1) How did you develop an interest in cooking--especially Southern cooking?
How I learned About Southern Living, Soul Food and Southern Cooking.
I was born and raised in Louisiana and as a young child was exposed to the wonderful world of Soul Food and Southern Cooking through my family. My mother was an excellent cook who could take the scraps of this and bits of that and make something really good out of it.
As a child I loved to watch and help her cook feeling right at home in the kitchen. My Grandmother on my mother’s side was also a wonderful kitchen master. I watched them cook on everything from a wood fire made on the creek bank in a 5# lard stand placed on big rocks with the fire under it, to cooking in a cast iron pot in the yard making a big stew, to the new fangled gas range in the kitchen. You say wow you must have grown up poor. No, I was actually wealthy with family that loved us and had time to spend with us kids and teach us to use what you had and not to expect someone else to supply everything you need.
I learned how to appreciate a grandmother that could make a gorgeous apple pie that came out of the oven smelling like a little slice of heaven or a fresh fruit and custard pie that made a little boy’s tummy feel really good. I learned that if I had a stack of soda crackers and a pint jar of peanut butter that I had the makings of a great snack. I learned that Granny's tea cakes on a plate on the kitchen table was an invitation to grab a cold glass of milk from the "ice box" and sit down with a tea cake for a real treat. I learned what a special time it was when my granny would come in and sit down beside me and spend a few minutes with a little boy who needed a hug and enjoyed being shown a good example of what love and family was all about.
I learned that when my Grandpa was sitting on the front porch in the swing and having a chew of tobacco not to sit downwind of where he was spitting' the tobacco juice. I learned that when he went to the shed to get his fishing pole and a can of worms that if I went along with him I would get to hold the pole so he could teach me how to catch some of those bream or catfish he was always catching. I knew it also meant that when we got home there would be hot fried fish, hushpuppies and cheese grits for supper.
I learned that when my Momma got out the old wooden biscuit bowl we were going to have some of those huge cathead biscuits for breakfast or supper and there would be a big hunk of fresh churned butter on the table to melt in those biscuits. I also knew that when we got home from school in the afternoon that there would be a snack, and if we were really lucky, a piece of Jell-O pie or coconut cake to go with it. I would gaze in wonder as Momma would begin getting supper ready; mixing flour, buttermilk, and all the other ingredients together that was going in the pot, where the chicken had been boiling, to make my favorite meal of chicken and dumplings.
I learned that when my daddy came home from work in the evenings with his overalls all covered with sawdust grime and sweat that he smelled like the man that loved me and busted his tail with hard work so that his family was fed, clothed and taken care of. I learned to love that smell of his soiled sweaty clothes because it meant my daddy was home. Even today, though that has been 50+ years ago, I can still stop and think about it and that smell returns bringing back vivid remembrances of him. This man that I loved so could also cook a mean pan of biscuits, and make pancakes that were a treat. It fascinated us when, because Momma was sick and couldn’t cook, he would take over the cooking duties. Fried oysters, fried fish and grilling were his specialties but he was right at home in the kitchen when it was necessary and was in his own right a good cook.
I remember Daddy, Momma, my Brother and me going to town on Saturday mornings and going to the soda shop to get an ice cream soda or malt. We would climb up on the stool and sit at the counter so we could watch the lady make our sodas or malts. She would get a big soda fountain glass and put a couple of scoops of ice cream in it then adding the flavored syrup then squirt the soda in the glass over the ice cream. If you ever heard that sound of that soda squirting into the glass you'll never forget it. I sure wish we still had those main street soda shops today.
I remember going to the picture show on Saturday afternoons and getting in to see a movie, buying a box of popcorn and a drink, while spending only a quarter for all of it. I remember seeing Flash Gordon, Captain America, Superman, Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Lash Larue, Rex Allen and all the rest of the good guys shooting up the bad guys (It didn't make us go out and shoot up our school mates either).
You say what in the world does all this have to do with learning about Soul Food and Southern Cooking? It has everything to do with it. It was all a part of the lifestyle and times that Soul Food and Southern Cooking was and is about. Cornbread, collard greens, and hog jowls were on the table and love was in the hearts of families. Everyone helped one another, enjoyed visiting friends and family, enjoyed sitting down together at meal time to share what had been prepared with love and hard work.
What happened to all that? Well, I'll tell you what happened. It was instant potatoes, frozen TV Dinners; freeze dried this, dehydrated that, fast food restaurants, microwaves and take-out. Too many people are too busy these days to spend the time it takes to cook a meal from scratch and sit down with all the family and enjoy what was prepared with loving hands and shared with a loving heart. Soul Food and Southern Cooking are just that, sharing food of love, with a heart of love, with those you love and taking the time to enjoy it together.
