The other night I served my kids something new for supper. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. No one liked what I had made. Nobody wanted to eat it, though my husband assured me that the food tasted great and it had nothing to do with my cooking skills. I served up a small amount for everyone and made them taste it, but no one wanted to finish their food. No one. Not even the baby. You are probably curious as to what strange weird food I was trying to introduce to my children. I will tell you. Chicken Pot Pie. Yep. That’s it. Chicken Pot Pie. You would have thought I was serving up raw liver and kale and lima bean salad.
My 5 year old, when she saw me preparing the meal, asked with a tinge of horror in her voice, What is it??
Chicken Pot Pie! It’s yummy! It’s Southern! You are Southern! You were born right here, in Tennessee, so you are Southern. This is Southern food. You are supposed to like this.
My children apparently don’t appreciate Southern food. I have failed my children.
The problem is, though I was born in Kentucky, I don’t have a southern background when it comes to food. My mother is English and she grew up in India. I grew up on Indian curries with the occasional Shepherd’s Pie and ham with white sauce and peas served over rice. I also grew up in the Caribbean so throw in a healthy dose of rice and beans and plantains.
Even though I grew up on curries, spicy food has never been my favorite. I remember, often, walking into the house after school and having my eyes instantly start watering up because my mother was frying an overwhelming amount of spices. My mom tried to take into account that I didn’t like things spicy, but the problem was I was the only one. My brother and father loved spicy food too. I was on my own. I remember once when I had a bunch of friends over, my mom made a pasta dish and she added some kind of hot spice to make it “more interesting”. It was so hot that we ended up turning it into a game. How many bites can you eat before you have to take a drink? My mom said, later, it was a good way to not get eaten out of house and home.
When we moved back to the states when I was 6, I went into 2nd grade. My first time in an American public school. The first year my brother and I ate school lunches. This was in Kentucky. I was exposed to interesting new foods like corn dogs (I was not a fan, I would peel off the corn meal outer layer and just eat the hot dog in the middle), pinto beans and cornbread (I’d eat the beans and trade my cornbread, I didn’t trust bread made out of corn, that just seemed weird), tater tots (amazing!) and vegetable soup with bread rolls (my absolute favorite meal). My mom did not cook any of these foods at home, and whenever we ate out it was either at a Chinese restaurant or a Mexican restaurant. I did not get much exposure to “American” food, but the small exposures I got were heavenly. I remember going to a friend’s house for supper and we had homemade biscuits and gravy. Euphoria. I slowly developed a decided preference for Standard American Food. And I rarely got it. For my birthday my mom would ask what special thing I wanted to eat. I would request things like tuna noodle casserole. Without added curry spices please. Just plain.
As a young bride I suddenly found myself in a position where I needed to know how to cook. My husband taught me how to make rice and beans – Nicaraguan style. My mother-in-law taught me how to make biscuits (New England style). I started to explore recipe books. By this time I had discovered that I loved Southern food. I attempted to learn how to cook it, but didn’t have anyone to teach me. I tried to make fried chicken once and my husband let it be known, very diplomatically, that he really didn’t like fried food. I tried hush puppies once. Same response from hubby. I also tried fried green tomatoes and decided on my own that I was no good at making this dish. Sigh. I eventually gave up.
Nowadays I serve a hodgepodge of all the cultures I’ve been exposed to. We eat lots of Mexican, occasional Chinese, some Indian (I cheat though and buy the sauces premade), rice and beans, some Haitian-style dishes, and then the standard spaghetti, and lots of various Chicken and rice dishes. I gave up on being a Southern Cook and simply get my fix when I go to church potlucks or get to eat at someone’s house. My southern children have sadly had little exposure to southern cooking and have no idea what they’re missing out on.
Funny enough though, now, when I visit my parents, I eat my mom’s curries with great delight. Even though I can’t feel my tongue because of the heat, it represents home, childhood.
So what kind of food do you like?