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Starting Out    Essential Ingredients  Recipes

Traditional Southern cooking reflects an attitude of hospitality and frugality — nothing is wasted, which turns humble ingredients into dazzling abundance. Even the cooking techniques focus on long, slow preparations, the key to tenderizing tough cuts of meat and hearty vegetables.

Approach the ingredients and techniques that follow with affection and no rush, and you’ll be feasting Southern-style.

Ingredients

Corn Corn
Corn is one of two foods considered elemental to Southern cooking. The settlers at Jamestown, Virginia — America's first permanent colony — learned to grow, cook and eat corn from Native Americans. Today it stars in dozens of traditional recipes, from cornbread and spoonbread to succotash and cornmeal-crusted catfish. When kernels are soaked in lye water and the hulls removed, what remains is called hominy. Dried and ground, hominy becomes grits, the porridge that appears on breakfast tables all over the region.
 Pork Pork
British settlers sailed across the ocean with pigs on board — and today pork is at the very heart of Southern cuisine. From snout to tail, no part goes wasted: Hog jowls, ham hocks or salt-pork season pots of long-simmered beans, adding meaty flavor with relatively little fat. Pork shoulder roasts for hours in barbecue pits, until the meat pulls off the bone with a fork. And Virginia ham is famous around the world.
 
 Greens and Other Vegetables Greens and Other Vegetables
No traditional Southern meal is complete without an array of vegetables: braised collard or mustard greens, stewed okra, pickled beets, green beans cooked until they're so tender they hardly need chewing. Often vegetables are flavored with bacon grease, loads of butter, or cream, but as contemporary tastes have changed, so have the recipes. Lighter versions are now easy to find.
 Sweet Potatoes Sweet Potatoes
Botanically speaking, sweet potatoes and yams are different foods. But in the hands of Southern cooks, they're usually interchangeable. The two most popular dishes, Candied Yams and Sweet Potato Pie, are hardly waistline-friendly, but there are also countless puddings and casseroles with a little more caloric restraint.
Fruit Fruit
They're used in cobblers, pies, compotes and fruitcakes, jams, preserves, relishes and jellies, and even some savory dishes — fruits of all kinds appear on the Southern table, and with a handful of exotic exceptions, they're most likely grown in the region. Nowadays, ambrosia, a classic Southern fruit salad, often features pineapples, grapes, whipped cream and sometimes marshmallows, but the original dish was nothing more than oranges, coconut and perhaps a bit of sugar.
 Fish/Seafood Fish/Seafood
With so much territory near water — oceans, gulfs, lakes and rivers — it's no wonder that seafood is a Southern staple. Think of New Orleans Crawfish Etouffée, Maryland Crab Cakes, Low Country Shrimp and Grits or the community fish fries and oyster roasts that take place all over the region.
Beans Beans
For hundreds of years, beans have been a standby in the Southern kitchen: A large pot stewed with a small amount of smoked or salted meat provides an inexpensive, hearty source of protein. On New Year's Day, Hoppin' John, a dish of black-eyed peas cooked with rice, promises good luck; spring and summer bring fresh butter beans (what Northerners call lima beans); and throughout the year, dishes like Red Beans and Rice are devoured by the bowlful.
 
 Rice Rice
Rice was first cultivated in this country in 17th-century South Carolina, and probably came from Madagascar. These days Arkansas alone accounts for more than 40 percent of the rice grown in the U.S., with Louisiana and Mississippi also providing substantial crops. Traditional Southern uses include the bean dishes mentioned above, as well as the curried chicken stew called Country Captain, Cajun Dirty Rice, and the chicken or shrimp pilaus of South Carolina.
 
 Nuts Nuts
Although other nuts are grown in the South, pecans and peanuts appear most frequently in Southern kitchens. Pecans star in the region's preeminent dessert, pecan pie, as well as in Louisiana pralines and as a topping for sweet potatoes. Contemporary cooks use chopped pecans to crust fish and chicken. Peanuts, popularized by George Washington Carver and now grown primarily in Georgia and Virginia, headline in savory peanut soup and sweet peanut brittle.
 
