Top Ten Southern Summer Dishes

April is winding down and here in the South we are thinking about summer. Or at least I am. A trip to the South Carolina coast is coming up in a few weeks and I can almost taste my favorite lunch at the Rosebank Cafe at  Bohicket Marina—fried green tomatoes, turnip greens, cornbread and okra. Maybe a bowl of warm blueberry buckle or a sliver of pecan pie for dessert. All accompanied by endless tall glasses of iced tea.

Last week my older brother and I compared notes on our favorite Southern foods and came up with our top ten. These are dishes I learned to make as a girl, or as a newly-wed. While we disagreed on which was the absolute best, we did agree that it wouldn’t be summer in the south without them:

Starting with iced tea: It must be brewed with fresh boiling water and properly steeped. Sweetened with a dash of simple syrup  flavored with fresh crushed mint. Served in a beautiful pitcher and matching glasses over plenty of ice.  When I was a girl at home with my dad and three brothers, my mother and I made two gallons of iced tea every day.

Cornbread: Must be made in a cast iron skillet so the crust will brown. I use coarse,  stone ground cornmeal I first discovered in South Carolina and the best buttermilk I can find.  Eggs and bacon drippings. No sugar and very little flour.

Fried chicken: Double dipped in buttermilk and dredged in flour. Fried in hot oil till crispy outside and moist inside. Perfect served hot or cold for a picnic by the ocean. Well, okay, anything tastes good on a picnic by the ocean. But fried chicken, served with potato salad, is the iconic picnic food.

Deviled eggs:  Hard boil the eggs, cool. Cut in half, carefully remove the yolks. Mash them with mayo, prepared mustard, chopped relish. Spoon the mixture back into the white shells. Sprinkle with paprika. When I got married I received three deviled egg plates as wedding gifts. Testimony to the importance of deviled eggs in these parts.

Fried green tomatoes: The Rosebank Cafe makes theirs in a special secret way that I love. I think the sliced tomatoes are dredged in cornmeal and salt and lightly fried. Mine don’t taste as good as theirs, so I order them several times every time we’re in South Carolina.

Biscuits: I confess that as my life has become busier I have resorted to a shortcut: Bisquick!  The Bisquick biscuits are almost as light as the ones my mother taught me to make the old fashioned way, with baking powder and soda as leavening agents.  I’m looking forward to some South Carolina biscuits made from scratch and served with ham.

Fried okra: cut up,dredged in cornmeal and a dash of flour, salt. Deep fried till golden brown and crunchy. Add a plate of  tomatoes still warm from the garden,  and a pan of cornbread, iced tea and you have a great summer supper.

Shrimp and grits: First of all, pay someone whatever is asked to get them to de-vein the shrimp. That is one task I can’t abide. Make the grits, season to taste, then quickly saute the shrimp in a little clarified butter and fresh garlic. Pour the grits into a bowl, top with the shrimp. One of my favorite Charleston restaurants adds tasso ham to this dish. Lovely.

So then we are ready for dessert. Red velvet cake… or pecan pie? It’s a tossup. At Magnolia’s in Charleston some years ago, the waiter asked if we wanted “PE-can” pie for dessert. My husband said yes but in our little corner of the South we call it “pe-CAHN” pie. When the waiter brought it out, he set it down with a flourish and said, “Sir, your pe-CAHN pie.” We shared a laugh about it. Regardless of the way you pronounce it, it is a signature dessert here in the South, whether served plain, or warm with a scoop of Blue Bell vanilla ice cream on top.

So. What’s your favorite Southern dish? The one you simply can’t live without? The one that says “summer in the South?”