Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Sep 25, 2009 11:32 AM

Cookbook of the Month Authors in Residence! Martha Foose and Virgina Willis

We've invited September's Cookbook of the Month authors to be experts in residence on Chowhound. We're very pleased to introduce Virginia Willis and Martha Foose, who will be answering questions for a week (officially starting Sept. 26) right here.

The September Cookbook of the Month threads have been going strong, and if you haven't been involved you can catch up here:

But you don't have to have kept up with the threads to ask questions of Martha and Virginia. They're Southern food experts, and they are happy to take questions about Southern food in general, or specifically about their cookbooks and recipes.

Martha Foose is the author of "Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook" (Clarkson Potter, 2008).
The book was the winner of the 2009 James Beard Award for American Cooking and Best Cookbook of 2009 by SIBA, the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance. Martha lives in the Mississippi Delta with her husband and son. For more on Martha, visit

Virginia Willis is the author of the acclaimed cookbook "Bon Appétit, Y'all! Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking" (Ten Speed Press, 2008).
She is a featured chef in "Atlanta Cooks at Home," a tester and editor for "The All New All Purpose Joy of Cooking," author of "Pasta Dinners 1,2,3," coauthor of "Home Plate Cooking," and a weekly writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her work has also appeared in Country Living, Family Fun, and Edible Atlanta. For more on Virginia, visit

For more about Cookbook of the Month, the COTM archive thread explains how it all works:

Martha and Virginia will be checking in all week, so post your questions and let's get started!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Hope its a good Sunday night dinner night!

    1. Good Sunday morning to you Ms Foose.... I have enjoyed cooking and eating meals made with your recipes this month. I'm known for twiddling ingredient amounts and methods. Now I have a question for both you and Virginia:

      Are you perturbed or dismayed when a person makes one of your recipes, follows the ingredient list but changes the cooking method?

      Please be candid.

      12 Replies
      1. re: Gio

        Heck no! That is why they call it culinary arts or cooking instead of following directions.

        1. re: Gio

          Along a similar line with this question, I read your post on your blog, Virginia, about Julie and Julia and your opinions on food bloggers. I've fallen in love with your book, and you as well (don't worry- I'm not a stalker!), and I was a bit disappointed about how you felt. I get it (a little), but I still left feeling a bit saddened. Anyway, my question is, do you feel the same way about us Chowhounders and our discussions of your recipes? (I hope not!) Or is there a line there that's being crossed that I'm not seeing?

          On another note, to both Virginia and Martha, I've become intrigued by what seems to be an infamous Southern ingredient, red pepper jelly. I was wondering if you had a favorite brand for red pepper jelly, a favorite recipe for red pepper jelly, and what you most like to do with it as an ingredient? I'm sorry if you go into this in your book, Martha, but I don't have a copy... at least not yet!

          1. re: Katie Nell

            I love Magnolia Honey brand Pepper Jelly...Not sure of a national brand --Look for pepper jelly at your local farmers market..Also try

            1. re: Katie Nell

              I've caught a lot of flak for that post. I love people cooking! I love people sharing their exploits in the kitchen. If you read my post, I actually thank Julie Powell, as a "rising tide raises all boats". The trouble is when someone presents themselves as a food expert - not a chowhounder loving food and playing in the kitchen. I liken it to a plumber. You wouldn't want someone to pretend they are a plumber and try to fix your pipes, you'd want a real plumber. But, if you like to tinker and learn about plumbing, here's to you! Good for you! Hope this clarifies, the whole reason I wrote my book is I really want people to cook.

              1. re: virginia willis

                Thanks for the clarification!

                And the red pepper jelly? :-)

            2. re: Gio

              Hi there - I don't in the least - as long as they enjoy the dish. Although, I do think the technique is the cornerstone, how the recipe is written. I find it much more interpretive if they change the ingredients, but not necessarily the cooking method. A recipe should be a guide, not a ball and chain. And, truthfully, really and truly truthfully, I find it amusing when my mama for example, says, " I tried this new recipe and didn't like it". I'll ask her, "What didn't you like?" Her reply is sometimes, "Well, I didn't have x so I used y, and I don't like z so I substituted q" Which of course means, it's not really the same recipe at all. And, having said that, not really a fair judge of the actual recipe she tried. Make sense?

