‘Southern’ Food That Isn’t

Southern Living magazine has long been a go-to source for information on the culture of the South, and food-related articles have always been an important aspect of its content. According to articles on the Southern Living website, key Southern culinary inventions include ambrosia, chicken-fried steak, fried green tomatoes, fried Oreos, Frito pie, pimento cheese, sweet potato casserole, sweet tea, and tater tot casserole. The problem is, when the history of these dishes is examined, it turns out they originate largely in the North and the Midwest, not in the South. For example, while fried green tomatoes, pimento cheese, and sweet tea are seen by many today as iconically Southern, they all started off in the North, even if they have come to take on a strongly ‘Southern’ identity.

The following post takes a look at the history of various purportedly ‘Southern’ foods and illustrates the extent to which readers of publications such as Southern Living are being sold a misleading picture of Southern cuisine.


Southern Living writes: ‘It’s best not to ask too many questions when it comes to this dessert. Just take a bite for the full orange-grapefruit-coconut-cherry-marshmallow experience’.

If you do ask questions about ambrosia’s origins, it’s actually possible it originated in the South, but it was never just a ‘Southern thing’:

We can’t say for sure, but it’s possible ambrosia first appeared in the South. The earliest written reference to the dish that I’ve been able to find is in an 1867 cookbook entitled Dixie Cookery: or How I Managed My Table for Twelve Years, which was written by Maria Massey Barringer of Concord, North Carolina… But recipes for ambrosia were published quite widely in the 1870s in syndicated cooking and household columns that appeared in newspapers from Holton, Kansas, to Newport, Rhode Island, and none of them make any reference to the dish having Southern origins or being particularly popular in the South…

Around World War I, Stephen F. Whitman & Son of Philadelphia introduced “Marshmallow Whip,” a jarred marshmallow product that they advertised widely “for use in preparing dainty desserts with marshmallow flavor.” Whitman’s regularly included in their advertisements recipes for things that could be made with their new product, like ice cream sundaes and grape parfaits. In 1926, in what may have been an early form of paid “native advertising,” the company’s product appeared in a series of syndicated columns providing recipes that incorporated marshmallow whip.

One of them was for ambrosia, and it called for mixing any three or four of a long list of fruits (oranges, grapefruit, bananas, maraschino cherries, grapes, stewed figs, strawberries, and cherries) along with “marshmallow whipped cream,” which was a heaping tablespoon of Marshmallow Whip beaten with one egg white.

Ambrosia is still popular outside the South. For example, here’s ‘lifelong New Englander’ Aimee Tucker, writing for New England Today:

Summer has arrived and cookout season is in full swing here in New England. Along with the picnic table and grill, no outdoor barbecue would be complete without the cluster of side salads alongside the hamburgers and hot dogs, beckoning with sour cream and mayonnaise-y goodness. For me, the most memorable (and visually jarring) of the bunch was always the bowl of Ambrosia Salad…

I’m calling it Ambrosia Salad here, but this version of the dish also goes by the name Five Cup Salad (since it uses five cups of each ingredient), and a host of other quirky names depending on where you grew up or how creative your mother was. Mine, for example, called it Sun Salad.

Chicken-Fried Steak:

Southern Living includes this dish on a list of ‘delicious Southern foods the rest of the world finds disgusting, or, at the very least, incomprehensible’. It also includes chicken-fried steak on a list of ‘iconic Southern dishes’, stating: ‘Most agree that this glorious chicken-fried creation should be dubbed the national treasure of Texas’.

Food scholar Robert Moss, who writes for Southern Living himself, debunks this claim:

Try as I might, I couldn’t find any evidence in the printed record suggesting that chicken-fried steak was brought to Texas by German immigrants in the 19th century. It didn’t evolve out of home cooks’ efforts to make do with lowly ingredients, either. In fact, chicken-fried steak didn’t originate in Texas at all.

Instead, chicken-fried steak is a product of early-20th-century commercial kitchens in Kansas and Colorado, where it was a popular restaurant dish. Like a Midwestern transplant who moves to Dallas and dons a 10-gallon hat, chicken-fried steak did eventually take on a strong Texas identity, but that didn’t occur until the 1970s.

Indeed, chicken-fried steak remains popular throughout the Midwest, particularly in Oklahoma, where, in 1988, the state legislature placed the dish on the official Oklahoma State Meal list.

Fried Green Tomatoes

According to Southern Living, this is a ‘classic Southern recipe’. However, the famous film notwithstanding, its true origins lie in the North. Robert Moss explains:

Fried green tomatoes are by no means a Southern dish at all. By all accounts, they entered the American culinary scene in the Northeast and Midwest, perhaps with a link to Jewish immigrants, and from there moved onto the menu of the home-economics school of cooking teachers who flourished in the United States in the early-to-mid 20th century.

Fried green tomatoes only really became a ‘Southern’ dish after the 1991 release of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. As the Charleston Food Tours blog acknowledges:

A little more research revealed fried green tomatoes are found in places like upstate New York and Chicago. So, although the movie would have you believe fried green tomatoes are southern to the core, the truth reveals otherwise. No matter what their true history is, southerners have claimed this delicacy as their own…

Fried Oreos

Southern Living tells its readers:

You haven’t lived until you’ve bitten into one of these spheroids of deep-fried dough with a gooey Oreo center. You can find them at any and all Southern state fairs.

You probably can, but this isn’t a Southern invention, unless you’re referring to Southern California. Deep-fried Oreos were first sold by an Armenian-American in San Diego named Charlie Boghosian (his other creations include the Krispy Kreme Chicken Ice Cream Sandwich). Boghosian told Forbes:

The short answer for how I started inventing and creating unique fair foods is that I wanted to stand out. In a lineup of food stands you needed to have something different and I thought chicken – although very good tasting – is boring. To get the customers’ attention, I invented deep-fried Oreos. I had no idea what I did at the time until the media kept asking me what is next! 

Frito Pie

Southern Living claims: ‘Another marvel of Southern culinary ingenuity—who knew a bag of Fritos could be the base of a savory pie?’

Actually, the Frito Pie is a marvel of corporate marketing. Houstonia Magazine notes that ‘New Mexicans think it was invented in Santa Fe; Texans, in San Antonio’. However, Houstonia points out, Frito-Lay company records show that ‘the Frito pie as we know it is actually the creation of a corporate test kitchen and not any one individual, one dish among many in a ’50s Frito-Lay recipe booklet that included Frito-kets (salmon croquettes made with Fritos) and Fritos meatloaf’.

