Flavor up your feast with these traditionally Southern recipes

“When I’m really hungry, I want Southern food,” cookbook author Nathalie Dupree writes in her introduction to “Cooking of the South,” “because I know it will fill me up.” Food like fried chicken, collards, turnips and cornbread. Homemade biscuits, butter beans and peas. Peach cobbler. All washed down with sweet iced tea. The kind of meal your Southern grandmother may have fixed, possibly using food straight from her garden or bought fresh at a local farmers market.

For Leo Maurelli, director of culinary operations at the Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center, real Southern cooking isn’t so much about a particular food, but more about seasonality. “If someone makes a pot of greens or a tomato sandwich, it’s because those things are fresh,” he said. “It’s a very vegetable-heavy cuisine, and we just benefit from a having an overabundance of foods in season.” Southern cooks for generations used what was available to feed their families, and still do.

While readers didn’t send us any recipes for fried chicken (maybe they didn’t want to give away their culinary secrets), they did share some favorite casseroles and main dishes that could bring a Southern touch to your table. Add your own favorite fresh vegetables, and you’ll be able to easily satisfy your craving for good ol’ Southern cooking. And don’t forget the sweet tea.

Kathryn Torres experimented with her recipe until she got her dumplings just the way she wanted them. Another of her distinctive touches is using chicken thighs instead of breasts for a richer flavor. (Brooke Echols/Alabama Living)

Cook of the Month: Kathryn Torres

Growing up, Kathryn Torres of Montgomery remembers that her mother made dumplings the way many cooks have done, by dropping balls of dough into hot, simmering chicken broth. “That’s what I fixed for my kids,” she said. In later years, after her children had grown and left home, she wanted a more noodle-type dumpling. She looked at different recipes, finally tweaking them and coming up with her own version to suit her husband and herself. “It’s popular with us,” she said. “It’s popping up every few weeks” on the dinner table. She prefers the rich taste of chicken thighs for their flavor, rather than chicken breast, and likes to add parsley on top “to give it a little pop of fresh.”

Chicken and Dumplings

  • 4-5 chicken thighs
  • 1 small bag baby carrots
  • 1 large sweet onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 bouillon cubes, chicken flavor
  • 1¾ cups flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Fresh parsley, for garnish
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Simmer chicken thighs, carrots, onion, celery and bouillon until thighs are tender. Remove bone and skin and break up thighs. Return to broth. Form dumpling dough with flour, shortening, baking powder, milk and salt. Mix into a ball and roll out onto a lightly floured surface to about ¼-inch thick. Cut into bite-sized strips. Bring broth and thighs to a slow simmer and drop dumpling strips in. Let dumplings simmer 15-20 minutes. Season all with salt and pepper, finishing with fresh chopped parsley.

Brooke Burks from The Buttered Home

Southern Coca-Cola Cake is a beautiful scratch-made dessert. It is also what we consider to be an heirloom recipe that you will want to pass on. We take the best ingredients and combine them with Coca-Cola to make this decadent dessert.

Southern Coca-Cola Cake


  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup butter
  • ¼ cup cocoa
  • 1 cup Coca-Cola (I used Coke Zero)
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


  • ½ cup butter
  • ¼ cup cocoa
  • ½ cup Coca-Cola
  • 3-4 cups confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a 9-by-13-inch pan with cooking spray. Mix first 5 ingredients (dry) together and sift well. Set aside.

In a medium boiler, add butter, cocoa, Coca-Cola and buttermilk. Heat until butter is melted and mixture just starts to bubble. Let cool for 5 minutes. Add to dry mixture and mix well.

Lightly beat two eggs and add to cake mixture as well as vanilla. Mix well and pour in prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until knife or toothpick comes out clean. Do not cook more than 35 minutes, because you want the cake to be moist. Allow cake to cool completely before icing.

In a medium boiler, add butter, cocoa and Coca-Cola. Heat on medium heat until butter melts and mixture starts to boil. Boil for only about 15-30 seconds and remove from heat. Add in confectioners’ sugar and mix well to get out any lumps and until icing reaches desired consistency.

Southern Coca-Cola Cake is an heirloom recipe that makes good use of one of the South’s favorite beverages. (Brooke Echols/Alabama Living)

Southern Chicken and Cornbread Dressing

  • 2 cups cornmeal
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 small whole chicken
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cans cream of celery soup
  • 2 cans cream of chicken soup

Note: I usually make my cornbread the day before I cook my dressing.

