Traditional South

Visitors to the Blue Willow Inn Restaurant in Social Circle, Georgia, frequently ask us why us Southerners act the way they do, talk the way they do, and cook the way they do - and why they do these things so slowly. Perhaps not even the most learned scholars of Southern culture can answer these questions with certainty , but the fact remains that Southerners are known for their hospitable treatment of visitors and friends, their slow pace of life, their manner of talking, and their delicious style of cooking. Although few can explain the Southern hospitality phenomena, few would deny its existence. It is common in areas such as Social Circle, Georgia, to hear a visitor from another state or country remark that Southern hospitality is truly alive and well today.

For example, after the 1996 Olympic Games were held in Atlanta, Georgia, even after media reports of traffic congestion and scheduling problems, visitors to Atlanta could be overheard marveling at hospitable acts from Native Georgians rather than complaining about the crowds or the heat. One man was overheard recounting the tale of an Atlanta resident loaning his cellular phone to someone in the crowded desperate need to contact the rest of his party. Another was heard boasting of a young woman allowing a family with small children to board the already crowded MARTA( Atlanta mass transit) train ahead of her. Although these examples of Southern hospitality boast a modern age twist of mobile phones and mass transit systems, Southern hospitality is not a myth perpetrated by the Hollywood version of life in the South- it is a reality and a way of life for most Southerners.

Some speculate that this way of life (and it is a way of life, not merely an attitude to exhibit on special occasions or for special company) is a function of the Southern colonies traditionally being more rural and agricultural. In rural societies people had to travel quite a distance to visit with one another and stayed for a while once they arrived at their destination.

Others speculate that the impeccable manners of Southern inhabitants were simply passed down from the original settlers of the area, chiefly the English and the French, two cultures known for their code of manners. English colonists began the establishment of Jamestown in 1607, which eventually came to be called Charleston. Not long after this, the Low Country was Settled by immigrants from Barbados and the French Huguenots.

The hospitality and manners of the Old South are alive and well in the Modern South. For example, studies have shown that most Southern parents teach their children to address adults as “Ma am” and Sir.” In addition, studies have also shown that helpful behaviors are more frequent in the South.

Most Southerners and visitors to the South, however, do not need a poll or an empirical study to tell them that hospitality and helpfulness are a natural part of the Southern experience. The comments overheard from those visiting from other regions testify to the surprising fact that friendliness and openness pervade the behavior of Southerners - whether it is the act of holding the door open for someone, taking food to the family of one who is sick or in the hospital, or the modern day kindness of lending someone your cellular phone. To experience this kindness is to experience the South.

A characteristically Southern trait that goes hand-in hand with hospitality is the trademark slower pace for which the South is known. To experience the South is to experience a pace of life which is less frenetic, patterns of speech which are more melodic, and attitudes which are more relaxed. This slow pace seems to lend itself to the attitude of hospitality : if you are not always in a hurry, you are more likely to offer someone a cold drink, to invite someone to visit awhile, or to pick up someone’s dropped pencil and return it.

Although the pace of life in the South may indeed be slower, Southerners would no doubt emphasize that this slower pace does not mean that they do not work as hard as those in other regions. Harper Lee, author of TO Kill A Mocking Bird, explained away the perception that because Southerners do not move as quickly that they do not work as hard by stating, “We work hard, of course, but we do it in a different way. We work hard in order not to work. Any time spent on business is more or less wasted, but you have to do it in order to be able to hunt and fish and gossip.”

In addition to the perception that Southerners move more slowly than others is the perception that Southerners speak more slowly. Surprisingly, studies show Southerners speak nearly as many word per minute as others- they merely draw the words out longer. Novelist Reynolds Price noted that, “Southerners employ more notes of the scale than other Americans; they need them for their broader reach of expression,” or as Mark Twain said “The Southerner talks music. Regardless of the results of empirical studies, many Southerners would beg to differ with the finding that Southerners do not actually talk more slowly but just sound as if they do. Any Southerner who has been to the local drugstore or cafe and for the fourth time that week has patiently listened to Junior explain how he reeled in the ten pound ornery catfish from Lake Hoosawatchie would no doubt firmly insist that Southerners do, in fact speak more slowly.