Pimento Cheese

Southern Living includes pimento cheese on a list of ‘delicious Southern foods the rest of the world finds disgusting, or, at the very least, incomprehensible’. The magazine notes: ‘Over the years, just three perfectly paired and subtly mixed ingredients—pimientos, Cheddar cheese, and plenty of mayo—have provided our Southern palates measureless joy’.

While it’s true the pimento (or pimiento) cheese is hugely popular in the South, it’s actually a Northern transplant:

No, pimento cheese got its start up North—in New York, in fact—as a product of industrial food manufacturing and mass marketing. Its story is one of redemption, of a wayward factory child adopted by a good Southern family, scrubbed up nice, and invited to Sunday dinner… Commercially-made pimento cheese burst on the market around 1910 and spread quickly across the country. In March 1910, grocers in Minnesota were advertising “Pimiento Cheese—Something New,” and by April papers in North Dakota were running ads offering “Pimento cheese, something new, per jar . . . 20¢.” Within a year, pimento cheese was available as far west as Portland, Oregon and Albuquerque, New Mexico and down South in Alabama and South Carolina, too. Most of the manufacturers appear to have been based in New York or Wisconsin.

Sweet Potato Casserole

Southern Living states: ‘Sweet potatoes and marshmallows. Ok, we admit it: This pair doesn’t make a bit of sense—until you take a bite, that is’.

However, this dish is not specifically ‘Southern’ but is, rather, the result of a savvy early 20th century marketing campaign. In fact:

The first time sweet potatoes and marshmallows are mentioned together is in 1917, in a recipe booklet published by the Angelus Marshmallow company. In an effort to sell more marshmallows, the company hired Janet McKenzie Hill, founder of the Boston Cooking School magazine, to develop recipes using marshmallows. The booklet contained the recipe for “mashed sweet potatoes baked with a marshmallow topping.”

Sweet Tea

Southern Living states:

Ask for tea in the South, and it’s coming to you sweet. If you’re ordering and you want your tea unsweeted, you have to say so. (You’ve been warned.)

However, writes Robert Moss:

The history of sweet tea is a prime example of the process I call “Southernization”—namely, the way in which certain foods and other cultural trappings come to be associated with the region. Some of those associations become so powerful and so prevalent that many Southerners begin to internalize them as integral parts of their identities.

But iced tea didn’t originate in the South. It first achieved popularity in the North, where, in the early days at least, it was often sweetened with sugar. It wasn’t until well into the 20th century that iced tea was embraced by Southerners; even then, whether one drank it sweetened or unsweetened was a matter of personal choice, not a question of regional identity. The notion that something can be “as Southern as sweet tea” is a very recent one.

Tater Tot Casserole

Southern Living states:

When you know, you know. And Southerners know that tater tots belong in our casseroles at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, please and thank you.

That may be the case, but Tater Tots were invented in Oregon in 1953 by Ore Ida founders Golden Grigg and F Nephi Grigg. The idea of adding them to casseroles seems to have originated in the upper Midwest and then made its way south. ‘Hotdish‘ (a Midwest casserole) has long been ‘a quick and easy comfort food staple recipe all over the Midwest’, and after their invention, Tater Tots quickly became a popular topping. Amanda Kippert of Taste of Home Magazine writes:

Deeply ingrained in Midwest culture is something fantastic, beloved and covered in Tater Tots… It was a staple on Midwest tables during a certain era, and many would argue it still holds a permanent spot at family get-togethers and church basement lunches today. The 13×9 pan is unmistakable—its signature topping of crisp Tater Tots and enough shredded cheddar cheese to fill one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes hides whatever is beneath like the mystery that it’s meant to be.

The English Roots of ‘Southern Barbecue’ and ‘Southern Hospitality’

Aside from fried chicken, it is hard to think of a more iconic representation of Southern cuisine than barbecue. However, barbecue in North America did not start out that way. English settlers observed and learnt Native American barbecuing techniques and barbecues quickly became popular:

During the 18th century, barbecues became social events that were common throughout the British North American colonies. Although they are associated with the South, barbecues were held regularly in many areas. For example, a barbecue was held to launch the brigantine Barnard in Braintree, Massachusetts, in 1767. Celebrations with barbecues occurred even further north. When Quebec City fell to the British during the French and Indian War in 1759, citizens of Falmouth, Maine, celebrated with a barbecue on an island that later became known as “Hog Island.” Barbecuing must also have been known as a cooking technique not used solely for large celebrations. In a 1769 newspaper advertisement, Thomas Carnes announced that he was opening a coffeehouse outside of Boston. He also noted that he would barbecue pigs or turtles. Barbecues as social gatherings or celebrations became less common in New England after the Revolutionary period.

It is not surprising that wealthy English colonists took to this form of smoked meat so enthusiastically, for their native cuisine had long featured similar flavours. As early as the 14th century, the English were eating smoked fish:

By 1349 smoked fish was an established part of the British diet. Documents of that era outlining how to build a herring smokehouse reveal plans for high, narrow brick buildings crossed with beams holding up sticks from which the herring were hung. Fires from oak or ash were lit below and the smoke escaped through loosely laid tiles on the roof.

Smoked meats were also a part of the medieval English cuisine of the wealthy elite, particularly smoked pork, which was ‘cut into relatively thin, lean strips, immersed briefly in a salt solution and hung over a fire to absorb the smoke flavoring as it dried — slowly’. Bacon was also present in medieval English cuisine and goes back many centuries. It was heavily salted or cured, with sugar also added to cut through some of the saltiness. By the end of the sixteenth century, bacon was also being smoked.

Barbecue, then, both as a social event and as a form of cooking meat, was initially embraced throughout the British colonies and was not in any sense a specifically ‘Southern’ phenomenon. However, while barbecues eventually went out of fashion in the North, in Virginia they remained central to the social rituals of the gentry:

In Virginia, however, barbecues were widespread and popular social events. Feasting was a vital part of Virginia cultural traditions – much more so than in New England – and pigs were plentiful, as well. Pigs had been brought o Jamestown with the first British colonists, and since pigs are omnivores, they flourished in the woodland areas, even without much attention from settlers busy with planting and growing tobacco. As the wealth of the Virginia planters grew in the 18th century, so did their desire to build great houses, engage in consumer culture to display their wealth, and entertain guests in their homes. By the 1750s, barbecues were one of the most accepted and well-liked forms of entertainment in the colony. George Washington, among other Virginia gentry, frequently attended and hosted barbecues. The gatherings evolved from small get-togethers of family and friends to large all-day events. These large barbecues were expensive to host. Some planters objected to the cost and the drunken antics that often went along with barbecues, but they often went along with hosting and attending the events because it was an expected part of their roles as Virginia gentry.

