Mississippians Love Food

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Came across this Only in your State mini article today; 10 Things Mississippians Can’t Help But Be Picky About, and I couldn’t help but share it here because nine out of the ten things are all about food.

While I can’t personally agree with everything on the list, it is certainly true that Mississippians are really big on food.  It doesn’t matter if it’s Sunday dinner, Thanksgiving, a wedding, a funeral, or a Tuesday;  Mississippians love food.  And while this list doesn’t encompass everything when talking about food and Mississippians, it is a rather good list to be getting on with.


First on the list is Manners, which are rather important and not just concerning ‘yes ma’am’ and ‘no ma’am’, or the time that our local new anchor went on the air to address the lack of manners from people who had moved into the state from elsewhere.  It also extends to food.

See, I know a lot of people who think that manners are uppity or are also a relic from a bygone era.  Both are right, if they’re using manners incorrectly.  First and foremost manners is supposed to incorporate your guests into your surroundings and make them feel like they are at home; to make them at ease.  This is not done by flaunting your fancy dinnerware at them and then putting them on edge if they look at it wrong, or to make yourself seem better than them in any way.  It’s the sheer act of asking if they liked something to drink when their in your home, or if you have something made like bread or a dessert, asking if they’d like a bit.

But this also extends to simple courtesies amongst people whom you don’t know.  You see that someone has dropped something or left something behind, you take it to them or let them know.  You hold the door open for the person whose arms are full.  Simple things like that.  Our local anchor had to get on the news, because among other things there were people attending a local church, volunteering for the Sunday School drop off and then cursing like a sailor for everyone to hear and yelling at people to move the f*** out of the way, and other such things.  Slightly amusing to hear about, but really you just don’t do that.  It’s rude.

Ice tea, pimento cheese, and greens are things I won’t eat (or drink).  I might have unsweetened iced tea with some lemon on occasion, but this is not how Mississippians, or southerners, for the most part enjoy their tea.  It must be iced and have a lot of sugar in it.

Most people don’t care whether the pimento cheese is homemade or store-bought, they’ll eat it, though a lot of people make it from a family recipe as my dad does.  I’ve never enjoyed it and won’t eat it, but lots of Mississippians do.  If they’re not making it to just eat on some bread like a sandwich or on a cracker, then they are making it to add into other recipes.  From my experience they can’t get enough of it.

Greens are in their own culinary world here in the south.  There are Mustard Greens, Collard Greens, and Turnip Greens and they are all completely different.  Some you might add a bit of sugar to while boiling, others (and mainly) it’s some sort of pig part; fat back, salt pork, bacon grease… perhaps all three.  They don’t take a lot of spicing, but if you don’t do it correctly no one will eat your greens.  People eat them by themselves or drench them over cornbread.  The liquid that’s cooked off of the greens is called pot liquor and you can eat that with beans or take the beans and pot liquid and put it over cornbread too.  Greens are like their own secret society here.  I know enough to talk about them, but as I don’t eat nor prepare them, I couldn’t tell you exactly how each should taste or what other concoctions people put them though.

Mayonnaise is a funny thing here of which I didn’t really comprehend until I saw this article and it put it into perspective.  Not a lot of people, that I know of, making homemade mayonnaise, but they certainly do have a specific preference when it comes to purchasing it.  My paternal grandmother purchased Miracle Whip, which is technically not a mayonnaise, but in the south it is considered one.  In this family we purchase either Hellman’s or Blue Plate.

Mississippians are very particular about their mayonnaise and when my dad would purchase a different brand or one that was light, we had arguments about it.  Mainly because he wouldn’t even eat the mayonnaise he was purchasing (which he purchased because it was cheap) and we needed mayonnaise!

People think I’m the odd one with my mayonnaise choices, but for several things, I think fellow Mississippians are weird.  I like to eat my french fries with mayonnaise, which gets very weird looks from people.  However, Mississippians like to make cucumber sandwiches… with mayonnaise; whether real mayonnaise or miracle whip.  I was taught, by my very northern and English loving maternal grandmother that cucumber sandwiches are made with a very light layer of butter and then thinly sliced cucumbers.  Not mayonnaise which they don’t add in a light layer, I might add.

Mississippians will also use it in their deviled eggs mixed with mustard; of which I won’t eat; any eggs that have been boiled.  They’ll make potted meat and mayo sandwiches, or pineapples and mayo or miracle whip sandwiches.  I love pineapple, but won’t make a sandwich out of it.  And while I won’t eat potted meat, or the English equivalent of meat paste, even the English either put it on bread by itself, or with a very slight layer of butter.  It doesn’t matter what it’s for, mayonnaise goes into a lot of dishes beyond sandwiches.

With Belzoni, Mississippi being touted as the Catfish Capital of the World, you shouldn’t be overly surprised that fried catfish is a big deal in this state.  I, for one, enjoy blackened catfish as well as a French version of preparing fish that my sister made once.  However, most Mississippians, including myself, just want to eat it fried.  It’s so delicious, as catfish is a fattier fish, it just tastes like butter… and not wet fish water that’s been fried.  Also, if it’s been battered only in flour, it’s not in the southern style.  It must be battered in cornmeal to taste so wonderful.

Dressing is also a huge deal in the south.  Northerners call it stuffing, while southerners will only call it dressing.  For the most part, it’s all cornbread here, whether it contains any poultry meat or not, or whether it’s made with oysters; which is a coastal and river specific preparation, mainly haling originally from New Orleans.  My paternal grandmother’s recipe is our go-to for dressing.  She sometimes would add turkey or chicken meat to it, but not always, and I prefer it without meat.  For the most part, Mississippians won’t take part in these bags of cornbread dressing from Pepperidge Farms or boxes of it from Stove Top.  It’s just not natural to us.  Really it’s just not as tasty, though it may be easier.

