A New Southern Cook's Twist on Old Southern Food Recipes

Southern cook Nathalie Dupree's twist on old Southern food recipes. At church, suppers from Mississippi to Tennessee, grits casseroles — both old style and new — are standard fare.

| January/February 1988

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    Chef, author and host of two series for public television, Nathalie Dupree specializes in Southern cooking. "It has its foundation," she says "in the country kitchen."
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    At church, suppers from Mississippi to Tennessee, grits casseroles — both old style and new — are standard fare.

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A new Southern cook looks at old Southern food recipes in a new way. 

A New Southern Cook's Twist on Old Southern Food Recipes

OK, you've moved to the Sun Belt (or you've been overcome by Southern Chic), and you're beginning to know your way around. You've figured out that the word you is singular (as in, "You come see me, darlin'," but leave that rotten family at home); that yawl is plural ("Yawl stop by on Sunday," I guess I can put up with six kids for one afternoon); and that you-all is a reprehensible Yankee invention. You've got yourself a pickup truck and a redbone hound and a billed cap with "Massey Ferguson" on the front.

But, friend, can you eat grits? And like 'em?

From cradle to grave, die-hard Southerners breakfast on grits — ground corn cooked to a mush. A plate of fried eggs and bacon and sliced tomatoes and biscuits and grits, with bacon-drippings gravy ladled over everything including the tomatoes, will get just about anybody through the morning. In many homes, grits are served at every meal — as a side dish with fried fish for dinner (the midday meal), in a casserole with cheese at night for supper.

So if you sit there eyeing a bowl of grits from the same respectful distance you would accord a copperhead, people are going to know you're not from around these parts. You need help. You need someone to guide you through the highlands and lowlands of Southern cooking. Someone who's a nationally recognized authority on the subject, with two books and two television series to her credit. Someone who cooks grits. Someone like Nathalie Dupree.

Dupree believes that Southern food recipes represents the finest and most distinctive regional cooking in America, and she wants to share it with the rest of the country. So in her writings, lectures and casual conversation, she shows strangers around. She translates the vocabulary: " 'Sweet milk' is what the rest of the world calls milk —that is, not buttermilk." She describes the mores: "Without 'Co-cola' a lot of us wouldn't know what to have for breakfast." She recounts the traditions: "It is unthinkable to serve greens without cornbread." She spells out the etiquette: "Always name a recipe for the person who gave it to you — Mary Lou Davenport's Peach Cobbler — no matter how long you've been making it, because the whole extended family knows she made it before you did." She warns of occasional hazards: "In small towns, barbecues frequently have an array of country meats—baby goat, possum and squirrel." And she explains the lasting allure of Southern fare: "Down-home cooking gives us a feeling of security when the rains don't come and the mill closes, today as much as yesterday."

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