Phillip Thompson

Crime Fiction writer

Someone commented on a recent post (don’t worry, he’s a friend, so he’s allowed), regarding my Virginia place of residence, that northern Virginia (which he defined as north of the Rappahannock) is actually “occupied territory.” He may have a point. Because every holiday season, I hear more and more people talk about eating “turkey and stuffing.”

Folks, “stuffing” is what you find you find in your couch cushions (we don’t call them sofas, either). Or it’s what’s in that deer head hanging on your living room wall.

Come holiday time (Thanksgiving and Christmas), you enjoy turkey and dressing. Now, I know some food nazi out there is going to cite Rachel Ray and inform me that dressing is a dish and stuffing is a filling.

Yeah, whatever. “Stuffing” is also a verb.

Anyway, we eat dressing, which really is fancy cornbread, when you get right down to it. And you have to make cornbread, you can’t walk into Winn-Dixie and buy a loaf of it (I know of a woman who actually did that. The staff immediately pegged her as someone from Pittsburgh).

We also eat sweet potatoes (not yams — that doesn’t even sound tasty) and pecan pie. And it’s “puh-cahn,” not “PEE-can.” And, yes, this food is usually consumed at momonyms.

Like language, food is one of those things that distinguishes us – what we eat, how we eat it and what we call it.

Take grits. Personally, I don’t trust a restaurant that doesn’t have grits on the breakfast menu. And I’m liable to get into trouble here even with some of my Southern brethren, but grits are made to be eaten with butter, salt and pepper. Not sugar. No way, no how. Shrimp and grits is fine (and quite good), but save the sugar for oatmeal.

We’re also fond of things we can shoot, grow and catch, like deer, garden vegetables and catfish. The latter used to be almost exclusively a Southern food, but in the 1980s (so the story goes), then-President Reagan tried catfish at a White House dinner (provided by a Mississippi delegation trying to get a little funding from the fedrul gubmint for the nascent catfish industry). He enjoyed it enough to throw some money to catfish farmers, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Of course, you can’t catch, or farm, deer. You have to go get them. Which involves a bow or a firearm (or both), freezing for hours at a time in a deer stand and the thrill of the hunt when that buck steps into your crosshairs. And one of the best things to hear around the kitchen this time of year is, “I got a freezer full of meat.”

And don’t even get me started on okra.

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