A lot of them are sweets: Derby pie, chess pie, jam cake, buckeyes, and bourbon balls. Derby pie is a chocolate and nut candy bar in a crust. Chess pie is a gooey, brown sugar pie. Jam cake was a surprise and a revelation to me, and writing this is a reminder to me that I've always meant to make it myself. The husband's dear mother hand-wrote the recipe for me years ago and I've failed to make it yet. You might picture some kind of a layer or swirl cake, a plain-ish cake cut through with jam. Well, you'd be wrong. Jam cake is more like a spice cake with raspberry or blackberry jam stirred into the batter, giving it a pinkish hue. Then it's frosted with caramel icing.
Buckeyes are balls of peanut butter, sugar, and butter half-rolled in chocolate to look like buckeyes. Bourbon balls seem self-explanatory.
I like some of these treats, particularly the jam cake, but the southern things I've come to like best are savory, like grits.
I make grits all the time. They're quicker than polenta and go with everything. When I feel decadent, I make them with a little cream and some grated cheese: are there two more beautiful words than cheesy grits? When I feel disciplined, I make them with water or chicken broth and a little milk.
I made grits the other night to go alongside our weekly roast chicken and some kale sauteed with bacon and garlic. Now, if I were really keeping it southern, the chicken would have been fried, there would have been some cream gravy drizzled on top, and the kale would have been cooked into a grey oblivion. That's one thing I can't get behind with southern food--the need to turn all vegetables brown or grey with overcooking. I'll take my veggies green, thank you.
I like to think of this as a hybrid dinner, a little California and a little Kentucky, wrapped into one delicious package.