Georgia is the only place I call home. Though I’ve spent summers in the Pacific Northwest and traveled to Europe on more than one occasion, I am convinced for a number of reasons that the Southern United States is truly God’s country. Our culture and our traditions are unlike anywhere else I’ve been.
When I pondered the topic for this week’s food column, I had a few general ideas, but much to my surprise, I gained inspiration in the unlikeliest of places. Last Sunday, the oldest living member of the Faulk family went home to be with the Lord. He was my Great-Great-Uncle George, who would’ve been 97 years old in November.
A World War II veteran and farmer, Uncle George was born in 1917. His funeral, complete with a 21-gun salute by the U.S. Marine Corps., was held at a little country church, with less than 10 pews, in the town where he raised his family, farmed the land and lived out his days. It had been some time since I’d been to a memorial service, but there in the fellowship hall as we ate and celebrated his life, I was reminded of the comfort in familiarity. I found myself surrounded by the dishes that shaped my childhood — those dishes that every good Southern cook rushes to the cupboard to fix when there’s a death in the family, a newborn baby or a reunion; those tried-and-true recipes that can only be found in spiral-bound cookbooks, produced by the Junior League or church ladies in our communities, or handwritten and passed down through generations.
As we filled our plates, the lineup of traditional classics didn’t disappoint: fried chicken, fresh shelled black-eyed peas, cream corn, broccoli and cheese casserole, pineapple and Ritz cracker casserole, rice with gravy, cornbread and dinner rolls. For dessert, my Dad asked me to “whip us up a ‘nana puddin’,” but I knew better. That popular dish would be chilling in someone else’s refrigerator before I could even get to the store for my ingredients — and duplicating wasn’t an option. Sure enough, layered beautifully and elevated in its trifle dish, the highly requested dessert sat front and center on the table, surrounded by pound cake, angel food cake with strawberries and cream, and my blackberry cobbler.
My culture taught me that food is more than a meal; it is the way we show love and compassion, say thank you and offer our deepest condolences and congratulatory blessings. Sometimes when words aren’t enough, the food does the talking. New York Times bestselling author Pat Conroy said, “In the South you often eat as well after the burial of a family member or friend as you do on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas. It is the custom of the place for friends to bring a dish of delicious food to the home of the deceased — it is one of the binding social covenants that still survive in even the most estranged enclaves of the South.”
I know my uncle would’ve loved the feast. Rest in peace, George W. Faulk.
Rebekah Faulk is a local food writer and blogger at Some Kinda Good, a Southern, coastal food blog highlighting East coast restaurant reviews and Lowcountry-inspired recipes. Email her at SKGFoodBlog@gmail.com.