Can’t Take The South Out Of The Girl: Kentucky Born & Raised
It’s true. I am from Kentucky. A place far less glamorous or sexy than the better-known California / New York / Miami. A place so adrift among the middle-of-the-country-melange, it might as well be Ohio. Or…Arkansas. Oklahoma? NO—Nebraska.
It might as well be any of the other forgotten-about states.
People rarely know what Kentucky is (a type of chicken?). They don’t know where it’s located (next to…Michigan?). And they’re baffled how someone from The Bluegrass State could emerge neither illiterate nor inbred (that’s possible?).
You would be surprised how much there is to the state, AND how well we Kentuckians can turn out.
Although not everyone’s sure it’s in The South. I had a guy at a party in Portland, OR, once badger me, “You’re wrong. Kentucky’s totally in the Midwest.”
I glared at him for two full minutes.
Turns out, Kentucky is among the northernmost states of the South. It may be on the cusp, and Georgia and Louisiana may have more stereotypically southern accents going for them, but that’s neither here nor there. Just because Southern California is often more like Mexi-Hollywood than the rest of the state, doesn’t mean it’s not all part of the same place.
News flash: KENTUCKY IS AS SOUTHERN AS QUILTING FESTIVALS AND BACON GREASE.
Many regions, in fact, fall along linguistic boundaries, dividing us according to how we speak. Chances are pretty good that your average Southerner speaks with some form of a Southern dialect. Kentuckians, in particular, speak a mix of Southern Appalachian & South Midland / Inland dialects (here’s about what it sounds like, although there’s wide variation even in our great state!).
What does all this mean, folks? It means a Kentuckian can sound more similar to parts of Arkansas and Texas than to South Carolina or Mississippi. So while not all Southerner’s are the same, we’re one BIG Southern family.
In all, Kentucky is broad and varied and layered. And it’s so so so many things that non-Southerners will never understand.
Delicious Food and Food Traditions: Cornbread, Mint Julep, KY Hot Brown, and Bourbon Balls
Unique Geographic Features: Mammoth Cave and Land Between the Lakes (there’s buffalo there)
Plus, many famous people were born or grew up here: George Clooney, Muhammad Ali, Johnny Depp, Wendell Berry, Dianne Sawyer and Jennifer Lawrence. By that line of reasoning, it can’t be such a bad breeding ground for people (though I’m unable to explain Mitch McConnell).
Inevitably, there are many less “mainstream” parts to KY culture, like:
Snake Handling Preachers
…and Fort Knox (historic home of the nation’s gold reserves):
Ultimately, you are the one who decides what’s worth paying attention to. We welcome you to come visit if you want to discover more. But if you don’t want to come—don’t. That’s fine.
We’ll keep the secret to ourselves.
Here are a few more things that make Kentucky unique:
Food, Food Places & Events
- The Bourbon Trail
- Bar-B-Q: at the Moonlight Bar-B-Q Inn in Owensboro, at the Danville Bar-B-Q Festival, where people come from all over the country to get their Barbecue on
- Burgoo, a well-known KY stew
- The Hot Brown, invented at the Brown Hotel in Louisville
- The Kentucky Derby original The Mint Julep, traditionally served in a silver cup
- Patti’s 1880 Settlement (in Grand River, KY), with its mile-high merengue pie
- Famous Spoonbread at the Historic Boone Tavern (Berea, KY)
- Benedictine Sandwiches, the epitome of class – there are many versions, but this recipe is one I can stand behind
People, Culture & Events
- Greenhouse 17, leading the nation in support for victims of domestic violence
- Kentucky Arts Council
- Berea Craft Festival
- An actual outhouse race, called The Great Outhouse Blowout, at Penn’s Store in Forkland, KY
- The Great American Brass Band Festival, an anual even in Danville, KY, celebrating brass band music
- Berea, a hub for sustainability, and one of the coolest town in America
- Shaker Village, the southernmost and largest preserved Shaker settlement with over 2,000 acres of land
- Keeneland Thoroughbred Race Track, where local horse racing fans go
- Old Fort Harrod State Park, a full-size replica of a pioneer fort built in 1774
- The Lincoln Trail
The Natural World
- Lake Cumberland, houseboat mecca, with more shoreline than the entire state of Florida
- Mammoth Cave, the longest cave network in the world
- Red River Gorge, with some of the country’s best rock climbing
- Land Between The Lakes – it has buffalo!
- Big South Fork, a national park that has nothing to do with food
- The Central Kentucky Wildlife Refuge
- Elk reintroduction began in 1997, and now KY has the largest free ranging, wild elk herd east of Montana
- KY is 3rd on the list of states with the most counties (120; Georgia at 159; Texas at 254)
- President Lincoln was born in Hodgenville, KY, and grew up in Knob Creek, KY
- It may truly be the horse capital of the world
- The nation’s first Poet Laureate, Robert Penn Warren, is from KY
- The origins of Bluegrass Music are in KY…you’re welcome, world!
- There’s a town called, Monkey’s Eyebrow; another called, Possum Trot (we all realize it should be spelled ‘Oppossum’), and finally: Happy Farm. Again, you’re welcome.
NOTE: There are many more ‘technically superior’ linguistic maps out there than what I’ve included in this post. Should you like further references for US English dialects, check out these maps.
To learn more about Southern Culture, stay tuned for my upcoming post, Can’t Take The South Out Of The Girl: Southern Proud. And for stories on how my Southern cultural roots bump up against Italian culture, I’m currently working on a post called, Can’t Take The South Out Of The Girl: Italian Stunned. Check back soon!
Now it’s your turn: What are you favorite places in Kentucky, and what would you tell someone about the great state who was planning a visit? Not from Kentucky? What would you want to see on your trip to the Bluegrass State? Share in the comments below, and I’ll put the best ideas in a follow-up post!