The wealthy colonists of Virginia, in particular, sought to emulate the lifestyles of the gentry of England and ‘England remained the principal source of cultural authority and prestige’. The Reverend Hugh Jones, writing in 1724, noted:

Williamsburgh is now incorporated and made a Market Town, and governed by a Mayor and Aldermen; and is well stock’d with rich Stores, of all Sorts of Goods, and well furnished with the best Provisions and Liquors.

Here dwell several very good Families, and more reside here in their own Houses at publick Times.

They live in the same neat Manner, dress after the same Modes, and behave themselves exactly as the Gentry in London; most Families of any Note having a Coach, Chariot, Berlin, or Chaise.

In an article titled ‘Of Virginia Hospitality’, published in The London Magazine in July 1746, we read:

All over the Colony, an universal Hospitality reigns; full Tables and open Doors, the kind Salute, the generous Detention… their Manner of living is quite generous and open: Strangers are sought after with Greediness, as they pass the Country, to be invited.

John Ferdinand Smyth Stuart, in his A Tour in the United States of America (1784), reported: ‘The Virginians are generous, extremely hospitable, and possess very liberal sentiments’. He also noted that, as in England, social stratification and hierarchy was pronounced:

There is a greater distinction supported between the different classes of life here than perhaps in any of the rest of the colonies, nor does that spirit of equality and levelling principle which pervades the greater part of America prevail to such an extent in Virginia.

The famed ‘Southern hospitality’, then, originated among the Virginia gentry. This hospitality, of course, did not extend to the blacks they kept as slaves, not to poor whites. When the Reverend Charles Woodmason toured the Carolina backcountry in 1766, he wrote:

How lamentable to think, that the legislature of this province will make no provision — so rich, so luxurious, polite a people! Yet they are deaf to all solicitations, and look on poor white people in a meaner light than their black slaves, and care less for them.

North Carolina was settled by Virginians, who had brought this Virginian class system with them.

This social hierarchy, complete with obligatory hospitality to fellow members of the gentry, rules of etiquette and politeness, and a callous disregard for those outside the wealthy elite, was really only a continuation of the social order of England, where a wealthy few lorded it over the peasantry. The Virginia planters were a new gentry, living a charmed life far removed from the that of the lower orders:

[T]he gentry preferred to see themselves as removed from and superior to physical labor and the commercial exchange economy. Instead they sought to portray themselves as men of leisure and generosity. This was visible in what strangers to Virginia saw as the inordinate amount of time they devoted to visiting one another and to participation in gambling, dancing, and other fashionable pursuits as well as in the attention they gave to the acquisition of prestigious homes, furnishings, clothing, and other consumer goods.

This lifestyle was directly rooted in the lifestyles of the wealthy elite of Britain, dating well back into the medieval period. The Virginia barbecue was a new form of an old tradition:

The medieval feast of the time seems to have followed a common pattern; there could, therefore, be said to be an ideal feast as aspired to by the nobility and gentry and even their servants. It was ideal in both its material nature, that is the food, and also in its conduct, that is, the rules of courtesy and hierarchy under which this social ritual was performed.


The medieval esteem for “magnificence” as a hallmark of noble virtue continued to underwrite courtly culture during the seventeenth century, entailing the display of aristocratic wealth through extravagant hospitality.

In medieval England, the feast was a central feature of the lives of the wealthy. The slow roasting of whole hogs on a spit was popular for medieval feasts. During cooking, the meat was basted with a sauce made of red wine and spices such as garlic and ground coriander, to keep it moist and to add extra flavour. Spices were used extensively in the cooking of the time and the nobility enjoyed a ‘highly spiced cuisine’:

The higher the rank of a household, the greater its use of spices. Spices were not only extensively used in the preparation of food but they were also passed around on a ‘spice platter’. Guests at banquets took additional spices from the spice platter and added them to their already spiced food.

Spices used in recipes of the time included black pepper, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, mace, allspice, cardamom, cubeb, spikenard, and saffron. In England, the wealthy elite’s love of highly spiced food extended well into the eighteenth century.

The Virginia colonists likewise ‘demonstrated their social standing by providing a wide variety of meats and sweets at each meal prepared in a more traditional English fashion’. As an article in The Colonial Williamsburg Journal notes:

By today’s standards, colonial fare offered too much grease, too much meat, too much seasoning, and too much sweetener. Diners liked meat and lots of it. They considered animal organs, like hearts and brains, tasty delicacies. Cooks used sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg liberally.

The Virginia barbecue, with its whole hogs prepared as part of a communal ritual of ‘hospitality’ among the gentry, arguably echoes the English tradition of the hog roast. Likewise, the spiciness of Southern food, while in part the result of the influence of African slaves on the tastes of the colonists, was strongly rooted in the preferences of the English elite of the period.

The colonists applied English basting techniques and sauces to the Native American smoking method, thereby keeping the meat juicy and flavourful and stopping it from drying out. The basting sauces were derived from English cooking:

Virginia colonists brought European cooking techniques and recipes with them when they arrived in Virginia during the early years of the seventeenth century. In colonial times, Virginians endeavored to emulate European customs, especially when it came to entertaining guests at meals. Because most colonists were not trained cooks, they made good use of cookbooks… These cookbooks contain numerous recipes for carbonadoing and roasting foods that would become colonial Virginia staples such as venison, beef, mutton and pork, all with sauces made of spices, vinegar, pepper, and butter. Some call for mustard and/or sugar added to the mix.

The Virginia colonists took these English sauces and applied them to barbecuing:

Colonial Virginians also used the carbonado sauce recipes made of salt, vinegar, butter, peppers, herbs and spices to baste barbecuing meats while they cooked. By combining the Powhatan Indian cooking technique using a hurdle with English carbonado recipes, Virginians gave the world what we now call southern barbecue.

