Opinion Columns & Blogs

ERICKSON: The local good eats

I saw a story in the paper the other day about the Georgia Department of Economic Development putting out a publication called “100 Plates That Locals Love.” There are six Middle Georgia restaurants included. One of the restaurants not listed is The Bear’s Den.

In fact, I have not seen the big news about The Bear’s Den reported anywhere. John T. Edge, the Director of the Southern Foodway Alliance, is probably the foremost expert on Southern cuisine in the nation.

Edge traveled the whole country looking for the best Southern cuisine anywhere. He focused on old school cooking and new school cooking. There were some odd Yankees in the mix. For example, the best new school hushpuppies are from some place in Chicago, but the chef, praise God, is from the South.

Then there is the new school cobbler. The “cornmeal sonker” comes out of Renee Erickson’s (no relation) kitchen in Seattle. But according to Edge, the foremost authority on Southern cuisine outside of my wife, The Bear’s Den in Macon, has the best Peach Cobbler in the country. Coming from the director of the Southern Foodway Alliance that is very high praise indeed.

I myself hate peaches. Every summer my wife buys peaches and expects me to turn them into homemade ice cream. I have an HMFPIC recipe that rivals what Len Berg’s used to churn out. I only know because fans of Len Berg’s demand I make it, as does my wife.

It starts with half a container of Vick’s Vapo-Rub. I have to shove it up my nose so I do not dare smell the peaches or I will be too sick to make the ice cream. The recipe itself calls for buttermilk and heavy cream, a whole lot of eggs, and a vanilla bean. By the way, if anyone has Len Berg’s recipe for Boston Cream Pie, send it my way. I miss it.

I dwell on all this food related business because the distraction of food and cooking is becoming more of a passion. I write and cover politics on a daily basis and food, at least, seems to be a mostly non-political distraction unless we must debate GMO and organics. Growing up in rural Louisiana, once a year the whole community came together over pots of gumbo.

Black, white, rich and poor, we’d gather at the Gumbo Kitchen, which was only open once a year in the little town I am from. Everyone would bring pots of gumbo, fresh loafs of french bread, garlic, butter, and the like. We’d make homemade garlic bread and sample each other’s gumbo.

There were no awards, no blue ribbons and no competition. It was just the community coming together to share harvested okra and caught crawfish all simmering in dark pots of roux.

Southern food culture is a fascinating topic and one that does not exist above the Mason-Dixon line in the same way it does here. Don’t believe me? Go to a homecoming dinner-on-the-grounds event at a Baptist Church in the South and then go to one up North. It is not quite the same. Food and front porches are a greater connection between people in the South.

Next time you head over to The Bear’s Den and get some of the best mac and cheese in the South along with the peach cobbler, consider that the South has reshaped the American palate. For all the baggage Southern culture brings to the table, it also brings good eats.

Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.