What are chitlins made of

Southern cuisine

Southern cuisine refers to the cuisine of the US-American southern states. It is influenced by the geographical and climatic characteristics of the area as well as by the different inhabitants of the southern states. Traditional coastal and inland cuisines differ across the southern states of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Arkansas. While plantation households shaped the kitchen in the flat marshland, it was smallholders in the hill and mountain regions.

The kitchens of Louisiana are also counted as southern cuisine, namely the Cajun cuisine and the Creole cuisine. The Texan and Tex-Mex cuisine differs from classic southern cuisine in many ways. In the last decades of the 20th century, the term soul food established itself for the special cuisine of African American people; whether the cuisine of whites really differs from this is controversial.

Southern cuisine has shaped eating and drinking habits around the world through its influence on the fast food industry. KFC and other fried chicken suppliers as well as Pepsi and Coca-Cola come from the food traditions of the region.


Foods that naturally grow in the area and have been cultivated for ages include corn, beans, pumpkins, berries, plums, and wild grapes. There lived bison, turkey, roe deer, rabbits, squirrels, ducks, quail in the waters were oysters, turtles, shrimp, crabs, catfish, trout, herring, alosa and sturgeon.[1]


The original cuisine of the southeastern United States was Native American cuisine. From these the first immigrants got to know native fruits and animals and their preparations. The indigenous people hunted the wild animals found there and had domesticated turkeys. They grew beans, pumpkins, and corn; other Native Americans had established tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and chillies, and presumably sweet potatoes. They gathered nuts, berries and plums.[2]

The southern United States was mostly populated by settlers from the British Isles. In addition to their cooking traditions, they also introduced various foods. This included cattle, pigs, chickens, and sheep; Wheat and rye, fruit trees and root vegetables and various types of cabbage. Compared to other parts of the USA, immigration from other parts of Europe was less pronounced in the southern states; In the kitchen, French and German influences are particularly evident in certain regional sub-kitchens.[1]

African influences are particularly pronounced in southern cuisine. Since the 17th century slave imports from Africa began. In many regions of the southern states, African Americans formed the majority of the population. Although they lived under racial segregation well into the 20th century, many African-Americans worked as domestic servants and cooks for the white upper and middle classes, so that they also had a significant influence on the food of white people. Ingredients from Africa include okra, cowpeas (Black Eyed Peas), Melons, marrow stem cabbage, and sweet potatoes.[1] The peanut originally came from Brazil, but it also took a detour via Africa, from where it was imported into today's USA.[2]

Industrialization and the lost civil war of the southern states also had an impact on food. Much of the food was no longer grown locally, but came from industrialized production in the more developed regions of the Midwest. The consumption of fruit and vegetables fell, the maize flour came from industrial production, in which many of the nutrients were lost, instead of bacon it was now fatback, the edge of fat directly under the pig's back skin and significantly less protein-rich than bacon. At the same time, however, the price of wheat flour from other parts of the United States fell so much that it could be found on the tables of small self-employed people. The proportion of maize in the diet of large parts of the population increased, and the deficiency disease pellagra, which was little known before the civil war, spread among sharecroppers, workers in cotton processing and poor sections of the urban population.[3]

While traditional cuisine was often able to last well into the 20th century, or had to be kept, items such as refrigerators, televisions and automobiles began to spread in the poor, rural areas of the south since the middle of the 20th century. While the automobile and highway system quickly brought industrialized food of all kinds south from across the United States, canned food and refrigerators made the storage problems of many foodstuffs go away. Radio and television taught people about different foods and dishes from other parts of the United States; the food in the whole of the USA was homogenized, from which the southern states were not excluded.[3] Restaurants and fast food stalls also established themselves in the 20th century. While these often offer a homogeneous meal across the USA, the southern classics Fried Chicken, Fried Catfish and, in particular, various cola drinks were able to assert themselves in this menu. Of course, today in the southern states, at least in the larger cities, there are also sushi, Mexican restaurants, curries, pizza and other components of global food culture.[4]



In the first decades, bison was the most important indigenous hunting property, but was extinct east of the Mississippi a short time after the arrival of European immigrants and thus played no important role in the diet of the area. While in Texas and Louisiana beef played a major role in basic supplies, it was rarely on the table in the central southern states, and when it did, it was in the form of veal.[5] The pioneers also hunted black bears, ate them, cured them and smoked them like pork.[2]