The ‘Virginia hospitality’ that forms the basis for the early construction of the notion of a uniquely ‘Southern hospitality’ was in reality the result of the transplanting of the social mores of the English gentry to the colony. The famous Southern ‘politeness’ and deferential mode of speaking (the ubiquity of ‘yes, sir’ and ‘yes, ma’am’) is also rooted in the notions of gentility and hierarchy brought from England. Likewise, the barbecue tradition of the South is actually rooted in the social events of the wealthy elite, who reenacted the medieval hog roast of England using cooking techniques developed by Native Americans, and seasoning techniques popular in England. Even barbecue sauce is derived from the tastes and basting methods of the wealthy elite of England.

As Virginians spread out across the Southern states, they took their aristocratic Anglophile culture with them, and even their mode of speech, which came to be seen as specifically ‘Southern’, echoed that of their ancestral homeland. Virginia barbecue spread throughout the South and became known as a ‘Southern’ food and form of social event, and the famed ‘hospitality’ and ‘politeness’ of elite planter society (‘hospitality’ and ‘politeness’ directed towards fellow members of the gentry, not the population as a whole) likewise came to be seen as a hallmark of ‘Southern’ culture.

Barbecue and Southern hospitality (as well as a social model in which a tiny elite held most of the wealth), then, are ultimately phenomena directly derived from England, specifically its upper echelons.

Thomas Sowell and the Misrepresentation of Old South Culture

In 2005, Thomas Sowell, the renowned American economist and conservative social theorist, published a collection of essays entitled Black Rednecks and White Liberals. In the title essay (which can be read in full here), Sowell contends that negative behavioural traits and patterns found among ‘ghetto’ blacks in contemporary America – such as violence and murder carried out over ‘disrespect’, base pleasure seeking, and many children being born to unmarried mothers – arose not within the black community itself but, rather, through blacks in the Old South coming under the influence of lower class white ‘rednecks’, who came from the border regions of northern England and brought a unique and uncivilised culture with them. In making these claims, Sowell misunderstands and misrepresents the culture both of the Old South and of England.

Sowell argues:

More is involved here than a mere parallel between blacks and Southern whites. What is involved is a common subculture that goes back for centuries, which has encompassed everything from ways of talking to attitudes toward education, violence, and sex — and which originated not in the South, but in those parts of the British Isles from which white Southerners came. That culture long ago died out where it originated in Britain, while surviving in the American South. Then it largely died out among both white and black Southerners, while still surviving today in the poorest and worst of the urban black ghettos.

Sowell can’t quite seem to make up his mind as to whether there is a direct line between ‘rednecks’ of the past and ghetto blacks of today. At one point he states that ‘contemporary black ghetto culture in the United States is not, however, a simple linear extrapolation from the culture of Southern whites’, only to go on to state later in the essay: ‘Whether black redneck values and lifestyle are a lineal descendant of white redneck values and lifestyle, as suggested here…’ Essentially, the overall argument in ‘Black Rednecks and White Liberals’ is indeed that poor white Britons, who came to the South from the border regions of northern England (as well as from Scotland and Ulster), brought with them a degenerate culture that is the root of modern ‘ghetto’ culture:

What the rednecks or crackers brought with them across the ocean was a whole constellation of attitudes, values, and behavior patterns that might have made sense in the world in which they had lived for centuries, but which would prove to be counterproductive in the world to which they were going — and counterproductive to the blacks who would live in their midst for centuries before emerging into freedom and migrating to the great urban centers of the United States, taking with them similar values. The cultural values and social patterns prevalent among Southern whites included an aversion to work, proneness to violence, neglect of education, sexual promiscuity, improvidence, drunkenness, lack of entrepreneurship, reckless searches for excitement, lively music and dance, and a style of religious oratory marked by strident rhetoric, unbridled emotions, and flamboyant imagery.

Leaving aside Sowell’s uncritical reliance on sources that were hostile to the South, there are a number of problems with Sowell’s argument, including a lack of understanding of English culture and the use of irrelevant material to supposedly strengthen his case.

I take no issue with the observation that there was drunkenness, violence, reckless behaviour, and premarital sex in the Old South, but Sowell’s claim that this was derived from a marginal culture found in the lawless border regions of England fails to understand the nature of England and its culture in general. Indeed, the notion that this was a uniquely ‘redneck’ phenomenon is undermined by Sowell himself, when he also cites the behaviour of the Southern aristocrats to show that the Old South was a terrible, violent place. Let’s look at each of these phenomena in turn.


There is no doubt that ‘redneck’ culture (or that of ‘poor white trash’, as they were commonly referred to) was often reported to include a love of drinking alcohol, often to excess. In Daniel R. Hundley’s Social relations in our Southern States (1860), for example, we read of hill-dwelling poor Southern whites as follows:

Another evil which prevails greatly among the Sandhillers… is the iniquitous practice of drinking alcoholic beverages to excess. And then, too, such vile stuff as the poor fellows are wont to imbibe! Too lazy to distill honest peach or apple brandy, like the industrious yeomanry, they prefer to tramp to the nearest groggery with a gallon-jug on their shoulders, which they get filled with “bust-head,” “rot-gut,” or some other equally poisonous abomination; and then tramp home again, reeling as they trudge along, and laughing idiotically, or shouting like mad in a glorious state of beastly intoxication…

Yet the same book also refers to heavy drinking among rich Southerners:

When the rich Southern Bully comes into the possession of his estates, his first care is to fill his cellars (in case he has any, otherwise his store-room) with barrels of Old Eye, as well as brandy, gin, rum, and other kinds of strong waters, but rarely with any thing in the shape of wine. Wine may do for babes, but not for such a puissant gentleman as he fancies himself to be. Having laid in his stock of liquors, he proceeds immediately to gather about him a set of boon companions like himself — idle loafers, drunken over-seers, and may be one or two other fellows of like kidney; and now he devotes his nights to gaming, drinking, and coarse libertinism, and his days to fox-hunting, horse-racing, and the like.

