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Southern Culinary Writer


Malawry
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Who writes about Southern cuisine that you respect? What do they write about? What are your favorite Southern cookbooks, and why?

Despite being a native of the South and an avid food geek and cook, I have very little sense of Southern food media. It seems the best-known influences are Southern Living magazine and the New Orleans TV chefs but there has to be more out there. Are there respected authorities on Southern cuisine along the lines of Joan Nathan or Deborah Madison for Jewish or vegetarian/freshmarket cuisine? I'm especially interested in specific Southern regions like Charleston with its lowcountry influences. Who do you turn to?

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Edna Lewis's The Taste of Country Cooking is a classic.

I don't know if it's still in print, but Charleston Receipts by the Junior League of Charleston, is a collection of recipes compiled by the Junior League of Charleston in 1950. Mine is the twenty-first printing, from 1976.

Edited by Sandra Levine (log)
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Edna Lewis, Bill Neal, Damon Lee Fowler.

Edna Lewis' last book, In Pursuit of Flavor, is also great. Damon Lee Fowler has done a rather historical book on Southern Cooking, a more modern one and also one focusing on fruits and vegetables -- Beans, Greens, and Sweet Georgia Peaches. Also focusing on produce is Ronni Lundy's Butter Beans to Blackberries, Recipes from the Southern Garden, which has some great ideas.

Louis Osteen's Charleston Cuisine is very good. I don't love Hoppin' John's Low Country Cooking, by John Martin Taylor -- the recipes need to be fiddled with quite a bit.

Edited by Toby (log)
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I think the best source for good U.S. Southern cooking and information about same is in the many civic organization-type cookbooks (junior league, women's club, churches, etc.) that are so very popular in the South.

More than just recipe collections, they often have chapter introductions and other words of wisdom from the local food mavens.

Here's an excerpt from Charleston Receipts:

HOMINY

Never call it 'Hominy Grits'

Or you will give Charlestonians fits!

When it comes from the mill, it's 'grist';

After you cook it well, I wist

You serve 'hominy'! Do not skimp;

Serve butter with it and lots of shrimp.

Hominy has long been a favorite in the Carolina Low-Country. This corn preparation, boiled with water and salt, was served in almost every household for breakfast -- not as a cereal with sugar and cream, but mixed with butter and eaten with a relish such as bacon, eggs or fish cakes. It was not frequently used for dinner, but was often on the supper table, either cooked in the same manner or, more often, in the form of fried hominy, baked hominy or 'Awendaw.' These concoctions were usually made from the hominy 'left in the pot' after breakfast and were served for the evening meal with ham, shrimp, crab or the like. Hominy is still used a great deal in Charleston and its vicinity, and may be prepared in any of the following ways.

Another:

RICE

Charleston was the birthplace of rice in America. The first seed was brought to the province of Carolina about 1685. This rice had been raised in Madagascar, and a ship sailing from that island put into the port of Charles Town when in distress. The captain of the ship, John Thurber, made the acquaintance of Dr. Henry Woodward, one of the leading citizens. He gave Dr. Woodward a small quantity of rice, less than a bushel. This started the rice industry, which flourished for over two centuries. These seeds were cultivated, due to soil and climate, to the highest perfection, and became world famous as Carolina Gold Rice. Some of the following receipts have been in constant use for over a century and a half, passing from generation to generation.

And this, from River Roads Recipes:

SEAFOOD

Seafoods par excellence -- a superabundance is ours in 'River Roads' country -- the perfection and variety of which is unsurpassed! From the waters of the Gulf of Mexico come the famous salt-water varieties -- red fish and red snapper, the flounder and the pompano, the speckled trout and the Spanish mackerel. The rivers and bayous of Louisiana offer fresh water varieties such as the bass and the sac-a-lait. To enhance our culinary advantage from a seafood standpoint there are such delicacies as the lake and river shrimp, the hard-shell and the soft-shell crabs, the oysters, the crayfish and the famous green turtle! These can be had for the fishing.

Anyone who'd like to get really familiar with U.S. Southern-style cooking would do well to begin a collection of these treasures.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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Edna Lewis's The Taste of Country Cooking is a classic.

I don't know if it's still in print, but Charleston Receipts by the Junior League of Charleston, is a collection of recipes compiled by the Junior League of Charleston in 1950.  Mine is the twenty-first printing, from 1976.

As a native Charlestonian, I second the John Taylor nomination. We used to live down the street from his shop/house. I have my grandmothers's 1974 edition of Charleston Receipts...my great grandmother did the cover/some of the illustrations and both of them submitted recipes.

I have an old Savannah cookbook of similar provenence... I use the Recipts the most when I am cooking Lowcountry food.

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I think the best source for good U.S. Southern cooking and information about same is in the many civic organization-type cookbooks (junior league, women's club, churches, etc.) that are so very popular in the South.

More than just recipe collections, they often have chapter introductions and other words of wisdom from the local food mavens.

