Have you heard the term, “The New South?” It shows up occasionally online and in magazine articles from some of my favorite monthly publications. It is also written about online by upstart bloggers who fancy themselves experts in all things Southern. I began to wonder what these trend-following writers meant when they discussed the New South in their writing, so I investigated.
After reading a number of interviews and articles, I came to understand that when current writers speak of a New South, they’re not talking about the call in the 1870s for a turn from agriculture to industry. They’re not even referring overall to a New South focus that encourages, and rightfully so, people to create new businesses, break down stereotypes and racial barriers, and fight injustice in this land that we call home. I believe we all would hope for dignity and opportunity for all those who live here, and applaud those who lead us toward those higher things. But that’s not the New South I’ve been reading about, either.
The “New South” phenomenon I have read about in some glossy publications, and to which I have given a disdainful sideways glance, is a mindset that seems to treat the South as if its people and customs are something to change out of, like a dirty pair of overalls, and force into a brand new $1000 suit.
Maybe it’s because I’m not in my 20s or 30s anymore, but I still feel that the South is beautiful, even with its flaws. I love cozy beach cottages with window unit air conditioners; they are considered passe to these “New South” writers, who encourage folks to flock to penthouse suites or massive homes overlooking the Gulf. They would have them choose escargot with their grits in some vaunted new restaurant instead of what you and I both know is the best thing going, shrimp and grits. They promote a Southern actresses' clothing line, which features cute cotton dresses priced at $250, on average, as opposed to clothes that can be found in small town shops or made by grandmothers on their Singer sewing machines.
It seems the “New South” is a place inhabited by folks with lots of disposable income and without a full appreciation of our old ways (really, our current ways) of living. That looks fun, I suppose, in the publications, but I think anyone who lives such a shiny, whitewashed life misses out on a lot. Don’t you remember walking to the beach barefoot, with only a towel, some suntan lotion, and a cold drink? Those were fun times! Now, some people seem feel they require entire outdoor rooms at the beach, with pop-up shelters, lots of furniture, coolers full of food, a sound system, numerous toys and blankets, and more.
Well, it’s ok if they want to have that “New South” experience. I’ve done both, honestly, and I prefer the true ways, which I guess would be considered the “old" ways. For example, I stayed in a gorgeous high rise on Pensacola Beach a few months ago, in a condominium with every luxury one might want. The balcony overlooking the Gulf had chic, comfy new furniture and the view was outstanding from so high up. But it felt…distant, I guess. I didn’t feel the oneness with the beach there as I do when I stay in a little cottage or townhouse on St. Joe Beach or Mexico Beach. In the high-as-the-stars condo, it was as if looking at the beach was like admiring it in an art gallery, to be enjoyed with a glass of wine from a distance and then walked away from as I went back inside to enjoy the Apple TV and the gourmet kitchen. But at St. Joe Beach last week, when I stepped out on the balcony of the condo we rented and felt the salty spray from the waves touch my face, I felt like I was actually a part of it. It drew me down onto the beach to enjoy it with bare feet and a full heart. I prefer that, so I’ll stick with it.
The same could be said about some of the “nouveau Southern” or “Southern fusion” cuisine that some restaurants try to pass off as an experience that you must have to really taste the South. They are pretty great sometimes, honestly, but I still prefer my grits with mullet or shrimp, and they may keep the escargot for the next person who comes along and wants to pretend that really improves our Southern food tradition. Did you know that one restaurant in a large city is trying so hard to make something trendy out of Southern food that the chef invented “Wonder bread puree?” Ugh. Get off my culinary lawn, kid.
Here, let me share with you some non-chic and inexpensive recipes to help you enjoy some Southern food. If they seem to fancy to you, do whatever you want to make it simpler, and then enjoy.
Braised pork with turnip greens and creamy Parmesan grits
1 1/2 to 2 pounds pork shoulder, cut into chunks
1 pound uncooked turnip greens (using bagged pre-washed greens is a huge timesaver, or wash and trim your own)
one white onion, sliced
Tony Chacheres cajun seasoning, or your favorite blend
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons minced garlic (about two large cloves)
1 quart chicken broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
one tablespoon granulated sugar
Place olive oil in a large Dutch oven, over medium heat.
Season pork with favoring seasoning blend.
When oil is hot, add the meat to the Dutch oven, and allow to sear well until browned on one side, then flip to brown other side.
While second side is browning, slice onion, and add to the pan.
Add the greens to fill the pot; it may not immediately hold all of the greens, but as they cook down, you can add the remaining amount.
Add half of the chicken broth, then the garlic and the pepper flakes. Stir in well, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan as you do.
Bring the broth to a boil, stirring frequently.
After the greens have shrunk down in size after ten minutes or so, add the vinegar and sugar. Stir in.
Allow the pork and greens to simmer for at least 30 minutes. The longer they simmer, the more tender the meat will become.
Add more broth or some water as needed. Toward end of cooking, taste the pot liquor and add a teaspoon of salt, if needed. Stir well.
Serve with rice or the parmesan grits, below.
Creamy Parmesan grits
Use old-fashioned grits, as they cook up rather quickly compared to stoneground grits.
• 1-1/2 Cups Grits
• 6 Cups Chicken stock or Water
• 1/2 Tsp Salt
• 1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)
• 2/3 cup grated Parmigiano-reggiano or grated Parmesan (not kind in green can, as flavor is different)
Pour broth or water into a 3-quart saucepan, and bring to a boil. Add the salt and grits, whisking in well.
Reduce heat to low and cover the pan, ensuring grits simmer but aren’t at a full boil.
Cook for 15 minutes, then stir in the heavy cream and cheese.
Allow to cook over very low heat for five more minutes, or until grits are as tender as you prefer. Do not allow bottom of pan to scorch.
Makes about six servings.
To serve, place a serving of grits in the bottom of a bowl. Top with a generous serving of greens, and top with chunks of the pork.
Sprinkle with more cheese flakes. Enjoy!
Tip: The meat is often found in the butcher section of the grocery store as carnitas meat, which is pre-cut and a real timesaver.
Also, if you choose not to use the cheese in the grits, you may need another 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
This pie recipe is so quick to make that you’ll be able to prepare it anytime you like. The ingredients are inexpensive and it’s a refreshing treat on a summer day. Share with a friend!
Lemon ice cream pie
4 cups vanilla ice cream, softened
6 ounces frozen lemonade concentrate, melted
zest of one lemon
graham cracker pie crust
In large mixing bowl, combine the ice cream and the lemonade. Stir well. Sprinkle in half the lemon zest, and stir in.
Pour the mixture into the pie crust, smooth the top, and then sprinkle with remaining lemon zest.
Freeze for 4 hours; allow to soften slightly before attempting to cut into slices. Adorn with lemon slices for a lovely presentation, if you like.
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is "Mama Steph." She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home.
She is married and has three young adult sons who are considerably taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at whatsouthernfolkseat.com and at Facebook.com/whatsouthernfolkseat.