Southern cookbooks are just about as plentiful as southern hospitality or sweet tea—and I have been blessed with a girlfriend who lives in Michigan and finds southern cookbooks faster than I can read or write about them (that is not a complaint! Just saying.)
I began sorting some of them the other day and laid aside five southern cookbooks to share with you. My first choice is a book written by just one person, Kathleen DeVanna Fish and I don’t think I’ve often come across a cookbook written by one person, aside from famous cookbook authors and chefs. The title of this book is “COOKING SECRETS AMERICA’S SOUTH” and on the cover is a tantalizing beautiful old, Victorian mansion. Little did I know (I must be slipping) this book is part of a series titled “Books of the ‘Secret Series” which includes another southern cookbook (“Louisiana’s Cooking Secrets”) and several California cookbooks; (“The Great California Cookbook” and “San Francisco’s Cooking Secrets” are just two of the other titles in the series)
For now, let’s just focus on Kathleen DeVanna Fish’s 1997 cookbook which aims to do what I worked at doing years ago, by presenting recipes and background material from each of the southern states, starting with Alabama. What this cookbook does is present to you choice restaurant and inn listings from each of the southern states.
From the Introduction, we learn “Cooking Secrets from America’s South” captures the flavors and spirit of the South. It offers you inside information on the best restaurants and inns—and it reveals the secret recipes of 66 of the region’s greatest chefs. You probably will recognize some of the cooking stars. And you will meet a new galaxy of master chefs. None of the chefs paid to be included in this book. They—and their restaurants and inns—were hand-selected and invited to participate…”
I was bemused by reading the above – whether you realize it or not, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of restaurants that have compiled cookbooks featuring their recipes, over the years. The list is legendary, perhaps one of the earliest might be Ruth Wakefield’s 1930 “TOLL HOUSE COOK BOOK.”
After the first recipe for chocolate chip cookies appeared in Ruth Wakefield’s TOLL HOUSE COOK BOOK in 1930, “sales of Nestle’ Yellow Label Chocolate, Semi-Sweet, soared in the Boston area, then throughout New England, and Nestle sent a salesman around to see what was up. In suburban Whitman, Massachusetts, he found Ruth Wakefield and the chocolate chip cookie she had invented. Impressed, Nestle began scoring its bars of semi-sweet chocolate and packaging them with a little chopper, the easier to break them into chips. (what wouldn’t I give for one of those little choppers!)
Nestle didn’t introduce chocolate morsels until 1939. That same year, Mrs. Wakefield signed a forty-year contract with Nestle’ allowing them to print her recipe on the back of every package of morsels. The contract expired in 1979, and for the first time, Nestle updated the recipe, shortening baking times, using unsifted flour, and so forth. Still, Nestle calls it ‘The Original Toll House Cookie” and has registered its name, meaning no one else can use it without permission. That’s why these cookies are better known as chocolate chip cookies…” (From “The American Century Cookbook”, by Jean Anderson, published by Clarkson/Potter/Publishers in 1997.
As for the Wakefields, they sold the Toll House Inn in 1966 after thirty-six years of operating a successful restaurant. It was bought by a family that tried to turn it into a nightclub, and in 1970, it was purchased by a family who turned it back into its original form. However, the Toll House burned New Years Eve in 1984.
Ruth Graves Wakefield died on January 10, 1977 after a long illness. However, the popularity of her cookie creation lives on!
And I apologize for digressing so much but as I began working on COOKING SECETS, AMERICA’S SOUTH” I immediately thought of the Wakefield’s Toll House Inn and felt obligated to share that story with you. (If you have been reading my blogs posts very long, you know by now that I have a bad habit of digressing.
In the Introduction to COOKNG SECRETS AMERICA’S SOUTH, we learned that Kathleen (or whoever else worked with her on this cookbook – she refers to herself in the plural), stating, “We took the chef’s recipes—165 of them—and adapted them for the home cook. Some of the recipes are simple. Some are more complex. We stayed clear of purely trendy food, preferring to stress dishes that we know are wonderful…” To make your life easier, they included preparation times and cooking times.
“The 165 kitchen tested recipes feature such enticing dishes as Creole Crab Cakes with Pico de Gallo, Crawfish and Mushroom Gumbo, Goat Cheese and Arugula Salad with Lavender-Vanilla Vinaigrette, Shrimp Creole, Grilled Pork Chops with Green Tomato Relish, Spicy Shrimp, Sausage and Tasso Gravy over Creamy White Grits, and Maple Pecan Tart with chocolate Sorbet. Prepare to be tempted.”