Feral domestic pigs, the razorbacks, had spread in the southeastern United States even before the first settlers arrived; these probably came from runaway pigs belonging to Spanish explorers. The pigs were kept in the wild from the 18th to the 20th centuries: the pigs were tagged but could roam freely in the rich forests of the area. In the autumn, their owners rounded up the pigs, castrated excess boars and tagged newborn babies. They drove the pigs they wanted to eat home and fattened them with corn for the last few weeks.[6]Most of these pigs were smoked and cured, traditionally pork was included in almost every meal - even if mostly only as a flavoring ingredient, rather than as a full meal component. Pork is the main ingredient in almost every barbecue.[1]Pork lard, on the other hand, was the dominant frying fat until the late 20th century.[6]

Sweet potatoes

While pigs formed the basis of everyday food, the settlers began to raise other animals as well after the regional extinction of the predators. Duck, chicken, turkey and goose were especially on the table on Sundays and public holidays.[5] The consumption of lamb was and still is very different from region to region, Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky are strongholds here, Kentucky is also the only region in the south where lamb is the traditional barbecue meat.[5]

The humid subtropical climate of the southern states allows a long vegetation period in which many edible plants grow. Standard vegetables include okra, watermelon, green tomatoes, eggplant, green beans, lima beans, kidney beans, white beans, peaches, and corn as well as pecans served. In some regions, which were characterized by large plantations, rice replaced the otherwise prevalent dominance of maize as the most important accompaniment to meat.[4] Different types of cabbage, pumpkins, carrots and peas also occur, but are less common than the former.[1] The most important ingredients in the vegetable kitchen, however, were turnips, sweet potatoes and black peas. The leaves of the turnip produced the first green of the year and were more popular than the actual turnip.[7] The wheat harvests suffered from rust fungus, so that wheat flour and baked goods made from it were mainly to be found on the tables of the rich plantation owners until the end of the 19th century.[7]

While in the 19th century the plantation owners often consumed elaborate and varied meals, the slaves limited themselves to staple foods: in large parts of the southern states, the weekly ration of an adult field worker consisted of around two to three pounds of cured pork and one peck (around 9 liters) of corn meal. The coastal regions often had fish instead of pork, and beef instead of pork in Texas and southwest Louisiana. In the season these were often supplemented with turnips, cowpeas and sweet potatoes.[3]


Braised stews, here Brunswick Stew, are common

The pioneers mostly had modest cooking utensils, and their diet largely depended on what they had just hunted or harvested.[2]

Deep-fried dishes in particular are typical of southern cuisine - a direct influence of the region's slave cuisine, which preferred deep-fat frying. The preference for rich soups and stews is also mainly due to African influences.[1] Whites tried to avoid African-American cultural influences, but kitchen traditions quickly gained ground, as house slaves took over cooking on many farms and plantations and they also taught white children how to cook. As a result, traditions have emerged in many places that try to recreate traditional European dishes using original African cooking techniques and local ingredients. In the huts of the slaves there was usually only one large pot that stood in the campfire, so that all the ingredients were cooked together in this. All residents of the southern states and especially Afro-Americans show a preference for cooked instead of fried meat to this day.[3]

The importance of the pig for nutrition was also evident in the case of vegetables. This was fried too, but most of it was boiled in water with a large piece of cured pork fat until it was covered in a layer of fat.[5] Sweet potatoes were prepared directly in the coals of the stove fire.[7]


Pulled pork on rice

Typical dishes are, for example, grits (corn groats), biscuits (a type of bread roll), corn bread and many types of barbecue. Cajun cuisine includes dishes such as gumbo, a spicy stew and the rice dish jambalaya. Other stews include Brunswick Stew, Hoppin ’John, Burgoo (Kentucky), and Country Captain.[1]

Fried chicken is one of the most famous dishes in the southern states, along with barbecue. In the past, fried chicken was a rich daily household dish, but today it is mostly consumed in fast food form and is the flagship dish of various fast food chains from the south such as KFC, Bojangles’ and Hardee’s. Chicken and pork are the two main types of meat. In the coastal regions this is partly being replaced by fish and seafood, with mussels and shrimp playing an important role.[1]

Ham and sausage were essential components of every breakfast. As long as sufficient quantities were available, almost every warm meal contained roasted pork, other forms of preparation of pork were mainly served on Sundays and public holidays.[5]

