America is a vast nation and the culture has been forged by many influences and this also includes the food culture. The south of the country was traditionally more rural than other parts of America, and so crops, such as fruits, vegetables, corn and rice that were grown, influenced the cuisine greatly.
Game was also highly popular with a plentiful supply of birds, ducks, deer, rabbits and squirrels. The large rivers and coastal regions supplied fish, oysters, shrimps, crabs and crayfish. Along with this incredible basket of produce, the settlers and Native Americans all left their mark on how to prepare and cook these ingredients.
Early European Settlers
The early settlers from Europe took advice from the Native Americans and foraged for their food whilst supplementing it with ingredients that where new to them, such as squash, corn, various types of beans, blackberries, blueberries, onions, plums and cherries. Latin America also had its influence on the cuisine of the South by introducing sweet potatoes, chocolate, lima beans and peppers. One of the biggest influences of the Native Americans was corn, but the early settlers did not embrace it wholeheartedly at first.
Florida and The Carolinas
In the 16th Century, more Spanish explorers arrived in the New World and this time they brought pork with them. Pigs were used as a sort of moving meat market and were exchanged for goods as the explorers moved about. Some of the pigs managed to run away or were purloined by locals to become the forefathers of today’s wild pigs. Country ham and baked ham with cornbread remains traditionally Southern today.
It was the African American slaves that introduced items such as peas, collard greens, okra, watermelons, yams and sesame. The techniques they used for planting the seeds and raising crops were taken from their African heritage. Suddenly, the south of America had a surplus of crops adorning every dinner table which laid the foundations for the famous Southern Hospitality. During the beginning and first half of the 19th Century, most of the richest people in America resided in the South. The economy was based all around free slave labor and the abundance of land to plant commercial crops, such as cotton.
When Southerners decided to display their wealth, they would often do it with food, large feasts were partaken of with every imaginable food on display. And the creations of dishes from the wide variation of peoples that made up the South were incredible. Some of the foods available at the time came from necessity, the distances between homesteads in the early 17th and 18th Centuries bought in new techniques to keep the food fresh and edible. Salting, pickling and sousing were common ways of preserving food, and brought new taste sensations to the cuisine.
Southern food has now developed into a cuisine all by itself, made up of different regional dishes from the towns and cities of the south. Deep frying is a technique widely used and, although not particularly healthy, is undeniably bursting full of taste. Wherever you travel in the southern parts of America, be prepared for some great home-cooked fayre.