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Vegetable: (veg-e-tobl) noun. A plant cultivated for an edible part such as a root, leaf or bud.
That’s the standard dictionary definition of the word vegetable. It simply does not do it justice. Anyone who has ever been lucky enough to peruse the choices on a Southern menu knows that vegetables are so much more.
I know my Southern food. I have spent many vacation days traversing North Carolina eating at every barbecue shack I could find. I am not ashamed to say I’ve eaten as many as five meals in one day so I wouldn’t miss out on a single barbecue opportunity when it presented itself. I am a proud barbecue hound and an enthusiastic booster of all Southern foods, from collards to grits to pie to cat’s head biscuits.
That’s why my vacationing British friends called me when they were flummoxed by their first encounter with the classic meat-and-three. Personally, I don’t think anyone who pines for a good bubble-and-squeak or a well-made spotted dick can criticize any American menu item. I mean, really. Spotted dick?
I know the waitress’ lilting Southern accent confused them. They asked her to repeat herself when she said, “Shugah, our best today is rivuh trout. Why don’t all y’all get sum an’ a mess a greens?” For those of you not familiar with our vernacular, I’ll translate. “Good afternoon. I recommend the catch of the day with a side dish of our leafy greens braised with pork.”
A meat-and-three is a Southern menu staple. You choose an entree like fried chicken, barbecued pork, or catfish plus any three vegetables: Meat-and-three. You can also get a vegetable plate, which gives you four servings of vegetables. If you’re in a good, old-fashioned, just-like-Mama-made-it Southern restaurant you are in luck. Available vegetables will include a long list of universally recognized, actual vegetables such as stewed tomatoes, collard greens, squash, mashed potatoes, okra, butter beans, yams, and beets. There’s also cole slaw, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, and several Jello and canned fruit concoctions, known as congealed salads. Yes, you heard me right. In the South, macaroni and cheese is a vegetable. Is this a great country, or what?
If you’re vegetarian and think that ordering the vegetable plate will meet your dietary restrictions, you have not eaten in the South before. Let me explain.
1. Green vegetables are cooked with a hunk of pork, usually the hock end of a cured ham.
2. With the exception of the white potato, vegetables that are not green are cooked with sugar. There might be a bit of pork, too. Not always though.
3. Vegetables will be cooked in a casserole dish with Ritz cracker crumb topping, cream of mushroom soup, and melted butter if at all possible. Serving you plain, steamed vegetables looks like we didn’t care.
4. Spoon bread confuses people. It is a corn meal soufflé that is served in a bowl, topped with a pat of butter and eaten with a spoon. Think of it as cornbread in pillow form. Think of it as food for angels because it is just that scrumptious.
5. Dessert is not safe for you vegetarians either, as the pie crust will be made with lard. Um, sorry. Head due west until you see the ocean. Date shakes and sprout salads await you.
I promise that you will thoroughly enjoy eating your way across our region. The vegetables, desserts and breads are amazing. The hominess of the main dishes will warm your soul. Pull over and eat anywhere you see a big pile of wood and smell pork and smoke. If the building looks condemned, all the better. If the cook is older than 70 and wearing bib overalls, you’ve struck barbecue gold. Take full advantage of your good fortune. Eat twice if you have to.
You will have a grand time touring our pretty piece of heaven. We love company and will do our best to make you feel welcome. I do have a travel safety tip for my Brit friends, though. While in the South, under no circumstances should you ever try to order a Spotted Dick.
 Bubble and squeak: noun (Brit.) Leftover cooked potatoes and cabbage chopped up and fried together. Name derives from the sound the dish makes when cooking.
 Spotted dick: noun (Brit.) A steamed or boiled suet pudding studded with dried fruit, usually served with custard.