By Jeff Burns
a bit of a foodie, but aren’t we all these days? One thing I’ve noticed lately is that
southern cooking is in these days, on the cooking shows, in cookbooks, and in
restaurants. For me, it’s just always
been home cooking. My mother learned
from her mother, grandmother, and aunts, and she was never happier than when
she was cooking for a houseful of people.
I grew up with and absorbed some of that sense of tradition.
the South, there are certain food traditions associated with the holidays that
are still strong today. However, there
are still regional differences within the South. I thought I’d explore some of the origins of
a few things in my holiday memory.
are big in the South during the holidays, maybe the decadence was ok for the
holidays. As a child in the 1930s and
1940s, my mother was happy to get exotic fruits and nuts like oranges and
brazil nuts in her stocking, so I’m sure treats like fruitcake, divinity, and
red velvet cake were over the top.
Fruitcakes Don’t just jump on the “I hate fruitcake”
bandwagon until you actually try it.
What can be bad about a cake made with fruits and nuts and often soaked
in spirits? I make a great one. Fruitcakes date back to ancient Rome and then
spread throughout Europe. The English
made it into an art form, and English colonists brought it to America. The dense cake made use of preserved fruits
and nuts, filling, delicious, and has long shelf life. Many cultures around the world have their own
version. Some are soaked in brandy,
whiskey, rum or other spirits for added flavor.
Divinity Divinity is a meringue or nougat like
confectionary that consists mostly of egg whites, corn syrup, and sugar. It originated sometime between 1900 and
1915. At that time, corn syrup was just
hitting the market, and it’s thought that some corn syrup manufacturers may
have introduced the recipe. The origin
of the name is a little fuzzy, except that someone once proclaimed it to be
divine. For years, it was called
“southern candy”, possibly because of the addition of pecans.
Red Velvet Cake Red Velvet Cake is widely considered to be a
southern dessert, but some stories trace its origin to New York City’s
Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. It probably dates
back to the 1920s or 1930s during the Great Depression when the Adams Extract
Company of Texas started marketing its red food coloring across the country,
using advertising innovations like perforated recipe cards. The distinctive red color is actually the
result of the interaction of vinegar, buttermilk, and cocoa. Apparently the red color was more pronounced
before more alkaline “Dutch processed” cocoa was widely available. Recipes began calling for red food coloring
to compensate. During the days of World
War II shortages and rationing, beet juice was often used.