Cornbread instructions: Sift cornmeal, flour and baking powder together and set aside. Beat all six eggs; add in buttermilk and melted butter, mixing well. Combine this mixture with the dry ingredients. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Pour in batter and bake until bread is golden brown, usually about 30-40 minutes.

Dressing instructions: Boil chicken, saving broth and deboning meat when it is cooled. Set aside meat and broth to mix in later. Sauté diced onion in a small amount of butter until it starts turning translucent; set aside. Crumble cornbread into a large bowl and add deboned chicken, sautéed onion and canned soups. Add broth by the capful until desired consistency (very wet) is reached (it takes several, usually at least five). Mix well, making sure all is combined. Bake at 375 degrees for approximately one hour or until golden brown, making sure not to overcook or dry out.

Emily Cox

A perfect pan of dressing is one of the great joys of a traditional Southern dinner. (Brooke Echols/Alabama Living)

Best Potato Salad

  • 6 eggs
  • 10 red potatoes
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup ranch dressing
  • 1/3 cup dill pickle relish
  • 2 tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • ¼ cup pepperoncini, optional

Place the eggs into a saucepan in a single layer and fill with water to cover the eggs by 1 inch. Cover the saucepan and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and let the eggs stand in the hot water for 15 minutes. Pour out the hot water; cool the eggs under cold running water in the sink. Peel and chop the cooled eggs. Place the potatoes into a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and refrigerate until cold. Peel and cube once cold. Stir together the mayonnaise, ranch dressing, relish, mustard, salt, pepper, paprika and celery seed in a mixing bowl. Add the eggs, potatoes, pepperoncini and onion; stir until evenly mixed. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.

Joe Piper

Refrigerator Pickles

  • 1 1/3 teaspoons turmeric powder
  • 1 1/3 teaspoons celery seed
  • 1 1/3 teaspoons mustard seed
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 4 cups vinegar
  • ½ cup salt
  • Fresh cucumbers, sliced
  • Onion, sliced
  • Green bell peppers, sliced
  • Red bell peppers, sliced
  • Orange bell peppers, sliced (optional)
  • Yellow bell peppers, sliced (optional)

Mix first six ingredients and heat. In a wide-mouth gallon jug, pour this mixture over layers of sliced cucumbers, sliced onions and sliced bell peppers. Make sure your lid is sealed well and turn the jug from side to side to slightly blend the ingredients. Refrigerate for approximately 24 hours for best results. You can cut back on the array of bell peppers; the extra color and flavor just add to the pickles. Store pickles in refrigerator for a quick snack with a sandwich or as a side with pinto beans or cornbread. My guess is 32 servings.

Georgia Hampton

Chocolate Sour Cream Turtle Cake

  • 1 box Pillsbury butter cake mix
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¾ cup water
  • ¾ cup canola oil
  • 1 small box vanilla instant pudding mix
  • ½ bag chocolate chips
  • 1 8-ounce container sour cream
  • ¾ cup pecan pieces, chopped
  • ½ jar of caramel sauce

Mix cake mix, eggs, sugar, water, oil and pudding mix together. Then add ½-bag chocolate chips and sour cream. Spray a Bundt cake pan with nonstick spray, spread chopped pecans evenly on bottom of pan, then pour ½-jar of caramel evenly on top of pecans. Pour cake batter on top of this and cook until light golden brown or toothpick comes out clean when stuck in cake. Cake will not jiggle when done. Cook at 310 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on oven.

Trina Mitchell

Chicken Casserole

  • 3 cups cooked and frozen chicken strips, thawed
  • 1½ cups baby carrots, cut into small slices
  • 3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
  • 1 small Vidalia onion, chopped
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded and divided
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

Mix chicken strips, baby carrots, potatoes, onions, cream of mushroom soup, milk and 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese; add salt and pepper. Pour into a 9-by-12-inch baking dish. Sprinkle 1 cup mozzarella cheese on top. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

Naomi Tidmore

Tomato Gravy

  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 3 tablespoons bacon drippings
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 3 or 4 fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup water
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Sauté onion in bacon drippings. Add flour and brown. Add tomatoes (with their juice) and stir until gravy thickens. Add water, a little at a time, and cook until gravy is thickened to your likeness. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mary (Cathie) Donaldson

This story originally appeared in Alabama Living.

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