While there is plenty of fried food in the South, a lot of it comes from chains cooking burgers and chicken while pretending to dish up regional food.
My mother's family and both sides of my wife's family have been cooking wonderful food in North Carolina since around the Revolutionary War. Foods and how they are cooked have changed over the last two hundred years, but there is one tradition that has stayed the same among families with a real southern heritage.
As much food as possible comes directly from the garden or local farms. Many really great southern cooks spend more time presevering food than they do cooking it. Spending the summer months freezing and canning the bounty from family gardens so it can be enjoyed during the cold months is a tradition that has a lot to do with the character of the south. It a measure of the independence that runs deep within the area.
The first garden that I planted was in 1972 on the shores of the Bay of Fundy. At that time I wasn't even married, but my mother and her sister made their way north to help preserve the harvest. They canned and froze everything from beets and peas to broccoli.
When I got married and carried my North Carolina bride back to Nova Scotia, she didn't even miss a beat during the garden season. Until we moved off our New Brunswick farm in 1984, much of our food was grown within walking distance of the house.
While our home along the Southern Outer Banks doesn't have room for a huge garden, I do manage to grow a lot of tomatoes. This year I even had enough tomatoes to haul some to Yadkin County where I still have many relatives. Yadkin County is one of North Carolina's more rural counties, and my mother was born there alongside a mill pond a little over 100 years ago. In return for the tomatoes, my relatives showered us with green beans, brown crowder peas, and homemade grape leaf pickles.
I still remember some of my college roommates complaining about southern green beans being over cooked. If you have ever grown vegetables in the south, you know that there are plenty of challenges to growing things in high heat and humidity. Sometimes the variety that ends up winning the hearts and minds of locals has characteristics which fit the area and define how it is cooked.
The beans pictured above are white half runner beans. They are prized in far southwest Virginia and the Piedmont of North Carolina. They grow well in tough conditions, perform exceptionally well as a green bean for canning, and if they are cooked properly, they are delicious. They do have to be cooked for a while to be good. They are not a tendrette type of bean that can be lightly cooked.
Just the other night we had a supper of fresh cut tomatoes, corn on the cob, brown crowder peas and cornbread. Another night we had just new potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, and cornbread. Both meals were true southern food fresh from the gardens of family and friends. The highlight of both meals was my wife's cornbread which just seems to go with vegetables.
The food we ate was better than anything you can get in a restaurant and much more representative of true southern regional cooking than anything you can find on a printed menu.