The number of details that go into planning a wedding is mind-boggling; there is choosing the right date and the ideal venue, picking out the picture-perfect gown and attendant dresses, completing the guest list so there are no hurt feelings, and a gazillion other specifics; it is little wonder that the bride and groom, plus their parents, are pretty frazzled by the time the big day actually arrives. The wedding guests, truth be told, are more concerned with just one other detail: the food. Everyone remembers the wedding reception food. They know from the invitation whether they will be enjoying light refreshments in the church fellowship hall, or whether they will be served a formal, sit-down dinner. Guys, gals, young and old, everyone will remember a wedding because of the food.
A big part of most wedding ceremonies centers around paying homage to family, friends, and traditions. In the South, those traditions more often than not involve food. The abundance of fresh produce across the South, plus a deep-rooted love and appreciation of regional food and the folks who cook it, provide a Southern bride with many different options when she is deciding on wedding fare. It is not unusual to find Southern favorites such as crunchy fried green tomatoes, macaroni and pimiento cheese bites, or warm ham-stuffed biscuits offered as part of the wedding feast, simply because those are favorite comfort foods that were cooked by a beloved family member. If a Southern groom has fond childhood memories of drinking sweet tea with his granddaddy on the back porch, you may just find that classic house wine of the South offered at the reception. While many of the same Southern dishes can be found on wedding menus across the South, there are a few dishes that are specific to certain regions.
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If you are headed to a wedding in the Appalachian area, don’t be surprised to find a tall, layered apple cake on the dessert table. A legendary example of using local products, the Apple Stack Cake makes delicious use of the abundant apples of the Mountain South. This dessert looks like a stack of thick pancakes, with apples, apple preserves, or apple butter spread between each layer. According to custom, friends and neighbors would each bring a layer of the cake to the wedding, and the bride’s family would spread them with an apple filling and stack the cake as each layer arrived. Naturally, the more popular brides received more layers and therefore had the highest cakes. It's always a competition, right?
You can count on a hearty meal if you are invited to a traditional Texas wedding. A barbecue with all the fixings, spread out on the grounds of a working ranch, will make you think you are on the set of a cowboy movie. As you sit through the wedding ceremony, the tantalizing aromas of sizzling beef ribs, slow-cooked brisket, and smoked pork butts will have you wishing the preacher would hurry it up. Bring your appetite and leave your heels at home—it is easier to maneuver among the many bbq and side dish-laden buffet tables if you are wearing cowboy boots.
Weddings with a low country flair also promise delicious food at the reception, as regional favorites such as fresh crab and shrimp find their way into appetizers, soups, and main courses. Out West you'll need boots, but in the low country, you might just wind up barefoot, as it is not uncommon for a wedding feast to be held on the beach complete with a shrimp boil or oyster roast. A wedding brunch is an ideal occasion for shrimp and grits or red beans and rice, as both dishes are well-loved and classic low country fare.
There are many more regional favorites that find their way onto wedding dinner menus. The Southern food culture is itself a great jambalaya, a wonderful mix of German, Asian, Greek, Irish, Italian, African, and so many other ethnicities that, while retaining their own uniqueness, blend together to enrich the Southern foodways. So the idea is simple: If a particular food, whether it is kolaches, fried catfish, or tamales, brings you comfort and joy, it deserves a spot at the table of one of the most important days in your life.