It goes without saying that there are plenty of kitchen tools out there to choose from. In Southern cooking, those range from old-fashioned, hand-cranked ice-cream makers to the basic slow cooker. Here are five of my personal favorites for real-deal country cooking.
Cast-Iron Cornstick Pan
I love cornbread, and I love it even more when it's shaped like mini ears of corn, thanks to my cornstick (aka corndodger) pan, a cherished gift from my great-grandmother. Cast-iron anything is no stranger to Southern cooking, and cornbread sure is tasty when it's cooked in an iron skillet, but when it's baked in a cornstick pan, not only do you get crispy edges all the way around, but you can dip it straight into the butter.
The Ball Jar
For 125 years, Southern cooks have been canning goodies in these hearty glass jars. From dill pickles to apple butter, a solid collection of Ball jars is essential for any kitchen. Try making a Ball jar cake (baked right in the jar) or float tea lights inside for an easy tablescape idea. Or just fill one up with lemonade and hit it with a splash of vodka.
Bundt Cake Pan
One of my favorite cake recipes is for my granny's black walnut cake. Made in a Bundt pan using walnuts from her tree, this buttery cake was unmolded into its signature shape and then doused in a sugary glaze that soaked in over time. The result was a gorgeous, easily sliced cake that's gooey on the outside and rich and dense on the inside. (If you'd like to try it yourself, head to richmondmagazine.com/blackwalnut for the recipe.)
Rooster-Shaped Gelatin Mold
Fact: There are lots of weird gelatin recipes out there. Fact: There are equally strange molds to suspend them in. Back in the 1930s, gelatin dishes were in full effect, and they ranged from the truly bizarre to a tamer lemon-lime, yet their real appeal, in addition to jiggles, was presentation, and the copper rooster mold is my favorite. The best part? You can fill it with strawberry gelatin, whipping cream and pretzels — or just hang it on the wall.
Jar of Bacon Fat (aka the lard tin)
No Southern kitchen is complete without a well-worn jar, tin or coffee can filled with fat drippings. Forget that healthy bottle of extra-virgin olive oil and go straight for the lard, not only because it's a free byproduct of your cooking talents, but because there's no better way to liven up cornbread, collard greens, gravy, pinto beans, stone-ground grits or even salad dressing.