Buttermilk Buttermilk
The lowfat, thick, tangy liquid left over after churning cream into butter, buttermilk has a long history in the South, where before refrigeration the warm climate caused milk to sour quickly. Commercial buttermilk is now made by adding cultures of bacteria to lowfat milk, but it's still the key to lighter-than-air biscuits and tender fried chicken.

 

Techniques 

Barbecue Barbecue
The tradition of roasting meat (in the South, usually pork) long and slow in a pit lined with burning coals predates the colonies — Native Americans cooked that way before the first settlers arrived. Today, Southern barbecue is as varied as it is ubiquitous, served pulled or chopped, on the bone (usually ribs) or in slices, doused with sauce or served dry, to be sauced by the diner. In every case, that extended period in a smoky pit results in extraordinarily tender and flavorful meat.
Stewing Stewing
Just as a long stretch in a barbecue pit tenderizes meat, so does a long simmer in a covered pot. But stewing isn't used only for meat — tough leafy greens and other vegetables break down after hours over low, moist heat. Brunswick stew, burgoo, gumbo and jambalaya are just a few classic Southern stews. Prepare meat stews a day ahead and refrigerate, then skim off the congealed fat.
 Frying Frying
You'll find a cast-iron skillet filled with bubbling oil on many a Southern stove — in fact, there are festivals across the region devoted to the art of deep-frying. Traditionally, chicken, fish, green tomatoes and even apples are breaded or battered, then dropped gently into hot oil until golden brown. Get that crunchy coating without all the fat by "oven-frying" instead: bread the food, then place on a cooling rack inside a rimmed baking sheet and pop into a hot oven until crisp (cooking time will depend on what you're making).
Pickling Pickling
The Southern tradition of pickling foods in brine or flavored vinegar took hold thanks to the climate: During the hot summers, there was often such bounty that if food wasn't preserved, it might spoil before it could be used. Beyond cucumbers, classic Southern pickles include peaches, watermelon rinds, beets, okra and the chopped mixture of green tomatoes, sweet peppers, cabbage and other vegetables known as chowchow.
 Baking Baking
In a region that retained its rural sensibilities until well into the 20th century, home baking was elevated to an art form. Biscuits, cornbread and pie are at the top of the Southern baker's list of specialties, but you'd be sorry to miss Coconut Cake, Caramel Cake, and Lady Baltimore Cake, or Benne (sesame) Seed Wafers, Moravian Cookies and Pecan Tassies. It's difficult to find an example of Southern baking that wouldn't be considered a splurge.

  

The Benefits          The Game Plan           The Workout

In the minds of many nonrunners, pain and running go hand in hand. The reason for this is simple: People push too hard, causing injury, aches and early discouragement. To get beyond the newbie stage, try to follow a plan, keep the running light at first and begin the program with complementary strength training.

Because running is a demanding endeavor, Hamberger recommends strength training two to three times per week to get your body into running form and keep it there.

Get cleared
Not to open on a down note, but running, like any form of strenuous exercise, can lead to serious (and by that, we mean serious) injury if your body's not up to the challenge. A basic checkup will allow your doctor to give you medical clearance to increase your activity.

Pick a program
If you're in very poor shape, a week of brisk walking (about 5 miles per hour) may be in order. Otherwise, most starter regimens span eight to 10 weeks and call for a combination of walking and running, three to four times a week.

