Southern Mindfulness – Gifting as a Part of Southern Culture

Everything’s a little slower in the South, but it isn’t due to the heat, and it isn’t laziness, either. What it is is a kind of mindfulness, an awareness of the proper Southern way things should be done and the importance of the manners instilled by family and community. It isn’t something reserved for special occasions. Southern Mindfulness is a daily ritual equally intrinsic to family, community and business. It’s a way of being.

Those ma’ams and sirs are genuine — as essential to a Southerner as sunshine and sweet tea. Hospitality and grace under fire are keynotes of the Southern experience, and the expression of respect even a simple gift conveys speaks volumes about the giver. In the South, the gift is often food, and food is far more than sustenance: It’s the language of the South.

Foundations of Tradition, Family and Community

Forget today’s bustling, high-rise metropolitan cities, like banking giant Charlotte, N.C., jazz capital New Orleans, La., or capital city and industrial-technological hub Baton Rouge. At the turn of the twentieth century, life in the South was a rural existence of long months of unrelenting heat, roving sickness and fever, endless agricultural labor and often loneliness and isolation. Harsh conditions meant large tracts of land were necessary to support farms and plantations. Those acreages to the horizon, however, also made visiting family and friends a social event anticipated for weeks – sometimes, all year. Family meant community, and community was family.

The Treat of a Visit

Visiting between farms was an event that required preparation and planning. Roads were primitive, transportation often constituted a simple wagon and darkness was the enemy. The most generous meal was usually a midday supper so that visitors could return home safely before nightfall; more often, guests stayed overnight or longer to conduct business and solidify partnerships. Whether you were the party leaving your homestead to attend an occasion or the family hosting guests, a visit involved investments of time and precious resources — most notably through food.

Hospitality – Every Stranger a Friend

Unlike other parts of the country, the South had no inns or hotels. Jacob Abbott, a prolific author and mathematics professor, wrote in 1835 of his travels:

The hospitality of Southerners is so profuse, that taverns are but poorly supported. A traveler . . . finds a welcome at every door . . . The gentleman of the house sees his approach and is ready upon the steps.

Travelers commonly found food and rest in the homes of strangers, and family often traveled in indirect patterns, going from home to home as they made their way to a destination. Expectations existed on both sides: Hosts would offer comfort, and guests would offer a small gift of appreciation.

The Inherent Value of Beautiful Food

In colonial America and the antebellum South, beautiful food was currency, both nutritionally and socially. The hostess gift was an expected and appreciated tradition, communicating gratitude and a willingness to do your part. In return, hosts opened their homes wide, sharing all they had to ensure guests felt welcome and would want to return. Many Southern women developed signature dishes and secret recipes, showcasing talents and generosity by filling groaning boards with native foods. Wealthy hostesses sought out the most beautiful flowers and fruits for display, with a pineapple a sign of luxurious welcome. Even simpler folk put out generous spreads, taking pride in their handiwork and an offering of hospitality.

Take the now immortalized tale of Southern cuisine pride featuring two of the South’s most celebrated authors – William Faulkner and Katherine Anne Porter. As the story goes, the pair sat dining in Paris, one of Europe’s crown cities renowned for the culinary arts, longing for the fresh butter beans and blackberries of their home, a testament to the pride instilled in every southerner.

Food as Community

The South suffered hardships repeatedly, most notably during reconstruction and the Great Depression. John Egerton expresses perfectly the significance of food in his book titled “Southern Food:”

Whether in the home or in public places, the food traditions . . . could be summarized under a single descriptive heading: hospitality. As overworked and ambiguous as the word may have been to many, it had meaning for most Southerners.

Southerners had known hunger, even starvation, and that knowledge had taught them to enjoy the moment, to feast when food was available, and to keep a wary eye on the future. Among all the classes . . . food was a blessing, a pleasure, a cause for celebration.

If you doubt the depth of reverence and tradition, consider that many scholars use not only geography but also regionally distinct foods to define and differentiate between areas in the South.

Food as Blessing

In “A Gracious Plenty,” author John Edge devotes two pages to food being the “Southern way of caring.” When tragedy struck, neighbors, distant relations and long-lost friends all express their sympathy through gifts of casseroles and soufflés, cakes, salads and pies. “Neighbors and friends alike opened their homes and hearts” to out-of-town mourners, and “the women of the community went to work in the kitchen.” In many Southern towns, these traditions endure.

Food as Pleasure

In the South, barbecue is a noun, a verb and a social event that often encompasses entire communities. Barbecue, the food, is as regionally distinct as how the barbecue is prepared. The event was often political, a rally combining business and pleasure through feeding the masses. Families often traveled long distances to attend one. Interestingly, in “A Gracious Plenty,” Edge points out that “the size of the crowds had as much to do with the reputation of the local pitmaster in charge as with their loyalty“ to a candidate. Food, not political bias, provided the bond.

