Saturday, January 11, 2014

New Directions for the New Year

I have decided this blog would be more generally helpful if it were more focused. Therefore, in 2014 I plan to fill more space with words about food gardening and cooking, with the emphasis on Southern-style food. Last year friends mourned the passing of John Egerton, a Nashville author who in 1987 produced the first really definitive work on the subject, Southern Food: At home, on the road, and in history. In over 200 restaurant reviews and a similar number of recipes, Egerton sought to explain and explore Southern food in the hope of preserving some of our best traditions for future generations. Throughout this entertaining and well-written narrative, we read the words of cooks and restaurant owners from all over the South, lamenting that "this kind of cooking" is dying out, or that, "not many people do it this way, anymore."

Upon Egerton's well laid groundwork, I hope to spend this year discovering to what extent those predictions have come true, and (hopefully) to learn that not only have the old Southern food traditions not expired, but rather they are, like an elderly maiden aunt when you visit her after a long absence, unexpectedly robust.

Besides re-visiting some of the restaurants that Egerton visited and researching and cooking some of the foods we Southerners treasure, I also plan to spend some time digging up, if you will pardon the pun, information on the vegetable varieties that have traditionally been used to create those memorable Southern dishes. We already know about Hickory King corn and Cherokee Purple tomatoes, but I think it will be fun to explore the flavors of older varieties of peas, okra, and beans, also.

On the recipe front, it is encouraging to note that dozens of Southern-style cookbooks have appeared just in the last three years. If from these we subtract those from Emeril, Paula, Duck Dynasty, Southern Living and similar celebrity authors, we are left with a remarkable selection of serious work about serious Southern food. Rather than dying out, it would appear that our distinctive regional cuisine is more widely popular than ever.

With gardeners and farmers here in the Tennessee Valley and throughout the South becoming ever more skilled and successful at growing food, we are in a great position to lead a "return to the roots of Southern food" movement. In future posts, I will talk about cooking some of the recipes I have found in my research, and about growing some heirloom vegetable varieties in my garden this year.

Here is a list of a few of the great new Southern cookbooks published in the last two years, and some that are coming out this year.

Vienneau, Nancy (2014) The Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook: Recipes and Stories to Celebrate the Bounty of the Moment. Thomas Nelson.
Gabriel, Johnnie (2014) How to Cook Like a Southerner: Classic Recipes from the South's Best Down-Home Cooks. Thomas Nelson.
van Beuren, Alexe and Dixie Grimes. (2014)  The B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from a Southern Revival. Crown Publishing Group.
Little, Stacey. (2014) The Southern Bite Cookbook: 150 Irresistible Dishes from 4 Generations of My Family's Kitchen. Thomas Nelson.
Link, Donald and Paula Disbrowe. (2014) Down South: Bourbon, Pork, Gulf Shrimp & Second Helpings of Everything. Crown Publishing Group.
Fowler, Damon Lee (2013) Essentials of Southern Cooking: Techniques and Flavors of a Classic American Cuisine. The Lyons Press.
Currence, John. (2013) Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey: Recipes from My Three Favorite Food Groups and Then Some. Andrews McMeel.
Randolph, Mary. (2013) The Virginia Housewife: Or, Methodical Cook. Reprint of an 1824 volume considered to be the first Southern cookbook. Andrews McMeel.
Van Dyke, Louis and Billie Van Dyke (2013) The Blue Willow Inn Bible of Southern Cooking: 450 Essential Recipes Southerners Have Enjoyed for Generations. Thomas Nelson.
Walsh, Robb (2013) Barbecue Crossroads: Notes and Recipes from a Southern Odyssey. Austin, University of Texas Press.
Tolley, Lynne and Mindy Merrell. (2012) Jack Daniel's Cookbook: Stories and Kitchen Secrets from Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House. Thomas Nelson.
Dupree, Nathalie  and Cynthia Graubart (2012) Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking. Smith, Gibbs Publisher.
Beall, Sam. (2012) The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm: Recipes and Wisdom from Our Artisans, Chefs, and Smoky Mountain Ancestors. Crown Publishing Group.
Thompson, Fred. (2012) Fred Thompson’s Southern Sides: 250 Dishes That Really Make the Plate. Greensboro, The University of North Carolina Press.
Fox, Minnie C. (2012) The Blue Grass Cook Book. (Reprint of 1904 edition). University Press of Kentucky.
Caldwell, Patsy and Amy Lyles Wilson. (2012) You Be Sweet: Sharing Your Heart One Down-Home Dessert at a Time. Thomas Nelson.
Savor the South Cookbook Series, University of North Carolina Press, Okra (2014), Pickles and Preserves (2014), Bourbon (2013), Biscuits (2013),  Peaches (2013), Tomatoes (2013), Pecans (2012), Buttermilk (2012).

All of the above titles are hardcover releases. Some may also be available in other formats. Books with less comprehensive coverage tend to be released in digital format only these days. One e-book that readers may want to explore is this one:

Kellner, Hank. (2013) The Taste of Appalachia: A Collection of Traditional Recipes Still in Use Today. Smashwords.

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