Beyond Bestsellers: Put Some South in Your Mouth

by Kimberly P.

It often comes as a surprise to folks in the PNW that I’m a Southerner born and raised. I work hard to smooth out my Southern twang accent, but words still trip me up. I just can’t shake my Southernisms. For instance:

It’s skillet, not frying pan.

Buggy, not shopping cart.

Lightnin’ bugs, not fireflies.

And–bless your heart–what is this “stuffing” y’all speak of? That’s an awful strange way to pronounce “dressin’.”

However, we all can agree that Southern food has its own particular charm. When a rough bout of homesickness hits, I browse Sno-Isle’s wonderful collection of Southern cookbooks.

It’s a Southern Thing

I reckon Paula Deen has become near synonymous with Southern cooking (for Georgia in particular, and Savannah especially). In my home state of GA, she’s a national treasure–and I admit, her food is pretty darn tasty. While she’s shied away from her classic recipes in favor of healthier versions, I’m more interested in the vintage (pleasantly chubbier) Paula.

Sugar, if a recipe calls for a stick of butter then you bet I’m in!

Paula Deen’s Kitchen Classics: The Lady & Sons Savannah Country Cookbook and The Lady & Sons, Too! takes me back to original recipes straight from her popular Savannah restaurant, The Lady & Sons. The recipes are easy to follow and yummy, but if you’re not looking to indulge, you may want to enjoy this cookbook in moderation.

 

 

For those harping about eating healthier–hush your mouth! Go munch your kale elsewhere, ’cause I’m fixin’ to gobble up this Southern fried chicken like the piggy I am. Southern Fried by James Villas is a great staple for my fried food cravings. The pictures are gorgeous, the recipes easy to replicate, and what can I say? Fried foods are to the South what Subarus are to the PNW.

 

 

Fusing history, African American cultural identity and food, Soul Food: The Surprising Story of American Cuisine One Plate At A Time by Adrian Miller studies the influences (and ingredients!) of the soul food tradition. I can’t decide what I enjoyed more–the dishes or the history behind them. This winner of the Reference and Scholarship category of the 2014 James Beard Foundation Awards proves food for thought and food for belly are an award-winning combo.

Fun Fact: Miller’s latest book, The President’s Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, From the Washingtons to the Obamas, serves up the favorite dishes of presidents past while sharing the untold history of the African American cooks who created them.

 

 

A Real Southern Cook in Her Savannah Kitchen by Dora Charles is far more tame than some of Paula Deen’s heaviest recipes, but no less tasty. (Seriously, I adore cornbread and her Buttermilk Cornbread is delicious. Don’t even get me started on the Very Red Velvet Cake.) Also hailing from Savannah–for twenty two years she was the chef for Ms. Deen’s restaurants before they had a falling out–Charles gives us a peek inside the recipes that made her cooking famous.

 

Now I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our no-wait title for this month’s Beyond Bestsellers challenge: The Cooking Gene: A Journey through African-American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael Twitty. Twitty takes the memoir format, sears it over the flames of Southern culinary history, adds a dash of genealogical sleuthing to season, and serves up an incredibly satisfying food odyssey.

I was fascinated to read about his varied heritage–among other things part slave and part slave owner–and his drive to understand his ancestral culinary history and master the precise food preparation inherent to his Jewish faith.

He has inspired me to do my own genealogical research and (maybe!) discover my own familial recipes.

 

The Dirty South Gets Dirtier

If you’re really looking to stir up some trouble, ask who has the best BBQ: Memphis, Texas, or St. Louis? Based on the area of the country, you’ll get a different answer with people drawing barbecue sauce battle lines and firing up their ancestral smokers.

 

While I can’t answer that question, Robb Walsh makes a noteworthy attempt at tackling the answer in his book Barbecue Crossroads: Notes and Recipes From A Southern Odyssey. Combing stories, recipes, and lush photos, Walsh journeys from Texas to the Carolinas to trace the deliciously smoked tradition of pit barbecue. I was full as a tick just reading through his gastronomic adventures.

 

 

 

Open flame and roasted meat isn’t just a man’s turf, thank you very much. In Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room: Southern Recipes From the Winningest Woman in Barbecue, Melissa Cookston proves she’s got gumption and excellent food knows no gender. Packed with her best recipes from her award winning grilling cookoffs, this book has me eager for warmer weather and firing up my own grill.

Over Yonder

I know it’s a common stereotype that Southern food can’t be simultaneously delicious and healthy. I admit, I was skeptical. Sipping my sweet tea with raised eyebrow, I picked up Bryan Terry’s cookbook,  Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African American Cuisine.

And he did it. He made a believer out of me.

Reinterpreting dishes from a plethora of cultures, he shows that you can eat high quality, healthy food and still enjoy complex, filling flavors.