Oh well, that's how I learned about Southern Living and came to love Soul Food and Southern Cooking. It was a part of my life as I grew up and when remembered it is a part of the patchwork quilt of my life and the things that happened during those early days of my life.
2) What prompted you to create Y-Groups for recipe sharing? How long have you been doing this?
I started in the world of computing, through my career, in the 70’s and years before the days of the internet as we know it today. Then it was primarily a business application but also provided some opportunity of community via bulletin boards, user-groups and news-groups. It didn’t take me long to find my way to those bulletin boards and user groups that appealed to the roots of my love for Soul Food and Southern Country Cooking. As the internet became a viable medium of communication and sharing similar interests with others on a larger scale, along came topical groups that were easier to navigate than were the earlier bulletin boards etc. I participated in many of those earlier groups but never considered starting my own until 2002 when I decided I wanted to start a group that would be centered on the area of cooking that I loved so much, Soul Food and Southern Cooking. It has been a wonderful venture through the years and I still enjoy it today as much as I did when I first started it. I now have two other very helpful and dedicated Co- Owners (CajunLou and Vicki) with me on the Soul Food and Southern Cooking group who have taken a big load off me by handling the majority of the daily activities of the group. This allows me to enjoy the benefits of the great recipes and traditions shared on the group by our wonderful group members without having to spend so much time in the daily details of administration.
In addition to our Soul Food and Southern Cooking Group CajunLou, Vicki and I also own three other groups related to the traditions of southern and family cooking and are a wealth of recipes and tradition.
Tried and True Southern Recipes started by CajunLou and Benny
Cooking Cajun which I started
and Grits and Country Roads which I started.
3) It seems you distinguish between Southern, Soul Food, Deep South, etc. Even each state is listed separately on your group page! Are there ingredients or cooking techniques that distinguish one from the others?
In the world of Soul Food and Southern Cooking and Traditions there are absolutely distinguishing characteristics from region to region and from state to state. But even more specific than that there are distinguishing differences from county to county and city to city. You will even find that many families have their own idea of what Soul Food and Southern Cooking is. Each of the particular categories you mentioned in your question have their own specific differences that are found in the areas where they are prepared.
There are probably as many definitions and distinguishing characteristics of Soul Food and Southern Cooking as there are recipes for the very popular southern dish macaroni and cheese. In the area of Soul Food and Southern Cooking you will find a combination of African and Caribbean cuisines, Southern Country Style, Carolina Low Country, Louisiana Creole and Cajun, Barbecue from Texas to St. Louis, Memphis North Carolina and Georgia, and African-American influenced dishes from all over the South. A common and descriptive term sometimes used to define and describe the whole of Soul Food and Southern Cooking is Comfort Food.
When speaking of Soul Food and Southern Cooking you must remember that it is more than the sum of its ingredients. It’s about food of the heart, soul and spirit and can’t be limited to a particular people or culture. Soul Food and Southern Cooking is not just about the food though, it’s about the family stories, folklore and traditions behind the food. It’s about creating fond memories with family and friends that will last a lifetime. It's food made from scratch, the way your Mom or Granny did it and it makes you feel good when you eat it. It’s about Sunday dinner, church pot luck suppers, family reunions, covered dishes and decadent desserts. That’s what soul-food is all about.
Soul Food and Southern Cooking is, black-eyed peas, and cornbread, fried chicken, or fried fish, with hush puppies and chow-chow. Red beans and rice with sausage links or smoked turkey wings, turnip greens and vinegar, beans seasoned with tasso, hot water cornbread, hot boudin, cold cous cous, pot roast, ham, potato salad, yams, buttermilk biscuits, sweet potato pie and many, many other foods that soothes your soul in your part of Southern Cooking Country.
4) What is the most interesting insight you've had about Southern and Soul Food recipes due to the sharing within your Y-Group?
I guess the most striking insight I’ve had is finding that there is a generation of people out there who not only have never fried their own chicken at home but have never even eaten real home fried chicken. They’ve never had homemade smoked link sausage or home cured ham, never drank a glass of buttermilk, never tasted a biscuit made from scratch, haven’t had the pleasure of eating a tomato sandwich made from a home grown tomato, never spread on a homemade hot buttered biscuit, strawberry jam that Momma made using fresh picked figs cooked in strawberry Jell-O till it thickened.
The realization of what these have missed has given me a greater appreciation and thankfulness for the opportunity I had to be exposed to and experience growing up where Soul Food and Southern Cooking was common place.