In his essay, Sowell cites Frederick Olmsted’s Journeys and Explorations in the Cotton Kingdom as an authoritative source. That same book also refers to drunkenness among wealthy Southerners, in this case planters Olmsted encountered on a steam boat in Alabama:

They were, generally, cotton-planters, going to Mobile on business, or emigrants bound to Texas or Arkansas. They were usually well dressed, but were a rough, coarse style of people, drinking a great deal, and most of the time under a little alcoholic excitement. Not sociable, except when the topics of cotton, land, and negroes, were started; interested, however, in talk about theatres and the turf; very profane… very ill-informed, except on plantation business; their language ungrammatical, idiomatic, and extravagant… I was perplexed by finding, apparently united in the same individual, the self-possession, confidence, and the use of expressions of deference, of the well-equipped gentleman, and the coarseness and low tastes of the uncivilized boor.

Elsewhere, we read of the wealthy of Alabama:

Traditions of aristocracy are deep-rooted in Selma, for most of the early settlers were well-to-do. The wealthy planter class was strong, and grew stronger as they built magnificent mansions, cleared 1,000-acre plantations, and planted cotton… Cotton was king. The planters enjoyed a halcyon existence, spiced with a taste for politics and liquor…

Significant alcohol consumption was common among wealthy Southerners from the earliest days:

Beverage consumption was deeply woven into Virginian social gatherings and hospitality, especially for elite planters. Almost every occasion was commemorated with alcohol, which was regularly consumed at funerals, weddings, court days, and elections. This common, regular consumption demonstrates how alcohol and other beverages were entrenched in one’s public appearance.

The Old South was awash with alcohol:

There can be little doubt that antebellum southerners drank too much. Temperance societies arose here and there, but they accomplished little… Most people, in fact, looked upon moderate drinking of hard liquors as beneficial, and “moderate” before the Civil War would probably be considered “heavy” today. Not long after the Louisiana Purchase a young Creole woman in Opelousas, Louisiana, criticized American men because they were always willing to take another bottle, even though they were already drunk. She seems to have been a fairly accurate observer.

There is a good reason for this widespread alcohol consumption in the Old South, which was practiced by every class, from planter aristocrats down to ‘poor white trash’ (Sowell’s ‘rednecks’). The reason is that the South was populated by settlers from England and the descendants of English settlers. The notorious English drinking culture goes back many centuries – as explored here – and it is this, not simply the presence of northern English borderers, that explains the drinking culture of the old South.


Sowell makes much of Southerners being quick to resort to violence in the face of a perceived insult, and he links this to contemporary black behaviour:

Centuries before “black pride” became a fashionable phrase, there was cracker pride — and it was very much the same kind of pride. It was not pride in any particular achievement or set of behavioral standards or moral principles adhered to. It was instead a touchiness about anything that might be even remotely construed as a personal slight, much less an insult, combined with a willingness to erupt into violence over it.

Further on in the essay, Sowell again writes of ‘the many fights and deaths resulting from some insult or slight among people “touchy about their honor and dignity”‘, and claims that: ‘Again, all of this went back to a way of life in the turbulent regions of Britain from which white Southerners came’. Sowell’s ‘turbulent regions’ theory of violence in the Old South refers to his notion that it is from ‘rednecks’ that a culture of violence came, and that this culture then entered into the culture of Southern blacks. The problem with this theory is that much of the evidence cited by Sowell in support of the idea that the South was a particularly violent place actually refers to the upper classes.

On violence based around perceived insults, Sowell writes:

The history of the antebellum South is full of episodes showing the same pattern, whether expressed in the highly formalized duels of the aristocracy or in the no-holds-barred style of fighting called “rough and tumble” among the common folk, a style that included biting off ears and gouging out eyes… During the era when dueling became a pattern among upper-class Americans — between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War — it was particularly prevalent in the South… Most duels arose not over substantive issues but over words considered insulting.  At lower social levels, Southern feuds such as that between the Hatfields and the McCoys — which began in a dispute over a pig and ultimately claimed more than 20 lives — became legendary…

Sowell also cites an example of Southern violence taken from Olmsted’s book – the case of an armed duel which ended with the loser being killed with a knife. The problem for Sowell, here, is that he explicitly undermines his own thesis on the ‘redneck’ origins of Southern violence by pointing out the equally prevalent violence among wealthy planter aristocrats. Both rich and poor in the Old South were prone to violence, including violence over perceived insults. This clearly, then, contrary to Sowell’s overall thesis, was a Southern phenomenon, rather than a ‘redneck’ one, and cannot therefore be simply explained as dating ‘back to a way of life in the turbulent [border] regions of Britain’. And, again, it was also an English phenomenon.

The English in general have long been known as a violent people. In the medieval period, the southern counties of England were ‘more dangerous than Mexico today – and four times as dangerous as the United States’. The onset of modernity did little to change the violent nature of English culture, as quotes from nineteenth century books attest. James Anthony Froude noted that: ‘Invariably, by friend and enemy alike, the English are described as the fiercest people in all Europe (the English wild beasts, Benvenunto Cellini calls them)’. Similarly, the French critic and historian Hippolyte Taine wrote:

Here the temperament is different, more violent and more combative; pleasure is a brutish and bestial thing: I could cite twenty examples of this. An Englishman said to me, “When a Frenchman is drunk he chatters; when a German is drunk he sleeps; when an Englishman is drunk he fights.”

To this day, foreign visitors to England make similar observations. John Fleming quotes an Italian historian as follows:

The British fight in a totally different way.

If someone is offended, he turns suddenly and the most he says is “Fuck you!” then he immediately hits the other guy in the face with his fist. No-one has time to separate the two because, by the time they get there, a full fight has started. I saw it happen in a pub the second day I was in England and I have seen it many times since. Very few Italians have broken noses, but lots of English and Scots do because, with their sudden fights, there is no time to protect your face from the first punch.

The other facet which confuses foreigners is that so many British look like losers. They dress casually and shabbily, they don’t repair the legs of their spectacles for years and they look like they are past caring but, at some point, this apparently laid-back loser will turn round and break your nose. It is not a country where you insult someone lightly.

In 2014, the Portuguese academic João Magueijo wrote of his experiences in England and concluded:

I have never met such a group of animals. English culture is pathologically violent.

As with the drinking culture of the Old South, its culture of violence can also be far more adequately explained not through a flimsy argument based on the supposedly uniquely violent nature of the ‘redneck’ borderers, but rather by the fact that – again – the old South was largely founded by English settlers and their descendants (from the South and South West of England, the Midlands, and the border regions of northern England) and therefore exhibits strong similarities with the culture of England.

