Darrell Huckaby: Hard to find the South in these recipes

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

I used to love Southern Living Magazine. It was a thick, slick, classy publication with all sorts of great travel stories about popular destinations in the great American South. There were monthly features about glamorous, perfectly decorated show homes and gardens, the likes of which I could never hope to afford, or maintain. I still liked to look at them. A man has a right to dream, doesn't he? In fact, I often dreamed of retiring from education, when the time came, and getting a job as a travel writer for Southern Living.

Best of all, perhaps, were the recipes. Oh how I loved those recipes -- scrumptious dishes that would make mouths water from Fort Sumter to Appomattox and all points in between -- timeless recipes that every Southerner would delight in trying out. In fact, some of the very best go-to recipes and favorite meals in the Huckaby household originated in the pages of Southern Living magazine.

Alas, lower the Stars and Bars and shed a tear for the magazine whose delivery I once greatly anticipated is gone with the wind of change that has swept over the South. Now the once proud monthly is a mere shadow of itself in looks, feel and -- most importantly -- content. The most drastic change has come in the part of the publication that I looked forward to the most -- the recipes.

Let me introduce a few facts from the pages of the March issue to a candid world.

Page 132 featured Pickled Shrimp with Fennel. Not even Bubba in the "Forrest Gump" movie listed pickled with fennel as something you could do with shrimp, and he spent all of basic training and several months of his tour of duty in Vietnam listing things you can do with shrimp.

Nothing says "the South" like pickled shrimp with fennel. Are you kidding me? Pickled pig's feet maybe. If Rhett Butler had been a real person he would be turning over in his grave right now -- and I bet Jerry Clower is.

Southern Living used to tell us how to make the best hushpuppies. On page 131 of the March issue they teach us how to make Grapefruit Chess Tart. I ain't making this up, y'all. The recipe and accompanying photos are right there. They are supposed to accompany the Rice and Ham croquettes, savory benne wafers and -- of course -- the pickled shrimp. Don't forget the fennel.

And lest you think I am overreacting to a random stray menu whose dishes found their way into the back pages of this month's book -- there is more.

Page 122. Roasted Carrots with Avocado and Feta Vinaigrette. That was in the quick-fix suppers section. I remember my mama coming home late from an eight-hour shift at the mill and wondering what she could throw together for supper in a hurry. I remember her frying leftover field peas or making hash from the roast beef and potatoes left over from Sunday dinner. I doubt that she ever considered making Roasted Carrots with Avocado and Feta Vinaigrette.

The Confederate Army fought four years on hard tack and dried peas. If they had been fed from the pages of today's Southern Living, the war would have been over in three weeks.

Here's another one. Lemon Pork Chops -- doesn't sound too bad so far -- with Quinoa Salad. If you held a gun and told me I had to wear a Tech T-shirt to my daughter's wedding, I couldn't tell you what quinoa is -- and I bet you couldn't either. On the same page is a recipe for seared steak with potato-artichoke hash.

They have breakfast recipes, too. Real Southern men don't eat quiche. They also don't eat Jasmine-Buttermilk-Panna Cotta with Berry Sauce, either. Who is in charge of this magazine, now? The wife of William T. Sherman's ghost. Heck, fire. I'd be willing to bet you next year's season tickets in Sanford Stadium that Sherman never ate Panna Cotta -- whatever that is.

I ain't done yet. Turn to page 112 and you will find a recipe for a Scalloped Potato and Herb Tart, Asparagus, Orange and Lentil Salad and Watercress-Buttermilk Soup that looks like what was cleaned up after Linda Blair's famous scene in "The Exorcist."

We're supposed to serve all these things at our Easter Brunch. The magazine has forgotten that real Southerners don't do brunch at Easter. They are at church when it is time for brunch. Then they go home and eat ham and potato salad and deviled eggs and green beans with coconut cake for dessert. None of those dishes were even mentioned.

Actually ham was, but they want us to glaze it with ginger ale and red pepper -- and, of course, fennel.

There ain't a piece of fried chicken or a turnip green or a catfish in the whole book and no mention of lard whatsoever.

It's not too late for the Southern Living folks to save themselves. If they hired me to be their chief travel writer and Billy Travis to oversee the recipes that make it into the mag every month, they might have a fighting chance.

Otherwise, they might as well pull the plug, because their publication has gotten to be about as Southern as Joe Paterno -- God rest his soul.

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck008@gmail.com. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.