The contents of this cookbook are a departure from most other cookbooks. The recipes have been divided into categories – such as Appetizers – in which you will find the specially selected recipe – such as the Creole Crab Cakes with Pico de Gallo – followed by the name of the restaurant or Inn where it is served, the the page in which you will find the recipe. (Bella Luna, 119). Different – but it works! (I’ve added a yellow post-it to the page featuring Chocolate Sorbet – that is high on my list of recipes to try!) I’ve also discovered (under Georgia, The Pirate’s House), a recipe for what I consider to be the most authentic recipe for Key Lime Pie, although the recipe simply calls for fresh lime juice and you know, it ought to be fresh key limes—but perhaps the author didn’t feel this was an ingredient that could be found throughout the USA—that being said, I have been finding key limes in my supermarkets here in California. OK, I won’t quibble about whether ordinary lime juice is better than Key lime juice. No matter – this is quite a fun southern cookbook.
Amazon.com has this cookbook new for $2.50 and pre-owned starting at one cent & up. Alibris.com has pre-owned copies starting at $1.44.
Spiral bound “MORE COOKING ATLANTA STYLE/Delicious Recipes from Atlanta’s Best Restaurants, by Margaret Norman, also published in 1997 is my next nomination for a southern cookbook. (And let me make the observation that chefs who were cooking at a particular restaurant fifteen years ago might not still be there today—for that matter, some of these restaurants may not still be in business).
In the foreword to MORE COOKING ATLANTA STYLE, former mayor and President of the Buckhead Coalition makes this comment, after noting some of the restaurants that had been supplanted by newcomers, “They [the older timer restaurants] are all part of history now and have been replaced by multiple dozens of fine food emporiums. Although this book plucks out favorite recipes from as far away as the North Georgia Mountains, one can’t discuss dining around Atlanta without a concentration on Buckhead. This Community has over two hundred places serving food and beverages, including twenty-nine different ethnic restaurants, twelve of the top sixteen Metropolitan Atlanta restaurant revenue producers and the Southeast’s only Mobil Five-Star dining room!
What follows is a fine collection of recipes from these various restaurants, possibly some of the very same places you visited when you were in Atlanta. [my last visit to Atlanta was when my niece Leslie got married at Stone Mountain. That was quite a long time ago!]
From Appetizers (one of my favorite categories—I have found myself collecting cookbooks on Appetizers as well) there is from Ursula’s Cooking School and Catering Service her recipe for Artichoke Quiche Squares, Renee’s Café and Wine Bar’s Barbecue Shrimp with a Mango Barbecue Sauce (ok, I HAVE to make this sauce—and I just bought two bags of large frozen shrimp!)
From Vickery’s is a recipe for Black Bean Cakes, which reminds me of my friend Mandy and the Black Bean Cakes she used to make for the two of us to enjoy at lunch, while Pittypat’s Porch offers Black-Eyed Pea Cakes which I’ve never heard of but would like to try!
From Cherokee Town and Country Club is a recipe for Grilled Pork Kabobs that has seedless red grapes as one of the ingredients…my seedless red grapes are almost ready to pick so this might be something to surprise the family with, while the Mansion offers a recipe for Pan-Seared Sea Scallops. I was surprised to find a recipe for Sweet Corn Salsa from 1848 House (it goes with Savannah Rock Shrimp Cakes) – for I thought the creation of corn salsa was more recent. The only difference I can see between theirs and mine is that I like to grill the corn on the cob and have grill marks on it when it’s being cut off the cob, whereas theirs appears to go into the recipe raw, cut from the cob.
This is just a sampling of what you will find in “MORE COOKING ATLANTA STYLE” This cookbook is available at both Alibris.com and Amazon.com starting at $3.15 for a pre-owned copy. This is a spiral bound cookbook packed with great recipes.
Another southern cookbook is DOWNTOWN SAVANNAH STYLE published by the Junior League of Savannah in 1996. It’s sort of a sequel to the Junior League’s earlier cookbook SAVANNAH STYLE, not intended to replace SAVANNAH STYLE, but rather to supplement it.
I wrote about SAVANNAH STYLE previously, but briefly to bring you up to date, SAVANNAH STYLE was published by the Junior League of Savannah, Georgia, in 1997. It was inducted in the McIlhenny Hall of Fame for having sold over 100,000 copies. It was also a Southern Living Hall of Fame award-winner. Savannah Style is available on Amzon.com new, for $15.96 and qualifies for free shipping if you spend over $25.00. It is also available new from private vendors starting at $8.99 or pre-owned starting at $2.59.