The routine Onines uses looks like this: 

Week Walk/Run Times Cooldown Total Time
WEEK 1: Walk 5 minutes. Run 2 minutes. (Repeat 2 more times.) Walk 5 minutes. Total: 26 minutes
WEEK 2: Walk 5 minutes. Run 4 minutes. (Repeat 2 more times.) Walk 5 minutes. Total: 32 minutes<
WEEK 3: Walk 4 minutes. Run 6 minutes. (Repeat 2 more times.) Walk 5 minutes. Total: 35 minutes
WEEK 4: Walk 3 minutes. Run 8 minutes. (Repeat 2 more times.) Walk 5 minutes. Total: 38 minutes
WEEK 5: Walk 2 minutes. Run 10 minutes. (Repeat 2 more times.) Walk 5 minutes. Total: 41 minutes
WEEK 6: Walk 1 minute. Run 12 minutes. (Repeat 2 more times.) Walk 5 minutes. Total: 44 minutes
WEEK 7: Walk 1 minute. Run 20 minutes. (Repeat 1 more time.) Walk 5 minutes. Total: 47 minutes
WEEK 8: Walk 1 minute. Run 30 minutes. Walk 5 minutes. Total: 36 minutes

In the beginning, you should be running on a flat, forgiving surface. Rubberized tracks provide excellent shock absorption, even if circling around them can get monotonous. Wooded trails are both soft underfoot and visually inspiring. Just look out for roots, stones and other hazards of the trail.

Limber up
Stretching and strengthening are as important to avoiding injuries as proper shoes. It's best to stretch after the run — a light jog is an adequate warm-up — when the muscles are loose.

Onines' regimen focuses on five major muscle groups: the calf/Achilles heel (especially important for preventing shin splints, maybe the most common runner's woe); the hamstring; the quadriceps; the ITB/iliotibial band (the band between the hip and knee); and the hip abductors (located in the buttocks region). She recommends three 30-second reps per stretch, and no bouncing.

Get strong
Many running injuries are the result of a weakness or an imbalance in the body. To combat this, Hamberger recommends a regimen of strength training to all his clients.

Strength-training exercises should target core muscles (abdominal crunches and ball-balancing exercises are both great) and the muscles around the knee (try leg presses, hamstring curls and toe raises). Two 30-minute workouts on nonrunning days will get you the desired results.

Work on your form
Grade-school gym classes typically teach students how to throw a ball, climb a rope and do a push-up. But learning to run typically carries no instruction, leading to poor running form that can slow you down and increase the likelihood of injury or soreness. Hamberger says one thing to pay attention to is how your foot strikes the pavement. Focus on landing right behind the ball of your foot, which will help avoid harsh impacts.

Breathe easy
Establishing a regular breathing pattern can help improve running form and prevent cramps. There's a simple pattern that every casual jogger can follow, Hamberger says. "Just keep it rhythmic and stick to a two-two pattern: Two steps for the inhale and two steps for the exhale." As for nose-breathing versus mouth-breathing, Hamberger says to just do what comes naturally.

Avoid side stitches
Nothing breaks your stride worse than that familiar pain of an oncoming side stitch. There are many theories about what causes a side stitch — typically they're brought on by too-great exertion, too fast — but focusing on proper breathing patterns can minimize them. If you do get a side stitch, there are some ways to minimize the pain and get back to the run. Hamberger advises clients to first put their arms over their heads to stretch out the abdominal muscles. If the stitch remains, gently massage deep into the ribs with your fingers to push the diaphragm up and in.

Increase your ability level
After running your first 5K, you can increase your mileage by 10 percent each week. Make the 10K your next goal, then the 10-mile, then the half marathon, and finally the marathon. It's tough hitting those marks on your own, which is where running clubs can come in. The structure and camaraderie are great motivators. If you decide to go it alone, make sure you vary workouts regularly. Doing the same 5-mile course each week will run you right into the wall.

Join a Club
If you get extra drive out of running in a group or just want to find some well researched routes, check out The Road Runners' Association of America www.rrca.org. They'll give you the scoop on running all over the county: the least trafficked areas, the safest places to run, the most scenic trails (asphalt and dirt trails are easier on your legs than concrete) and places where you'll find other runners.

Next: The Workout >>