I'm a Vermonter. Although I haven't spent my whole life there, it's how I identify myself. I love sugar on snow with pickles and say "water" as if there was an o instead of an a. Before meeting Scrapple, I'd only been to the south for several weeks as a kid when my Dad lived in a suburb of Atlanta. There was also the time we drove down to my Grandpa's in Virginia to pick up my horse, Spunky. My little brother and I were enthralled with the accent and just how different people and places could be just a day's drive away. We spent the whole ride home driving my parents crazy by trying to imitate the twang and holding signs up to the window whenever a car passed us, "Yankees RAT here!".
Imagine how entertained I was when about a year ago I first encountered the mega-phenomena that is Paula Deen. I don't watch a lot of TV and had never heard of her, but my Gram had given me a recipe binder full of blank pages to fill up and Paula was on the cover. She had freakishly quaint little quotes sprinkled throughout the pages and seemed like an interesting character. I started using the binder for my recipes and still do even after coming home one night to find that in a moment of deviousness, Scrapple had drawn horns on Paula and blacked out some of her teeth with a sharpie (foreshadowing!). When I looked her up and the first thing I found was a recipe for deep fried mac and cheese, I first thought "well, that's refreshing". And it was, while living in a world of waifs that would only eat grapefruit, to see someone revel in greasy junk. She didn't even take her rings off before plunging into one of her suspicious looking concoctions. Paula, with her diamonds coated in butter. I think that's maybe why initially I thought of her as a quirky aberration rather than a dangerous person. I failed to realize that some people might actually think that it was ok to eat fried mac and cheese for dinner. every. day. This group might include Paula herself.
Luckily, my introduction to southern cooking did not come by way of the TV and the queen of butter... It began several years before the Paula binder. It came with Scrapple. He went to school in TN and most of his friends are from the south. The first time I went out with them was to a "redneck x-mas party" at a bar downtown. There I met a great, warm group of people that were more free of NYC hang-ups than most I'd encountered. They hyphenated Scrapple's first and last name to form a super southern moniker that made me keel over laughing every time I heard it and were always game for a big picnic in the park. A few months in and I was almost as in love with them as I was with Scrapple. Over the next few years I got schooled in southern mannerisms and food. After my time in Italy I was starved for a food culture with real roots and Scrapple & Co. delivered with fantastical things like king cake and backyard crawfish boils. I was won over before I even took a bite. Lets not even get into pork belly.
After Paula's great diabetes reveal last week, I was feeling a little peeved. This woman could have single handedly made millions of Americans healthier simply by improving her own health and diet. Instead, she has decided that pedaling diabetes drugs would be a greater contribution to her fans and our country. That the most visible representative of my adopted cuisine is also the worst ambassador possible is just sad. I couldn't help but compare her to Ronald McDonald in Italy... bleh.
At the end of the week, lo and behold, a lift came from none other than one of my most favorite ladies of the southern crew. It came in the form of a magazine, passed on to us for some inspiration and encouragement. A sneak peek of something we're about to become part of. It's the latest issue of Bon Appétit featuring...The Southern Recipe Revival! Yes! Reading it on the subway this Monday lifted the Paula grease gloom and made me so excited for our move to TN. There is fried chicken on the cover, but it's paired up with deliciously wholesome goodies like dirty "rice" that's actually made with farro and barely wilted spinach greens with roasted squash and apples. Several big southern cities are covered, and Nashville's feature is guided by the lead singer of one of my favorite bands, The Black Keys. Dozens of amazing local food artisans and real deal farm to table restaurants, like Capitol Grille with it's 66 acre farm, that are redefining southern food are featured and applauded. In return, they share some ridiculously amazing recipes. You can find some of them to take for a spin here.
Move over on over Paula, the new guard is takin' over!