College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

A Taste for Adventure: Surprises Lurk Among Familiar Recipes

from Clarion Ledger 11/3/10

Feast days are peeking over the horizon and a spate of new cookbooks are itching to get onto home kitchen counters and into action. And some settle just as smoothly on the lap for a good read.

A substantial entry on the scene is the Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook (University of Georgia Press, $24.95) a several-year project by a network that knows which side its cornbread is buttered on.

Marcie Ferris, then SFA board president, suggested the idea of paying homage to community cookbooks but also producing a cookbook applicable for and reflective of the modern South, said John T. Edge, director of SFA at the University of Mississippi and one of the cookbook’s editors. The Food Network’s Alton Brown wrote the foreword.

“The South isn’t static, and Southern culture isn’t static,” he said. And neither is this look at it. The book includes both traditional recipes, such as sausage gravy and redeye gravy, but also Coca-Cola marinated carnitas. “Working class Southerners with Appalachian roots and working class Southerners with Mexican roots are both Southerners.”

Collaborators came from different parts of the South and represent different constituencies. Rather than being an exhaustive sampling, “we hope that it reflects the broader swath of the South,” with diversity of region, race and class. The recipes are tagged to cooks – a nod to tradition.

Another nod to community cookbooks is its spiral binding (yet with a hard outer cover). “Speaking for the (SFA) general membership, we all love those types of cookbooks,” said co-editor Sara Roahen of New Orleans. “They tell stories. They speak of community.

“We wanted to pay homage to community cookbooks and make a really good one, tell the story of our community and give our community a book to cook from.” All the recipes are tested. “I’m so happy about that, personally,” Roahen said. “It does make it a book that anyone with minimal cooking skills can cook from and the recipe will work.

“It’s on my short shelf now,” said Roahen, who dubbed her recent first-time Crawfish Etouffee and Sazerac Tassies “both keepers.”

Recipes include Southern staples and iconic dishes, but also more obscure entries indicative of particular regions plus some “chef-fy” recipes, she said.

Edge pegged the chapter on greens as one of the book’s strengths, with recipes ranging from Brown Butter Creamed Winter Greens to Killed Lettuce and Collard Green and White Bean Gratin. “It’s a showcase of how much Southerners dote on greens,” Edge said.

The book is a showcase, too, of a richly storied (and fed) South, with food-related back stories and quotes such as this one by Eudora Welty, “… to make a friend’s recipe is to celebrate her once more, and in that cheeriest, most aromatic of places to celebrate in, the home kitchen.”

Among editors’ holiday suggestions, find Ginger Ale-Spiked Sweet Potatoes, Oyster Stew, Gumbo z’Herbes and Coconut Layer Cake (“It’s such a gorgeous piece to have on your table around the holidays,” Roahen said).

Other cookbooks with Mississippi ties include:

Somebody Stole the Cornbread from My Dressing (The Overmountain Press, $21.95) by Elizabeth Gourlay Heiskell and Susanne Young Reed – A lifelong friendship cemented in their Rosedale hometown draws on the talents of each for a book combining recipes and recollections. Reed is a freelance writer and author; Heiskell is the lead culinary instructor at Viking in Greenwood and has the catering company Feastivities. Reed married and moved north to Pennsylvania and the resulting culture shock – particularly associated with special occasions – feeds stories about the regional differences. 

“I talk about my experiences North and South with those events and Elizabeth puts Southern recipes with them to show the reader ‘how it should be done,’ ” Reed said, who took the title from a comment her mom made on a Thanksgiving visit north.

From finding a sneeze guard over a wedding buffet line to marked differences in tailgating attire, the field was ripe for humor. “She said, ‘it’s like going to a foreign country,’ ” Heiskell said. Photography was done at her home on her china and her grandmother’s silver, “so it’s a beautiful book but it’s also absolutely hilarious – funny, funny, funny … I mean, too funny.” 

There are about 150 recipes and the holiday-minded should keep an eye out for Delta Roasted Turkey with Million-Dollar Gravy and Somebody Put Sweet Potatoes in My Orange Cups.

Taste of the Town (Foundation for Rankin County Public Schools, $20) – Rankin County School District employees submitted their favorite recipes for this foundation fundraiser. The foundation awarded $18,000 in scholarships to senior students over the last two years, said spokeswoman Robin Platt Haney. Cookbooks will be available at each school in the district on Nov. 18 ($5 from each cookbook sold goes to the school selling it).

Quail Ridge Press of Brandon has some new titles out in its ongoing regional series. New releases include Best of the Best from Texas Pride Cookbook, Best of the Best from South Texas AT&T Pioneers Cookbook, Best of the Best from the MidSouth Cookbook and Best of the Best from the Southwest Cookbook ($16.95-$24.95 in that series). For recipes closer to home, check out 2009’s The Best of the Best from the Deep South Cookbook, with selected recipes from Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. Quail Ridge also now offers Debbie Thornton’s Any Blonde Can Cook series. 

Former Clarion-Ledger Ask Away columnist Martha McIntosh is the editor on Jan Karon’s Mitford Cookbook & Kitchen Reader (Penguin Books, $20), bringing some of the novel’s culinary treats out of the imagination and onto the table.