What Southern Folks Eat - (Slightly) Changing seasons in the South
"To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring." George Santayana
Today at my house is rainy and there was, in the morning, a chilliness in the air. I know chilly is a relative term, as morning temperatures were in the upper 60s, which is practically a balmy summer day if you’re from, say, North Dakota or Canada. Nonetheless, I enjoyed every moment on the porch, enjoying some coffee and that slightly cool breeze.
When you’re from the South, there’s something exciting about the promise of cold weather. During the autumn and winter months when we were growing up on St. Joe Beach, my little sister and I longed for that chilly weather, or sweater weather, as we called it.
“It doesn’t have to snow or anything, it just needs to get cool enough that we can wear our sweaters,” we’d lament.
Adding fuel to the fire of our desire for cool weather was the fall issue of Seventeen magazine each year, full of beautiful back-to-school clothes to dream about, stylish and warm and cozy; sweaters, jackets, and scarves to make getting dressed for school each day more creative and fun. Come on, sweater weather!
But there we’d be on Halloween night, still wearing shorts and flip flops as we handed out candy on the doorstep to the sweaty little goblins and witches who came by for a treat. We had fun, of course, but we always wished that we were wearing sweaters under a clear, cold sky instead of being wrapped in thick a blanket of heat and humidity.
Usually, sometime in late November or early December, we’d get a reprieve from the Gulf Coast’s lovely moderate temperature, and have a “cold snap.” The temperature would drop, say, into the 50s, and we girls would put on soft, cozy sweaters and drink hot chocolate under afghans that Grammy had made. Ahh, winter…what a welcome guest it was!
Sis and I would head down to the beach, bundled up in our sweaters and scarves as we enjoyed the cool, crisp air. We’d feel excited to see how different the beach would be under the influence of Jack Frost. We giggled as we walked the two blocks down to the beach, talking nonstop about what we wanted to get each other for Christmas, ecstatic that we could see our breath as we spoke. It was cold! Our fingers were icy!
As we shuffled onto the beach, the soft, cool sand whiter than any snow we’d ever seen, we filled our lungs with the crisp, salty air, and laughed. How excellent it was to be in one of the most beautiful places on earth, our beach, and, almost paradoxically, be able to also experience wintry cold temperatures, too. It felt magical.
One particular day as we walked, watching our breath fill the air in front of us and wishing we’d remembered our gloves, we stopped in our tracks, and looked in astonishment at the human being in front of us. A man...a tall, thin man with silver hair, if memory serves...wearing nothing but swim trunks, was headed into the (what we assumed was frigid) waters of the Gulf! Had he lost his mind? Did he have a death wish?
No, he was just Canadian. What we considered a cold winter’s day was toasty and comfortable to him, I imagined, and he was diving in to enjoy it.
As is true for just about everything in life, it’s all about perspective, my friends.
So, as I enjoy the rain outside and the air conditioner inside (it’s afternoon, you know; the temperature is in the 80s again), I’m also going to enjoy making a potful of my favorite white turkey chili and let it bring some comfort to my Southern soul. Enjoy some with me, won’t you? You can always turn your air conditioner on and pretend it’s cold outside, too.
Steph’s White Turkey Chili
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 pound of ground turkey (mixed or white turkey)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black or white pepper
1 large or two small fresh jalapeños, chopped
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
2 fifteen-ounce cans of Great Northern Beans, drained and rinsed (may substitute white cannellini beans)
In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil, then add the turkey and onion. Cook a minute or so, and then add the chopped jalapeno. (Note: I don’t remove the seeds from the jalapeno, as we like the heat, but you may prefer to take them out.)
After the meat has browned and onions are translucent, add the cumin, tomato paste, salt, and pepper. Stir in, and cook for a minute.
Add the beans.
Stir in the chicken broth and water, and simmer over low heat for about thirty minutes, stirring occasionally. If chili thickens more than you’d like, add more broth to loosen.
Serve in a bowl with a sprinkling of grated cheddar cheese and a teaspoon of light sour cream. Enjoy!
Bonus recipe, just because they go great with everything, from white turkey chili to a big Sunday dinner: my “kicked up” deviled eggs recipe. They’re amazingly good! I hope you’ll give them a try.
Kicked-up deviled eggs with bacon
6 boiled eggs, sliced in half lengthwise, yolks removed into a bowl
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar (I used the jalapeno flavored one)
1/3 cup chopped pickled jalapenos
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped green onions (white and very light green parts only)zz
3 strips cooked bacon, crumbled
Place yolks in a small mixing bowl, and mash well with a fork. Add all other ingredients, as well as salt and pepper to taste, and stir until combined.
Fill the egg whites with spoon, or pipe into the whites using a ziploc bag filled with the filling. Snip off one corner and squeeze to fill.
To make perfect boiled eggs, place eggs in pan, then cover with cool water, filling to a depth of at least an inch over the top of the eggs. Add a tablespoon of salt, as some wise older cooks say this helps make the shells more easily removable.
(If any of the eggs float to the top of the water, throw them out, as floating eggs are typically spoiled eggs.)
I hope you will enjoy these recipes, and that you'll embrace the slightly cooler days, crisper air, and changing leaves - here and there - in your part of the South.
“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” Henry David Thoreau
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 sons who are significantly taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at WhatSouthernFolksEat.com.