Food as Cause for Celebration

Perhaps nowhere else in Southern culture is the gift of food as pronounced as it is for weddings. If you doubt the link between gifts, food and a sense of community, consider the tradition of the charm cake, or cake pull. The wedding cake isn’t just for the newlywed couple. Around the edge, fanning around the cake, are ribbons, each attached to tiny charms slipped beneath a tier: traditional rings, hearts, fleur-de-lis, kites and butterflies, to name but a few, one for each bridesmaid. Southern wedding parties are large to include everyone. At the reception, each bridesmaid pulls a ribbon, a keepsake talisman of what her future holds and a treasured gift from the bride.

The Significance of Pecans

Native Foods

Southerners take pride in and place value on their native foods: meat and poultry; shrimp and grits; sweet potatoes and tomatoes; peaches and okra; butter beans and collards; and, of course, pecans turned out in every form.

Pecans as an Investment

Pecans complement all those other foods, adding that extra-special something to savory dishes while often starring as the finishing culinary reward. Pecans, however, carry extra gravitas. Pecan trees need five to 10 years to begin producing nuts. Many grow to maturity but never produce due to the trees’ selective soil needs, water and nutrient requirements, disease and pests, and pollination issues. Harvesting and cleaning the nuts are labor-intensive tasks, and picker-poachers can relieve orchards of the fruits of yearlong labor in 5-gallon bucket loads to the tune of $2 per unshelled pound.

Pecans and the Season of Giving

Whether sugared, baked in a pie or lovingly dipped and crafted to become praline confections parceled out like gold, pecans are the signature Southern indulgence, especially for the holidays. Pecan harvests begin in September, with the rich nuts appearing on tables for every ensuing holiday and celebration. To Southerners, the sight of those sugar-coated or savory-flavored treats signals the nearing conclusion of a successful year and a promise for the next. They’re a delicious taste of home.

Food as Business

The power of food extends well beyond political rallies in the South. In her book, “It Ain’t All About the Cookin’,” Southern food maven Paula Deen writes, “Southern hospitality extends to business relationships . . . we’re more likely to invite that colleague home for a celebration dinner to show that we feel he’s done something nice for us and we want to honor him . . .” On a far larger scale, a China Daily USA article titled “Southern Hospitality Used To Attract Chinese Investments” expresses the Southern perspective beautifully:

“Business is kind of a combination of competition and collaboration. You have competitors but most companies can’t succeed without the support of their suppliers, or vendors . . . Business is . . . usually a whole team of people helping people to succeed.”

Corporate Gift Giving

“In Small Business: It’s All About Relationships,” Investopedia stresses that businesses and entrepreneurs can no longer afford to be standalone ventures. A business’ success is dependent on a community network of customers, employees, bankers, accountants and tax specialists, lawyers, insurance brokers, sales and marketing professionals, training providers, and enterprise systems and IT specialists. It takes a community.

Worth of Gifting

Whether large-scale or small, building personal relationships – business or casual – is an art that is well worth the time, effort and seeming expense. A Forbes article titled “Tips for Building Long-Term Client Relationships” listed eight points for client retention. Along with advocating being a useful resource, being honest at all times, always meeting deadlines and eliminating surprises, the last four ideas focused on hospitality:

  • There’s no such thing as over communicating.
  • Think of clients as more than clients – they’re unique people with likes and dislikes.
  • Reward loyal clients by expressing gratitude.
  • Maintain a vision of partnership for the long term.

Similar lists from a host of other resources on building successful business relationships suggest proving that you think of others, giving and rewarding associates and colleagues consistently while receiving only occasionally. Simple hospitality is often the prime means of gaining new clients and keeping current clients happy.

Ethical Gifting

Corporate gift giving doesn’t need to be lavish to let someone know that they matter or that you value their business friendship. Corporate gifting just needs to be consistently genuine. Holidays and special occasions are perfect times to ensure that all the people who are part of your business family and who support your community efforts know that you regard them in that light of partnership. It’s also such a simple way of pleasing employees as well as ensuring client retention and preserving your business networks. The holidays are approaching, and during this time of thanks and gratitude for all, the Southern tradition of gifting reigns supreme.

The Unmistakable Taste of Home

Sending client gifts demonstrates that you don’t approach partnerships casually or empty-handed. It proves that you have resources of worth that you’re willing to contribute – putting into action the age-old childhood lessons of sharing. It’s a gesture of trust that few words can express.

If you’re from the South, wish you were – we’re very welcoming, after all – or even want to “convert” a Northerner, explore the Cane River Pecan Company website. If you long for Nanny Tassie’s secret-recipe pralines or wish you could just taste Aunt Annie’s butter pecan cookies one more time, we have them and chocolate chunk ones, too. Do you remember the mammoth pecans from Christmases past that Granddaddy used to let you sneak from his desk drawer?

We have them all and more, from a wide variety of custom tins and individualized selections of pecans in delectable flavors to pecan praline popcorn and sure-to-please milk chocolate-covered pecans. Take a look, and contact our gifting specialists. They specialize in Southern hospitality and can help you find those perfect client gifts for everyone on your list – even you!

Want to learn more about effective corporate gifting? Explore the origins and techniques of this southern practice by downloading our complete guide below! 

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Keeping your business ahead of the curve means developing strong relationships — and lots of them. From clients and customers to business partners, vendors, employees and more, your list of vital players is ever growing and increasingly harder to handle. With professional gifting tips and industry insights, Cane River Pecan Company is here to help.

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