Sunday, January 01, 2006

On the menu

As much as I love the south and my cultural heritage, I have a few dietary preferences which damn near make me a traitor. Old fashioned southern food was poor people food. The vegetables and seasonings were grown in the back yard. Flour, meal and sugar were treasured commodities, and every edible piece of meat was used. Miracles grew from that simplicity, but so did a few nightmares.

The traditional southern New Year's Day meal is hog jowl, black eyed peas and greens for good luck and prosperity in the coming months. Greens are generally stewed to death until they have a texture that somehow manages to be both slimy and chewy, a combination that I simply can't abide. I can tolerate black eyed peas if they're slathered with Tabasco sauce or dressed up in a recipe I have called Dixie Caviar, but they'll never be a preferred food.

As for hog's jowl, a memory still makes me shudder. Most of the time, it comes pre-sliced, looking like thick bacon, but the first time I remember eating it, it had been cooked like a roast. The smell was incredible, and then I saw the meat falling off the bone, normally a sign of juicy tenderness. I couldn't eat it. The teeth were still in the jaw bone, and my own smile just disappeared.

Tonight at my mother-in-law's, I had a bite or two of greens for politeness sake. I dressed my peas in vinegary-peppery goodness and waited in dread for the meat to appear. I sighed in relief over real bacon. Some traditions need to fade away.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Living down south for as long as I did, there were some foods I came to adore and still occasionally crave--though it's really hard to find 'em GOOD this far north. I adore fried catfish and I completely love sweet potato pie. I've made it myself, and rather well, but no one else cares for it so I usually don't bother. I missed it this Christmas. The southern vegetables though, I must say, always pretty much grossed me out for the slimy-chewy reasons you explained so well. The rough equivalent up north is Amish food. Amish often cook similar veggies similar ways. It was the teeth in this entry, though, Cynthia, that really got me. The teeth. EWWwwwwww!!!

January 01, 2006 11:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

P.S. The other awesome detail is "Dixie Caviar." I'd actually like to have that recipe, though I generally think black eyed peas taste like goat pellets. Oh, and D's mom asked me today if I'd eaten any sauerkraut today for good luck--a German tradition. I told her I'd rather have bad luck all year than eat sauerkraut. (I'm not TOO picky, am I??)

January 01, 2006 11:24 PM  
Blogger ~~Kath~~ said...

Mmmmmmm Dixie Caviar, I love that stuff!

January 02, 2006 6:56 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

January 02, 2006 9:46 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

This reminds me of the scene in Angela's Ashes when Frank is sent to the butcher to buy a hog's head for Easter. The embarrassing purchase is carried home hidden in a paper bag, but rain comes and all can see the shape of the poverty food that the McCourts are having for Easter Dinner.
Frank can't eat it until his father cuts slices from the cheek and places the head on the floor.

January 02, 2006 9:49 AM  
Blogger Gabreael said...

When we moved to NC I was in a total culture shock because of this sort of thing. I refuse to eat any of the following: eyes of any sort, brains, hoofs, intestins, ..... They are all served here. I nearly fainted the first time we went into a buffet and there sat an entire hog head and all for people to pick from.

I eat white meat chicken, a little ham, and white pork only.


January 02, 2006 10:42 AM  
Blogger Solitary Dancer said...

EEEK I can't imagine hog jowls. Some people love them but I just can't do it. I am not a fan of collard greens. Just not something I want to taste.

However, I do like black eyed peas cooked very simple and not over dressed.

January 02, 2006 11:30 AM  
Blogger jennifer said...

Okay, you did me in with the hog, and if I never eat a blackeyed pea it will be too soon. But man, I love me some greens, cooked to absolute death with bacon or ham. Add a spash of tabasco, and I'm in heaven.

January 02, 2006 11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with Paula - ewww! I tried some blood sausage recently - another ewww. I have to be honest, the haggis is not my favorite either. Nope, innards and odd bits don't really do it for me. I'll stick to my Trader Joe's hummus, thank you very much!

Happy New Year, Cynthia!

Love, Vicky

January 02, 2006 1:35 PM  
Blogger Lisa :-] said...

Reminds me of tongue. It wasn't necessarily a traditional food, but Dad used to cook it all the time. And he didn't even have the grace to slice it up and THEN put it on the table. He'd just slap the whole damn disembodied tongue on a platter and set it in the middle of the table. I didn't know any better then, but when I think about it now, I nearly gag...

January 02, 2006 2:50 PM  
Blogger Virginia said...

Hog jowls? I never heard of such a thing. Wow. Just another reason to stay being a vegetarian....

January 02, 2006 7:37 PM  
Blogger ChasingMoksha said...

I can honestly say I have never hog jowl or ever had it presented to me, and we were quite poor and in the South. The black eyed peas, yes, and oh how I hate them. I hate black eyed peas to this day, never liked one drop of them, give me a pinto anyday over a black eyed pea, and that includes with cornbread. My husband can make good greens, and there is nothing slimy about them, at least not that I notice.

We always did the cornbeef and cabbage thing, where ever that came from. Shrug.

Thank God for hot sauce, eh!

January 02, 2006 8:46 PM  

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