That being said, let me return to DOWNTOWN SAVANNAH STYLE. This is a hardcover cookbook with an attractive laminated plastic cover. In the Foreword we learn, “In the months following the announcement of DOWNTOWN SAVANNAH STYLE, league members contributed over 600 recipes which were twice-tested, rated, evaluated, discussed and re-evaluated. The 200 that were selected reflect not only delicious cuisine but also the changing nature of Junior League membership—busy women with volunteer activities, families and careers to work around, who still care greatly about the art of fine food and the pleasure of entertaining.
To illustrate the new book, the League turned to the Savannah College of Art and Design, located in the heart of the city. Art students submitted original work depicting the magnificent details of downtown, the exhibition was juried, and the winners of the illustration art were chosen, along with the color cover.
Each chapter is prefaced with a black and white illustration of a famous downtown Savannah landmark, beginning in appetizers with “Whitaker Lane”.
I can’t describe these illustrations well enough to do them justice—what you are getting, along with a cookbook, is a book of art focused simply on downtown Savannah.
Recipes include such tantalizing dishes such as Black Bean salsa and a recipe called Savannah Sin that I will have to make for my granddaughter, whose name is Savannah. This recipe sounds like a good one to make up for her 18th birthday, which is only a couple of months away.
Other delectable choices in Appetizers might include Stilton and Walnut Torte (easy recipe with only 5 ingredients!), Black-Eyed Peas, Chiles and Cheese which reminded me a bit of Texas Caviar, Bacon Breadsticks (only three ingredients!) and don’t overlook Party Pinwheel Variations which offers three ways to make this popular party appetizer. Each variation makes about 50 pinwheels—and can be made up in advance. Recipe states to double the recipe for large crowded. There is a veggie variation, a Mexican variation and a Roast Beef variation. I’d make a lot because guests are going to want to try more than one variation.
I have marked Parmesan-Mustard Chicken Wings with a little post-it to make up the next time I want to do wings.
In the chapter dedicated to soups and salads, one of the first recipes I found and don’t recall seeing elsewhere is a Cream of Brie Soup that sounds spectacular—and easy to make, seven ingredients not counting salt & pepper or an optional chopped chives. I love soups and enjoy experimenting with them – Italian Sausage Soup with Tortellini sounds like something that developed when an inspired cook was wondering what she could do, something different, with a pound of Italian Sausage—which, you may know, has a distinctive flavor of its own. Salads that may catch your eye include a Gorgonzola and Pecan Crunch Salad or Pear and Bleu Cheese Salads.
The chapter on Breads combines sweet with savory—ranging from Lemon tea Bread to Sun-Dried Tomato Bread, The Cloister Corn Bread Muffins or Georgia Peach Bran Muffins. I look forward to trying Hazelnut Raspberry Muffins and Parmesan Popovers—but there are lots of other recipes from which to choose.
There is a huge selection of Entrees, combining beef, pork, lamb, poultry, and fish—I’ve stuck post-it notes on Marinate Flank Steak and a London Broil that I can’t wait to try—you may want to try all of the recipes!
Instead of separate chapters for cakes, pies, cookies—all have been combined under the title of Sweets, which I thought was a clever touch. High on my list of recipes to try is Fig Preserve Cake (because I used to have fig trees and I still have some jars of fig preserves in my jelly cupboard!) but there is a fresh fruit cake, chocolate meringue drops and chocolate truffles—and German chocolate cookies! Who’d have ever imagined German chocolate cookies? Or Macaroon Meringues? And Blueberry Cobbler! I just bought a big container of fresh blueberries today!
And Pear Sorbet! I haven’t seen a recipe for pear sorbet anywhere else – and these are fresh pears, not canned!
These are just a sampling of “Sweets”
DOWNTOWN SAVANNAH STYLE, first printing, published in 1996, is a worthy companion volume to SAVANNAH STYLE.
DOWNTOWN SAVANNAH STYLE is available on Amazon.com for under $10.00 for a new copy, or starting at one cent for a pre-owned copy. Alibris.com has beau coupe copies starting at 99c.
Well, I had I intended to write about three or four southern cookbooks but this post is already over two thousand words long – and I don’t want to overwhelm my readers. Look for more southern cookbooks in the future!