Anyone who'd like to get really familiar with U.S. Southern-style cooking would do well to begin a collection of these treasures.

Although not city specific, the "Best of the Best" series is state specific. They cull from organizational cookbooks, picking the very best. I have several and the recipes work. I just wish there were more background to go along with the recipes.

--------------

Bob Bowen

aka Huevos del Toro

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Craig Claiborne, Jack McDavid (though I have to call him as no one has been able to do a cookbook with him), and Camille Glenn in "The Heritage of Southern Cooking." I second both John Taylor and Edna Lewis. Not all that big a fan of Natilie Dupree. I also second the women groups' cookbooks. Can't pass them up.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

Twitter

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This is a blurb about Eugene Walter of Mobile, Alabama. I had the pleasure of meeting him in Seaside, Florida. The name of the book is "Moments with Eugene...a collection of memories" by editors Rebecca Barrett and Carolyn Haines. He was quite the storyteller.

For those of you who did not have the pleasure of knowing Eugene Walter, a brief synopsis of Eugene's résumé is in order. Eugene Walter was a novelist, poet, essayist, humorist, artist, stage designer, lyricist, actor, master of the culinary arts, botanist, philosopher, sociologist, radio personality, Mobile, Alabama native, resident of Rome and Paris, and most importantly a friend and inspiration to fellow artists and writers. Inspiration, imagination, and encouragement were Eugene's greatest gifts. Admiration was his greatest reward. Sadly, Eugene left us in March, 1998 at the age of seventy-six.

But Eugene Walter will never be forgotten. Editors Rebecca Barrett and Carolyn Haines have seen to that. For two years, Rebecca and Carolyn painstakingly solicited, collected, and massaged an unusual menagerie of stories written by Eugene's friends, acquaintances, and colleagues. The result is a 310-page hardcover volume of photographs, squiggles, and mostly humorous, mostly true tales about Mobile, Alabama's anointed renaissance man. A colorful character Mr. Walter was, that's for sure. The extent of that color has now been brought out in Rebecca and Carolyn's delightful book.

It is good to be a BBQ Judge.  And now it is even gooder to be a Steak Cookoff Association Judge.  Life just got even better.  Woo Hoo!!!

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Marcelle Bienvenu is probably my favorite writer on the Cajun/Southern tradition.

In the Houston area, we are on the border between what some folks call "Southern Tradition" (like my grandmother, great aunt, etc.), some Western with BBQ etc., Cajun seeping in from the east of the border, TexMex and authentic Mexican, so that I am a little confused as to whether this area is "Southern" or not. I agree that the "women's groups" books are my main source so I don't have any particular author to cite.

If you extend "Southern" into Florida it gets even more complicated. I am about to decide that there is no such thing as "Southern" but a very complex tapestry of tradition. It seems to me that Southern Living continues to grapple with this complexity.

Mark... Thanks for bringing up Nathalie Dupree. I couldn't remember the woman's name. I just remember her show in the early days of FTVN. I saw one show where she caught a towel or hot mitt on fire, casually tossed it in the sink with "Oh... That was such a nice towel, too." The woman was an absolute ditz and always had some kind of disaster on camera. But she handled it all with such class that you had to admire that. I seem to remember that her recipes were kind of ok, too.

Edited by fifi (log)

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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I second both John Taylor and Edna Lewis.  Not all that big a fan of Natilie Dupree.  I also second the women groups' cookbooks.  Can't pass them up.

Ditto the kudos for Hoppin' John and Edna Lewis. Ditto that I'm not big on N. Dupree. Ditto the value of those women's groups' efforts.

One of the most respected folks writing about Southern food culture today is John T. Edge, Director of the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi's Center for the Study of Southern Culture. His Southern Belly, the Ultimate Food Lover's Companion to the South is thoroughly delightful, " . . . an authoritative and comprehensive view of the food of the American South: a place-specific book that fuses good eatin' advice with entries that provide historical and cultural perspective on our appreciation of Southern standard -- and not so standard -- food fare." He writes of chicken shacks and smoke joints, fish camps and meat 'n' three destinations in a unique way that really brings the personalities and landscapes to life. I swear, your stomach will growl its way through the book! And I've recently purchased his A Gracious Plenty, Recipes and Recollections from the American South. It's a combination cookbook and cultural/historical discourse; the four hundred classic Southern recipes are all drawn from the aforementioned community and church cookbooks. Haven't done more than glance through it at this point, but it certainly looks to be a winner.

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Xanthippe... Thanks for the tips. I am on the search for those books.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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John T. Edge also writes for magazines, and he seems to always be quoted in any article about Southern cooking. He's also appeared in many Food Network shows. He seems so friendly, and is incredibly knowledgeable. And Marcelle Bienvenu not only knows everything there is to know about Cajun food, she is one of the nicest people in the world I think. What I particularly enjoy about them is the respect they have for Southern food and culture, and how willing they are to share what they know.

Anne E. McBride

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and meat 'n' three...

I LOVE that term...

Reminds me so of my granny.

