To view the simplicity of authentic Southern food as boring is akin to describing a bridal gown as boring because it’s all one color. Even the simplest bridal gown is a thing of beauty. The same holds true for Southern food: its beauty is found within its simplicity. Simple food isn’t disguised by garnish and complicated cooking techniques. Authentic Southern food is confident enough to let its simple beauty shine.
Take for instance a Simple Fruit Salad with Citrus Honey Dressing. No need for fancy sauces with high-falutin names so pretentious they give you extra letters you don’t pronounce. My mother wouldn’t think of sitting down to a special meal without a fruit salad. If she wanted to jazz it up some, she’d add shredded coconut and pecans. Following her tradition, I keep fruit salad simple and jazz it up with a two-ingredient dressing: honey and citrus juice. Fresh fruit and citrus dressing is simple enough for everyday and grand enough for a special occasion.
The most complicated thing about this fruit salad is deciding the variety of apples you want. A mix of two or three different varieties offers added flavor. Depending on the application, choose either eating apples or cooking varieties. My picks for fresh fruit salad are Red Delicious, Pink Lady, and Gala. Of course, choices will vary depending on availability.
Now let’s discuss the so-called unimaginative side of Southern cooking. It seems that the minds of the culinary elite aren’t able to distinguish between efficient cooking and unimaginative cooking. My grandmother taught me that to make Country Potato Salad, you boil potatoes and whole unpeeled eggs in the same pot. That’s brilliant and imaginative all rolled up into one! Don’t mess up two pots when you can get by with one. You’d think greenies would call this simple technique out as genius. It saves energy and water.
The same simple-minded folks who figured out the potato and egg boiling trick, also knew that the broth made from cooking greens and ham hocks, commonly known as pot likker, is nutrient dense. Vitamins and minerals from the greens plus protein from ham hocks provided nutrition for them when there was very little else to eat. This knowledge and imagination was passed down from generation to generation and kept scores of poor rural Southerners from starvation. Meals of pot likker were stretched even further by throwing in cornbread and fresh chopped onions.
Southern cuisine gets a bad rep for frying too much. Yes, it is true that we fry. Yes, our ancestors used this cooking method intentionally. For one, it’s a quick way to prepare food. If you’ve ever visited us in the summer, we know we just about burn slap-up down here. It’s H-O-T! It’s as hot as H-E-double toothpicks. Imagine cooking in that heat with no air conditioning. Yep, you’d be looking for a quick way to get in and out of the kitchen, too. Also, frying adds calories to food. That was important for the survival of our ancestors who didn’t have much food.
Snubbing Southern cuisine for fried foods is culinary elitism at its finest. Please identify a cuisine that never uses frying as a cooking method. I’ll just sit here and mind my business while you think.
I’m still waiting.
Those deep-fried abominations found at carnivals and fairs, such as fried Twinkies, fried Snickers, fried butter, etc., have nothing to do with Southern fare. Somehow we got blamed for all that. We’re not any more responsible for the creation of those high-fat, deep-fried, hips-enlarging carnival foods than we are for the creation of carnivals.
Now for a lesson in Southern vernacular. Sometimes when we say fried, we’re not talking about deep-fried. In fact, most of the time we’re not talking about deep-fried. As in the case of Fried Apples, fried is synonymous with sautéed. Sautéed is considered more desirable than fried, when in most cases it’s the same dadgum thing. I’ve never heard a single soul slam the French because they sauté entirely too much of their food.
Well, Fried Apples are mighty good. Sautéed Apples are good, too. They’re one in the same. We fry them at our house.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
I leave the apple slices a little on the large side because I want apples cooked in this manner to be somewhat toothsome. Apples tend to fall apart easily when cooked. Slices cut larger will hold up to this cooking method without turning to applesauce. Test the apples for doneness and stop cooking when they reach your desired level of doneness. Fresh lemon juice can be substituted for apple cider vinegar. I used Honey Crisp apples that were gifted to us. Granny Smith is another good variety to use in this recipe. Serve for breakfast or alongside a pork dish for supper.
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, heaping
5 to 6 cooking apples, peeled, cored, and sliced in eighths
Add apples to skillet and gently fold to coat with sugar mixture. Cook, stirring occasionally, until apples are tender. Take care when stirring that you don’t break the apples. Use a gently folding action.