              1. re: virginia willis

                It does indeed make sense Virginia. Although you say that recipes ought not to be a ball and chain, I fully understand that what you have written down be should replicated as closely as possible by the home cook. The finished dish will be more as the author intended so I'll try to remain more faithful to the written recipe in future. Thanks so much for your participation and tips.... and to Ms Foose as well

                1. re: Gio

                  One of my favorite quotes from Julia Child (paraphrase) was "Once you understand the technique, you no longer need a recipe." That sort of sums it up for me. So, a simple little bouquet garni, for example. In classic French cooking it is, as you know, a sachet or bundle of parsley, thyme, bay leaf and peppercorns often wrapped in cheesecloth meant to create underlying flavors in the stock or broth. But the concept of a BG is really technique. If a cook were making a Mexican Tortilla Soup -- a great BG would be perhaps cilantro, cumin seeds, and mexican oregano. It's that sort of thing that as a cook I LOVE to play with and hope that the kind people who read and use by book feel that they have the freedom to do, as well. I am shamelessly supportive of classic technique. Old school.

                  1. re: virginia willis

                    I'm so glad you are still here Virginia, as I was out yesterday when all this discussion was taking place.

                    I love that quote from Julia Child too. After growing up watching her shows, I felt like she had taught me to cook, as she also said "au pif." (Not sure that's the spelling and there must be some accent marks in there, but she said that meant "by the nose.")

                    So, not being much of a verbatim recipe followerer, for savory dishes that is, when I do attempt to follow a recipe, I find myself faced with a certain amount of angst.

                    I don't mean to be nit-picky here, just offering up a bit of constructive criticism, with an editorial hat on my head. However, when following a recipe there are certain times when I found myself shaking my head over quantities. (This is by no means directed at your book alone.) For instance, we grow sweet onions, which are, I feel a perfectly acceptable substitute for Vidalia onions. But they come in all sizes, from 21/2 inches all the way up to 5 in diameter, so it would be helpful to have some phrase added such as "about 1 1/2 cups, chopped." I felt the same way about the use of "3 shallots" in the recipe for Cornish Game hens. I picked up the three shallots at the store and they seemed huge. One shallot alone yielded 1/2 cup, chopped. This seemed sufficient to stuff under and over the skin, but I did wonder if I was then not making the "actual recipe," because I really do try to do that the first go round.

                    Another peeve that I have, again with cookbooks in general, is the use of the term "sprig." Just how long is a sprig of thyme? (Note that I grow this in my herb garden, and am not obtaining my sprigs from the grocery store. ) So, I really appreciated those recipes that would call for "a teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme."

                    And finally, there is the use of salt. While I feel no angst about lack of quantities specified in something like soup, I did feel more guidance was needed for the spoonbread, especially since that is something I had never had before. You can't really add salt "to taste' when you can't, or shouldn't be tasting something with uncooked eggs. By the time it's cooked, it's too late.

                    That all being said, I enjoyed cooking from your book and I loved, loved, loved that Potato and Cheddar soup. Absolutely perfect.

                    1. re: clamscasino

                      I argue with my editors all the time about the salt bit, so I "feel you". I am hard-headed that way!

                      Glad you like the soup and cooking from my book. But, yes, indeed, the sizes matter a lot -- and some of that is the style of the cookbook publisher. Each publisher has a style that the author has to follow. Having said that, of course, you are right. ;-) Best VA

                      1. re: virginia willis

                        Ouch. It must be very frustrating when the publisher constricts the author/cook so much. Thanks for answering!

                      2. re: clamscasino

                        It's dumb to have measurements like "1 clove garlic, 1 onion, 1 sprig whatever, 1 chicken breast." Teaspoons, tablespoons, ounces, etc, are so much more accurate.

              2. Ms. Willis and and Ms. Foose, Welcome to Chowhound! I have been reading, and enjoying both of your charming, lovely books this month. Unfortunately, I'm way behind on my cooking. I have dozens of recipes flagged to try.

                1. Ms. Willis: for your Hot Pepper Vinegar recipe (page 284) you refer us to page 279 to discuss jars. My apologies if this is a silly series of questions, but what sized jar? Also, the jar discussion on page 279 seems to be part of the discussion re: water-bath canning. For the jars of Hot Pepper Vinegar you give as gifts, do you can them? or is the Hot Pepper Vinegar recipe meant to be a "fridge" recipe? I think it sounds like a lovely Christmas gift and I'm getting tons of hot peppers right now. Is it too early to start?