For Your Sweet Tooth

I couldn’t leave without at least mentioning the sweet treats that round out Southern cuisine. Myself, I’m partial to pecan pralines. It ought to be a sin how they melt in your mouth with nutty, caramelly, sugary goodness. (If you’re ever in Savannah–get some. You’ll thank me later. Preferably by sending me a box).

I can almost smell the delicious cakes my great aunt would bake for family gatherings. I’d run wild across their farm, chasing chickens until the cows came home (literally!). Worn slap out, I’d rush into the kitchen for dinner and my soon-to-be-devoured slice of red velvet cake.  

 

Blue Ribbon Baking From A Redneck Kitchen by Francine Bryson takes me back to that time. Bryson’s wit, charm, and expertise made me feel like I was with her in the kitchen talking up a storm while the scent of chocolate chip cookies perfumed the air. And did I mention her pies?

Cause her pies, y’all. Delicious as all get out. Put some ice cream on a slice and I’ll need to be rolled to the couch in a wheelbarrow.

 

If you’re interested in more Southern cookbooks, check out the list below. Do you have a favorite Southern chef or cookbook?  I’d love to find out what you enjoy eating.

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Comments

15 responses to “Beyond Bestsellers: Put Some South in Your Mouth”

  1. Isaac says:

    Great list Kim! It made me hungry and reminiscent at the same time. I haven’t heard the word “lightning bugs” (or seen any of the actual bug) in years. While I think most of my southern-isms are gone, I still get made fun of when overheard talking to my southern parents and using “ice box” instead of refrigerator, or “Ya’ll” instead of “you all”. And it took years in the west before I stopped referring to all soda as “coke”.

    • Kimberly P. says:

      Isaac–I still slip up and call everything “coke”! Glad to know there might be hope for me yet. Thank you!

  2. Jackie Personeus says:

    My Southern grandmother could turn anything into a fritter—banana fritters, eggplant fritters, corn fritters, and her salmon croquettes-to die for! I enjoyed your post—I placed a hold on the vegan cookbook! Thanks Kim!

    • Kimberly P. says:

      Jackie, my mouth is seriously watering. I love love love corn fritters and salmon croquettes! Now I’m going to have to find me some. . . .

  3. David says:

    I’m an East Coast native, but I did live for a time in Tennessee, where I learned to shell peas on the back porch. Never did acquire the taste for warm Dr. Pepper, though. Great, entertaining post, Kim!

    • Kimberly P. says:

      Thank you, David! Oh man, shelling peas on the porch–now that takes me back. I used to HATE doing that. It was so boring. But as I’ve gotten older, I really miss those times.

  4. Erin L. says:

    My family is born and raised here in the PNW and we say “pop” for soft drinks. Soda is for the ice cream drink with soda water, ice cream, and chocolate syrup. Funny how this changes in each region. In response to this post though, I’m considering getting an air fryer. I wonder if these recipes would be good in that? Probably not the same but I can’t justify getting a deep fryer just to try out foods I normally don’t cook. It would be too tempting to start deep frying everything!

    • Kimberly P. says:

      I admit, Erin, there is a fine line of deep frying cravings. Once you start, it’s hard to go back! I think several of these recipes will work with an air fryer. In fact, I believe Paula Deen has adapted her recipes for air frying in her cookbook “Paula Deen’s Air Fryer Cookbook.” It might be a good place to start. Sno-Isle owns a copy. And if you do give air frying a shot, please let me know. I’ve had my eye on it for a while now but am too scared to take the plunge alone!

      • Erin L. says:

        I’ve been hesitant too so if anyone has real life feedback I’d like to know. Reviews online don’t answer my question – Is the food tasty or just a pale imitation/substitution for fried?

  5. Abby B. says:

    I should not have read this prior to my lunch break. Everything looks so yummy!
    Now my hold queue is full of southern food… when they all come in my family won’t know what hit them, but it’s going to be a delicious wave of food, that’s for sure.

  6. Julie says:

    As a kid, summers often meant trips to visit family in Georgia. So for me, those flashy insects will always be “lightning bugs”! Thanks for this smorgasbord of Southern cooking 🙂

  7. Michele B says:

    I grew up in the foothills of the NC Appalachian region. I still crave Mama’s sausage gravy and biscuits, corn fritters with melted butter running down my arms, banana pudding, tomato and mayonnaise sandwich eaten over the kitchen sink, grits and liverpuddin, and fried chicken (any fried meat!) with LOTS of gravy

    • Kimberly P. says:

      Oh aren’t you wonderful! When I talk about the glories of a tomato and mayo sandwich people look at me like I’ve lost my mind. Biscuits and gravy… grits! Yes. Yes. Yes. All of that sounds so fantastic. I’m so glad to meet some fellow Southerners here.

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