THE SOUTHERN COOK’S HANDBOOK by Courtney Taylor and Bonnie Carter Travis is, guess what?  From Quail Ridge Press!  We all readily identify Quail Ridge Press as the publishers of the wonderful “best of the best” cookbook series which have covered all fifty states and then went back and did volume two on some states, such as Texas, which had so much to offer in the way of community cookbooks.

OK, just in case there’s someone out there who doesn’t know what the Best of the Best books are, this is a series of cookbooks compiled and edited by Gwen McKee and Barbara Moseley who embarked on a journey not to just one of the fifty states – but to each and everyone – collecting community cookbooks from each one (To give you a better idea of what a Best of the Best cookbook has to offer, I will provide you will a review from Best of the Best from Washington, for which I provided a review for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange some time ago. But be forewarned – once you start reading one of these cookbooks, you will want ALL of them.)

Meantime – gradually Gwen Moseley and Barbara McKee branched out – with a wealth of other finely selected books such as the Recipe Hall of Fame collection – and THE SOUTHERN COOK’S HANDBOOK.

You may have a bookshelf full of southern cookbooks and if so, might be asking yourself, why do I need another one? Well, because, like the title implies, this is a handbook, a step-by-step guide to old fashioned cooking, with more than 200 traditional recipes. (Don’t be misled by the “southern” in the title – this book is a handy kitchen tool no matter what part of the country you live in).  Immediately, on the inside cover, is a Measure Equivalence Chart followed by cornmeal, flour and sugar equivalents (i.e., 3 cups of cornmeal equals one pound). On the inside of the back cover, you will find a chart of milk, butter, and egg equivalents (how many egg whites to make a cup? 8 to 10!) – along with a “miscellaneous equivalent chart which lists such things as bacon, cheese, pecans, lemon and oranges (how many oranges to make 1/3 cup juice or 2 tablespoons rind? One medium). And that’s just basic information inside the covers.

Authors Courtney Taylor and bonnie Carter Travis tell us, “Our love of Southern cooking has as much to do with our memories of the people who taught us as it does with getting the pastry on a peach cobbler to turn out just right. In our mothers’ kitchens, family cooks took us by the hand and showed us how to judge good pastry by the way it feels when it’s raw and hot to get it to bake flaky, sweet, and tender all at the same time….”

“In our own kitchens,” they recall, “every now and then, an imagine of a favorite old cook will arise with the steam escaping form a bubbling cobbler, and we’ll hear her voice telling us to chose the oven door and have a little patience…”

With THE SOUTHERN COOK’S HANDBOOK, they tell us, “we want to take you by the hand and bring that voice to you…”

As for the recipes, Taylor and Travis reflect, “Among people who love to cook, almost every conversation eventually turns to food. Mention down home cooking and invariably someone will say ‘Oh, let me tell you how my grandmother made biscuits’ or ‘My brother has the best way to cook shrimp…’”

“For decades,” they continue “We have listened and learned not only from our families but also from neighbors, gardeners, vegetable vendors, lawyers, doctors, county sheriffs, strangers on airplanes and countless others who generously shared their wisdom. We’ve copied down their recipes on everything from cocktail napkins to parking tickets and the hems of aprons. We’ve tested them, fiddled with them, combined the, andbeen inspired to invent new versions…”

THE SOUTHERN COOK’S HANDBOOK covers a wealth of basic information, beginning with kitchen equipment, providing definitions for everything from Dutch ovens (what my old friend Marvin used to call a Murphy Pot) to skillets, roasters, casseroles and baking equipment. They provide detailed instructions for “curing” your iron cookware which reminded me of a funny story. Years ago, I had a girlfriend named Rosalia. (pronounced Row-ZAIL-ya).  She gave me all her cast-iron cookware because, she said, “it always gets rusty”.  Well, yesss, because you have to cure cast iron cookware. We never put our cast iron cookware into soapy water. Taylor and Travis provide simple detailed instructions for “curing” and taking care of all your cookware.

Along with lots of recipes, THE SOUTHERN COOK’S HANDBOOK provides a glossary of seasonal produce (even instructions for blanching and freezing vegetables!), a chapter on making stock (I have written about stock before  and how easy it is to make it and keep it on hand). There is a chapter for making gravy and cream sauces (I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to explain to someone how I make gravy. THE SOUTHERN COOK’S HANDBOOK takes all the guesswork out of gravy-making.

There are chapters on frying foods, barbequing and grilling, (along with time and temperature guides for grilling and barbequing) chapters devoted to making cornbread, biscuits, pie crust, yeast dough and cakes.

Recipes in THE SOUTHERN COOK’S HANDBOOK covers everything from making eggnog for a crowd to pecan divinity with a plethora of southern favorites in-between. This cookbook would be absolutely idea for any young cook who wants to learn how and doesn’t know where to start (or even might feel intimidated to ask a seasoned cook). And for those of us who are familiar with the kitchen but aren’t always sure what the difference is between thin, flaky biscuits or drop biscuits, or gumbo or Jambalaya, this book is for you. There is even a comprehensive glossary of cooking terms which you will find useful and handy.

As the people at Quail Ridge Press so aptly put it, “THE SOUTHERN COOK’S HANDBOOK is a how-to manual, a primer for the new cook, as well as a refresher course for the old hand”.

You can find this book at starting at 5.11 for a pre-owned copy or $15.95 for a new copy.  But check – they have copies for 99c (pre owned) but there are a lot of copies available and I am sure you can find a copy that is in good condition. If you want to buy one for someone else, look for something “like new” or invest in a new copy. I was unable to find a listing at Quail Ridge Press, but this book was published in 2001 so – you may have to find a pre-owned or like new edition.

As promised, I have updated a review of a Best of the Best cookbooks—this one is about Washington and will be posted immediately after this blog post THE SOUTHERN COOK’S HANDBOOK.

Happy cooking and happier cookbook collecting!  And look for more southern cookbook reviews – a lot of new/old southern cookbooks have found their way into my bookshelves recently and I am looking forward to writing reviews of them for you. I know that many of you are as keenly interested in southern cooking as I am!



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