I came across this cookbook the other day: Sherman Didn’t Burn Our Recipes: Bartow’s Still Cooking.
The people of Bartow, Georgia, are still cooking, indeed. But the idea that Sherman could have burned their recipes is just not true. Did Sherman really burn the recipe for that traditional Southern favorite, Chinese Hash (any recipe containing bean sprouts can be considered “Chinese” in the South)? Or Russian Chicken (ditto the above only Russian salad dressing makes it “Russian”)? How about Yummy Stuffed Shells with Beef, Cheese and Spinach?
I love community cookbooks, of which this is one. They usually showcase the best recipes of the contributors even though there generally is a considerable amount of canned cream of mushroom soup involved.
But I got to thinking the other day about Southern recipes. The people of Bartow, or any other pre-Civil War Southern town, couldn’t have “saved” their recipes because they didn’t have any. Or at least not many.
The people of most Southern towns before the Civil War were served by house slaves. Slaves who brought their own foodways with them from Africa and adapted them to ingredients they were either familiar with or made their own in America. Rice. They were all about the rice. Gumbo and Hoppin’ John. They took the nasty bits thrown to them by the white folks and made them delicious. Tough pork pieces slow roasted – what we now call BBQ. Brunswick Stew – anything you could catch and kill thrown into a pot. Weed-like plants known as greens – collard and mustard – or the top of root vegetables, such as turnips. Cornbread because, as Terrell has noted numerous times, corn was free but flour cost money.
Somewhere along the way, the people sitting down noticed that the people standing up were eating better than they were. And they embraced those African adaptations of home-style cooking as their own. We are obviously the richer for it. Southern food is the only indigenous American cuisine, a blend of different cultures and traditions all stirred up in one delicious pot.
Sherman undoubtedly did not stop for a bowl of pinto beans with crumbled cornbread. Otherwise, he would have left us alone.
So, one of the recipes I never see outside the South is cornbread salad. I have to tell you a story about cornbread salad. A few years ago, a few of my BBQ buddies were having a friendly, non-competition challenge. A few of us judges were invited to taste the results. We all brought side dishes and I made cornbread salad. One of the cooks, a guy named Mike Herring who everyone calls Stick, took a big portion of the salad. “This is delicious!” he said. “And so healthy!” Well, yes. Except for the ranch dressing, cheese and bacon it is completely healthy. That’s what I love about Southerners. No matter what’s in it, if you serve “salad” it’s healthy.
You don’t see this “salad” very much outside the deep South, but it’s a delicious way to use up leftover cornbread.
Leftover cornbread (at least 4 cups crumbled)
2 cups bottled ranch salad dressing
2 15-ounce cans kidney beans, drained
1 large tomato, chopped
½ cup diced red onion
½ cup chopped yellow bell pepper
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
Put half the crumbled cornbread in the bottom of a two-quart dish. Top with half the beans, and half the tomato, red onion, bell pepper, cheese and bacon. Spread with 1 cup of the salad dressing. Repeat layers of cornbread, tomato, red onion, bell pepper, cheese and bacon. Spread remaining ranch dressing over the top.
Chill for at least an hour before serving.