You can tell a lot of things about a state from how many Official State this-and-that they have relating to food and dining. With a state crustacean, a state spirit, and two state fruits, Alabama is not kidding around. Hop on the BBQ trail, stick around for the country’s oldest Mardi Gras, or see the time-honored practice of making cane syrup—there’s no shortage of good things to eat and cool things to take part in.
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State Capital: Montgomery
Statehood Date: December 14, 1819 (the 22nd state)
State Spirit: Conecuh Ridge Alabama Fine Whiskey
State Freshwater Fish: Largemouth Bass
State Saltwater Fish: Fighting Tarpon
State Wild Game Bird: Eastern Wild Turkey
State Nut: Pecan
State Crustacean: Brown Shrimp
State Fruit: Blackberry
State Tree Fruit: Peach
National Atlas of the United States/Wikipedia Commons
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Biodiversity: With its warm, humid climate and mix of wetlands, forest lands, and prairies, Alabama routinely ranks at the top of U.S. states for its diversity of plant and animal life. This does not only influence its agriculture - geologic diversity plays a big role in soil - it makes Alabama a fabulous place for foraging, hunting (excluding the white egret in the photo, of course), fresh and seawater fishing, and just gettin' down with nature.
faungg's photos CC BY-ND
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Golden Flake Snack Foods, founded in Birmingham in 1923, started out making potato chips in the basement of a grocery store. Nowadays, Golden Flakes makes pork rinds, tortilla chips, and popcorn, along with many flavors of "The South's Original Favorite Chip." Marketing moves over the years include a pre-Muppets mascot, the Gobbler, designed by Jim Henson, as well as Alabama Crimson Tide coach Paul "Bear" Bryant as a spokesman for the company (Coke and Golden Flake? "Great pair,' says 'The Bear'."). Don your hair nets for a tour of their Birmingham factory, where you can sample some salty-crunchy goodness fresh from the line.
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100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die: Thanks to the Alabama State Tourism Department, there's a free app for that. Easier on the eyes than Yelp and strategically loaded with both high-end fare (pan-seared duck at Maestro 2300 in Auburn) and folksy options (peach cobbler at Peach Park in Clanton), it'll help you eat your way across the state. And don't worry – if you die before hitting up all 100 dishes, you won't go to hell or anything.
Alabama State Tourism Department
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Barbecued Chicken with White Sauce is a North Alabama institution. Big Bob Gibson of Decatur, AL created the mayonnaise-based sauce to go with his hickory-smoked split chickens back in the 1920s. The business is still in the family today, and Executive chef/great-grandson-in-law Chris Lilly has headed up teams that have won multiple elite barbecue competitions. But establishments all over the state have adopted (and adapted) the sauce. If you'd like to try your own sauce, here's a recipe from Southern Living, or you can order Big Bob Gibson's bottled sauces. To dive into barbecue styles across the state, follow the Alabama BBQ Trail (yes, there's an app for that, too. Alabama is on-point with their tourism!).
Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q
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The Athens Grease Festival celebrates not the kitschy 1970s movie musical, but the wonders of fried food. Held in Athens, AL, the festival combines the Southern fondness for fried food with cartoonish classical Greek flair. Attendees are encouraged to wear togas, and every year a woman is selected to act as Athens-Grease Goddess. So, what battered delights are in store this year? Based on photos from prior years, s'mores, frog legs, red velvet cupcakes, Oreos, and pickles all get the deep-fried treatment. Wow, the county fair seems so tame in comparison.
Athens Grease Festival
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Okra Festival, Burkville (Aug. 27)
As festivals go, this one in Burkville is a young one, launched in 2000 as a community event after the okra crop survived a very hot summer that blitzed other crops. You'll find live music and crafts, but also many die-hard okra fans who come for okra in many forms: gumbo, pickled okra, okra pies, etc. We really dig how the 2009 Okra Festival's poster by letterpress artist Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. captures the spirit of the festival.
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Football: Alabamans love football. Footballs means tailgating, and tailgating means food. Grills, coolers, red Solo cups, cheesy dips, boozy punches…the whole shebang. Get ready for tailgating season with a few cookbooks. There's The Alabama Tailgate Cookbook, which works different teams' mascots into recipes (not literally). And then there's Auburn University Cookbook by Missy Mercer and The University of Alabama Cookbook by her husband, Browne Mercer. Yes, they are married, a house divided by team loyalties but united in the love of tailgating. Is it likely you may spy Golden Flake products at a tailgate party? Guess.
Auburn Alumni Association CC BY
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Cane Syrup is a handcrafted labor of love once commonly made in rural areas throughout the South. In the fall, farmers harvest sugar and press it in a mill or grinder. The resulting juice is boiled in giant kettles (often over wood fires) to just the right point – too much and the syrup will be bitter – before it's bottled. There are a few places in Alabama where people can witness this today, such as Cane Syrup Makin' Day at Rikard's Mill Historical Park in Beatrice and Todd Farms in Headland ("Raising Cane Since 1835!").
Todd Syrup Farm/Facebook
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Peanuts are the state's main agricultural crop. Why aren't peanuts the state nut instead of pecans, you ask? Because peanuts are actually legumes, silly. Alabama ranks behind Georgia and Texas in U.S. peanut production. Peanuts are one of the legacies commonly linked with famous Alabaman innovator George Washington Carver, who, contrary to popular belief, did not invent peanut butter. He did, however, work hard to promote peanuts as a cash crop.
faungg's photos CC BY-ND