Southern Food: Pulled Pork Above the Mason Dixon Line

| 4/1/2010 4:39:05 PM

CindyMurphyBlog.jpgAs a kid growing up in Michigan, I didn’t have the pleasure of eating Southern food. Mom and Dad’s ancestors were from Austria-Hungary. Mom’s parents emigrated from there, landing on Ellis Island before making their way north to Detroit; it was Dad’s great grandparents who made the trip across the ocean generations earlier. I was more likely to come home from school to find goulash, or kielbasa and sauer kraut cooking than pinto beans and rice. Ham hocks? Never heard of them. The greens us kids wrinkled our noses at weren’t collards, turnips, or mustard greens, but were the Swiss chard and beet greens that came from our garden. The closest I ever got to cooking Southern-fried chicken was when I worked as a part-time cashier at KFC after school when I was a teenager and heard the fryers sizzling from the kitchen behind the counter.

I became a little more exposed to Southern cooking when I joined the Army right after graduating high school. Corn bread was a staple in the mess hall in basic training; I thought it tasted like gritty yellow cake. Enlisting as a food inspector, my first assignment after training was overseas. One of the first things I did at the commissary on base (the military’s equivalent of a grocery store), was reject a shipment of frozen chitlins as being “unfit for human consumption.” Heck, I didn’t even know what a “chitlin” was, let alone know that it was normal for them to be filled with fecal matter until boiled properly.

Then I met Keith, born and raised in the South. The first trip home to meet his family in South Carolina was, to say the least, a culinary adventure for me. His dad made me grits for breakfast – I didn’t like them, but then again, I didn’t like the Cream of Wheat, or oatmeal my Mom made either. One taste of fried okra at dinner was enough to make me swear under my breath that if Keith EVER cooked it in our kitchen, I’d take away his cast iron cornbread skillet for good – and if he didn’t promise, there’d be no “our” kitchen.

His mother offered me a glass of iced tea (to no doubt to wash down the okra slime with), and after a syrupy sip, it was all I could do to keeping from spitting it across the table. The sickeningly sweet taste came as a complete surprise; I’ve never been a tea drinker anyway, but the “sweet tea” was a far cry from the iced tea I knew. I’m sure my forced smile appeared as sickly-sweet as the tea tasted. It was actually more of a grimace, and it was about this time that my then-future mother-in-law started referring to me as “the Damn Yankee.” My sweet father-in-law just chuckled and shook his head. My future husband laughed so hard I thought he was going to hurt himself falling off his chair.

Twenty-some years later, I’ve still never fried chicken; nor has okra ever been served in our kitchen. Corn bread though, is nearly as much a staple for us as it was in basic training (I prefer the sweet gritty yellow-cake kind), and mustard greens are a must in my vegetable garden….though I sauté them in olive oil and balsamic vinegar instead of cook them with bacon drippings. And this winter, I’ve learned to make pulled pork!

Pulled pork sandwich with pears

Cindy Murphy
5/7/2010 7:14:11 PM

Hi, Mother of Little. Mmmmmm....peach cobbler! Your Grandma Butler sounds like she was a treasure. (Grandmas always make the best food!) Psst...I have to admit that I cheated on the slaw. No, I didn't use mayo, but instead used my favorite Vidalia onion dressing.'s out of a bottle, but it's a vinaigrette, so no mayo, and Vidalia onions are from the South, so I figure I'm good, yes? Thanks for stopping in.

5/7/2010 10:07:57 AM

Great story! I'm from S.C now living in N.C. My Grandma Butler was about the best cook in the south (think Paula Dean) She made a killer peach cobbler, pound cake, fried chicken and yeast rolls. God bless her, I truly miss her cookin!! Southern cookin ain't hard but it takes a relaxed hand.I'm still practicing. I married a yankee that can't boil water so he'll eat whatever I give him. We met in a small town in S.C called Irmo and they have the Okra Fesival every October. Its fun and they sell lots of fried okra. We now live in N.C. And yes, you will find the best pulled pork sandwitches in Lexington N.C. Make sure you use a vinegar based BBQ sauce and a NON-mayo slaw if you DIY. Before we moved here, a dear friend used to bring me (in a cooler) A bucket of pork ,a bucket of slaw and a bag of Sunbeam hamburger buns from Lexington. Man, that was the best eatin, next to Gramma Butlers cookin that is!!

S.M.R. Saia
4/16/2010 6:10:36 AM

The pulled pork sounds delicious. Your stories about your encounters with Southern food cracked me up!!!

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