In the 18th and 19th centuries, oysters were more abundant than meat on the coast and thus played an important role in the cuisine of the region there. They are prepared as a stew in milk or cream, steamed or eaten raw. Prawns are boiled, steamed, fried, grilled, baked in cakes, served with pasta or grits, added to rice dishes and soups. Crayfish are mainly steamed or eaten in soup. Freshwater fish is often served with hush puppies, and the most famous southern fish food is catfish.[1]

corn bred

While corn is often eaten pure or processed into corn flour, rice is both the most common side dish and the main ingredient in dishes such as dirty rice or red beans and rice.[1] Corn bread was the dominant bread of the southern states until the 19th century. This was available in simple variations such as corn flatbreads through to elaborate baked goods with milk, eggs, sugar and occasionally also added wheat flour. Simple corn bread served to soak up the cooking water, which was mostly enriched with pork fat. Cornmeal mush was part of both breakfast and dinner, grits made from ripe corn were the most common side dish alongside cornbread and are still enjoying unbroken popularity in the southern states to this day.[7]

The rich selection of sauces probably comes from the kitchens of the rich plantation owners. Chutneys have been a regular part of the kitchen since the 17th century. The Gravys consist of leftover meat juice, enriched with roux, milk or broth. They are not only eaten with meat, but also with mashed potatoes, rice and biscuits. Relishes often consist of green tomatoes, cabbage, pears, Jerusalem artichokes, peppers, or corn.[1]

Sweet desserts and sweet pastries often make up almost half of all recipes in old cookbooks from the southern states. After dishes made from wheat flour spread among the population at the end of the 19th century, biscuits in particular became an integral part of many coffee tables.[3]

While wine often accompanied the lavish meals in the houses of the plantation owners, milk and coffee usually predominated. After the British-Scottish settlers had developed methods of making whiskey from corn, this corn whiskey became the most important spirit in the South.[3]A typical drink today is, for example, iced tea, which is often sweetened extensively. The soft drinks probably developed from this tradition. Heavily sweetened drinks are also common elsewhere, be it in the form of sweet lemonade or in the form of cocktails such as Mint Julep. The world-famous cola drinks (Coca Cola, Pepsi or Dr Pepper), like Gatorade, all originally come from the southern states.[1]

Influence on US food culture


For a long time in the United States, southern cuisine was considered fatty, greasy, and unhealthy. Fried chicken was the standard known throughout the US, gravies were often perceived as a viscous, disgusting mass.[8] In the last few decades, southern cuisine has spread more and more across the rest of the United States and is becoming increasingly influential there. Could contribute to this with Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (Green tomatoes) the ultimate homage to southern cuisine. Fannie Flaig wrote the book around the little one Whistle Stop Cafe in Alabama and brought out a book of recipes after the successful filming. In the southern states themselves there has been a return to the cuisine of the region since the late 20th century. The Southern Foodways Alliance conducts on-site research into the origins and existence of southern cuisine, while journalists and authors such as Edna Lewis and Craig Claiborne deal intensively with the kitchen. It has become fashionable in restaurant kitchens to at least praise echoes of traditional southern cuisine.[8]


Essen has found forms of expression both in the songs of the southern states and in literature. The Chitlin ’Circuit, a series of venues for African American artists, is named after a typical dish, chitterlings, as is the traditional song Chitlin 'Cookin' Time in Cheatham County.[4]

Other well-known songs related to southern cuisine are for example Jambalaya by Hank Williams, Eleven Cent Cotton, Forty Cent Meat by Uncle Dave Macon, Dan Penns Memphis Women and Fried Chicken or Memphis MinniesI'm Selling My Porkchops (But I'm Giving My Gravy Away).


  1. abcdefGHijkl John Martin Taylor: Southern Regional Cookery in: Andrew F. Smith The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, Oxford University Press 2007 ISBN 978-0-19-530796-2 pp. 554-556
  2. abcd Taylor / Edge p. 1
  3. abcdef Taylor / Edge pp. 6-7
  4. abc Taylor / Edge pp. 8-9
  5. abcde Taylor / Edge p. 3
  6. ab Taylor / Edge p. 2
  7. abcd Taylor / Edge pp. 4-5
  8. ab John T. Edge: Introduction in Edge (ed.) 2007 pp. xix-xx


  • John T. Edge (Ed.): The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Volume 7: Foodways. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC 2007, ISBN 978-0-8078-3146-5, pp. 22-26.
  • John Egerton: Southern food. At home, on the road, in history. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC 1993, ISBN 0-8078-4417-9
  • Lolis Eric Elie (Ed.): Cornbread Nation. Volume 2: The United States of Barbecue. University of North Carolina Press et al., Chapel Hill NC et al.2005, ISBN 0-8078-5556-1.
  • Joe Gray Taylor and John T. Edge: Southern Foodways. In: John T. Edge (Ed.): The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Volume 7: Foodways. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC 2007, ISBN 978-0-8078-3146-5, pp. 1-13.

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