My grandmother would typically fix this for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but if she was in the mood for cornbread dressing, she’d make it any time of year, which is what we do.  My picture at the beginning of this post, shows cornbread dressing for my Halloween feast, but we’ve made it in the spring and the summer as well, just because we wanted to.  I’m also no stranger to stuffing, as my maternal grandmother was a northerner.  Her stuffing was abysmal in my opinion, so Stove Top’s herb stuffing was leaps and bounds better.  Also my sister made a fancier version of that stuffing once (because my mother insists on it – our holidays are very North & South in this house) with rosemary bread and dried cranberries and adding more turkey or chicken broth so it wasn’t so dry.  It was delicious.  However, my mother wasn’t impressed.

You can’t really go anywhere in Mississippi with out fried chicken being thrown at you, so to speak.  It’s on just about every single menu, no matter where you dine, or this or that place has won awards for their fried chicken or have been selected as the best fried chicken in the state.  It’s a big deal here.  Chicken and fish (specifically catfish) are eaten more than pork or beef.  Though, if we’re talking BBQ and specifically ribs, Mississippians will always choose pork for the most part.  I know that people fry chicken in cast iron skillets, and I even just cooked from a recipe that utilized that, but my dad always fry’s his meats in a pot, so I’m certainly on unfamiliar territory when frying chicken from a skillet.  Also never a better paring was made than when fried chicken and waffles with syrup collide.

Grits are a big staple here in Mississippi and not just for breakfast.  There’s also a lot of ways to have them.  Sweet (with milk and sugar) is not a way to have them, as they aren’t cream of wheat.  But savoury-sweet is perfectly acceptable.  Cold grits sliced up and skillet fried in some bacon grease is delicious enough, but a lot of people will have a little syrup with it and that is perfectly acceptable.  There’s the old stand-by of hot grits with butter, salt, and pepper.  You can also have cheese grits, with cheddar being the standard, but households and restaurants have opted for fancier cheeses like gouda (smoked or not) or gruyère.  You can also serve them with grillades (pronounced gree-yahds), which is a very New Orleansian savoury dish meat in gravy basically.  That one hasn’t really found its way into the interior of the state as well as shrimp and grits.  But my area has always been heavily influenced by New Orleans cuisine.

Chicken and Dumplins are comfort food if there ever was one.  I’ll agree that most Mississippians would think it a crime to have chicken and dumplins from a can, however most Mississippians do not necessarily make a pretty dish of this; adding in all sorts of chicken parts and even whole chicken legs or even chicken feet.  I don’t like this type of chicken and dumplins.  My dad will add pre-made, frozen dumplin strips to his chicken and dumplins.  It makes a fine enough dish, but I prefer homemade dumplins that are more doughy like biscuits as opposed to strips like what his grandmother made.  I also prefer just white meat and I like to fancy it up with herbs, or sometimes add curry powder.  However, I think all of my fanciness might be tantamount to a sin in the cookbook of a typical Mississippian.

 
Comfort always comes in the form of food when speaking about Mississippi.  When disasters strike, whether in our home state, our home country, or somewhere on our home of Earth, Mississippians take up the cause to send food where ever it is needed.  It’s not to say that other Americans or southerners do not send food, but this state was voted the most giving state and we were nicely told that no more food was needed in regards to a natural disaster.  A news anchor actually called Mississippi out on live telly and mentioned food specifically!

It’s because Mississippians understand going without food and therefore in our mindset the best way to fix something that’s broken has equated itself into fixing it with food.  This is our go to for fixing anything; death of a loved one, relationship break up, losing a job, losing your home, etc.  Mississippians have been ridiculed for it on occasions, because you can’t really fix anything with food, besides our food not being all that healthy.

But, there is something to say about comfort food.  Everyone all of the world has a comfort food.  It makes one feel good to prepare it, to have it served to them, or to enjoy eating it.  It makes one feel a comfort of safety, even if only for the briefest of moments whether it was a just a tiring day or something far more detrimental.  And, I suppose, it would sort of go into the category of ‘it’s the thought that counts’, because just showing a type of loving kindness can brighten someones day.

Just two quick examples; when my family and I went through Hurricane Katrina, my dad had a freezer full of meat.  The day the storm struck, when everything had died down, my sister and I cooked all of that meat over a make-shift grill in the backyard.  It had been an anxiety filled and very trying day, even just trying to prepare that food which fell onto the sandy and dirty ground more times than we could count.  But, the meal we had that night is one of the best we remember having.  It probably wasn’t all that good or tasty, it was just comforting to be eating something in a time of crisis when we hadn’t eaten anything all day.

The next was when my sister ended up getting into a wreck away from home.  Once we heard, we all drove two hours west to be with her.  Luckily she wasn’t hurt, but she was pretty shaken up and the car was totaled.  All four of us were there, together, and my dad declared that he would buy us all an ice cream from McDonald’s, since we were congregated in their parking lot.  All of us found it to be a wonderful idea, something lovely and comforting in a stressful time.  My sisters then boyfriend, also a southerner, was aghast that we could be celebrating with something as trivial as ice cream.  He felt it to be trite and in poor taste.

He just didn’t understand.  This was my dad saying in the only way that he knew how, that he is so very glad and happy that my sister is alive; that we were all alive and well and together in that moment and he was showing that happiness in the only way we knew how to receive the comfort he was offering, since we’re not a very hugging family.  We found her boyfriends jibe remark a terrible insult to our dad (and for mom, her husband), and we felt that he was making a very wonderful moment tainted and sour by his bitter words; his petulant three-year old arm folded up against his chest and his refusal of an ice cream that was so much more than an ice cream.

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