The manner of Southern speech patterns are not as controversial- most everyone would agree that Southerners have speech patterns and vocabulary peculiar to the south. Not only do Southerners use different words, but they pronounce the same words differently. For example , Southerners frequently omit the r sound when it follows a vowel, so pardon becomes “pahden” and butter becomes “buddah”. Mark twain remarked that “the educated Southerner has on use for an r except at the beginning of a word.

Contrary to the belief of some, pure Elizabethan English has not been preserved in areas of the South. Linguists believe, however, that the speech patterns of the Lower South resemble that of London and counties of southern England, while the speech patterns of the upper South resemble that of Northern England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

Other cultures have contributed to our present day Southern vocabulary. For example, the phrase most commonly linked with the South, “you all” or “y’all” appears to be a modern day replacement for the second-person plural no longer present in the English language, which is why Southerners become so offended when non- Southerners attempt to poke fun at Southerners and misuse the term by referring to one person, when any self-respecting Southerner knows that you only use “y all” when speaking to more than one person African contributions to the present day Southern vocabulary include banjo and okra.

Another term peculiar to the South is that of “dinner” to mean the midday meal, which was the main meal of the day in agricultural societies such as the South. The evening meal was often much lighter and was dubbed “supper.” Although the practice of eating the heavier meal at noon has all but vanished, except on Sundays, Southerners still often refer to a noonday meal as dinner and an evening meal as supper.

On thing is for certain - whether Southerners are eating dinner or supper - they enjoy a cuisine and a style of cooking native to the South and for which the South is famous. A definition of what makes food Southern requires some explaining because southern food is different things to different people. To some it is bending over vines on hot August days picking the peas, okra and squash that will grace the table on cold winter nights. To some it is sitting on a front porch in the cool of the evening shelling those same peas and passing the time with family and loved ones. To some it is the first real tomato sandwich of summer - the one with the first tomato vine ripe and pulled by hand-heavy on the salt, pepper, and mayonnaise. To some the term conjures up notions of elegant restaurants in Charleston, New Orleans, and Savannah- places with white linen napkins and sterling silver tableware. To others it is paper plates and sawdust floors and barbecue sauce dripping down the chin. Still others hear Southern food and think of slices of cold watermelon or ice cream made in an oak bucket and churned by hand. Others recall platters of crisp fried chicken, served only for company. sadly, there are people in the world who have no notion whatsoever of true Southern cooking.

Although Southern food conjures up different images, down- home Southern cuisine traditionally uses what Southern farms have historically and can easily produce.

Thus, corn and pork, two products easily cultivated in the Southern climate, have served as the mainstay of Southern cuisine. Pork has been the meat of choice (or at least availability) in the South since well before the Civil War. History shows that hogs came to Jamestown with the first English settlers, then traveled across the South with the pioneers. Pork soon became a staple both for high and low southern cuisine; almost every part of the hog was used-meat was eaten, lard was used for cooking, lighting, soap and ointments. Raising hogs was relatively easy, as farmers could turn the hogs loose to forage the land to eat until they were ready for slaughter or feed the hogs on corn, a crop indigenous to the South and also a crucial element of Southern cooking.

Corn was already being grown by Southern Native Americans when the colonists first arrived, and this crop they called “maize” soon became a mainstay for Southern hogs, horses, mules and people. Even after the Civil War, Southern households purchased two and a half more cornmeal than other Americans. Corn, although delicious on the cob, takes many forms in Southern cooking- hominy, grits, cornmeal, cornbread, hushpuppies, and much to the prohibitionist’s dismay- corn whiskey and bourbon.