                2. For Ms. Foose, I have a fascination with miniature desserts. Your Sweet Tea Pie is on my list of "must try" dishes. I plan to try the recipe as written (to get a feel for it), but wondered if you'd every tried it in miniature and if you had any advice for me on that front.

                3. For either Ms. Foose or Ms. Willis--as I read through your books, I kept flagging recipes I wanted to consider for my Thanksgiving menu and it made me think I wanted to do a Southern-style Thanksgiving this year. What would be a classic Southern Thanksgiving menu, if there is one?

                4. Again, for either Ms. Willis or Ms. Foose: Tomato pie. Someone mentioned this in another thread on Chowhound and we (as a group) were trying to figure out whether this is a traditional Southern dish or a recent invention? Do either of you have a recipe you recommend?

                I guess that's it for now. Thank you again for your wonderful books!


                7 Replies
                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  I made little sweet tea pies at Worlds of Flavor out at the CIA in Cali and they lapped them up!

                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    I love an old recipe I cant put my hands on right now that is simply a blind baked tart crust spread with mayonnaise then covered with sliced tomatoes and a sprinkle of fresh herbs then baked. I'd say tomato pie in many incarnations is not new to this world.

                    1. re: marthafoose

                      Thank you so much! Sounds intriguing, especially this time of year when I'm dying to use up my tomatoes. How much mayo, would you estimate--just a brush or an actual layer?

                      And I'm definitely going to have to try some Sweet Tea Tartlets! I'm glad to hear those will work.


                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        Martha is right - nothing too crazy here, but I did have to write one up for the AJC a couple of years ago. It's a rift on my sister's:

                        JONA WILLIS’ TOMATO PIE
                        Serves 6

                        My sister, who never cooks, likes to make this simple pie. I’ve changed it a little bit, but it’s basically the same recipe. It’s a great example of a yet another Southern use for mayonnaise.

                        1 (9-inch) pie shell lined with your favorite pie crust or puff pastry
                        4 to 5 tomatoes, preferably heirloom, cored and thinly sliced
                        1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
                        1 Vidalia onion, sliced
                        1/2 cup mixed freshly chopped herbs such as chives, parsley, and basil
                        1/2 cup freshly grated Gruyère
                        1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
                        1/4 cup mayonnaise
                        Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

                        Heat the oven to 375° F. Line the shell with foil and fill with pie weights, dried beans, or rice. Bake in the lower third of the oven for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the weights and foil. Return to the oven and bake for 10 minutes more or until light golden. Remove to cool in the pan on a wire rack.

                        Reduce oven temperature to 350° F. Place the tomatoes in a colander in the sink in 1 layer. Sprinkle with salt and allow to drain for 10 minutes.

                        Meanwhile, heat the oil in the skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook until clear and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.

                        Layer the tomato slices, cooked onion, and herb in the pie shell. Season each layer with pepper. Combine the grated cheeses and mayonnaise together. Spread mixture on top of the tomatoes and bake for 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to a rack to cool. Serve warm or room temperature.

                        1. re: virginia willis

                          Ms. Willis, this sounds delicious! I have two pie crusts waiting in the fridge for dinner tonight. One was earmarked for a leek pie, but it might have to be re-purposed to try this tomato pie. Thank you so much for sharing your sister's recipe with us!

                          Did you have a chance to look at my question regarding your hot vinegar sauce recipe? (it's question #1).

                          Thank you so much!


                      2. re: marthafoose

                        How do you keep the crust from getting soggy? Is the mayo enough to insulate it from the tomato juices? Any other approaches/

                        I recently did one that was supposed to use seeded romas, a layer of cheese and puff pastry baked upside down like a tart tatin. I didn't use romas and if we hadn't wolfed it down, it still would have been very soggy.

                        Any other solutions to soggy tomato pie syndrome? (Because it is so good.)

                        1. re: karykat

                          If I'm ever worried about sog I brush the dough with a little egg white before I blind bake it to make a seal.

                    2. Want to say, first of all, thanks soooo much for this incredible, incredible honor. All awards and nominations in the world can't compare for me to meet someone with a dog-eared, stained, well-loved copy of my book. And, I am serious. It's just so amazing and I am so thankful for y'all trying out our recipes! Best VA

                      1. Hi every one - Giving a shout out to the COTM, chowhounders, and Martha in today's blog. Thanks soooo much! Best VA

                        And, if I break the rules again -- I don't mean to -- so if it is removed, just go to my website to find it. ;-) Thanks VA