THAT’S WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THE SOUTH – PART THREE

There is a marvelous cookbook titled TWO HUNDRED YEARS OF CHARLESTON COOKING, which was published in 1976 by the University of South Carolina Press. Let me share a secret with you—some of the finest regional books you will ever find about any state are often published by their respective university presses. Many university presses will send you a catalog of their publications, either free or for a small fee of a few dollars. ***

TWO HUNDRED YEARS OF CHARLESTON COOKING was first published in 1930, then reprinted in 1931 and again in 1934. Some of the original recipes are in the 1976 softcover edition. The ladies who collected the recipes and wrote the introduction explain how many of “…the receipts came from old unpublished or out of print collections saved in plantation kitchen from time out of mind. One of these collections was owned by the family of Bossis Plantation, passed down from mother to daughter…two hundred years leans heavily on this collection, which has never been published…”

Other Carolina cookbooks to look for might include CAROLINA CUISINE ENCORE published in 1981 by the Junior Assembly of Anderson, South Carolina, or THE CAROLINA COLLECTION by the Junior League of Fayetteville, 1978, or PALMETTO PANTRY by the Heathwood Hall Episcopal School of Columbia, South Carolina, published in 1983. There is another wonderful book titled MCCLELLANVILLE COAST COOKBOOK by the McClellanville Arts Council of McClellanville, South Carolina, which, incidentally, won the Tabasco Community Cookbook award in 1993). This cookbook provides its readers with an in-depth look at the importance of rice and seafood to the townspeople. Louisiana and South Carolina are both famous for their rice crops.

The Junior League of Greenville, South Carolina, compiled UPTOWN DOWN SOUTH, first published in 1986, and of course, there is the ever-popular previously mentioned CHARLESTON RECEIPTS, first published in 1950. According to CHARLESTON RECEIPTS, their fine city was the birthplace of rice in America; the first seed was brought to the province of Carolina about 1685.

In 1993, the Junior League of Charleston published PARTY RECEIPTS, with emphasis on hors d’oeuvres, savories and sweets—along with many great recipes. There is also a lot of fascinating information for us food faddies.

From NORTH Carolina, I have MOUNTAIN ELEGANCE by the Junior League of Asheville, published in 1982, and another favorite, OUT OF OUR LEAGUE was published by the Junior League of Greensboro in 1978. Later, in 1978, the Greensboro Junior League published a small, thin cookbook titled OUT OF OUR LEAGUE TOO, which is entirely devoted to one of my favorite food topics—appetizers! (After decades of throwing elaborate parties with tons of food, I discovered I could “do” parties entirely with appetizers).

Betty Fussell, in her book I HEAR AMERICA COOKING writes this about the Carolinas: “If you ask about southern cooking, a Southern will ask ‘Which South?’ There’s a white south and black south, rich south and poor south and coast south and the south that moved north when slaves were freed. To draw the line somewhere, I picked the two Carolinas, North and South, in that large quilt called ‘Dixie’ where folks number the accents not just region by region or state by state, but town by town. Three cities—Charleston, Columbia and Greensboro—had to stand for three major ecologies: the lowlands and tidewaters of the coastal plains that stretch from Florida to Chesapeake Bay, the central plain of the Piedmont: the long chain of the Appalachian Mountains, from Georgia to Maryland. In the South where you come from means not just what family but what land and no where are the products of the table more rooted in the land.

Southern cooking was,” she writes, earth cooking was the way the Southwest was sun cooking and Louisiana was swamp cooking.” She continues in her chapter on the south, “The plantation ideal was founded on the fertility of southern land in weather softer and warmer than the hard North. Land produced the cash crops of indigo, tobacco, cotton and rice, but it also produced the food for each self-supporting fiefdom (plantation)…the fabled hospitality of the southern plantation was rooted in farms and gardens so civilized they put the North to shame.”

Later in the chapter, Fussell notes, “When a Southerner leaves the South, he loses neither his accent nor his sense of place, because he takes his cooking with him. Whether it’s earth foods, like grits or greens, rice and gravy, or country foods like ham biscuits and crackling breads, or fancy foods like syllabubs and brandied peaches, hospitality betrays his origins. For an eighteenth century traveler from France, hospitality distinguished North from South. In the North, inns were frequent but the people inhospitable, he complained, whereas in the South, inns were few but the hospitality of the people abundant and generous.”

