Sausage balls are a staple at the buffet table at every holiday gathering, bridal shower or breakfast prayer meeting that I've ever attended.
But it never occurred to me that sausage balls could be a novelty.
And although I've been eating sausage balls all my life, it was only recently that I tried making them.
You take a pound of raw sausage - Neese's if you're going to be authentic about it - mix it with some biscuit mix and cheddar cheese, roll the mixture into bite-sized balls and bake.
"That can't be right," I thought, re-reading the recipe from one of Mom's old church cookbooks. "Surely it must take more than 10 minutes in the oven to turn a potential food poisoning incident into edible party fare."
When trying out a new recipe, especially a Southern one, sometimes you just have to trust that it will turn out - that years of tradition have to count for something.
You can't be squeamish about working your hands into a big hunk of raw meat, either.
For me, that was no problem. I once watched my dad and Uncle Reuben, whom everyone called Teet, mix up sausage - not sausage balls, but their prerequisite raw meat product - from 50 pounds of raw pork right on our dining room table.
Our family dressed its own venison and cleaned its own fish. We raised laying hens that produced eggs way bigger than the supermarket jumbos.
I guess you could say we were into the slow food movement a bit early.
So when I attended a book club meeting recently in Denver, I was surprised to learn that no one there had heard of sausage balls. Many of Denver's residents are newcomers from outside the South.
One of the ladies who hosted the meeting had "discovered" the recipe, which is often printed on the Bisquick box, and brought them as finger food for us to nosh while we discussed characterization and context.
"These are delicious!" "Where did you find the recipe?" "I never heard of these!" the ladies crowed.
I couldn't believe my ears.
It was my first time at a book club, and suddenly I wondered how my opinions of the month's selection, delivered in my Tar Heel drawl, might offend the ears of the regular members.
"Maybe for next month's meeting y'all should read a church cookbook," I volunteered, half-jokingly.
Not that I am a culinary snob, far from it.
When I began working in restaurants in college, I learned far more about food than I had at home.
Most of the menu at the fine-dining Chapel Hill establishment was foreign to me. I developed an appreciation for things like arugula and anise.
Still, it was nice to go home periodically, where mom had familiar favorites like country-style steak and fried apple pies. At home, where there was always work to be done, the food was good, but it wasn't something you discussed.
After about 10 minutes of vigorous kneading, preparing the sausage balls began to seem like work, too. The biscuit mix can be pretty difficult to incorporate, even with a hands-on approach.
"I don't know how those old ladies at my church did this!" I thought.
It was worth the effort, though.
We had delicious, bite-sized sausage balls for breakfast, and my arms were so sore that I felt justified in skipping my workout for the day.
At the book club, I exercised my formal college training: interpretation of literature. Coincidentally, much of our book discussion centered on setting; we were careful to interpret the characters' actions based on where they were from.
We had a lively discussion and nobody made fun of my accent.
I am especially grateful for the lady who made the sausage balls.
Instead of turning up her nose at a traditional Southern food, she rolled up her sleeves and trusted that it would turn out right.
What a novel approach.