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BellaOnline's Southern Cooking Editor

American Traditions in Southern Cooking

Who doesnít love a little Southern cooking every now and then? Itís comfort on a plate. Honey-glazed ham and mashed potatoes for Sunday night dinner; cold fried chicken, potato salad and sweet tea for a Saturday afternoon picnic; eggs and grits for breakfast on a dreary winter morning; itís real food that brings people together and just makes you feel good.

Many staples of Southern cooking have become traditions for holidays and family gatherings throughout the United States and recipes and stories have been passed down through several generations. The history of the South is unmistakable in the food.

The variety in Southern cuisine is almost unseen anywhere else in the world. When the first settlers from all over Europe started coming to the U.S. they found that the southern climate and the proximity to fresh and salt water provided a bounty of opportunity to feed families. The native Indians taught the Europeans how to hunt and fish, gather wild plants and grow corn, rice, squash and beans. The natives also taught these new Americans how to smoke meats and fish for preservation and distinctive flavors. The Appalachian region provided a variety of wild vegetation like ramps (onions, leeks, garlic), blackberries, blueberries, and cherries. The sun and earth were ideal for fruit trees in Florida and Georgia. South Carolina and Arkansas were perfect for growing rice. The habitat throughout the South provided deer, rabbit, birds and other wild animals and fish in coastal regions. The South was established as an agricultural region.

The cultural character in Southern cooking provides an array of food to please almost anyone. Thereís American and world history in this food. When the Spanish came to America in the 1500s, they brought horses and pigs with them, and vanilla beans, chocolate, tomatoes, and the honey bee. The Africans brought peas, watermelons, yams, okra, eggplant and collards. There are Cuban and Caribbean influences in the southeast, French, Spanish and Italian in Louisiana, and Latin influences throughout the southwest. Along with herbs and spices, vegetables and meats, the settlers brought different cooking and preserving methods and over a few hundred years culminated what is now probably the most widely-known American food Ė Southern food.

Today the abundance of fresh produce and meats allows anyone, anywhere to enjoy the comforting, down-home feeling of Southern style food. Letís explore different ingredients and recipes across the many Southern regions of the U.S. and enjoy the extraordinary flavors and varied history of Southern Cooking.

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