There is also a thick, comprehensive book titled NORTH CAROLINA & OLD SALEM COOKERY by Beth Tartan, published by the University of North Carolina Press. It was originally published in 1955 and reprinted in 1992.

In this book, you will find explanations of old-time customs and ways of the old South, many of which I have never seen in print elsewhere, or heard of before. Read here about fly bushes and bottle trees! No, not a tree that grew bottles, but rather, trees with branches made into spikes on which ladies would stick their bottles and jars to dry in the sun. There are stories about the old south kitchen and the utensils used in it, and – oh, yes, recipes—hundreds of recipes indigenous to North Carolina. **

One of my favorite community cookbooks is titled SMOKY MOUNTAIN MAGIC, compiled by the Junior Service League of Johnson City, Tennessee. It was first published in 1960 and is, I believe, still in print. I did a quick check on Google and Amazon.com has copies – not cheap; new ones start at $85 but you can get a copy for under $20. In its preface the cookbook compilers write, “In the hills of Tennessee, there is a tradition that lives on; true native sons appreciate and value good friends and good food. Without the one, life is empty, without the other, one is empty.”

And then there’s Tennessee; my sister, Barbara, moved to the Nashville area some years ago and we both began searching earnestly for Tennessee community cookbooks. I made a number of trips to Nashville when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and became quite familiar with the Nashville Airport and the I-40 freeway from the airport to Lebanon, which was a few miles from her home.

You may want to look for THE MEMPHIS COOKBOOK by the Junior League of Memphis by the Junior League of Memphis, which was first published in 1952 and has since gone through numerous reprints. SOUTHERN SECRETS by the Episcopal Day School Mother’s Club of Jackson, Tennessee (1979) is a good find, as well as DIXIE DELIGHTS, published by the St. Francis Hospital Auxiliary of Memphis, Tennessee, in 1983. The Memphis Junior League published an interesting cookbook in 1970 titled PARTY POTPOURRI which is devoted entirely to party planning and accompanying recipes—and then another favorite of mine (because I collect books about American presidents and first ladies—and collecting cookbooks with a presidential theme was a natural addition) is THE JAMES K. POLK COOKBOOK which was published in 1978 by the James K Polk Memorial Auxiliary of Columbia, Tennessee, and is full of information about the country’s 11th president—not to mention a lot of good recipes. (Another American President, Andrew Jackson, called The Hermitage, near Nashville, home and if you happen to be in the neighborhood, visiting and touring the Hermitage is a rewarding experience.) **

There is also a slim spiral bound book titled THE PEAR TREE, by the Junior League of Knoxville. It was originally published in 1977 but has been reprinted many times since. It may be out of print now and more difficult to find—I was only able to find listings on EBAY while doing a search on Google. THE PEAR TREE focuses on holiday entertaining and is handy to browse through hen you are trying to decide on Christmas and New Year’s menus. (I also collect Christmas cookbooks so this was a twofer—a community cookbook that is also a Christmas cookbook).

I don’t have many cookbooks from the State of Mississippi but I do have a few treasures. One of my favorites is SOUTHERN SIDEBOARDS by the Junior League of Jackson, Mississippi, published in 1978. (You CAN find copies of this one. I saw listings on Google for as little as $1.00). In its introduction Wyatt Cooper writes, “Speak to me of food and what springs readily to my mind is not so much a recall of particular dishes I’ve relished, but a succession of images, sad and funny, sweet and tender, of people and places and happy occasions from the recent or long-ago past, a procession of dear, lost familiar faces and voices, with the echo of laughter from other years. One remembers all those tables, some humble and bearing simple fare, over which have flowed the talk, the tales, the exchanges that have made up the histories of our lives….” This, too, is southern cooking.

Another fine offering from Mississippi is VINTAGE VICKSBURG by the Junior Auxiliary of Vicksburg, first published in 1985 and containing over NINE HUNDRED RECIPES. It also contains historical color photographs, cooking for children, menus, garnishes, and cooking tips. VINTAGE VICKSBURG is also available; you can order a brand new copy from Amazon.com for about $20.00 but they have pre-owned copies available starting at $1.47. (I have bought quite a lot of pre-owned cookbooks from places like Amazon.com, Alibris, and the Barnes & Noble website—without any regrets). If you only had enough room for one Mississippi cookbook, VINTAGE VICKSBURG might be a good choice—although I admit to being very partial to SOUTHERN SIDEBOARDS.