Although, when we visited her it was often (like many farm families) "meat 'n' five" - or more!

:rolleyes:

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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Oh my heavens -- more great Southern writers than I can count or even begin to list. But yes, any list would have to have:

Edna Lewis, especially "A Taste of Country Cooking,"

anything by Bill Neal,

Ronni Lundy, especially "Butters Beans to Blackberries,"

Hoppin' John Martin Taylor,

Damon Fowler,

Jessica Harris' "The Welcome Table,"

any of several books by Sarah Belk King,

anything by Lee Bailey,

both John T. Edge and John Egerton on Southern food culture,

Eugene Walters, especially if you can lay your hands on his "American South" contribution to the Time-Life series from the '60s,

Ben and Karen Barkers' "Not Afraid of Flavor" for the chefy side of Southern cuisine,

Robb Walsh's "Legend of Texas Barbecue"

and, and, and .... sorry, my list would be pretty much endless. As soon as I hit "add reply," I'll think of 20 more.

Kathleen Purvis, food editor, The Charlotte (NC) Observer

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  • 2 weeks later...

women's groups and church cookbooks are the best place to start--what's missing is as telling as what's there. i have cookbooks in which ingredients are listed, then oven temp and baking time and that's it. my first response could be, UH, exCUSE me? what do i do with the ingredients?

but some recipes are so "local" and so "common" that it's just assumed anyone using the book knows how to fold egg whites into cake batter, etc. and you often get about five variations on one recipe--like squash casserole, which some people like to top with crushed lays potato chips, and others with crushed cheezits.

i love the church cookbooks with comments after the recipes, like one my mom included for an ambrosia salad, "Men love this!" i have to ask myself, Okay, and how does she know?

but seriously, malawry, my knowledge about southern cooking has come mainly from growing up in the south and eating in my family's house. the notion of a regional "cuisine" occurred to me when i was real young--i grew up in east TN with a sorta hillbilly culture on my dad's side. my mom's people live in rural Delaware--i spent my summers there and couldn't understand why we never had buscuits for breakfast. i hated toast with my eggs. etc. the food was diffferent--for example the pizza--what would pass as "good" pizza in the south would have been laughed into oblivion up there.

my family never took the kind of cool fun family vacations that all the other kids took--to myrtle beach, disneyworld, etc. we pulled our holiday rambler trailer to charleston or to the dessert southwest and camped and looked around. as kids my sisters and i hated it. we thought it was totally nerdy and stupid. looking back now i realize how much our parents exposed us to, in terms of showing us the country, the different regions, peoples, foods, rather than taking us on a boat ride through It's a Small World.

i was 16 when we stayed a few days about 30 miles outside el paso, our van broken down. we hung out at a local diner and ate giant steaks and burgers and stewed antelope. i may as well have been in another country. it was one of the first times i realized that food was exciting.

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The late Bill Neal's Southern Cooking, published in 1985, introduced many of us to the history of southern cuisine. He later published a couple of other books, each with a verty strong sense of history. If not for his untimely passing, I have little doubt he'd be the leading sage on our fine culinary traditions.

If you want a southern cookbook that really tells a story, try to find a copy of Coastal Carolina Cooking, by Nancy Davis and Kathy Hart. Mrs. Varmint's grandparents were featured in a segment of this book, so I'm a bit biased. Nevertheless, some of the recipes in this book include the following: Squirrel and Dumplings, Coon Hash, Pickled Figs, Squash Cakes, Old Drum Stew, Molasses Gunger, Stew Fried Corn, Shad Roe with Sweet Potatoes, and Mullet & Watermelon. It's an amazing book.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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  • 1 year later...
Marcelle Bienvenu is probably my favorite writer on the Cajun/Southern tradition.

Fifi, I adore Marcelle Bienvenu's writing and miss her dearly since she no longer writes a food column in our local Times of Acadiana. From a few of Mayhaw Man's posts, I gather she now writes for the New Orleans Times Picayune. Definitely our (Acadiana's) loss.

Edited by patti (log)

Dear Food: I hate myself for loving you.

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About 1972 Southern Living published a series of compilation cookbooks, recipes by Southern homemakers from every state of the region. Breads, Desserts, Canning and Preserving, Meats, Vegetables . . . . and more I'm sure. The instructions are fairly specific in these but the ingredients list is not always for the novice, especially in the Canning and Preserving Cookbook: "greenbeans, salt," or "peaches, sugar, spice bag." Then what does one do exactly with "grape catsup"?

Nevertheless there is a lot of good solid food prep info in those books, recipes by your neighbor, and some interesting :wink: comments -- " . . . imagine the pleasure you'll feel when your husband announces that his wife bakes her own bread!"

Judith Love

North of the 30th parallel

One woman very courteously approached me in a grocery store, saying, "Excuse me, but I must ask why you've brought your dog into the store." I told her that Grace is a service dog.... "Excuse me, but you told me that your dog is allowed in the store because she's a service dog. Is she Army or Navy?" Terry Thistlewaite

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