Reckless behaviour 

According to Sowell, ‘even where there was no conflict or hostility involved, Southerners often showed a reckless disregard for human life, including their own’. He continues:

For example, the racing of steamboats that happened to encounter each other on the rivers of the South often ended with exploding boilers, especially when the excited competition led to the tying down of safety valves, in order to build up more pressure to generate more speed.

It is unclear what this has to do with the ‘redneck’ culture of the border regions of northern England, which Sowell sees as the root of Southern (and black) recklessness. Indeed, the steamboat racing phenomenon has nothing to do with the culture of poor Southern whites and every to do with the gambling culture of the South, especially that of the wealthy:

The dominating vice of the antebellum period was gambling. Wagering was an exciting way of spending leisure time. In the early days, gambling among the social elite was essentially private. Isolated wagers would be made on a cockfight, the turn of a card, a steamboat race, or a horserace. Many of these activities were also orchestrated for public wagering, but no formal wagering authority existed. Steamboat racing was particularly popular, but the strain placed on the boats was blamed for boiler explosions and other river disasters.

Steamboat racing, then, had nothing to do with ‘redneck’ culture, and was one aspect of a far wider gambling culture – a culture arguably derived from the gambling culture of England, and brought to the South by English settlers. Steamboat racing may have involved a degree of recklessness, but so do motorsports today, for example. The case for a uniquely reckless Southern culture is very weak.

Premarital sex

Sowell writes:

Southern whites were as different from Northern whites when it came to sexual patterns as they were in other ways. Widespread casual sex was commented on by outside observers in both the American South and in those parts of Britain from which Southerners had come . Here again, the greatest contrast is with New England. While pregnant brides were very rare in seventeenth-century New England, they were more common in the Southern backcountry than anywhere else in the United States. A missionary estimated that more than nine-tenths of the backcountry women at whose weddings he officiated were already pregnant. In this, as in other respects, the “sexual customs of the southern backcountry were similar to those of northwestern England.”

Here, the contrast between the sexual activity of rural Southerners and that of the sexually puritanical New Englanders is used to illustrate the supposedly aberrant nature of ‘redneck’ sexuality and its purported geographic uniqueness within England itself. It is worth noting that this is a false comparison: The fundamental difference between New England culture and Southern culture is that the former was an ‘American’ culture, while the latter was essentially the continuation of the culture of mainstream England on foreign soil. The New England culture was deeply concerned with sexual morality and its transgression in ways the South simply wasn’t.

Most importantly, was the sexual behaviour of poor Southern whites – especially the tradition of women being pregnant prior to marriage – solely a ‘border’ (‘redneck’) phenomenon? The simple answer is no. The following observations, for example, were written in the nineteenth century regarding the sexual customs of the people of rural Devon, in the South West of England (very far indeed from the northern border regions):

If a little may be said in favour of the poor girls, not a word can be said in favour of the agricultural men, who are immoral almost without exception, and will remain so until a better-educated generation with more self-respect arises. The number of poor girls, from fifteen to five-and-twenty, in agricultural parishes who have illegitimate offspring is extremely large, and is illustrated by the fact that, out of the marriages that take place—and agricultural poor are a marrying class—scarcely any occur until the condition of the girl is too manifest to be any longer concealed. Instances could be mentioned where the clergyman’s wife, with a view to check the immorality around her, has offered a reward of a piece of furniture to the first married woman who does not bear a child till nine months after marriage; the custom being within three months.

The sexual behaviour of poor rural whites in the South was patterned on the sexual behaviour of poor rural workers throughout England, then, and was not, therefore, uniquely a phenomenon of a ‘redneck culture’ derived from the border regions of northern England.

The drinking, violence, recklessness, and sexual behaviour found in the Old South were not, as Sowell would have us believe, rooted predominantly in the ‘redneck’ culture of people who came to the South from the border regions of northern Britain. They were, instead, well-established parts of the mainstream English culture of the period. When Englishmen and women came to the South from England (from a number of different counties and regions, and from a variety of social classes), they brought with them attitudes and patterns of behaviour that very often cut across class lines. White Southerners of all classes drank to excess, gambled, and got into violent altercations. Whatever moralists may make of it, this was not redneck culture – it was English culture.

The English Roots of Southern Fried Chicken

Southern fried chicken is a dish known throughout the world as one of America’s most iconic exports, as well as being, for many, the quintessential culinary representation of the culture of the Southern United States. Indeed, there are 900 KFC restaurants in the UK alone.

Most people, I imagine, would assume that Southern fried chicken is rooted firmly in the American South. After all, the clue is right there in the name. However, for those who may have an interest in the origins of this dish, a visit to any number of food-related websites will present a story of the dish coming about through a meeting of the foodways of Scotch-Irish immigrants and African slaves. So, we are presented with a romantic story of a meeting of the foodways of two underdog groups – indentured servants and slaves – which resulted in the creation of an iconic dish.

The current Wikipedia entry on fried chicken, for example, makes the following claims:

The first dish known to have been deep fried was fritters, which were popular in the Middle Ages. However, it was the Scottish who were the first Europeans to deep fry their chicken in fat (though without seasoning). Meanwhile, a number of West African peoples had traditions of seasoned fried chicken (though battering and cooking the chicken in palm oil). Scottish frying techniques and West African seasoning techniques were combined by enslaved Africans and African-Americans in the American South.

Another typical account reads:

The Scots, and later Scottish immigrants to the southern United States, had a tradition of deep frying chicken in fat as far back as the middle ages, unlike their English counterparts who baked or boiled chicken. When it was introduced to the American South, fried chicken became a common staple. Later, Africans brought over on the slave trade, became cooks in many southern households and incorporated seasonings and spices that were absent in traditional Scottish cuisine, enriching the flavor.

However, when one looks for evidence of a tradition of fried chicken in Scottish cookery, it is found to be lacking.

One example of fried chicken being mentioned in a Scottish context can be found in the travel journals of the Scotsman James Boswell. Boswell writes of a meal he enjoyed in the Hebrides in September 1773: ‘We had for supper… a large dish of fricassee of fowl, I believe a dish called fried chicken or something like it’. A prototypical fried chicken dish identified as a ‘A Fricassey of Chickens’ [sic] can be found in an English cookery book dating to 1725, but not in any Scottish sources I have been able to find, and this dish consists of chicken pan fried in butter, rather than deep fried in the supposed Scottish tradition.

