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The history of southern cooking began when the Spanish and English explorers began arriving in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and the southern islands. The explorers brought food with them, and also discovered new foods. European, Africans, Native Americans, and emigrants from other countries all helped to create the beginning of southern cooking.

Corn was already here when the Spanish brought pork to America. The Indians had beans, peas, squash, greens, onions, berries, nuts, and various kinds of fruit. The land offered wild game, and the ocean had seafood. When emigrants arrived, they were influential in raising livestock, cabbages, yams, wheat, oats, peanuts, okra, black-eyed peas, potatoes, tomatoes, rice, oranges, melons, chocolate, and tea.

Slavery and poverty were historical factors that influenced the evolution of southern food. The African slaves that cooked and served generations were part of the creators of southern cooking that now epitomizes southern hospitality. Poverty from the Civil War and the Great Depression caused many southern people to experience hunger. The survival of many depended on the inventive talents of gardeners, hunters, fishers, and of course cooks.

Creole foods originated from the first-generation New Orleans-born immigrants from France, Spain, and Africa.

Thomas Jefferson, former governor of Virginia and minister to France, was instrumental in creating the significance of food in southern culture and in America. As Minister of France in the 1780’s, he traveled Europe and discovered new foods. Many of his unique foods he brought back were: vanilla extract, olives and olive oil, pasta from Italy, waffles from Holland, and wines from France. Jefferson also brought back recipes for ice cream and meringues. At his home in Monticello, he had the most extensive vegetable gardens in the United States.

Fact: The Pound Cake is actually a British creation, dating back to the early 1700’s. The original southern recipe called for 1 pound of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour.

Fact: Another defining development that originated in the South was a store called Piggly Wiggly. This grocery store was the forerunner in establishing the concept of self-serve grocery shopping, opening in Memphis, TN. Piggly Wiggly remains a prominent southern institution.

My Favorite Southern Old-Fashioned Recipes

Buttermilk Cake

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, yolks and egg whites divided (in a separate bowl, beat egg whites till stiff, set aside)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
3 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons vanilla

Mix softened butter and sugar well. Then, add egg yolks. Sift flour, baking soda and salt together. Alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk in butter/sugar mixture. Mix well, then add vanilla. Then, FOLD in egg white, by spatula and gently mix well. Bake in 10- inch tube pan at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 5 minutes.

Chocolate Pound Cake

½ cup shortening
1 cup butter
3 cups sugar
5 eggs
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cocoa
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
3 Tablespoons vanilla

Mix softened butter and shortening well. Add sugar. Then, add eggs, one at a time. Sift flour, baking powder, cocoa, and salt together. Alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk in butter/sugar mixture. Mix well, then add vanilla. Bake in 10- inch tube pan at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 5 minutes. May bake 5-10 minutes longer. Check cakes doneness with a toothpick.

Lemon-Cream Coconut Cake

Lemon Filling:

2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup sweetened coconut
lemon peel


12 tablespoons (1 1/2 stick) butter
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon extract
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/3 cup evaporated milk
3 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk

Prepare filling: Wisk sugar and cornstarch. On medium-high heat, stir in ½ cup water and lemon juice till smooth. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 2-3 min, or till thick and glossy. Mix egg yolks and small amount of lemon mixture together, then add to remaining mixture. Cook till mixture “steams” and coats the back of spoon. Remove from heat and stir in butter and coconut and peel. Let cool.

Prepare Cake: Mix butter and sugar, cream 4-5 mins. Add vanilla and lemon extracts. Add dry ingredients and ½ cup milk & ½ cup water. Beat egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff peaks. Fold in batter. Bake 25-30 mins. Poke holes in top of cake and drizzle evaporated and condensed milk on top of layers. Place lemon filling between layers. Serve.

Tea Cakes (old-fashioned sugar cookies)

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 – 1 1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Cream butter and sugar. Mix well. Add eggs- one at a time, beating well. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk. Blend well. Stir in extract. Cover, chill one hour.
Roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness on a floured surface. Cut with round cookie cutter or the cookie cutter of your choice. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until edges brown. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired. Yield about 4 dozen.

Southern Chocolate Cheesecake

3 cups chocolate wafer crumbs
1/3 cup (2/3 stick) butter, melted

Three (8-ounce) packages cream cheese
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, at room temperature
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted
2 ounces German Sweet chocolate, melted

To make crust, mix wafer crumbs and melted butter with hands until mixture hold together when pressed hard. Press into bottom and half way up sides of 12-inch spingform pan. You must press hard. Place in freezer till ready to fill. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. To make filling, cream the cheese at a low speed for 2 mins until free of lumps. Add sugar, slowly. Then add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each egg. Add melted chocolate and blend well. Pour batter in crust and bake for 40 mins. The top will crack slightly when done. Turn oven off and allow cake to cool in oven. For best results, refrigerate overnight before serving. Serves 8 or more.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

To make your own vanilla extract, rub two vanilla beans with the dull edge of a knife to evenly distribute the seeds, then cut the beans in half lengthwise, and place in a bottle of vodka or some other kind of liquor. Seal the bottle, and set in a cool, dark place for four to six months, shaking occasionally, until the flavor of the extract has mellowed. The clear vodka will turn a nice deep brown. When the extract is ready to be used, clean and sterilize several small bottles with screw-on lids, and fill with the homemade extract.

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