Southwest Georgia Feature

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Southern Snacks

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Collards, grits, mac and cheese—the list of snacks originating from the South is long with a storied history that dates back to the plantation days and the Civil War.

Many of the dishes, which have influences from cuisines as varied as African-American, Native American, and French, were of a spontaneous nature, and born of necessity in times of poverty and slavery. Stale bread was turned into bread pudding. Leftover fish became croquettes. Liquid left behind by cooked greens became gravy. The discarded tops of turnips, beets, and dandelions became the stars of a vegetable plate. The unwanted parts of a pig were used to flavor cooked vegetables. Biscuits were used to sop up sauces, so nothing went to waste. And a great emphasis was placed on sharing among family and friends.

Today, you likely won't find boiled peanuts on a mainstream menu in the South. And chitlins, the viscera intestines of a pig, aren't often seen outside of Grandma's country kitchen. But other regional snacks are now sold at gourmet markets and sophisticated restaurants.

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Say Cheese

Pimento cheese, the orange mix of cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, pimentos, and salt and pepper, has long been considered a Southern comfort food. It is traditionally served as a spread on crackers or between two pieces of soft, white bread, and variations on the classic recipe may include ingredients like Worcestershire sauce, jalapeños, and dill pickles.

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Boiled Peanuts

Take a drive out of the city and you'll most likely see many a roadside sign advertising this decidedly Southern snack, which—according to legend—has been on the scene since Union General William T. Sherman marched through Georgia. Freshly harvested or raw peanuts are boiled in salted water for four to seven hours, until the shells get soft and the nuts get mushy. They're usually served in a paper bag, which can get soggy, so eat 'em while they're hot.

Collard Greens

Similar to kale and spring greens, collards have thick, large leaves and a slightly bitter taste. Their origins as a Southern food are traced back to the slaves, who would cook them with the scraps from the kitchen: ham hocks, pork neckbones, fatback, and pig's feet. Seasonings typically include onions, salt, pepper, and vinegar. Nowadays it's a Southern tradition to serve collards on New Year's Eve, along with black-eyed peas, for wealth in the new year.

Mac and Cheese

In the South, this dish is a vegetable. It's true. Though in these creamy, top-browned bowls of noodles and cheese there's not a veggie in sight, many meat-and-three restaurants list mac and cheese as one of the three vegetables you can get on the side. And who are we to argue? Whether we're talking about traditional mac and cheese or a fancier version with homemade shells, truffle oil, and Gouda, it's a rich and sinful Southern snack.

Hush Puppies

Legend has it that this snack got its name from an African cook in Atlanta. She was frying catfish and croquettes when her puppy began to howl. To quiet the dog she gave him a plate of the croquettes, saying, "Hush, puppy." Really, though, a dog's dish is far too lowly a place for these delicious fried cornmeal dumplings. Today you'll find them on the South's simple country menus and in the breadbaskets of fine-dining establishments.

Sweets

Southerners have a sweet tooth, bless their hearts. And it's satisfied by a number of indigenous desserts. There's chess pie, a simple pie with just eggs, sugar, butter, and flour that supposedly got its name when a Southern cook said she was making "jes' pie." Then there's pecan pie, created by French settlers in New Orleans. And of course there is peach cobbler, a favorite in the South, where the climate allows for early peach harvests and few frosts.

Updated: 09-2013

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