I also have nearly all of the BEST OF THE BEST cookbook series published by Quail Ridge Press (which is located in Brandon, Mississippi), including BEST OF THE BEST OF MISSISSIPPI. If you aren’t sure which cookbooks from the south would interest you the most, you might want to invest in some of the Best of the Best cookbooks—for one thing, the editors provide a listing at the back of each book, of all the community cookbooks featured in that particular cookbook, and ordering information. Most of the featured cookbooks are reasonably priced; a girlfriend and I went on a rampage for a few years, buying many of the different cookbooks featured in the Best of the Best series.

(Incidentally, some years before the Best of the Best came along, cookbook author Anne Serrane edited a series of cookbooks which often turn up in used book stores; the format is similar to the Best of the Best series. Look for THE SOUTHERN JUNIOR LEAGUE COOKBOOK (1977), THE MIDWESTERN JUNIOR LEAGUE COOKBOOK (1976), THE EASTERN JUNIOR LEAGUE COOKBOOK (1980) and THE WESTERN JUNIOR LEAGUE COOKBOOK (1979). What is particularly useful about these four books is that each contains a full list of the participating Junior League cookbooks whose recipes appear in the books. (I found my set, with dust jackets and in pristine condition except for some yellowing of the pages, in a thrift shop in Burbank.) **

From Alabama I have RECIPE JUBILEE published in 1964 by the Junior League of Mobile, WINNING SEASONS by the Junior League of Tuscaloosa, published in 1979, MAGIC by the Junior League of Birmingham, first published in 1982, and HUNTSVILLE HERITAGE COOKBOOK by the Junior League of Huntsville, first published in 1967. There is also a nice cookbook titled COOKS AND COMPANY by the Muscle Shoals District Service League of Sheffield, Alabama, published in 1988. I was bemused to discover, while re-reading COOKS AND COMPANY that I bought my copy at Disneyland one year.

Many years ago, when I first started collecting cookbooks, I purchased a slim book titled FASCINATING FOOD FROM THE DEEP SOUTH by Alline P. Van Duzor, from the University Club of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. But possibly my favorite Alabama cookbook and the most interesting is a book titled SOOK’S COOKBOOK by Marie Rudisill. This is about the Faulk family of Monroeville, Alabama, in particular Sook Fauk who was the great-aunt of Truman Capote and the aunt of author, Marie Rudisell. This book contains almost two hundred “receipts” from Sook’s collection but more importantly, the stories and illustrations bring to life another time and another place. The publishers say that reading this cookbook is like going to your grandmother’s house for Sunday dinner. I couldn’t put it any better.

You’ll read about Aunt Pallie and the wit and wisdom of Mammies, about Little Bit and Jenny and Bud, and, of course, about Sook, who was, Ms. Rudisell recalls, “a frail little woman with skin drawn taut across her cheekbones, almost translucent, like a fragile teacup held up to the light”.

Sook was born in 1871, six years after the Civil War ended, and like so many other women of her time, she learned the value of creating something from nothing The “receipts” (recipes) were compiled from entries in plantation record books dating back as far as 1836. Knowledge about herbs and spices gleaned from the Creek Indians living on the banks of the Alabama Rice was a mainstay of Sook’s experience and always reflected in her cooking. This particular cookbook, published by the Longstreet Press of Alabama in 1989, is still available (Amazon.com has a hardcopy edition for less than a dollar) and is a worthwhile addition to a cookbook collector’s collection. Marie Rudisill also wrote Fruitcake: Memories of Truman Capote and Sook and I think I fell in love with Sook and fruitcake when I read this story. It’s a small cherished book and one year I bought a dozen or so copies to give as gifts.

END OF PART THREE – TO BE CONTINUED

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2 responses to “THAT’S WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THE SOUTH – PART THREE

  1. You have a fabulous collection of the older community cookbooks! Now I am heading to Alibris to look for some of the titles and also SOOK’S COOKBOOK by Marie Rudisill. That is totally new to me.
    I have the 4 Anne Serrane regional books — but 3 lack dustjackets. What luck you had to find all of them with jackets! Sigh. I have owned her America Cooks since it came out in 1967. I’m looking forward to your writing more about her.

  2. Am pleased to know you are finding the articles useful to you–that’s the whole point. I WAS lucky to find the Anne Serrane series with the dust jackets (also in VG condition) – but keep looking, you may find what you are looking for. and yes, I DO plan to write about Ann Serrane – I have something else going on after I finish with the south – but I WILL get back to her. I began finding references to other books she has written & it piqued my curiosity. Thanks for writing, Melissa.

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