Classic Southern Recipes
Cat-head Biscuits with Tomato Gravy
Cat-head biscuits are delightfully huge, crispy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside homemade biscuits. Their size and crunch make them ideal to serve with a thick, hearty gravy. The name comes from their colossal size, about that of a cat’s head. They bake longer and at a lower temperature than their smaller cousins. If you don’t have bacon drippings on hand, cook a pound of bacon before you start this recipe, reserve the drippings, and serve the bacon with the biscuits and gravy.
Scuppernongs are a green-gold variety of the sweet and fragrant muscadine grapes that grow in parts of the South. The house I called home until I was an adult had a glorious Scuppernong arbor in the backyard. Picking the thick-skinned, seed-laced grapes became a family affair each September. With a bowl in hand and my feet on a stool, even as a child, I treasured those grapes as much as gold. The sweet but slightly sour aroma that marked the beginning of fall will forever be in my memory.
Country Ham with Redeye Gravy
On breakfast tables in some parts of the South, country ham with redeye gravy is just about as common as bacon. The origin of the name is debated, but the most common belief is that the gravy—a very thin, salty sauce—takes on a reddish tone from the browned bits scraped from the bottom of the skillet. Some Southerners make their gravy with water, others with coffee or cola. I use a mixture of cola and water to balance the salt and add sweetness and caffeine. When it comes to waking up, I usually need all the help I can get.
This old Southern take on cornbread is a crisp, lacy brown wafer best enjoyed a few seconds after it leaves the skillet. The thin batter spatters and sputters the second it hits the hot pan—that’s how the lace is formed. This pretty cornbread was popular in the early twentieth century. Southern kitchens had all the ingredients on hand, and the wafers were inexpensive to make. It’s worth the patience to cook them one at a time. Serve them with soup for lunch, with greens at supper, or with preserves as a sweet snack.
Divine Pimiento Cheese
If I could choose my last meal, it would have to include pimiento cheese. There are very few days when my fridge isn’t home to a batch of the famous spread. I make it often and love it best on soft white sandwich bread. You can also serve it with your favorite crackers.
Real Buttermilk Fried Chicken
To this day, fried chicken is my go-to lunch after church on Sundays. Keeping the shortening hot enough is the key to crisp chicken. Use a thermometer the first few times. After that, judging the heat becomes second nature.
Old-Fashioned Collard Greens
It’s not uncommon for Southerners to “put on a pot of collards” at lunchtime and cook them until supper. When shopping for collard greens, buy by the bunch. Avoid bunches with shriveled and yellowed leaves.
Creamed Silver Queen Corn
Silver Queen is a variety of white corn with milky, creamy kernels. It’s beloved for its lightly sweet flavor. Don’t be tempted to just cut the corn from the cob with a knife. A corn cutter or creamer creates much, much creamier corn. I use the same wooden corn cutter that my grandmother Sa used. It’s one of my prized possessions. Look for your own antique cutter at estate sales—or for brand-new ones made of wood or stainless steel at hardware and cookware stores. No matter the material, this Southern tool makes creamed corn like nothing else.
Exactly how this cake got its name isn’t clear, but it likely has to do with its flavor, sure to suit those nectar-loving hummingbirds and anyone with a love of dessert. The tropical fruit- and nut-studded cake first appeared in Southern Living magazine in 1978. It’s since become a signature cake of the South.
Real Banana Pudding
It’s a simple, from-scratch dessert that often leaves me speechless: homemade vanilla pudding layered with vanilla wafer cookies and banana slices and topped with a cloud of meringue. Some like it warm. Others prefer it like I do: nice and cold. The hardest part is waiting for it to fully chill.