by Traci BarrIt is said that true Southern hospitality begins in the kitchen, where you can find the makings of a covered dish or a cast iron skillet filled with corn pone or a heaping of poke sallet, poisonous until cooked, Geechee red peas, sweet tea, barbecue and Frogmore stew, too; a little okra or gumbo, some grits for good measure – perhaps for a family picnic or a church social, attended by true Southern gentlemen and their antebellum lady guests. Is there enough for everyone at mealtime? Of course there is… this is the South, a place that stands apart more than any other in America, a place of moonlight and magnolias and manners; a place of live oaks and Spanish moss; a place with a history of plantations, Textile League baseball, bo weevils, King Cotton and cotton mills, buildings where work was done that mattered to folks; buildings where cloth was once cranked out by the country mile; buildings that now provide trendy, loft-style living for the presumably trendy newcomers who can afford to occupy them. I am an outsider and take an emic approach to the South itself. From the many fields of bletted, landrace Carolina Gold; to the Low Country, flavored with a little Gullah terroir; to the Upstate’s peach orchards, all sticky and sweet; the stories of the South are told in its food. I would go so far as to say that Southern cooking is the mother cuisine of this country. But, as I sip that last drop of savory potlikker left behind in a vessel of braised collard greens, I sometimes wonder what really goes on down here, below the Mason-Dixon. Because, while you are taking a bite, dainty as it is, of that genteel pimento cheese spread, which I have spent time making just for you, you are thanking me and saying, in the very same breath, “Bless your heart.” And I am not quite sure y’all are necessarily wishing me well when you say that to me.