What Southern Folks Eat: Carolina cornfields in the summer sun
“A light wind swept over the corn, and all nature laughed in the sunshine.” – Anne Bronte
Summertime’s table wouldn’t be complete without Southern-style meals made up of fresh sweet corn, sliced tomatoes, fuzzy peaches, and fluffy buttermilk biscuits. Each one of those holds a special place in the hearts of most people down here, and with good reason.
These humble foods are part of our heritage… the great part. They remind us of people we have loved in years past who made them for us – mothers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, neighbors. Food is always better when shared with those we love, and doing so cements those happy moments in our hearts and minds.
When my sister and I were children, our family would sometimes load up the station wagon and drive up to the Carolinas to visit our dad’s side of the family. Each person there brings to mind different fond memories, and some of them, of course, are food-related.
I’ve written before about Uncle Jessie, for example, and his love for peaches and cream in a bowl with a little sprinkle of sugar, a delicacy to our young lips when we visited him in Laurinburg, North Carolina. And sometimes he’d be decadent and even add some banana slices to the mix, the perfect partner for the juicy peaches swimming in the sweet, cold liquid.
When we visited them, we’d have the privilege to sit down at Aunt Ann’s table to enjoy the fabulous meal she prepared for us; mostly I remember the potato salad and sweet corn, and how perfect they tasted to me. Aunt Ann always wanted to refill your plate too, gracious Southern hostess that she was. We would all sit around the table, covered with food that was simple and delicious, and we children would listen to the adults reminisce about their younger days. Those memories and stories were triggered by the food in front of us.
Next we’d travel to Fayetteville to visit Aunt Margaret, who was a gracious hostess and who made the best buttermilk biscuits in the world. Forget the ones you thought were the best, because I promise you, Aunt Margaret’s were IT. I loved watching her hands as they worked the tender dough, squeezing it between her thumb and index finger to make the perfect uniform-sized biscuit each time. They baked up golden brown on top, and when they were split in half, steam would rise from the white, fluffy inside, just begging for a slathering of butter… or cinnamon-spiced apple butter… to top it off. There was almost no need for anything for dinner but those wonderful concoctions. Except maybe some of those homegrown tomatoes!
Dad’s oldest sister, Aunt Inez, lived in a small house surrounded by agricultural fields. In the 1970s, there were lots of cornfields, tobacco fields, and cotton fields all around the parts of North and South Carolina where my dad’s siblings lived. I was practically entranced by them as our station wagon zipped along the highways as we traveled, watching row after row fly by as we passed. I loved the old rusty-roofed barns I’d see on the tobacco farms as we drove by, too. They remind me of those days when I see them on farms now.
When we arrived at the home of Aunt Inez, I distinctly remember fields right beside her house; I believe they were cornfields. I was small at the time, so whatever crop it was felt very tall to me. Like I could get lost in it. Or like some creature could come out from between the rows of corn, and get me! I don’t remember whether Aunt Inez cooked for us while we were there, but I do remember those cornfields, and how amazing it was for this little beach girl to see them up close. Dad would pull an ear of corn and show me what it looked like as he peeled back the husk and the silks to show me the perfectly symmetrical rows of shiny corn, and sometimes a fat worm inside, too.
I’ve always loved tender, sweet corn, and with my husband’s help, even tried to grow my own when the boys were little. It wasn’t easy. Farming isn’t easy, period. But the payoff is one we’re all grateful for, when we stop to think about it. Summertime offers us abundant opportunities to be thankful for the bounty of the earth, and to do some good cooking, too. Are you ready?
Here are three of my favorite recipes using corn, including my fresh corn salad. I hope you enjoy its sweet, crisp, flavorful goodness! It features sweet corn, peppers, tomatoes and more, with a cooling dressing to tie it all together.
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is “Mama Steph.” She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home. She is married and has three young adult sons who are considerably taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at whatsouthernfolkseat.com, or email her at [email protected]