Native Americans also provided Southerners with a popular delicacy, one for which the Blue willow Inn is famous- fried green tomatoes. Native Americans are said to have introduced this dish to colonists who were so taken by the dish that they exported it to Europe as early as the 1500s. The Catholic Church banned eating ripe tomatoes because the texture of a ripe tomato’s skin was similar to the texture of the human skin, and thus, the red tomato was considered an aphrodisiac. When the tomatoes were in season, however, you can bet more than a few of even the most devout individuals hid in armoires or pulled the curtains shut in order to delight in the forbidden fruit. The consumption of green tomatoes was permitted, however, which may be one of the reasons that the most popular type of tomatoes used for this dish is the green tomato. The earliest recorded history of fried green tomatoes is in Northern Italy, and the cook probably used olive oil for frying them.

In addition to corn and fresh vegetables such as tomatoes, other staples of the Southern kitchen include meats and crops easily obtained or grown. For example, poultry, game, and catfish were and are popular meats used in Southern cooking. Other crops grown easily in the Southern climate are black-eyed peas, greens, okra, rice, tomatoes, and Vidalia onions (grown in and around Vidalia, Georgia, where the soil makes them sweet as molasses), and watermelon.

The method for preparing these foods is similar to the nature of the foods themselves- Southerners have traditionally used the ingredients on hand to enhance the staples on hand. For example, a traditional Southern method of cooking is to deep fry everything from catfish to sliced green tomatoes- the lard and cornmeal is ever present help to combat a tiresome menu. Novelist Reynolds Price described the Southern lunch as “chicken and cured ham, corn pudding, hot rolls, corn sticks, iced tea, and lemon pie (with all the ingredients but the tea and lemons grown no more than twenty miles off).”

Recently a new phenomena known as “New Southern Cuisine” has been popping up around the South in an attempt to lighten the traditionally high calorie Southern dishes while incorporating ingredients not traditionally used in Southern cooking. This new Southern cooking style has been extolled and practiced in many modern Southern cookbooks and trendy restaurants. Whether you prefer traditional “down home” Southern cuisine or the new South recipes, it is probable that the notion of Southern cuisine-old or new- cannot be easily defined and conjures up different images to different folks.

To some it is catfish and grits and sweet tea. To others it is fried and seasoned with something that came from a hog. It is garden fresh or readily available without traveling north of Richmond. It is made with crab and served with rice in the Carolina low country.

It is shrimp and fish along the Georgia coast; crayfish from the Bayou in Louisiana, cured ham in Kentucky and Virginia, red-eye gravy in Tennessee, and fried chicken and okra anywhere below the Mason- Dixon line. Southern food is turnip greens, peas, and collards, seasoned with just the right amount of fatback and pot “likker” and pepper sauce and cornbread for sopping. It is barbecue that doesn’t involve beef and biscuits that have never been trapped inside a can, served hot with real butter.

Southern food, whatever the definition, was not created; it has evolved. It epitomizes the Southern sprit in that Southerners have always taken what they might have on hand and gone well beyond making do- turning very modest fare into delectable culinary treasures. It is served with pride and eaten with great relish. It adds joy to any celebration, absorbs tears better than a sponge and is usually the very first thing offered when Southerners need to help one another with grief.

Recipes of Southern dishes have been passed down from generation to generation, changing with the times when necessary, adapted and improved upon. Some foods have even been glamorized to the point of legend. Sadly, many Southern recipes have been changed drastically to suit our modern lifestyle of hurry, hurry, hurry, not to mention the nineties notion that anything that tastes good must be bad for you. Many Southerners have lost the art of preparing fresh food from scratch, seasoning it with just the right combination of salt, pork, and butter, and serving it up hot in enormous helpings to grateful crowds of hungry family and friends. New generations of children in the South are growing up without knowing the joy of sitting down to a scrumptious meal of true Southern victuals. The old recipes are not being passed down and yet another part of our heritage may soon be gone with the same wind that is sweeping away so many other facets of our culture.

We are dedicated at the Blue Willow Inn to serving authentic Southern dishes, prepared for generations - with a few special touches belonging only to us. It is always our hope that our customers will experience Southern hospitality and charm at its best and leave fully satisfied and eager to visit again. By publishing these recipes, we hope to pass along a little bit of the Southern culture to future generations and to enable people from all areas to open this cookbook, experiment with these delicious recipes and... experience the South.

Blue Willow Inn
294 N. Cherokee Rd.
Social Circle, Ga. 30025
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