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Vegetable Plates in the South

Posted Jun 08 2010 12:00am

I had never heard of a "vegetable plate" until I moved to South Carolina 25 years ago. I remember going to a local diner (although they are not called "diners" here as they are in Pennsylvania, where you'll find the "This Diner" and the "That Diner" in every community) and seeing a listing for a "vegetable plate." What??? Since that first visit, I've traveled enough throughout my beautiful state to know that almost every community dining establishment where the parking lot fills up with more pickup trucks than sedans at mealtime has this offering on its menu. (If you're lucky enough to have a Cracker Barrel in your area, you can have a vegetable plate there, too.)

Following the listing on the menu is a row or two of vegetable and starch dishes from which the hungry diner can choose, usually looking something like this
Corn
Green beans
Fresh greens
Stewed okra
Sweet potato souffle
Hash brown casserole
Pinto Beans
Macaroni and cheese
Cucumbers with onions and sour cream
Slaw
Pickled Beets
Sliced tomatoes

Combine two or more of these, often seasonal selections, to create your own custom meal. Many times sweet tea and cornbread are included. It is what it is, simply vegetables, starches and no meat. It is incredibly popular, very healthy (as long as you stick to the vegetables), and satisfying. I think the reason so many diners enjoy the vegetable plate is because it tastes like home cooking, and is comfort food to the Southern palate.

Saturday, an angel came to my house, laden with boxes and bags of food. As she unpacked her containers, my kitchen counter filled up with tubs of home grown corn cooked to a crunchy sweetness, nutty brown crowder peas in their delicious liquor, okra and tomatoes stewed with garlic and seasoned perfectly, mouthwatering collard greens, fresh from her garden summer squash cooked with sweet onions and ginger, Yankee AND Southern cornbread, a fresh strawberry pie with fluffy not-too-sweet whipped cream flavored with triple sec, and a gallon jug of peach/raspberry iced tea. I've never had a more bountiful nor delicious vegetable plate!

Get with the national movement toward meatless meals; the savvy folks down here in South Carolina have been enjoying vegetable plates for generations, and thanks to my dear friend Pam Hegler, I've been enjoying some of the best I've ever tasted!
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