Another example of fried chicken appearing in a Scottish context can be found in the 1825 Supplement to the Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, which has an entry for ‘fried chicken’, identifying it as being another name for a Scottish ‘broth’ called ‘friar’s chicken’. Interestingly, a correspondent writing to The Planter’s Review (a magazine for plantation owners in the antebellum South) in 1843, made the claim that ‘friar’s chicken’ is actually the original name for ‘the old Virginia dish, fried chicken’. The editors of The Planter’s Review rightly responded with incredulity: ‘We know and respect our correspondent’s love of ancient lore, which we think has mislead [sic] him a little upon the subject of Friar’s chicken. If to call a chicken which is fried, “fried chicken,” be a corruption, it is surely the most natural and excusable error of which we have ever heard’.

Two further examples of recipes for fried chicken in Scottish sources can be found in The Cook and Housewife’s Manual, published in Edinburgh in 1825, and The Cookery Book of Lady Clark of Tillypronie – a book of recipes collected in the period 1841-1897 and published posthumously in 1909. Neither identifies fried chicken as a Scottish dish.

The Cook and Housewife’s Manual features ‘A continental method of dressing Cold Roast Fowls’:

Beat up two yolks of eggs with butter, mace, nutmeg, &c. Cut up the fowls, dip them in this, and roll the egged pieces in crumbs and fried parsley. Fry the cut pieces nicely in butter or clarified dripping, and pour over the dish any white or green vegetable ragout (that you may have left) made hot. Parmesan grated is used to heighten the gout of this dish.

The Cookery Book of Lady Clark of Tillypronie includes a recipe for ‘Fried Chicken Fillets’, which it names Gebackene Haendel, ‘a favourite supper dish at Vienna for the first month of spring chickens, when they are very young and plump’:

You take a plump little chicken, joint him and skin him, season the pieces delicately with cayenne, mace, salt, and pepper ; and fry him in a light batter in a saute pan, turning the pieces often as they cook, and he comes up dry outside, but juicy within. Squeeze a lemon over all if you like when dished.

The recipe is attributed to ‘John’/’JFC’. The author adds:

If for supper add a sauce in a boat made thus : Draw down the uncooked head, bones, and trimmings of the bird, with a little lemon peel to flavour; strain, and add a little mushroom to flavour, thicken the sauce with butter rolled in flour, add a liaison of 1 egg.

So, while references to fried chicken can be found in relation to Scotland, the only dishes that resemble the fried chicken we know today are attributed to continental Europe.

Friar’s chicken, on the other hand, is a soup-based dish, rather than anything like modern fried chicken, as made clear in the recipes found in Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (a 1747 English cookery book that also features a seminal fried chicken recipe), Maria Eliza Rundell’s Domestic Economy, and Cookery, For Rich and Poor (an 1825 English cookery book), Lady Harriet Elizabeth St. Clair’s Dainty Dishes (an 1866 book published in Edinburgh), The Cook and Housewife’s Manual, and The Cookery Book of Lady Clark of Tillypronie.

It is worth noting that salt, pepper, mace, and parsley feature consistently in recipes for friar’s chicken (as they do in later actual fried chicken recipes), that one recipe states that ‘the meat may be nicely browned in the frying-pan, before it is put to the soup’, and that the carrot, turnip, and onion stock called for in another bears some resemblance to the marinade in the 1911 fried chicken recipe of the African-American chef Rufus Estes. However, the notion that Southern fried chicken has any direct link to Scottish cooking is clearly without merit.

So, if the Scottish side of the Southern fried chicken narrative does not stand, then what of the claim that this ‘Scottish’ dish was combined with an African fried chicken tradition and ‘West African seasoning techniques’?

In his fascinating book, Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, the African-American scholar Adrian Miller examines numerous sources and ultimately concludes that ‘we can’t say for certain that fried chicken existed in precolonial West Africa’ (p.52) and that ‘[w]hile it’s difficult to assert a clear African provenance for American-style fried chicken, some evidence points to Britain’ (p.53). I will look at that body of evidence below, but it is perhaps worth briefly addressing the claim that ‘West African seasoning techniques’ are evident in Southern fried chicken recipes.

Looking at numerous recipes dating from 1824 to 1922 (and many more beyond that, up to the present day) found in American cookery books, authored by both white and black cooks, the seasoning for fried chicken remains remarkably similar: salt alone (1824), and salt and pepper (1839, 1878, 1881, 1883, 1885, 1886, 1913, 1916, 1917, 1922). What we find consistently is that Southern fried chicken is seasoned using simply salt and pepper. The notion that Southern fried chicken somehow benefited from the use of ‘West African seasoning techniques’, then, is likewise without merit.

If Southern fried chicken does not, after all, find its genesis in a meeting of ‘Scottish frying techniques and West African seasoning techniques’, where, in fact, does it come from?

In 1725, the Englishman Robert Smith published Court Cookery: or, The Compleat English Cook. This collection of recipes was, as the introduction to the book states, intended for the wealthy elite (‘the Nobility and Gentry of Great Britain’). It is worth noting that this book was published a century before The Virginia Housewife, the earliest major Southern cookery book.

The dishes in Smith’s book include what is arguably a prototypical fried chicken recipe:

Take Rabbets [sic] or Chickens; but if Chickens, you must skin them; cut them into small Pieces, and beat them flat, and lard them with Bacon; season it with Salt, Pepper and Mace; dredge it with Flower [sic], and fry it in sweet Butter, to a good Colour.

This dish, Smith writes, is to be served with seasoned gravy (‘season it high’), sliced lemon, force-meat balls, crisp bacon, and fried oysters.

Also included are a recipe for pickled pork (a dish which remains ‘a staple of Cajun & Creole kitchens’ in Louisiana today); a recipe for ham which is salted and then smoked (similar to the ‘country ham’ of the contemporary South); a recipe for fried apple pies (another dish found in the South today); and a recipe for potato pie, which is seasoned with mace, nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar, and salt (and therefore has noticeable similarities with modern Southern recipes for sweet potato pie).

Eleven years later, in 1736, the Englishman Nathan Bailey published a book titled Dictionarium Domesticum: Being a New and Compleat Household Dictionary, For the Use Both of City and Country. The Dictionarium Domesticum includes the following recipe for ‘A Marinade of Chickens’:

Cut the chickens into quarters, and marinade them in the juice of lemons and verjuice, or with vinegar, salt, clove, pepper, chibols: or a bay leaf or two: Let them lie in this marinade for the space of three hours, then having made a sort of clear paste or batter with flour, white wine and the yolks of three eggs, drop the chickens into it, then fry them in lard, and serve them up in the form of a pyramid, with fry’d parsley and slices of lemon.

