Magazine conjures up memories of eating my way across four states

Phil Hudgins

July 23, 2014

It’s odd, I guess, that Garden & Gun magazine would grace my reading table. I don’t have a garden — only three tomato vines that provide appetizers for local deer — and I’m not into guns. Actually, the magazine is about Southern lifestyle at its best, and I like that.

The one for August/September is the annual Southern food issue, and subscribers are inclined to forget about the usual fare for now and, instead, enjoy generous helpings from excellent writers whose words are guaranteed to activate salivary glands.

There’s a piece on the grouper sandwich by Rick Bragg, one of my favorite writers, a man so Southern he thinks milk gravy is a vegetable.

Roy Blount, a funny man who grew up in Georgia, writes about the perfect biscuit, which, incidentally, my mother made on a regular basis. And she used an ingredient that has become a four-letter word in our modern imposition of healthiness: lard.

Writer Brett Anderson interviews Alton Brown, the fast-talking showman of food TV and son of Alton Brown Sr., who once published the White County News in Cleveland, Ga. Brown arrived for the interview on a motorcycle, but underneath his motorcycle suit he was wearing seersucker.

Even the regular column called “Good Dog” is written by a Southern chef, John Currence, who reminisces about his Great Dane named Calpurnia — Cal for short. Cal is gone now, but she ate well for many years.

All of this indulgence causes me to think back over the years I traveled four states — Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas — sometimes to fill in for editors who had left the fold. Like Cal the dog, I ate well.

In Jacksonville Beach, Fla., Editor Kathy Bailey encouraged me to try barbecued shrimp at a favorite restaurant. Where I come from, the adjective barbecued does not exist. Barbecue is a noun and refers to the slow-cooked meat of a pig. But I’ll have to admit: Barbecued shrimp ain’t bad.

Around Wadesboro, N.C., a friendly debate ensued over coleslaw: whether red slaw or white slaw is better. I like them both.

I used to work with a woman who would not eat seafood in a place more than 50 miles from the ocean, but I’ve found good seafood in the mountains of Blue Ridge and Clayton, Ga., and Spruce Pine, N.C. In Cheraw, S.C., I had lunch with a managing editor of Irish descent who ordered both mashed potatoes and French fries on the same plate, which I thought was taking his Irishness a bit too far.

In Highlands, N.C., I was thankful for Rib Country, which, at that time, was about the only restaurant that stayed open late in the wintertime.

I could go on, but, unlike all-you-can-eat Southern restaurants, newspaper columns have their limits, and I’ve reached mine.

So I’ll leave on this note: There are a lot of good things about the South, and food and Garden & Gun are at the top of the list.