Everyone knows that living in Florida for three years does not make you a southerner. However, since I have been “southern” at heart ever since I read, at age 16, Margaret Mitchell’s GONE WITH THE WIND. I have read it at least three or four times over the decades, and have seen the movie (which I have on VHS) equally as often, if not more. (One of the reasons I am reluctant to give up a DVD player that plays VHS videos as well as the DVD discs.)

And so, although I am not really “southern”, I love so very much about the South, but especially the food.  What’s not to like?  In the three years that my then-husband and sons lived in North Miami Beach, I began a diligent quest for recipes and cookbooks about southern cuisine. This search began in the late 70s, early 80s, and it wasn’t nearly as easy to find cookbooks as it is now.  For one thing, we didn’t have the Internet. I clipped all the recipes I could find from the Miami Herald while we lived there, and occasionally did find a community cookbook. Now my collection of southern cookbooks fill three bookcases and you might say I have enough books on the subject.

But, to paraphrase the former Duchess of Windsor, Wallace Simpson, (stop me if you’ve heard this story before) who, in the 1930s, married the Duke of Windsor (King Edward VIII before he abdicated), you can’t be too rich or too thin…or have too many cookbooks. Well, she did make the comment about being too rich or too thin, but maybe not about the cookbooks even though she, herself, wrote one. Wallace Simpson was from the South.

(As an aside—and I don’t think I’ve told this story before), it’s because of  Wallace Simpson that Queen Elizabeth II is on the throne today. Wallace Simpson was a divorcee. When the Duke decided he was going to marry her, there was such an uproar  in the British kingdom that the Duke abdicated the throne for the woman he loved, thereby turning the reins (reighns?) of the kingdom over to his younger brother, George VI, who was Elizabeth’s father. When King George died in 1952, Elizabeth became Queen. Such is the way crowns are gained or lost (and oh, my, haven’t the times changed?)

Well, the bottom line to all of this is that you can’t have too many southern cookbooks either. One good reason for this is there are always so many good new, innovative southern cooks.  I am constantly amazed with the new southern cookbooks appeared in our bookstores (or on bookstore websites).

One good example (you knew I’d get to this eventually, didn’t you?) is a book
titled SOUTHERN HEIRLOOM COOKING by Norma Jean McQueen Haydel and Horace McQueen.

Norma Jean and her brother Horace’s story could stand as an inspiration to any of us, young and not-so-young, who have ever dreamed of writing a cookbook.

Norma Jean McQueen began cooking at an early age and, we are told, after a few years, could create a meal that would rival her mother’s. Norma Jean and her husband, Joe, raised three sons. She then pursued a career in banking and retired as vice-president [of a bank]. Norma Jean and her husband lived in Natchez, Mississippi.  Norma related, “For years, my husband, three sons and grandsons have asked me to write down my favorite recipes so that they can make their favorite foods, and have the recipes to pass along to the next generation…” Norma says it wasn’t easy to do because she doesn’t cook a dish the same way every time she makes it (I can relate! This is how I cook too!)

Norma tells a story similar to my own, when as a child, her mother allowed her to cook lunch one day, all by herself. She says she never forgot the experience. After Norma married Joe and started her family, she was able to stay home for a few years while her children were growing up. She used  recipes  given to her by her mother, grandmother and aunts, as well as her husband’s family. “While my family ate traditional southern food,” Norma recalls, “Joe’s family cooked with a Louisiana Cajun flavor…”

Norma explains that Joe’s mother was raised on a sugar cane plantation, and was a very good cook. Now, Norma’s sons are all grown up and married, and Norma has learned more dishes from her daughters-in-law. “In fact,” she says, “some of the recipes in this collection are ones that we’ve all learned to love from my daughters-in-law…”

Norma Jean says that although she is 68 years old (at the time this cookbook was published, in 2002) she still enjoys experimenting with food.

Horace McQueen is Norma Jean’s youngest sibling and has tended his fruit trees, vegetable and herb gardens for many years. He en joys cooking and collecting Southern recipes for family and friends.

Horace recalled that when he was a teenager, he worked with his oldest brother on a charter fishing boat in Biloxi, Mississippi.  He says that his brother was a whiz at cooking the seafood he brought home from those fishing trips. His brother allowed him to experiment and consequently, Horace learned a lot about cooking from his brother. Horace says that when he and his wife were first married, neither   of them had much experience with cooking. But wife Carleen came from a farming family in east Texas and also grew up eating southern country cooking.  They learned from the recipes given to them by family and friends.

As a publisher’s  representative for many years, Horace sold many cookbooks and wanted to create a book that could be read and used.

What an inspiring story! And you’ll find Norma Jean’s and Horace’s recipes inspiring too!

Recipes range from Appetizers (Cowboy Caviar, Hot Crabmeat Dip, Tomatillo Guacamole, Pecan Dip) to a wonderful section devoted to James, Jellies, Pickles and Relishes (Christmas Jam, Hot Pepper Jelly, Pickled Pears, Watermelon Rind Pickles) with a wealth of sandwiched in-between.

Other recipes that caught my attention included Tamale Beef Squares (which I think would be excellent for a party or potluck dish), Lemon Extract Cake, Five-Flavor Pound Cake, Country Scrapple, Seafood Gumbo, Sweet Potato Casserole (trust me, much better than sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows) and much, much, more.

SOUTHERN HEIRLOOM COOKING is a nice large soft-cover cookbook that originally cost $14.95 when it was published in 2002. It has maintained its value, selling for $14.95 on (or pre-owned starting at $4.53) or   on, starting at $2.46 for a pre-owned copy.

This review was originally written for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange in 2002.

Happy cooking and happier cookbook collecting!




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