Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Southern Accents

I don't always live in reality, which I find a healthy coping mechanism. When I'm at a teacher inservice, a doctor's waiting room, or faced with some other monotonous chunk of time, I can transport myself to a more interesting scenario. I often fantasize about being a Southerner. In this fantasy I wear a white seersucker suit and gaze at my magnolia trees while lounging on my front porch. I sip on a mint julep, which along with my seersucker suit makes me immune to the humidity. My words ooze like molasses as I curse chain restaurants and those damn Yankees up North. People call me Big Daddy and when people pay me a social visit, they bring me pies, bottles of whiskey, or baskets of peaches.

Why do I have an obsession with the South? There's a lot I love about the South - The Drive-By Truckers, kudzu, Elvis, the syrupy twang of voices, waitresses that call me hon', blues music, Southern storytellers, the Mississippi Delta, armadillos, Smokey & the Bandit, New Orleans, and the list could go on and on. However, it's the South's passion for food that appeals to me the most. Southerners love to congregate at the hilltop and sing the praises of their cuisine. I'm currently reading
Cornbread Nation 4: The Best of Southern Food Writing, a book celebrating Southern food. There are many foods endemic to the South - grits, molasses, molly moochers, ramps, scuppernongs, chitterlings, crawfish, muffulettas, po' boys, and Goo Goo Clusters. The book celebrates all of these foods, and when I read excerpts from this book, I feel compelled to hop in my car and drive south.

However my infatuation with the South is really fueled by the following: Being a Southerner is the polar opposite of being a Kansan. Most Kansans tend to be more subdued and restrained in their passions. We're shaped by our landscape, the Great Plains - a landscape that is seemingly ordinary, maybe even mundane or fly-over country, to most people. Being surrounded by ordinariness day after day tends to rub off on a person.
Once at a conference in Atlanta, someone from Louisiana asked me, "So, what's in Kansas?" I'm ashamed to say that I didn't really have a great response to that question. For the longest time I viewed myself as ordinary, and when I found myself on that hilltop ready to boast about my state, I'd scratch my head and defer to someone else. I guess, we're folk who are reluctant to boast.

Lately I've been intrigued by the fact that many states have designated official state foods. The following are a few examples:


State pastries: strudel and sopaipilla
State snack: tortilla chips and salsa
State pepper: jalapeno


State Jelly Mayhaw jelly
State Meat Pie
Natchitoches Meat Pie


State Vegetable Vidalia Sweet Onion
State Prepared Foods Grits

As you can see, Kansas isn't represented in this list. Why doesn't Kansas have any state foods? It probably stems from the observations I made earlier in my entry. I'd like to see denizens of The Great Plains rally and celebrate their cuisine. Our foods might not be as eccentric as the South, but there's much to celebrate. Over the next few weeks, I plan on nominating some foods to represent Kansas. If you have any suggestions, let me know.

Ad Astra Per Aspera,

P.S. I need to think about joining the following organizations:

Greater Midwest Foodways

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