As a child of the south, I long ago learned the role of a good white half-runner in southern cuisine. From cook-outs and potlucks to Sunday dinners, this summer staple is as much a part of meals as the fried chicken and cornbread.
Almost as important as white half-runners themselves is the art of stringing and snapping them. And if I close my eyes, I can still see Granny sitting on the porch snapping off the heads and tails to drop in her apron and breaking the bodies into pieces to toss into a colander. Like many of you, I presumed we all carried these memories of the great white half-runner.
This realization came earlier this week at a rather swanky affair, if I do say so. Chatter filled the air, along with the occasional clink of cocktail glasses as we perused the dinner menu, which had been carefully embossed on thick leather squares.
“What’s a white half runner?” asked a California-born friend.
Many of us gasped in response. What do you mean, what’s a white half runner? Did your momma not raise you right?!?
As you probably know (you do know, don’t you?) a white half runner is a green bean. And no, I don’t know why people refer to a green vegetable as white. But I digress.
White half runners are as much a part of my childhood as mud pies, rock-skipping, and watermelon seed-spitting. They are characterized, at least if you ask me, by a blue jillion strings that must be stripped away, lest your vegetables serve double duty as floss.
But incidentals like strings are the things that endear us to the white half-runner here in the south. Well, that and the fact that no other green bean can match the white half-runner in taste.
Sadly for those Americans not raised in the south, they’re oblivious to this king of string beans, which got me thinking about other food names people may not be familiar with. So in an effort to help my California-born friend, here’s a look at a few other oddities.
- Swamp cabbage: chances are you’ve had swamp cabbage if you eat much Asian food—except you probably know it as heart of palm—as in palm tree. Here in the south, though, it’s swamp cabbage, although I’m not sure why. And unless you have access to Sabal palmetto trees, you’ll need to buy them in a can.
- Red eye gravy: not made from red eyes, although I often wondered as a child. Red eye gravy is made from ham drippings and coffee, and is quite tasty on mashed potatoes.
- Shoo-fly pie: I don’t know that I’ve ever had true shoo-fly pie, but it sounds like something we should all try. A pie crust filled with a brown sugar and molasses mixture would be hard to top. Oh, and in case it isn’t obvious, the sweet filling is said to attract plenty of flies. Ergo the need to shoo them all away.
- Deviled eggs: I bring up this one because while I call them deviled, my mother has always referred to them as dressed eggs. This term prompts the rest of the family to inquire as to the eggs’ dress code. Black tie? Picnic attire? Mother does not find this amusing.
- Cracklins: Could anything top the taste of fried and seasoned pork skin and fat? I think not. Nevertheless, plenty of people aren’t familiar with this culinary delight. It’s a high fat, high protein snack that’s perfect for cracking a tooth if you aren’t careful.
At this rate, we could plan a full buffet with a little thought. Let me know what you’ll be providing. I’ll bring the white half-runners. Mom can bring the dressed eggs—as long as she puts little bow ties on them, of course.