Working on my Southern education

Published 10:28 pm Friday, March 11, 2011

It must be obvious to all those around me that I’m not from the South.

I hate sweet iced tea. It’s difficult for me to say things like “Y’all” or “Bless yo heart,” without sounding like I’m making fun of someone. And before I began working in Suffolk, I had no idea that things such as chitterlings, yock or souse existed, or that such words describe culinary delicacies.

The memory of my coworker — who also serves as my Southern food tutor — digging into a heaping bowl of souse still gives me nightmares.

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Yet, despite the fact that I often say many words — like coffee or dog — with a decidedly Yankee accent and I tend to talk a mile a minute, some aspects of Southern culture have stolen my heart.

Aspects like how polite everyone is in comparison to the Yanks I know.

Or how everyone has a backyard garden, brimming with vegetables that they will share with their neighbors, no thanks or payment necessary.

But the real jewel of Southern culture is the food. Despite some weird dishes — I wonder if Southerners really know where souse or chitterlings come from? — the food of the South puts our Yankee dishes to shame.

Shrimp and grits! Pecan pie! Hush puppies! Fried green tomatoes!

They all are definitions of “comfort food.”

And don’t get me started on the touchy subject of barbecue. Suffice it to say that for me, North Carolina pork barbecue, in all its vinegary glory, will forever trump every other iteration of the dish.

And my education isn’t over yet.

In an example of the Southern hospitality I mentioned previously, a neighbor recently dropped a few heaping mounds of collard greens on our picnic table.

Never having the pleasure of trying out this classic Southern treat, I was intrigued by the leafy greens.

Within seconds of mentioning my surprise gift at work, I was bombarded by coworkers telling me how to make the “best” collards — the key is apparently a combination of pork fat and time — and others slyly mentioning that they could take any leftovers off my hands.

The experience only proves how essential the vegetable is to Southerners, not to mention any crash course on the South, which I’ve learned is one of the things I took on when I got my job here.

And while I still haven’t tasted this quintessential Southern grub, I’m looking forward to the next step in my Southern education.