Discovering Southern Breakfast Traditions
by Esme Addison
As a child, I have fond memories of enjoying southern breakfasts of scrambled eggs, grits, and sausage or bacon, all served with flaky, buttery biscuits.
Breakfast was not just a meal, but a reflection of our southern heritage and family traditions.
Growing up, I wasn’t familiar with shrimp and grits, as we lived far from the coast. My mother hails from western North Carolina, where seafood and grits were not commonly paired. As an adult, however, I often order this dish at restaurants which is now wildly popular for breakfast, lunch or dinner all over the country.
While I no longer eat meat, I also recall enjoying liver pudding with grits, scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast. This dish, I believe is popular in the midland of North Carolina in particular because of the abundance of pig farms in the region. But during my travels as an adult, I’ve met many southerners who’ve never enjoyed this particular meal with liver mush.
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And biscuits with gravy? I have never in my life seen such a thing! No one in my family makes them or has ever brought them to holiday brunches. In my experience, biscuits and gravy were commonly served in the deep south (past South Carolina). So I did understand that breakfast could change with the region. But my beloved grits!
I thought grits, which are one of my favorite foods were prepared the same everywhere. Grits were always a staple at our breakfast table, seasoned simply with salt and pepper, and overflowing with so much butter that it formed a bright yellow pool in the center. I was surprised when I discovered that some folks in the South enjoy adding sugar or cheese to their grits. This revelation occurred at a Southern Baptist church potluck on a military base in Japan and made me realize that breakfast culture varies across the South. Although I haven’t tried sugar on my grits yet, I have to admit that cheese is a tasty addition.
All of these culinary revelations made me curious about what other Southern folks are eating for breakfast and whether it’s similar to my own breakfast tradition. I found that while many in the south consider breakfast an import meal, everyone’s breakfast preparations are a bit different.
Breakfast in the South is not just a meal, but an opportunity to gather with loved ones, share good food, and engage in meaningful conversation. It is a time to enjoy the comfort and hospitality that the South is famous for and to continue the traditions and values that have shaped the region for centuries. Southern breakfasts reflect the cultural heritage of the South, incorporating ingredients and cooking techniques passed down through generations. Whether it’s biscuits and gravy, bacon and eggs, or grits and ham, Southern breakfast foods are deeply rooted in the region’s history and heritage, and are an expression of the values of family, community, and comfort.
Southern breakfasts are known for their hearty and comforting dishes, featuring ingredients such as grits, biscuits, bacon, eggs, and gravy. Grits are a staple in Southern cuisine and are often served as a warm, creamy porridge with butter and salt. Biscuits and gravy is another classic dish, featuring fluffy buttermilk biscuits smothered in a rich sausage or bacon gravy. Bacon and eggs are a staple in diners and cafes across the South, and are a simple but satisfying option. These ingredients are woven into the fabric of Southern food culture, and continue to provide comfort and sustenance for families and communities in the region.
Southern breakfast varies from region to region with each having its own special dishes that are unique to the area. For example, North Carolina, also the number one producer of sweet potatoes in the country is known for its sweet potato pancakes while South Carolina is famous for shrimp and grits. In Alabama and Georgia, you’ll find the classic southern biscuits and gravy.
A Breakfast Staple
Starting with North Carolina, biscuits are a staple for many Tar Heel state breakfast tables. And you’ll find they compliment any breakfast entree you could possibly pair it with. They’re often served with gravy, country ham, and eggs, making for a hearty and filling meal. In the western part of the state, you’ll find a dish called “red eye gravy” which is made from the pan drippings of country ham mixed with coffee to create a rich, flavorful sauce.
Lowcountry and Upstate Breakfasts
In South Carolina, you’ll find a variety of breakfast dishes that are heavily influenced by both southern and Lowcountry cuisine. In the Lowcountry region, shrimp and grits is a popular breakfast dish that features juicy shrimp cooked in a flavorful sauce and served over creamy grits. In the Upstate, you may find breakfast plates with biscuits, bacon, sausage, eggs, and gravy, similar to neighboring North Carolina.
Hamming it Up
In Virginia, country ham is king when it comes to breakfast. You can find this salty and smoky cured ham served alongside eggs, biscuits, and gravy in restaurants and homes throughout the state. In the southern part of the state, you may also find ham and egg sandwiches made with biscuits as a popular breakfast option.
From Biscuits and Gravy to Hot Chicken and Hoecakes
In Tennessee, biscuits and gravy are a common sight on breakfast plates, but you may also find dishes like hot chicken and biscuits, which is fried chicken served over a biscuit and drizzled with hot sauce. Cornmeal-based dishes, such as hoecakes, are also popular in the state and can be served for breakfast with butter and syrup or with savory toppings like bacon, eggs, and cheese.
A Blend of Southern Traditions and Coastal Flavors
Finally, in Georgia, you’ll find a mix of traditional southern breakfast dishes and ones with a distinctive Georgia twist. In Atlanta, for example, you may find breakfast plates featuring platters of biscuits with gravy, scrambled eggs and bacon, sausage or both. On the coast, seafood is a popular breakfast ingredient and dishes like shrimp and grits.
The Perfect Pairing
And we mustn’t forget a regional favorite: biscuits and molasses. Biscuits and molasses have a special place in Southern cuisine, with a popularity that extends beyond state borders. This classic pairing can be traced back to colonial times, when molasses was widely used as a sweetener due to its abundance and affordability.
The comforting and familiar flavors of warm, fluffy biscuits and sweet, rich molasses evoke a sense of tradition and history, making them a beloved part of Southern food culture. Whether enjoyed at home or in restaurants, biscuits and molasses continue to be a staple in Southern breakfasts and a symbol of the region’s rich culinary heritage.
Southern breakfast is a rich and diverse cuisine with a long history dating back centuries. The meal is not just a time to eat, but to gather with loved ones, share good food and engage in meaningful conversation. The ingredients and cooking techniques used in Southern breakfast reflect the cultural heritage of the region, incorporating traditional ingredients like grits, biscuits, bacon, eggs, and gravy.
Each Southern state has its own special dishes that are unique to the area, ranging from North Carolina’s biscuits and gravy to Georgia’s chicken and waffles. Biscuits and molasses have a special place in Southern cuisine, and continue to be a beloved staple of Southern breakfasts and a symbol of the region’s rich culinary heritage. The hearty and comforting dishes of Southern breakfast offer a taste of the South’s values of family, community, and comfort and remain a cherished part of Southern food culture.