I remember the first time I saw Paula Deen on television doing the show Ready…Set…Cook! on The Food Network. She was just so hilarious, and she looked like my aunt and had the personality of my college roommate. It was like a (crazy) member of my family was right there on the t.v.
Soon afterward, she began starring in her own show, frying chicken and baking cakes and cooking up all kinds of good Southern food. I was so glad to see the food I grew up with being given the attention it deserved, in a time when, as Paula states, “health-food diet mania” was consuming America.
The rest is history, and Paula Deen is now a household name. In her autobiography, It Ain’t All About the Cookin’, however, Paula proves that everybody seems normal until you get to know them. I guess I just assumed that she was always a success, but she reveals in her book how she spent many years of her life just struggling to make it through the day.
Growing up in Georgia, Paula says she had an idyllic childhood, with her family, grandparents, aunts and uncles all close together running a resort. Her teen years were spent being cute, having fun, and cheering. But at eighteen she met a boy she couldn’t resist, and wanted nothing more than to get married and be a wife and mother.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for Paula to realize that marriage wasn’t all smooth sailing all the time, and she began struggling with the fact that she couldn’t make it all better. As is often the case, I think, being sheltered and loved by her family, and possessing the gift of “Southern charm”, that niceness that girls in the South are brought up with, caused an inner struggle for Paula. She felt that “if being protected and cherished by my parents was being spoiled, then I guess I was.”
Then as a result of tragically loosing both her parents within four years of each other, while Paula was still in her early twenties she really began to struggle to keep her sanity. Suffering from panic attacks and agoraphobia while raising two small children tested her every day, until she finally discovered what exactly she suffered from and began to slowly overcome it, and eventually end her marriage.
As a single mother Paula returned to what she knew best, good Southern food. Beginning with a catering company and expanding to a full restaurant, she kept up the traditions of the South. She knew that “the South is all about tradition, and most of those traditions have their origins in the cooking pots and the recipes we pass down from generation to generation” and that “Southern cooking is nothing but Southern – we don’t fly in our ingredients or menus from distant parts of the world. What’s in our pots and on our plates is all home-grown.” And keeping true to this philosophy has meant nothing but success for Paula Deen.
This book is full of Southern charm and wit, and had me laughing one minute and crying the next. If you are from the South, you’ll find yourself nodding along with it, and if you aren’t, you’ll hopefully learn a little about what drives a Southern woman. As Paula says, “Some people call Southern women steel magnolias to show our unfailing survival instinct. Well, if we got dimples of steel, so what. Things have to be right.”
I whipped up this Ham Salad recipe found in Paula’s autobiography, and it turned out to be just right, too.
My Best Ham Salad (Sandwich)
adapted from It Ain’t All About the Cookin’ by Paula Deen
- 2 cups leftover ham, chopped in a food processor
- 1 cup celery, finely diced
- 1/4 cup sweet onion, finely minced
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, diced
- 1/4 cup hot pickle relish, drained
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- Mix all the ingredients until well blended.
- Spread on white bread to make a sandwich, or serve with crackers.