May 25, 2009
It’s not that I’m following Josh around the South, but after an uneventful, rainy graduation, I drove down to Savannah to spend a week with some friends (Josh included) on the sunny coast. Though uncharacteristically rainy (a graduation curse?), Savannah remains one of my favorite cities to visit.
I love the hospitality of the South, and the role food plays in welcoming people. Everywhere I went, it was, Hi, nice to see you again or Hi, nice to meet you, can I get you something to eat? Fresh fruit, white wine, pecan shortbread cookies first – and if a meal followed, it was always more than we could possibly eat.
I was there for the meal Josh described at the end of his post. Simultaneously crunchy and moist fried chicken, tangy okra stewed with tomatoes and corn over rice, firm yet buttery field peas, all finished off with a butter-flecked biscuit so light that wildflower honey just disappeared inside it. I may not be doing any research, but it seemed to me that despite the peach cobbler and ice cream for dessert, the most Southern part of the meal was the gossip bantered over the lunch table.
Apparently, so and so, who’s very wealthy and over such and such an age, is being courted by so and so who just met her two weeks ago, and so and so’s children are having so and so sign some papers. And so and so, who owns such and such, just sold this and that to what’s his name. Bless his heart.
Savannah is definitely a foodie city, but it is a strange one. You can find everything from infused balsamics and olive oils from Italy to mass marketed celebrities like Paula Deen and the Girl Scouts (think cookies). And everyone has an opinion on what’s real Southern cooking. Paula Deen, for instance, “is just the nicest lady you’ll ever meet, but oh, no, don’t bother eating at her restaurant.”
We’ve eaten well in Savannah, perhaps in part because we’ve been doing a lot of our own cooking. I love our expansive breakfasts that start around ten with nibbles of crisp bacon and fresh fruit and finally come to fruition around lunchtime with French toast and cheese grits or omelets stuffed with mushrooms, spinach, and cherry tomatoes, and syrupy buckwheat pancakes.
The dense chocolate-raspberry cake baked by Laura’s father for my faux birthday party and the homemade chocolate ice cream still lingers on my tongue. As does a silky cappuccino (although, who are we kidding, there was definitely more than one) from Gallery Espresso, or a hummus, olive, feta, and spinach laden Panini from The Sentient Bean. Savannah is probably the most summer I’ll have this year, since the rest of June involves finding a job and moving to New York. But I have mementos of my trip – a slight tan from boating through the channels around Tybee Island, black cherry infused balsamic vinegar, a couple extra pounds, and two four-week old kittens (oops). For the sake of Josh’s research, we’ve been trying to eat “Southern,” and I think it’s a fitting way to end four years of study in the South. Though I’m sure I can find grits and hushpuppies in New York, I doubt they’ll be quite the same. But, as Miss Sallie Ann Robinson, a Gullah cook from Daufuskie Island, says, “Keep it simple.” So here’s four years in the South and however many years to come in the North, simply put. Good friends, good food, and family.