What dish says North Carolina to you?
Anytime you make a list, people get riled up.
Many people are hot under the collar, PO’d, fed up and flabbergasted that the New York Times made a list of Thanksgiving dishes that “evoke” each of the 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.
North Carolina’s dish — surely it must be turkey, as we are the home of Butterball and produce 14 percent of all turkeys in the nation, with a value of more than $848 million.
No, and it’s not a barbecued pork shoulder, either, nor corn and green beans cooked for days with smoky fat.
It’s sweet potato cornbread. Not just any sweet potato cornbread, but the one created by Stephanie Tyson at her restaurant Sweet Potatoes in Winston-Salem.
Now Stephanie and her partner, Vivian Joiner, were here a few years ago, signing books and sharing food at Literary Bookpost.
The cornbread is delicious, full of flavor. And North Carolina produces a massive amount of sweet potatoes.
Hooray for Tyson’s cornbread making the list. She is a fine cook and a finer person.
Does it evoke North Carolina? Sort of. Cornbread is a staple, but there’s a lot of other foods that do, too.
As a transplant from New York City (please don’t stone me), I’ve learned quite a bit about Southern cooking. My husband’s late grandmother was as southern a cook as they come.
Thanksgiving at her house —where the men used to eat first — included turkey, dressing, a ham, candied sweet potatoes, dumplings in chicken broth, soft as butter green beans, fried corn, jellied cranberry sauce, broccoli and rice casserole, something like a Waldorf salad, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, a Jello cheesecake, a fresh coconut cake, a fresh pineapple cake, usually a poundcake, perhaps a pecan pie or pumpkin pie, and sweet tea. There was no cornbread at all. And not many people ate the sweet potatoes.
For Christmas, she had barbecued pork shoulder, slaw, baked beans with bacon, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, potato chips and at least three cakes and the Jello cheesecake to chose from.
If North Carolina couldn’t have turkey or sweet potatoes as its signature dish — Arkansas got turkey, Georgia got pecan pie (that’s right). Indiana got persimmon pudding, and we have all the persimmon trees. Kansas got candied sweet potatoes. Minnesotans are absolutely outraged that they got grape salad, a combination of grapes, sour cream and brown sugar, then baked and cooled. No one has ever heard of such a thing, Minnesotans claim. Standing rib roast goes to Nebraska, although that’s the traditional Christmas dish in my New York family. Several states got some form of roast turkey, including Mojo turkey for Florida, a Cuban inspired dish. New York gets double apple pie, which is OK, since there’s lots of apples grown there.
Poor South Carolina got something called Salty Pluff Mud Pie. We know what pluff mud is — sticky, stinky stuff that emerges when the tide goes down. It’s actually a high-falutin’ recipe for chocolate chess pie. Virginia gets corn pudding, which also makes some sense, as it is one of the oldest states in the union, and that recipe dates way back.
I’ll make some of Stephanie Tyson’s cornbread, probably to go with chili after Thanksgiving, and toast her. I’m just not sure that’s what says North Carolina to the rest of the world —what about boiled peanuts?