Thursday, July 15, 2010

Top Ten Tools for Keeping Southern - 3. Duke's Mayonnaise

Thus continues a somewhat regular series in ten parts highlighting some of the basic accoutrements of keeping Southern.

So what can’t you find in Chicago-land?

There’s no time of year keeping Southern doesn’t count, but when Summer’s heat and humidity strike, keeping Southern makes all the difference between misery and finding a way to relish the weather.

I live in an older home without air-conditioning, and there’s nothing like the 90 degree days with humidity climbing to get me craving Southern goodness. So here’s the first of a collection of ingredients I’ve been thrilled (and surprised) to find in Chicago-land.

From potato salad, to coleslaw, to pimento cheese, to BLTs, Southerners swear by Duke’s. Some of us will settle for Hellman’s if we’re forced to (though my grandma sure wouldn’t - she'd literally turn up her nose and sniff at anything but Duke's), but Duke’s wins out, hands down. If it's not homemade, it'd better be Duke's!

Duke’s is the ultimate real mayonnaise – all natural with no sweeteners. And that’s the important difference: no sugar. Don’t get me wrong, we Southerners like our sugar, just not in our mayonnaise (or potato salad or slaw or pimento cheese or BLTs…you get the picture). Great mayonnaise makes it all great. And not-so-great mayo makes it forgettable at best. Some of the best recipes are the simplest, but the ingredients have to be right. Slaw = cabbage, Duke's, cider vinegar, salt and pepper. BLT = whole grain bread, Duke's, quarter inch thick bacon, home-grown tomatoes, and lettuce. And maybe some pepper.  My mama's potato salad is a little more complicated, but not much. Everybody tries to cut corners with the ingredients and then complains that it doesn't taste like hers. Well, duh! When it's good, getting the details right matters, and Duke's is a very important detail.

Like so many of the best things, Duke’s is made in the Carolinas. I was delighted (and a bit stunned) to find it at Fresh Market (a southern gourmet grocery chain that also stocks Thomas Sauce, decent cornmeal, and the only store-made pimento cheese worth buying – no jalapenos, thank you very much). So all you Yankee mayo-lovers out there, go find some Duke's and get a taste for the Cadillac of mayonnaise.

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