I grew up in southeast Georgia. When I was 4 or 5 to age 7, we lived with my maternal grandmother and then we moved into the newly remodeled "home place" across a small field from her. This is the home where my grandfather, mother, and then my sister and I lived as children. My father planted a garden every year and my mother, grandmother, sister, and I froze and canned the vegetables he grew. The garden consisted of several types of butterbeans (colored and white but I don't know the "official" names), peas (black eyes, purple hulls, zippers, big boys, and more), squash (yellow and zucchini), tomatoes, bell peppers, cayenne peppers, okra, cucumbers, corn, green beans, watermelons,and sometimes cantaloupe. In spring, he'd plant turnips, beets, collards, mustard, cabbage, and garden peas. In fall, he'd plant more turnips, collards, mustard, etc.
In summer, we would have the best meals. Because we did most of our freezing and canning at my grandmother's house. She'd cook lunch while we worked. We'd have whatever was picked fresh from the garden that morning. Sometimes, we'd have fried fatback, fried cubed steak, fried chicken, hash (not from corn beef, from pork or beef roast), pork chops, pork roasts, etc. For supper, we'd have more of the same.....fresh cooked, not leftovers.
Southern cooking to me, is not only about fat. It's about using what you have. The current movement to support locally grown foods, is only a new age version of how I grew up. We grew and put away as much as possible for eating year round. It was hard work and as a child/teen, I hated it! Now I try to grow as much as I can in my limited space and not waste a bit of it.
We ate chicken cooked in many ways. For my family, southern fried chicken was not what I have seen it called online. There was no soaking in buttermilk and battering it. The chicken was cut up, washed, patted dry, salt and peppered, then dredged in flour before being fried in a cast iron skillet. I've adapted my own seasonings other than just salt and pepper but still do not use a batter or a soaking method. We grilled chicken and covered in bbq sauce. We roasted and baked chicken. We boiled and made chicken and dumplings, chicken soup, chicken and rice, chicken pot pie, chicken casserole.....my aunt and uncle even published a cookbook called "100 Simple Easy Ways to Prepare Chicken".
We ate pork chops, beef, shrimp, catfish, and other fish. True, a lot of these foods were fried but we didn't eat fried food every day. In reality, I'd say the "southern" diet I grew up eating was the first movement towards an everything in moderation mindset.
We always had a meat, starch, and veggies, usually at least 2 veggies, sometimes more, and lots of times had biscuits, lacy cornbread (thin batter fried on a cast iron griddle with a crunchy texture and "lacy" edges), rolls, or some other bread.
Mealtimes were family time. We ate when my father got home from work at the same time and as a family. Our large extended family get-togethers centered around food. We had two family reunions per year, one for my maternal grandfather's family and one for my maternal grandmother's family. These were potluck dinners and almost every woman cooked her best recipes and carried the food in her best dishes. The same went for funerals. As soon as neighbors, family, and friends heard of a death, the women started cooking and delivering food to the home. On the day of the funeral, lunch was provided for the familiy and everyone at the home but the community. No one was alone in their grief.
This is how I grew up and I'll always treasure my childhood in The South. My love of cooking came from watching my mother, grandmother, and aunts preparing meals seasoned with love for family and friends.