2016-07-27 / Editorials

Don Lively

SWEETLY SOUTHERN

Nobody has ever accused me of being an epicurean.

Or a connoisseur.

A foodie.

I couldn't explain the difference between gnocchi and penne if my very life depended on it.

I wouldn't know an albacore from a tuna if both jumped out of the ocean and bit me on each cheek.

To me, arugula and spinach and radicchio all taste the same.

Like hay.

Since I've been a bachelor for most of the past two decades, my new bride is finding it a bit difficult to break me of some of my culinary patterns. She will win, in the end, but undoing so many years of bad habits could take some time.

After all, I'm the kind of fellow who is perfectly content to make a meal of two cans of Vienna sausage, one honey bun and a Mountain Dew.

On road trips I've subsisted mostly on beef jerky and Twizzlers.

At my house, a large can of Dinty Moore beef stew that hasn't been expired more than a year is considered dang near gourmet.

But, there is one of the five basic food groups that I am well versed in. One that I have studied and researched extensively through the years. One that, I think you will agree, is as fundamental to life in the Blessed South as camouflage britches and church houses.

Southern Sweets.

Don't think it's one of the five basic food groups?

You and I obviously haven't been reading the same books.

Let's start with the most obvious ingredient.

The simple, yet magnificent, pecan.

From Georgia to Texas, pecan pie has been an essential of good Southern cooking for as long as there's been a debate on exactly how the word is pronounced.

For the record, it's correctly pronounced, pea can.

Anyway, for chefs as diverse as the sophisticated and polished Paula Deen, over in Savannah, to the bawdy Cajun humorist and cook, Justin Wilson, of Louisiana, pecan pie recipes are simply staples of their trade. But the recipes, all across the South, are basically the same. Fresh pecans, eggs, sugar, butter, maybe a little vanilla, and, of course, Karo syrup. The basic combination has sparked many a debate as to whose Mama bakes the best pies.

It was my Mama, no question.

Years after she left us I can still taste those fine pecan pies.

Down in Florida there is a very special little citrus fruit, a lime. Not just any old Persian lime or Spanish lime, mind you. No sir and no ma'am. In Florida they grow a lime that no other part of the world can lay claim to.

The key lime.

Ergo, the world famous, key lime pie.

To die for.

It's tempting to compare the key lime pie to the time tested lemon meringue pie, but, honestly, there's no comparison. Key limes have such a uniquely tart flavor that, when used as a dessert ingredient, it rewards the taster with an immediate desire to be standing in Mallory Square watching the sunset over the ocean, or to be walking barefoot along the gazillion miles of Sunshine State shoreline.

Peach cobbler, anyone?

Georgia has been known as the Peach State for many years, but, other states, South Carolina included, actually produce more of the succulent crop every year. But, regardless of which states produce the most fruit, every Southern state has its own version of the sweet treat that soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines have dreamed about during long deployments away from home. Peach cobbler was a regular part of Sunday dinner at nearly every Southern table that I ever put my feet under. Both grandmas, every aunt or great-aunt, and, of course, Mama.

I will probably debate myself until I join her in Heaven as to which was better, her pecan pie or peach cobbler.

We Southerners do like our sweets.

Try to walk down some of the downtown streets of Savannah or Charleston, where the candy stores specialize in Southern pralines, without stopping in for one. Or two. It's almost impossible to stop eating them once you get started.

Who can resist buying a bagful of beignets anytime you find yourself strolling through the French Quarter "way down yonder in New Orleans"?

Blackberries, that grow wild all over the South, are made into jellies and jams and tarts and muffins.

Well, I've succeeded in making myself hungry.

Better get to baking.

Happy eating, y'all.

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