I am riding shotgun on a long, soulful drive across the Southern states of the US, with a plan to eventually turn left and head toward the Midwest (after an intentional northeast-pointing detour up the Blue Ridge Parkway). For now...this week...it's been a lush voyage along mostly non-interstate roads through the likes of Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama. I am writing from North Carolina. If you have never driven these roads, do. They are green - so green - with pieces of bright pink azalea, soft pink mimosa, platter-sized magnolia white, bright "ditch lily" yellow and orange... all woven into the roadside fabric like it was planned by the Original Master Gardener. Which I suppose it was. The hills are layered against one another in a magnificent quilt of deep blues and greens with just enough mountain mist lingering at the edges to make you want to swoon and propose marriage to the nearest tree. I'm telling you, it's really somethin'.
Of course the people are delightful, too...with their long-drawn out y'aaaaalls and m'aaaaams and piiiiiiiies..
Which brings me quickly to pies. Oh, the pies (and cobblers).
They are proposed after the course of fried-things-that-used-to-be-crisp-vegetables-and-plain-meats. Pies are presented behind the once-fresh-now-swimming-in-buttery-roux shell fish, which are offered right in front of the gravy-slathered-cheese-topped anything. All of this, of course, is washed past the appreciative taste buds with a sweet tea that requires no less than half a glass of water per swallow to recover the palate's sense of awareness of anything but sugar (and it would be criminal to miss one nuance of delightful flavor in the aforementioned fried, buttered, gravied deliciousness).
Why would a person need to eat pie after all this? It's a question I've asked myself several times since Tuesday. Why? Why the pie?
I have a proven track record of resisting radical deviation from healthy eating habits when traveling. I know how to find the granola and yogurt for breakfast. I have become fairly skilled at googling off-main-drag options to avert the fast food chain temptation at lunch. I like a shared appetizer with a cocktail/glass of wine for dinner. So someone - help! - what's happening to me in the South?
It's as if once I've taken that first bite of fried green tomato topped with shrimp in a creamy pink sauce I have given myself permission to violate every other common sense I might usually bring to a meal. In fact, it seems the only sense I've had at mealtime has been one of willingness - no eagerness - to eat like a 300-pound Southern Belle.
Besides - I'm pretty sure I'll never stop loving the sound of a slow-roads, slow-talking Southerner saying, "M'aaaaaam? How 'bout some piiiiie?"
Peace (of pie).