In 13 years, I have opened three restaurants and along the way, I've accumulated approximately 70 to 80 cookbooks. I love to pull them off the shelves and leaf through them for entertainment or to help me through menu "writer's block." My best Southern cookbooks offer more than recipes for fried okra; they connect with cultural aspects such as roots music, literature and even community activism. In the following list of favorites, I've singled out a recipe from each that I especially like.
How America Eats ; Baked Indian Pudding, Page 189
First of all, who doesn't love a cookbook by an author named Clementine Paddleford? Best name ever! This one breaks down recipes into different states. The pudding recipe is like many corn pudding/spoon bread recipes of old. But it includes molasses, ginger and cinnamon. Really good at Thanksgiving.
Joseph E. Dabney's
The Food, Folklore, and Art of Lowcountry Cooking : Country Captain with Chicken and Shrimp, Page 220
I just love the dishes from this region. They make me want to listen to Porgy and Bess. Many cultures came together and mixed along the South Carolina coast. This dish is a favorite of mine because of the curry; you can see the influence of slaves from Africa and the Caribbean and how they are so important to Southern culture.
The Southern Foodways
Alliance Community Cookbook : Calas, Page 96
This is a fun dish of rice fritters dusted with sugar. It's almost like someone deep-fried rice pudding. Another great anecdote about Southern cooking is that it uses so much rice and corn. The cookbook is a fantastic recipe source for someone like me who is gluten-intolerant.
Southern Cooking : Oyster and Corn Chowder, Page 50
If you know Julia Child and James Beard, then you need to know Craig Claiborne. This is a very thorough capturing of classic Southern cooking. I picked oyster chowder because I identify it most with my visits to Virginia as a child. My grandma always made oyster stew on New Year's Day.
The Taste of Country Cooking : Tyler Pie, Page 136
She's the grand dame of Southern cooking. I just hope that one day they make a movie about her life. She was a fascinating woman. This pie is very similar to a chess pie or buttermilk pie in consistency, but I just love that it is a traditional recipe from right in Virginia's Orange County.