Food & Drink

How to celebrate Southern Food Day

By Joan Leotta

For The Sun News

Collard greens, one bunch
Collard greens, one bunch

When you live in North or South Carolina, every day is Southern Food Day.

However, the folks at have declared that southern food should have a day all of its own to celebrate its iconic status and overall “deliciousness.” The site goes into the history of what makes a food fall into the category of “southern”, foods that grow best here, foods that were made a specialty, foods that have origins in British, African and Native American sources, etc. Although their site was interesting, I decided to consult a few experts of my own before planning a southern celebration menu for Sunday January 22. They are: Diane DeVaughn Stokes, local radio personality and excellent cook; Mary Marshall of Sumter, food blogger, (, and ace detective for locating sources of heritage foods; Tony Melton of Clemson Extension Service; and, Elaine Maisner, Senior Executive Editor of UNC Press in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, developer of their Savor the South series of single-food southern cookbooks.

Many foods are thought of as “southern,” but in this article, I am celebrating those that came first to my mind: the raw ingredients, collards, and peanuts and the cooked foods, ham biscuits, and fried chicken. Yes, I also thought about pecans, sweet potatoes, pecans, okra and BBQ and desserts like coconut cake, but I have recently written about those, so….

Maisner says that choosing the twenty-four separate times that make up or will soon be a part of the Savor the South series, “We chose foodstuffs that are not exclusive to the south, like tomatoes and biscuits, okra and bacon, things that are integral to southern cooking.” The Savor the South series books cover the history and southern “roots” of each item and offer recipes that cover the item here in the south and more broadly, even internationally, as well.

Mary Marshall defines southern food as more than something that grows in the South. She says, “Southern food is all about the soul and history behind the food, which was developed quite simply, with what was readily available. Corn became grits and cornbread, greens grew plentifully such as cabbage and collards, and pigs were easy to raise and could be prepared a number of ways from pit roasted, to shredded, and even salted and smoked as hams (curing meat was a way to preserve it). Chickens were usually scratching in someone’s back yard and could easily be fried or stewed for chicken and dumplings. Southern food is comfort food, it wraps itself around you, and brings back memories of sitting on a front porch shelling peas with your grandmother, looking forward to whatever pot of goodness she was going to prepare.”

Marshall shared a recipe for fried chicken (see below) from her blog where she has offers many, many more wonderful southern and other recipes and talks about the various places to find heritage versions of southern foods, grown/raised in the old ways—everything from corn to poultry from pork to ham to greens. I’ve shared my own recipe (below) for a cooking a smoked southern ham once you find that really good one.

Tony Melton weighed in on the peanut—a southern staple that has many uses and that southerners enjoy eating boiled, not just in peanut butter. He noted that peanuts are boiled when they are green—and often then canned so folks can enjoy them year round. Fresh boiled peanuts are sold along many Horry County roads when they are in season in the summer. Melton notes that many canned peanuts are processed in nearby Florence County which is also the home of several peanut farms.

Diane DeVaughn talked to me about collard greens. She has loved them since moving to SC from NJ when she was 14 years old. Stokes says, “I always cook up two batches of collards at a time since (making them) it is time consuming.” Her recipe, also below is in the old school format, no ingredients. wanted to quote her precisely instead of reformatting the recipe since she told me she developed her recipe “after interviewing chefs over 43 years,” and adds that her husband Curt says, “ They are almost as good as Magnolia’s at 26th Avenue in Myrtle Beach and Magnolia’s is the best in town in my opinion.”

I guess it’s the Italian love of all things green that makes me place collards on the top of my personal list of favored southern foods. In fact, I like to try it in new ways so I have included my own newest collard recipe. I developed this from a pastiche of other recipes.

Two other wonderful foods for southern eating, favorites of mine are ham and biscuits. Both Mary and Diane contributed biscuit recipes. You can find Mary’s on her blog along with tips on where to find those good ingredients and recipes for a host of other southern specialties and southern ways of making things like tomatoes, okra, pecans, sweet potatoes and more. I’ve included Diane’s below.

Ham is the easiest of all of these foods to cook. Start out with a good smoked ham. Ham from locally bred, heritage breeds is best of all. Mary’s blog is a good source for finding such things Cedar Farms a good source for other pork products does not cure hams. In your local grocery, talk to the meat manager and ask him or her which are the best quality.

