Good ol’ fashioned Southern hospitality

Bryan O’Donoghue holds a plate of biscuits and gravy, a favorite

Mint juleps, cornbread, barbecued ribs and sweet potato pie can
only mean one thing: You’ve been transported from the South Valley
to the South.
Like many cultures, traditions embedded in the southern United
States often revolve around the simple love of food.
Mint juleps, cornbread, barbecued ribs and sweet potato pie can only mean one thing: You’ve been transported from the South Valley to the South.

Like many cultures, traditions embedded in the southern United States often revolve around the simple love of food. An old Southern tradition is to gather several family members and friends for a spirited evening of food, drinks and dance.

The agricultural richness of the early South helped shape its cuisine. According to, the first farmers of the area produced large quantities of vegetables, fruits, nuts, rice and corn.

Game such as deer, rabbits, squirrels and ducks were abundant, as were fish and seafood including crabs, shrimps and oysters.

The Native Americans, Spanish, English, Africans and French introduced new food to the region and added their two cents as to how it should be prepared.

But not all immigrants took to the food so readily. Early French women along the Gulf Coast rebelled when told to bake bread using gritty cornmeal instead of the familiar white wheat from France. But they eventually began baking ashcakes, hoecakes and johnnycakes with the cornmeal.

Southern cuisine flourished when African farmers introduced seeds of collard greens, peas, okra, yams, watermelon and sesame. Latin Americans brought beans, chocolate, white and sweet potatoes and peppers.

In the 16th century, Spanish explorer Hernan de Soto and his small army brought pigs to Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas as a moving meat market.

Eating the animals became a trend, and today baked ham is a Southern culinary mainstay.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the only major cities in the South existed near ports such as Baltimore, Charleston and New Orleans.

Homesteads and plantations were separated by long distances, and because travel was so difficult, guests were expected to stay for several days.

Visitors brought news and entertainment to their host families, and conversation was shared over large meals replete with chicken, pork, ham, biscuits and pies.

Also popular were barbecues and fish fries that gathered distant neighbors.

During the early 19th century, the South was home to many of the country’s richest citizens who prided themselves on preparing elaborate and delicious meals for their guests.

Some dishes, however, don’t enjoy the widespread popularity they once did, such as jellied veal and ham pie and goose in aspic.

In the late 19th to early 20th centuries, Southern cooks were forced to learn to prepare meals with common, less expensive ingredients. Pork fat and flour transformed into rich gravy, leftover meat and vegetables went into stews and gumbos and old bread became part of dessert.

Today, those recipes are integral parts of Southern cuisine.

Never mind that the South and the South Valley are separated by about 2,500 miles – traditional Southern fare still can be had.

In Hollister, the name says it all: Maverick BBQ. The spot in the old railroad station on Fifth Street serves up homemade barbecue sauce, potato salad, coleslaw and baked beans.

The ribs, tri tip and chicken all are slow-smoked, which is the reason customers “gobble them up,” said owner Joel Anderson.

“We hand rub all of the ribs individually with a dry rub, then they go onto what we call the pit in the back for about four to six hours,” he said. “We use a St. Louis-style rib, which is a very delicate cut of meat, and we think it’s better quality.”

In Gilroy, the Black Bear Diner and OD’s Kitchen are among the restaurants serving Southern grub. OD’s Kitchen dishes up biscuits and gravy, while the menu at the Black Bear Diner features barbecue ribs and chicken fried steak, the latter being especially popular with the restaurant’s customers, said manager Farid Biglari.

There a number of cookbooks available featuring recipes for traditional Southern food.

“Butter Beans to Blackberries,” by Ronni Lundy, includes hard-to-find recipes to create unique meals.

“Mama Dip’s Kitchen,” by Mildred Council, features easy yet flavorful recipes. “Fried Chicken,” by Damon Lee Fowler, offers numerous variations for preparing fried chicken.

“The Southern Cook’s Handbook,” by Courtney Taylor and Bonnie Carter Travis, gives step-by-step instructions on making old-fashioned, traditional Southern dishes.

Plantation Iced Tea

7 tea bags

12 mint leaves

1/2 cup sugar

One 6-ounce can frozen lemonade concentrate

One 12-ounce can pineapple juice

Step 1: Pour 4 cups boiling water over the tea bags, mint and sugar in a pitcher. Steep for 30 minutes.

Step 2: Remove the tea bags, squeezing out excess liquid. Remove the mint.

Step 3: Prepare the lemonade according to instructions and add to tea. Add the pineapple juice and stir. Serve over ice. Makes 2 quarts or about 10 servings.

Bert’s Southern

Fried Chicken

1 chicken (3 pounds), washed and cut into 8 serving pieces

salt and pepper

2 cups all-purpose or self-rising flour

3 eggs

1/3 cup milk

peanut oil for frying

Step 1: Liberally sprinkle each piece of chicken with salt and pepper several hours before cooking. Place it in a dish, covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator. Place the flour in a plastic kitchen storage bag.

Step 2: When ready to cook, beat the eggs with the milk. Dip the chicken pieces into the egg mixture, then place each piece in the bag. Shake until the chicken is coated.

Step 3: Set the floured chicken on a plate while you heat the oil. Pour enough oil into a cast-iron skillet to come only about halfway up the sides of the pan. Turn the heat to medium high and test by adding a drop of water to the oil. If it sizzles, the oil is ready.

Step 4: Place four pieces of chicken into the hot oil. Allow the first side to cook for about eight minutes and the second side about six minutes, until brown and crispy. Large pieces, such as legs and thighs, may need an additional minute per side to cook thoroughly.

Step 5: Remove chicken from oil and drain well on brown paper bags. Cook the second batch.

Step 6: Wrap chicken tightly in aluminum foil until ready to eat.

Serves four to six.

Old-fashioned Peach Cobbler

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

sugar, about 1/4 cup, divided

1/2 cup shortening

3/4 cup milk

3 1/2 cups sliced peaches

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon butter

Step 1: Sift flour into bowl with baking powder, salt, and 1 tablespoon of the sugar.

Step 2: Blend in shortening until crumbs are fine.

Step 3: Add milk and mix to make dough.

Step 4: Combine sliced peaches with lemon juice, 2 tablespoons sugar, cinnamon and butter in a casserole or baking dish.

Step 5: Stretch dough to fit over the top of peaches and vent to allow steam to escape.

Step 6: Bake in 450 degrees oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 25 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Serves eight.

Recipes from ‘Paula Deen & Friends: Living It Up Southern Style Cookbook.’

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