When prepared, this dish clearly resembles what we now know as fried chicken.

1747 saw the publication of Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, a book that went on to be not only very popular in England but also in the United States:

Her cookbook was on Martha Washington’s bookshelf; Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin both had copies as well, with Franklin enjoying it so much that he brought it with him to France and had some of the recipes translated so he could keep eating Glasse’s food while abroad.

Glasse’s simple language, aversion to wastefulness, and belief that anyone could make great food fit in perfectly in the US.

Amongst the numerous dishes listed in Glasse’s book, we find recipes for calf’s chitterlings (‘blanche and boil them like hog’s chitterlins’), pickled pig’s feet and ears, fried potatoes and mashed potatoes, crawfish soup, potato pudding, and pound cake. We also find a recipe titled ‘To Marinate Chickens’:

Cut two chickens into quarters, lay them in vinegar for three or four hours, with pepper, salt, a bay-leaf, and a few cloves, make a very thick batter, first with half a pint of wine and flour, then the yolks of two eggs, a little melted butter; some grated nutmeg and chopped parsley; beat all very well together, dip your fowls in the batter, and fry them in a good deal of hog’s lard, which must first boil before you put your chickens in. Let them be of a fine brown, and lay them in your dish like a pyramid, with fried parsley all round them. Garnish with lemon, and have some good gravy in boats or basons.

The inclusion of gravy, sliced lemon, fried parsley and laying the chicken pieces in a pyramid shape shows clear continuity with the recipes of Smith and Bailey. The use of sliced lemon and parsley also shows some similarities with the fried chicken being cooked in Vienna, Austria, at the time.

Given the popularity of Glasse’s book among the elites of the US, we can say with certainty that her fried chicken recipe would have been in circulation, and Thomas Jefferson’s admiration for the work provides an interesting link to the state of Virginia, a state whose First Families were of English descent.

From one of those families came a woman named Mary Randolph, whose family had ‘roots extending back to the colony’s formative years’ and who went on to be the first person ever buried on the grounds which would become Arlington National Cemetery. In 1824, Randolph published the seminal Southern cookery book, The Virginia Housewife. The book was a great success, and Thomas Jefferson wrote to Randolph, thanking her for sending him a copy, which he said he held in ‘high respect and esteem’.

The Virginia Housewife includes a number of dishes similar to those found in modern Southern cooking, such as okra and tomatoes, catfish soup, barbecue pork, cornbread, mashed potatoes, macaroni pudding (macaroni and cheese), sweet potato pudding (sweet potato pie), and pound cake. It also features a recipe for fried chicken:

Cut them up as for the fricassee, dredge them well with flour, sprinkle them with salt, put them into a good quantity of boiling lard, and fry them a light brown.

The chicken is to be served with fried mush (leftover cornmeal), fried parsley, and a milk and parsley-based gravy. The similarities with the aforementioned English recipes for fried chicken are clear, despite Randolph’s recipe being somewhat simpler. Arguably, it is here that we see the true genesis of Southern fried chicken.

The recipe went on to be developed to include pepper as well as salt for the seasoning (as seen in Lettice Bryan’s 1839 book The Kentucky Housewife), which was really a return to the approach of Robert Smith, but little else changed for many years to come.

The continuity is clear: Sarah Rutledge’s 1847 book The Carolina Housewife calls for a cream and parsley gravy to accompany the fried chicken; Marion Cabell Tyree’s recipe in Housekeeping in Old Virginia (1878) features a butter and parsley gravy, and fried mush; Estelle Woods Wilcox’s The Dixie Cook-Book (1883) includes a milk gravy; ML Tyson’s The Queen of the Kitchen (1886) recommends a cream gravy, parsley garnish, and fried mush; Laura Thornton Knowles’ Southern Recipes Tested By Myself (1913) has a milk or cream gravy accompaniment; and Echos of Southern Kitchens (1916), published by The United Daughters of the Confederacy, California Division, swaps flour for cornmeal but keeps the cream gravy.

The recipes of African-American cooks have the same approach: Abby Fisher’s fried chicken recipe in What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking (1881) uses only salt and pepper for seasoning; Rufus Estes’ recipe in Good Things To Eat (1911) features a marinade similar to that of Nathan Bailey, and a fried parsley garnish; and Aunt Caroline’s Dixieland Recipes (1922) calls for salt and black pepper.

While it is impossible to say with absolute certainty how Southern fried chicken came to be, we can nonetheless suggest there is a strong probability that it has its origins in England. The idea that fried chicken was a Scottish dish is demonstrably false, for, aside from two 19th Century recipes for Backhendl (Viennese breaded fried chicken) found in books published in 1825 and 1909, Scottish sources are silent. There is likewise little to suggest that Southern fried chicken is actually a variant of a purported traditional African dish brought to America by slaves.

It seems highly likely that Backhendl is a ‘cousin’ of the fried chicken recipes found in English cookery books, as both use pan frying in lard, and feature parsley and lemon wedges as garnishes. Which came first, it is hard to say. However, there appears to be no direct connection between Backhendl and the development of fried chicken in the Southern United States. There were German immigrants to Virginia, but these were not drawn from aristocratic circles (Backhendl was a dish of the upper classes), and traditional Southern fried chicken does not employ the breading technique of the Viennese recipe.

We know that fried chicken was seen in the antebellum South as an ‘old Virginia dish’. We also know that fried chicken was already featuring in English cookery books a significant amount of time before the publication of The Virginia Housewife. Furthermore, we know that the Virginia elite (for whom fried chicken was prepared) were very strongly linked to England and made use of English recipes. So, when the sources are studied and the options considered, arguably the most convincing explanation for the emergence of Southern fried chicken is that the dish is an outgrowth of the cookery of upper class England.

The rise of intensive farming techniques and the emergence of fast food restaurants has resulted in Southern fried chicken becoming, today, a global phenomenon available to rich and poor alike. In 2017, UK customers spent an estimated £2.2bn in chicken restaurants. Little did most of them know that the ‘American’ food they were buying in all likelihood actually originated here.