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Essential for Southern cooking? That’s debatable

Which should be in a Southern pantry? Cheerwine or . . . root beer.
Which should be in a Southern pantry? Cheerwine or . . . root beer. Observer files

Hmm, pecan syrup? Can’t say I have that one. But I’ll bow to the judge of others.

On the website Tasting Table, Kendra Bailey Morris has a list of 13 essential ingredients Southern cooks need in their pantries. I agree on some, but others are debatable. Here are Tasting Table’s picks, with my comments, both pro and con. Have a suggestion of your own? Add it in the comments.

1. Stone-ground grits: Agreed, with debate. The post suggests Weisenberger Mills from Kentucky, suggested by Louisville native Ronni Lundy, who now lives in North Carolina. I’d tweak the advice to “the best stone-ground from your area.” Local and fresher is better. There are lots of good stone-ground mills within a stone’s throw, from Old Mill at Guilford to Anson Mills. I’d agree, though, that it’s essential to keep them in the freezer or refrigerator.

2. Pickled Okra: Sort of agree. I love pickled okra, but I think all kinds of pickles need to be included on a relish tray. I’d pick small sweet pickles from Mount Olive for my relish tray and pickled green beans for my Bloody Mary.

3. Wade Plantation Pecan Syrup: Disagree, although I might change my mind if I had some. It does sound tasty. But I’d rather have pecans on my list along with Steen’s cane syrup. You can make a lot more from them.

4. Southern Skillet white muscadine wine vinegar: Disagree. Vehemently. Too fancy for me. I’d call for Texas Pete hot peppers in vinegar. Essential for shaking over your collards.

5. Traditional buttermilk: Agreed. By traditional, they mean not just a cultured buttermilk, a shortcut version you find in most supermarkets. Tasting Table goes with Mt. Crawford. I don’t know that one, but I’m always happy with either Happy Cow, available in Pelzer, S.C., or Hickory Hill from Edgefield, S.C., available locally at Whole Foods.

6. Bourbon: Agreed. They suggest Smooth Ambler Spirits Old Scout Straight Bourbon Whiskey. I’d go with . . . too many to name, but if they’re pouring Old Scout, I’m there.

7. Tennessee truffles: Disagree. Lovely, I’m sure, but essential to Southern cooking? Sorry, can’t see that. I’d bump this to make room for those pecans.

8. Coarse salt: Disagree. I don’t disagree on good coarse sea salt, like Outer Banks. But salt is essential to all cooking, anywhere.

9. Root beer. Root beer? No, sorry. Cheerwine. Much more history there. Root beer is fine, but is it particularly Southern? I think Charles Hires was from Philadelphia.

10. Anson Mills Carolina Gold Rice. OK, agreed. ‘Nuff said.

11. Cured ham. Agreed. They picked S.C. Wallace Edwards and Sons Surryano, which is a tad fancy for me. But good country ham? Definitely.

12. Sorghum: Agreed, with debate. It is having a moment, and I love the smoky/savoriness of it. But I’ll wait quietly for cane syrup to have its own moment in 15 minutes.

13. White Lily self-rising flour: Agreed, with discussion. Yes, you need a soft-wheat, low-protein flour. But while self-rising is perfect for biscuits, you can’t make poundcake or pie crust with it. So I’d say soft-wheat flour in both self-rising and all-purpose varieties, and I’d branch out to other brands like Southern Biscuit or Daily Bread, if you can find them.

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