Monday, June 21, 2010

Tell Me What You Eat

"I believe you cooked those green beans too long."
~ One Thing You Will Never Hear A Southerner Say ~

Do you know what a "crowder pea" is? Is "grits" plural or singular? What do the words "Moon Pie" mean to you? Have you ever eaten any of these things? If you have, I can probably make the safe guess that you were born in, raised in, or at least have visited, the Southeastern region of the United States.

I live in a small town in South Carolina, not the town in which I grew up but one not too far away, and my favorite restaurants in town are Gerhard's, an Austrian biergarten, and Wade's, a purveyor of the Southern classic, the "meat and three." I myself favor the vegetable plate and at Wade's what is considered a vegetable is of course anything that isn't a meat; macaroni and cheese, for example. I always get the macaroni and cheese, and usually the beans, and my favorites are the black-eyed, crowder and field peas, which I associate with my grandmother.

My Grandmama had perhaps the freest hand with food I've ever known. That's the right of grandmothers, to fill their grandchildren up without regard for proper diet or nutrition. They allow open access to the candy jar and cookie cupboard and will always fix you something special if you ask. At my grandmother's house I ate biscuits and peas and home-canned green beans, chicken and rice and peach cobbler and lots and lots of Nilla Wafers. Even during the worst of some of my food issues, I could usually still eat something at my Grandmother's. So naturally that sort of Southern cooking is what I consider "comfort" food, and one reason why Wade's is such a favorite.

Being the type of eater that I am, one who eats to live rather than one who lives to eat, it's good for me to have comfort food, something I can turn to when I would rather do just about anything than feed myself. Even so I know that for me, there is no real comfort to be found in food, merely echoes of earlier comforts. That's all that can be found, those echoes. But what is for me a useful tool, I know for some people can become a weapon they turn upon themselves; it's merely the opposite extremes of a simple truth about ourselves and our relationship to food. Whatever we may know, it doesn't change the way we feel.

"Tell me what you eat and I'll tell you what you are" is such a famous quote I didn't even know I knew it until I started to brainstorm ideas for future posts here. My fondness for sweet tea, Chik-fil-A sandwiches, and a preference for fully cooked green beans don't make me a Southerner, but they are part of what make me think of myself as one. We are all defined by what we eat, those food choices we make several times each day. And it at least partially explains why I will choose to eat those over-cooked green beans from Wade's, with their slight vinegar tang, just like Grandmama used to make.

Not My Grandmother's Roasted Green Beans
Take several handfuls of of green beans, snap the ends off, rinse and lay them out in a jellyroll pan. Drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper and roast them in a 425 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes. Shake the pan every few minutes to keep the beans from sticking and also to get a really satisfying amount of sizzle and smoke. Serve hot.

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