So, if you want to celebrate the South, living in the south, learn more about southern culture, put down the history books this weekend and take out your favorite recipes. See you at the dinner table, to my mind, the very best way to experience any culture.

Best Ever Fried Chicken by Mary Marshall

Reprinted with Mary Marshall’s permission from


3 eggs, farm fresh are best

1/3 cup water

¼-1/3 cup hot red pepper sauce (I use Texas Pete)

1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

1 teaspoon garlic salt or more to taste

4 skin-on, frying chicken breasts, split in half

Oil for frying (she uses peanut oil)


In a medium size bowl, beat the eggs with the water. Add enough hot sauce so the egg mixture is bright orange.

In a large zip-top bag (gallon size), combine the flour, garlic salt and course-ground black pepper.

Dip the chicken in the egg mixture, drop several pieces at a time in the zip-top bag; seal bag and shake to coat well in the flour mixture.

Place chicken pieces on a cooling rack on top of some paper towels and let sit 30 minutes before frying. This helps the coating stick on the chicken so it won’t fall off when frying.

Heat the oil to 375 degrees F in a deep pot (I use a Cool Daddy Fryer). If using a deep pot do not fill the pot more than 1/2 full with oil.

Fry the chicken in the oil until brown and crisp. Dark meat takes longer then white meat. It should take dark meat about 13 to 14 minutes, white meat around 8 to 10 minutes. Cut into one piece to insure chicken is cooked through.

Diane’s Collards

(Note from Joan: I have bolded the ingredients to help with the shopping.)

At least two, possibly as many as four bunches of collards.

I cook my collards after they have been cleaned and cut in the rolled up cigar method like this:

I fry eight bacon strips in a large pot. I remove them temporarily.

Then I sauté slowly, so as not to burn, one whole onion chopped and three garlic cloves.

Then I add two large boxes of Swanson’s chicken bouillon broth, one can of beer (a secret ingredient I also learned from a chef I had interviewed on TV) and to that I add the chopped up collard strips.

I let them cook on low heat for about twenty minutes. Then I crumble in the bacon, and add one third cup of sugar, cooking for ten more minutes.

In addition, of course I freeze them in two person portions so we can eat them all year!

Diane also contributed her mother-in-law’s biscuit recipe.

Note from Diane: My favorite is so simple and delicious given to me by Chuck’s mother, Pat Foster. Anytime I make these for guests, they beg for the recipe because they do not need any butter.

Pat Foster’s Sour Cream Biscuits


Melt one stick of butter

Add one cup of sour cream

Add Two cups of Bisquick


Mix thoroughly but don’t overdo!

Put in muffin pan filling each about half full

Bake for ten-twelve minutes at 450.

Note from Diane: Just awesome. You must try this.

Joan’s Bake Ham


One 7-8 pound ham

About twenty cloves

½ cup water

½ cup apple juice


Rinse the ham. Stud it with cloves all over. Place in shallow roasting pan, Pour in water and juice. Bake at 350 for 2-3 hours. Turn it down to 325 if the crust is getting too dark. Baste during cooking. If the liquid evaporates, add more.

Check temperature—internal should be 140 degrees. Slice and serve.

Joan’s Collards with Quinoa and Chickpeas

Makes a huge amount. Could be a side dish for six or a plant-based main course for four.


2 cups quinoa (rinsed) I used one cup red and one cup white

3 cans chicken broth (15 oz each) or vegetable broth

1 can chickpeas (drained)

1 bunch collards, leaves trimmed from stalks, rinsed

1 small onion

¼ cup olive oil (more possible later)

1 clove garlic, minced


Place the quinoa in pan and cook with two cans of broth, according to directions

Let quinoa rest.

Sauté the collards and onions in olive oil with lid on. While the collards are cooking, add broth as the collards cook. Let the collards cool to room temperature.

Drain the chickpeas and place in bowl. Add salt and pepper. Add the quinoa and the collards and onion. Mix. Taste and see if it needs it, add more oil, salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.

Options for the leftovers: Add cut up tomatoes before serving, add ham or chicken or tuna to make it a main course.