Stocked with cornmeal and grits, various hot sauces, pickles and preserves, and a handle or two of bourbon, the Southern pantry is an object of fascination for many chefs north of the Mason-Dixon line.
But a cuisine that's fueled by fats demands a fair bit of climate-controlled real estate, too. Sneak a peak into any Southerner's refrigerator, and you're likely to see these five key ingredients for cooking seriously comforting Southern fare.
Hydrogenated oil sends most Yankees running, but you can't get very far in a Southern kitchen without it. Biscuits, pie dough, and many fried chicken recipes begin with shortening or lard. Homemade flour tortillas depend on it (and ask any Texan: If you can't pick up a fresh-made bag at Fiesta Mart, you'd best be making them yourself). Keep a can in the fridge and let it grace everything in its path.
2. Bacon Grease
Some people recommend keeping your bacon drippings in ice-cube trays in the freezer, but we don't see why they'd need to hang around unused. Not when you can use them to oomph up your greens, boost your beans, or take your toast to the next level.
3. Pimento Cheese
"Caviar of the South" may be our finest delicacy. While regional recipes vary, the building blocks of all pimento cheeses are the same: grated cheddar (Velveeta will do), chopped pimento peppers, and more mayonnaise than you can shake a stick at.
How to Eat Pimento Cheese Like a Southerner
My Alabaman grandmother used to purchase pre-made pimento cheese by the dense, party-size, day-glow orange bucketful and eat it in heaps with whatever stale crackers were in the pantry.
Try it wedged into celery stalks, dolloped into deviled eggs, or sandwiched into the most Southern grilled cheese of your life. (Or just bring it straight home off the business end of a sweet-tea spoon.) White bread pimento cheese sandwiches with the crust cut off make for fancy-ish hors d'ouevres or tea-party fare. You really can't mess this up.
When we cook with buttermilk, we give it top billing: buttermilk biscuits, buttermilk pancakes, buttermilk pie, and all manner of buttermilk dressings come to mind. Don't bother shopping for the smallest available carton. Instead, go bold and purchase buttermilk by the gallon.
5. Iceberg Lettuce
Save virtue for Sunday school. Lest you think we'd end on a healthful note, iceberg lettuce serves as the perfect accompaniment to a lard-laden, buttermilk-based dish. Keep a head on hand to finish your sandwiches with a little cool crispness or, better yet, slice it into quarters and serve wedge salad with blue cheese, bacon, and cheddar cheese.
How many of these do you have? And where do you live? Tell us in the comments!