I’ve been catching up on episodes of “Who Do You Think You Are?” this week, which always makes me think of my own roots and family history. The truth is I couldn’t be more southern. My mom was raised in the lowcountry of South Carolina, and my maternal roots go several centuries deep in Savannah. My dad is from the Pee Dee area of South Carolina, and we can trace my paternal ancestry back to colonial times in eastern North Carolina and Virginia. I was raised near Charlotte, N.C. — so, like my mom says, we haven’t moved very far.
My exposure to the cuisine of the South while I was growing up included staple recipes that had been in my family and the classics we ate in family-run restaurants. I grew to love food that most southern families have enjoyed for centuries: puckeringly sweet iced tea, fresh figs off the tree, blackberries on the vine and homegrown, road stand vegetables like deep, red tomatoes and fuzzy, tender, juicy peaches. In the fall we picked up pecans under the ancient tree that canopied my grandparents’ backyard and cracked and shelled them inside by the fire. At home we ate fried quail or fish with grits for breakfast, country-style steak with rice, chicken bog, boiled peanuts, slow-cooked collard greens, red velvet and caramel cakes … the list goes on.
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