I grew up on a farm in the heart of Dixie. The oldest of a big slew of kids, we’d spend our days rambling the hundreds of acres we called home.
After spending the last few days catching up on the first seasons of the turn-of the century English show, Downton Abbey, it seems so formal to say, but my mama had a dinner bell, too. But it wasn’t the same sort of thing, I assure you. You won’t find any snobby accents around here. We speak Southern, and at the core of our dialect is the infamous word, “Y’all.” It’s just a contraction, casual speak for what we stand for: it means “you ALL.” Everyone. All of you.
Growing up, that dinner bell was the only noise that we children could hear three hills and hollows away from the house on a sunny day while out playing with our visiting friends. And that sound accompanied by a rumbling in our tummies meant it was time to eat, y’all.
Food united our family nearly every night around a big farm table. We were regularly joined by whomever seemed to be passing through, and it seemed like whatever our plight in life at the time, food was something we always had enough of to share. All were welcome.
Years later, those black-eyed peas (and the coordinating purple fingers from shelling them) and sweet corn we used to cut from the stalk in the early morning still have a special place in my heart. As do the home grown tomatoes – that I now buy from a local farmer at the market. Or the honey my grandparents robbed from the hives in their backyard; today I buy honey crudely labeled “Swamp Honey” from a nice lady named Virginia. Or the sweetest watermelon in the world that a man named “Son” would drop off at our house periodically during the hottest summer days. These days, the farmer on the side of Highway 49 near Smith County, Mississippi gets my watermelon-buying business. Faithfully.
I’m raising three kids that know where their food comes from. Their friends know, too. They know how to grow potatoes and tomatoes and lettuce and peppers. And when to grow them to get results in our finicky Mississippi climate. They know how to fry up eggplant and how to shake up cream-line milk. We’ve visited a dairy farm together and learned about the painstaking process of raising meat to eat. And we know the effort, patience and practice that it takes to get bounty from the sea and lakes and streams and woods. We’ve toured – and even dined as a family in – commercial kitchens, and we’ve learned from Southern chefs, often having them teach us right in our own home. We’ve eaten at barbecue joints and burger shacks and enjoyed a myriad of seafood po-boys and fried catfish plates across this Dixieland. We’ve also grown to truly appreciate what I can’t help but still call “fancy food” – all equally Southern and truly a tribute to the New South: a harbinger of tradition forging a path into the future.
People. Places. Events. Ingredients.
We truly adore our ingredients – whether cooked up in the old ways – or the new ways.
We make legends of our chefs and cooks. If they feed us well, we revere them.
We gather relentlessly to our food meccas: restaurants at a crossroads to nowhere, a truck farm stand on the side of the road 42 minutes from civilization or an entire culinary city burgeoning with food tourism. We’ll sacrifice time to experience that fellowship. Anywhere the beacon of Southern food calls, even moreso if that place is our own kitchen table.
If we can muster an excuse, food gathers us together: a simple meal, football tailgates, festivals, fundraisers, Sunday lunch, holidays, funerals and weddings. Or just a lazy Saturday afternoon.
Let’s Eat Y’all.