The Southern pantry is both exotic and familiar

Grits with fiddleheads and ramps

As we reported in the IACP cookbook award announcement, US Southern cooking is riding a wave of popularity, as Heritage by Sean Brock has been nominated for several IACP awards, and three of the four books in the American category feature Southern cooking (Heritage, Down South and The B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery Cookbook).

The Southern pantry includes many unusual ingredients. If you were interested in trying a recipe but hesitated when you encountered items like poke, sorghum, chowchow, and ramps, look no further. We've assembled resources to acquaint you with these Southern specialties. First, Tasting Table provides a list of 13 must-haves for the Southern pantry. It includes brief descriptions and mail order sources for ingredients like muscadine wine vinegar, pickled okra, and Carolina gold rice.

Grub Street explores the world of ramps, also called wild leeks. Their arrival is a sure sign of spring in the South, but their pungent flavor is not always appreciated. Another Southern staple is chowchow, which is briefly explained here. If you're looking for chowchow recipes, be forewarned: there are as many variations for this vinegary vegetable relish as there are barbecue sauces. The EYB Library has several recipes with ingredients ranging from lima beans to green tomatoes.

Sorghum's unique sweetness is utilized in many Southern dishes. You can learn all about sorghum via HuffPost Taste. The dark syrup, made from a cereal grain that resembles cornstalks, is at home in both savory and sweet recipes. Cookbook author and chef Edward Lee finds that sorghum "adds a lot of depth to what you're cooking, more so than honey." Sean Brock, whose cookbook Heritage is nominated for several IACP awards, says "that the flavors of sorghum remind him of home, where every fall the community would get together to harvest the tall plant and boil down the sorghum syrup."

Poke, aka pokeweed, poke salad, or polk sallit, is perhaps the least understood ingredient in Southern cooking. A weed that emerges very early in the spring, poke can be poisonous if not prepared correctly. Discover the history behind the name and learn more about the plant via The Anniston Star.

If you're not quite ready for poisonous plants, the Southern pantry features plenty of familiar ingredients too. You can find recipes for greens, beans, meats, and sweets that you can make without a trip to a specialty market or a mail order shopping spree (not that there's anything wrong with either!). Essential Southern ingredients that you probably already love include bacon, pecans, cornmeal, and sweet potatoes. Now y'all are equipped to try a great Southern recipe.

6 Comments

  • ellabee  on  3/7/2015 at 7:19 PM

    I've always thought of chow chow as a Pennsylvania Dutch item -- not even Appalachian, much less southern.

  • darcie_b  on  3/8/2015 at 2:35 PM

    It's true that there is a chowchow in the Pennsylvania Dutch culture although it's usually sweeter than the Appalachian/Southern versions. Chowchow allegedly originated with the Acadians in Nova Scotia who then brought it down to Louisiana during their migration to the South (with stops along the way). It must have been well-liked by Appalachian settlers because it is quite popular there - when I lived in West Virginia I often saw it at the farmers market.

  • ellabee  on  3/8/2015 at 6:11 PM

    Yes, the Pennsylvania Dutch version is a typically sweet-sour item. Will keep an eye out for the more vinegary version.

  • nicolthepickle  on  3/9/2015 at 1:14 PM

    I don't understand the picture in this post. You picture fiddleheads, but I don't think they grow in the Southern United States. They're from Maine and New England. Ramps yes, but not fiddleheads, and that's what I see in the picture. The article's fine but the picture makes me think of Maine and New Brunswick not the South. Now how about some okra everyone?

  • darcie_b  on  3/9/2015 at 8:18 PM

    Ostrich ferns (the usual source for fiddleheads that are eaten) grow just fine in much of the South, especially in the Appalachian mountains. Now please pass the succotash. :)

  • nicolthepickle  on  3/10/2015 at 11:51 AM

    Huh, thanks @darcie_b. I did not know that. I apologize. And I will eat my words and the fiddleheads.

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