Six Essential Southern Desserts

Six Essential Southern Desserts

By Angela Garrison Zontek

After eating all our vegetables and making a sincere offer to help with the dishes, one likes to think they’ve earned a dessert, no? I mean, everyone loves to be rewarded for a job well done.

My grandfather always said that a slice of pie aided with digestion, but I suspect the man was more inspired by his sweet tooth than a sour stomach. My grandmother indulged him because dessert has a way of brightening any meal and keeping the family around the table longer—if only for a few delicious extra minutes.

Here’s a list of our favorite southern desserts to help keep your family gathered around the dinner table just a few minutes longer tonight.

Sweet Potato Pie

Sweet potato pie is the most iconic of southern desserts. While the rest of the country is elbow deep in a pumpkin, we’re boiling sweet potatoes for our favorite holiday pie.

Sweet potato mash is blended with vanilla, eggs, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg to create the dreamiest of pie fillings. Now, as with any traditional dish, sweet potato pie comes with a dash of controversy—many cooks argue over the inclusion of allspice in the pie. Personally, I find that allspice lends itself to more of a pumpkin pie flavor and masks the sweetest of the yams. In my family, we like our dessert pies on the sweet side (sweet enough to attract bees).

Pound Cake

Pound cake and hospitality are synonymous in this region. Whether you’re attending a house warming or meeting the in-laws for the first time, pound cake is more than just appropriate, it’s expected. Made with a whole lot of sugar, butter, and cream cheese, it’s easy to understand why the pound cake is such a crowd pleaser. In fact, during the gift giving season, the pound cake is wildly more popular than that sticky fruit -conconction that seems to get all the attention—we’re looking at you, fruitcake.

Peach Cobbler


Admittedly, I’m not one for baking fruit pies or fruity desserts. I’m a fruit purist and have an aversion to any fruit that has been warmed, cooked, or canned. The only exception to this would be my grandmother’s peach cobbler.

For my family, peach cobbler is always the highlight of any BBQ or family gathering outdoors during the summer months. We like our cobbler dressed in a square cast iron pan, covered with aluminum foil, and left to bake right on the grill while we eat our main course. Perfection.

Banana Pudding

Few things bring as much comfort to a dessert menu as banana pudding loaded with wafers. I mean, yes, we love the sweet goodness of bananas, but the joy of banana pudding is really about all those vanilla wafers, right? Smooth, rich, and creamy, this dessert lights up a room.

What makes southern banana pudding unique is the topping—we prefer meringue to whipped cream. Some cooks, like my mother, will argue that traditional banana pudding should be served warm as opposed to cold, but we think temperature is something best determined by the season. This dessert is extremely versatile and can be served any time of year.

Pecan Pie

The simplicity of pecan pie makes for a great cooking activity for the children. Especially around the holidays, it’s a fun recipe that allows for even the youngest of the bunch to help with the meal preparations. Pecan pie is prepared in one bowl—crack an egg or two, then pour in butter, sugar and corn syrup. Stir in a few handfuls of rough chopped pecans and fill a waiting pie crust. Bake for half an hour and you’ve got one of our most favorite traditional pies.

Bread Pudding

It’s hard to match the decadence of bread pudding. While the ingredients are basic, the result is incredibly sophisticated. Perhaps this is why bread pudding remains one of the most revered of holiday desserts.

Pinched up or carefully cubed—dealer’s choice—bread is soaked overnight in a sauce made of heavy cream, butter, and sugar. The following day, the bread is coated generously with brown sugar then baked until the top is crispy. Finally, the dish is drenched in warm, delicious caramel sauce made from the left-over cream. The only thing that tastes better than bread pudding is the way it smells—no candle will ever do for your kitchen what a fresh batch of bread pudding can do.

Dessert is special for the way it makes us feel, maybe even more so than the way it tastes. The right dessert choice can elevate an average meal or punctuate the exceptional holiday feast. It’s that promise of something sweet that brings the kids to the dinner table, and the grown-ups a well-deserved respite from the daily grind. And we think, occasionally, its perfectly okay to go ahead and eat it first. Who wants peach cobbler for dinner?

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