people. At the root of a lot of traditional holiday meals, Southern and otherwise is the coming together of history and family. In my family, there are recipes for stuffing, potato rolls, and tipsy cake all passed down through many generations before me. There are Swedish tea rings and chocolate oatmeal drop cookies, sheet cakes, and split pea soup.
Though I’m sure I can now Google all of these recipes, I prefer to instead follow the looping hand-writing on my grandmother’s recipe cards or the exact text of a sheet of paper run through a typewriter by my grandfather as he attempted to preserve my great-grandmother's recipes. The cards have stains, the sheets of paper careworn fold-lines. But that is just proof of a well-loved recipe, just as wrinkles are proof of a well-lived life. The act of reading the card, of following the instructions, of making the recipe come to life, is like walking in the footprints of those who have gone before you.
Holiday dishes, family recipes, are not just meant to fill the bellies of all the people at the table, but to remind us of all the people who no longer sit at that table with us. They remind us that there is room at the table, room for those who were once there and room for all those who are yet to come. As I make a tipsy cake every Thanksgiving I am reminded how much my grandfather could make everyone laugh with his jokes. The same jokes my Dad now tells every Thanksgiving. Yes, we’ve ALL heard the joke about putting popcorn in the turkey. But, yes, we’ll listen to it one more time, and we’ll laugh, again.
It doesn’t matter if you’re making sweet potato pie in Poughkeepsie NY, or frying a turkey in Tuscaloosa AL, or mixing together your great-great grandmother’s cranberry sauce in Clayton NC… what matters this time of year is the people you’re making it for and the people you’re making it with and the memories you’re keeping alive. Maybe the answer to all the questions about cooking and recipes and categories and seasons are irrelevant. Or maybe the answer is in why you can make green bean casserole any time of the year and it somehow tastes better at Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s all in the magic that turns any recipe into a meal; the magic of making something with intention and serving it with love.
In the recipe section of our website, we have a few classic holiday, traditionally Southern, recipes as well as Christmas party recipes. Feel free to try them out and add them to your own holiday meals and celebrations. As the season of food and family, of giving and receiving, and of love and light begins, I’d also like to remind you (just in case you didn’t know) that our table is always set in Johnston County and there is always room for you.
Room at the Table - Southern Holiday Recipes
Friday, December 13, 2019 9:00 AM by Ashby Brame