Thanksgiving after Thanksgiving and Christmas after Christmas, four desserts will repeatedly show up on dinner tables across the deep south to provide partakers of holiday dinner fare with "oohs" and "ahhs." Cooks in the deep south pride themselves in serving at least one if not all of the following at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners: Sweet Potato Pie, Lane Cake, Red Velvet Cake and Old Fashioned Banana Pudding.
Sweet Potato Pie
The main ingredient in a Sweet Potato Pie - sweet potatoes - are grown throughout the Deep South where warm temperatures and plenty of water are essential to their growth. It is a southern staple. Farmers both big and small grow sweet potatoes in different varieties. The best sweet potatoes for pie have fleshy pink outer peelings. The starchy meat inside should be gold or orange. These are sweeter than sweet potatoes with light yellow flesh. Cooks begin preparing Sweet Potato Pies early because they freeze well. Some cooks even give them for gifts. There are a variety of recipes for the Sweet Potato Pie, including one made with Cream Cheese or pecans. This pie is festive, but it can be served anytime of the year. Most recipes are easy to prepare and can be easily altered to suit cook's taste.
Alabamians take pride in owning the Lane Cake recipe, which is labor intensive, expensive and difficult to make. The Lane Cake was created by Emma Rylander Lane from Clayton, Alabama based on facts from Encyclopedia of Alabama. Lane published the recipe in 1898. The Lane Cake is distinctive, similar only to the Lady Baltimore Cake. It is a sponge cake that includes whiskey, butter, sugar, raisins and egg yolks in its repertoire of ingredients. Lane's original recipe instructed cooks to bake four layers in pie plates. The frosting is boiled, made from sugar, egg whites and water. Later recipes included flaked coconut and nuts in the recipe. Lane Cakes have been baked in long loaf pans and served on silver platters for effect.
Red Velvet Cake
The Deep South can't lay claim to origins of the Red Velvet Cake. In the 1920s, the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Manhattan introduced this signature dessert. The story is told that one of the customers asked for the recipe and was charged a great deal of money for it. This customer went on to share the recipe for Red Velvet Cake in a chain letter that spread throughout the United States. Earlier versions of the cake used beet juice to create the rich dark red color. The main ingredients in the Red Velvet Cake include oil, buttermilk, flour, sugar, vinegar, cocoa and red food color. Other ingredient variations are popular. Unlike the Lane Cake, the Red Velvet Cake is not nearly as difficult or expensive to make. This particular recipe does not yield a sweet cake. The flavor is moist and nutty. Red Velvet Cake is usually frosted with Cream Cheese or Buttercream Frosting and nuts. Although Red Velvet Cake did not originate in the south, cooks throughout the Deep South adorn their tables with this festive dessert, especially at Christmas time.
Old Fashioned Banana Pudding
Finally on our list of festive favorites is a dish that can be served anytime of the year. Banana Pudding served in the Deep South is not the same as Banana Pudding that's served in the northern part of our country. Northerners traditionally serve it chilled. Southerners brown the pudding in the oven and eat it it warm. Old Fashioned Banana Pudding is one in which the pudding is created out of a flour, evaporated milk, egg yolks, vanilla and sugar mixture and cooked on the stove. Other ingredients include, of course, bananas and vanilla wafers arranged with the pudding so that each serving will provide an equal amount of pudding, bananas and wafers. The egg whites are then used to make a meringue to top the pudding. The dessert is then placed in the oven to brown the meringue. Recipes variations for Old Fashioned Banana Pudding abound. It can be considered a dish that is intermediately difficult to prepare.
These holiday favorites will grace tables throughout the Deep South this Thanksgiving and Christmas. Southern cooks have been notorious throughout history for preparing rich, lavish and delicious desserts. Sweet Potato Pie, Lane Cake, Red Velvet Cake and Old Fashioned Banana Pudding fit into that category.
Egerton, John. Southern Food: At Home, on the Road, in History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987.