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Mar 7, 2013 05:21 AM

Traditional Southern cooking - cookbooks?

Got Fred Thompson's "Southern Sides" for Christmas. I asked for it, based on a positive New York Times review. But the title turns out to be misleading, except that Thompson is a southerner. Leeks vinaigrette? Parmesan-crusted edamame? Quinoa and scallion southern pancake? That's not what I'd call southern cooking, it's Thompson's personal take on fusion cookery with a barely perceptible southern accent. And he keeps asking for ingredients that I can't get.

I'm looking for a cookbook with which I can make some of the dishes that my grandma's black cook served us when I was a kid, especially side dishes. Not soul food, and not regional like cajun or creole, unless there's a cuisine from southwest Virginia; I like both of the above but have cookbooks for them already. And definitely not Paula Deen. :-)

I see that Southern Living has published several cookbooks, most recently "1,001 Ways to Cook Southern." They aren't in my local bookstore and I wouldn't know how to choose among them. Or are there better choices? Help, please!

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  1. The southern focused cookbooks I'd recommend are:

    > Bon Appetit, Y'All: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis
    Co-COTM September 2009:

    > The Heritage of Southern Cooking: An Inspired Tour of Southern Cuisine Including Regional Specialties, Heirloom Favorites, and Original Dishes by Camille Glenn

    > Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook by Martha Hall Foose
    Co-COTM September 2009:

    "Bon Appetit, Y'All" contains true southern recipes that Virginia Willis grew up eating in Georgia and Louisiana. Food her grandmothers and mother cooked from old family recipes. Ms Willis gives us her own recipes as well, usually with a bow toward French cuisine since that's what she studied in France and elsewhere.

    "The Heritage of Southern Cooking" is a classic southern cookbook with family heirloom favorites from her native Kentucky but includes other southern regions as well.

    "Screen Doors and Sweet Tea" is written by a much loved chef and storyteller. Ms Foose gives us her Mississippi perspective with a contemporary flair.

    ETA: All three books are available from Amazon re-sellers.

    12 Replies
    1. re: Gio

      "The Heritage of Southern Cooking" is an absolute go-to for me. Great recipes.

      1. re: sunshine842

        I'll third Camille Glenn's book. My copy is falling apart.

        I'd also volunteer the magisterial "Southern Food" by John Egerton. It's a wonderful history and has some fine recipes.

        Recently, my family gave me the Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook, which is (as you might suspect) compiled from tons of community cookbooks. It's sensational.

        I'd also recommend an earlier Alliance book, A Gracious Plenty. It's wonderful reading, spiced throughout with literary tidbits relating to our favorite cuisine.

      2. re: Gio

        I LOVE Bon Appetit Y'all as well. As a born and bred Southerner, it's now my go-to and I owe thanks to CH and COTM for turning me on to it.

        1. re: c oliver

          I'm surprised others here haven't commented on BA Y'all. It's traditional Southern cooking with updated techniques. If you like your vegetables cooked to death, as the ones I grew up on were, then, no, you won't find those there. But it's wonderful, wonderful book. I have loads of Jr. League, church, women's clubs, etc. books. NEVER look at them anymore. Guess I need to donate.

          1. re: c oliver

            When I want true Southern cooking, I don't want "updated techniques". I want the taste I grew up with. And if you "NEVER" look at your community cookbooks it's your loss.

            1. re: jmckee

              And if you NEVER eat some collards that are bright green then that's your loss also. And why a better way to get the same taste is a problem, I don't know. I can communicate via snail mail but mostly I use the internet. I'm 65 y.o. but always open to change. YMMV.

              1. re: jmckee

                As I posted upthread,
                ""Bon Appetit, Y'All" contains true southern recipes that Virginia Willis grew up eating in Georgia and Louisiana. Food her grandmothers and mother cooked from old family recipes. Ms Willis gives us her own recipes as well, usually with a bow toward French cuisine since that's what she studied in France and elsewhere."

                The main portion of the book consists of true Southern family recipes.

                1. re: Gio

                  I apologize if I led jmckee or anyone else to think that this isn't REAL Southern cooking. I just got home and was browsing through the book. Not only "Mama" and "Meme," but her grandfather, cousins, neighbors, etc. And she always points out when it's not a traditional recipe but they still fit into a basic Southern menu.

                  1. re: Gio

                    First time or two I read through this book, my thoughts were, nice book, but way to much French bastardization. Just as a favor and respect to/for you Miss Gio I will revisit it again to see if my opinion has changed.

                    To the OP ~ I would point you to local/regional areas of interest. Church, Civic Groups, Jr. League, etc as good sources for the type of information you are looking for. Keeping in mind that no one book will be an all encompassing source. Start your search in your area of interest ~ (SW Virginia) and expand out.

                    Have Fun and Good luck!

                    1. re: Uncle Bob

                      That's what I've been doing, thanks to lots of helpful suggestions from chowhounds. Thanks for yours as well.

                      1. re: Uncle Bob

                        Thank you Uncle Bob! (I really Did have an UB)

                        You have to remember I'm a born & bred New Englander (Massachusetts) with an Italian heritage sensibility so I don't have real old Southern recipes in my history with which to compare BAY'A. However, from the positive response of many CHs who cooked along with me several years ago and when BAY'A was COTM Ms Willis's recipes struck an authentic note. Needless to say, I really like this book.

                    2. re: jmckee

                      I have to say...the best Southern cookbooks I have are the DIY church cookbooks from Blue Eye Baptist Church in Lincoln, Alabama. These aren't recipes from some celebrity chef or city-dwelling food writer--these are the way people really cook in the South every day. Okay, maybe I'm biased--I'm related to nearly everybody who contributed, and the first book was dedicated to my grandmother--but there are some amazing recipes in there. Yes, there are a few Bisquick Impossible Pies and casseroles made with Campbell's Cream of Mushroom...but in among them are a lot of old-fashioned gems handed down for generations.

                      The oldest and best of the Blue-Eye cookbooks are in the greedy hands of my family (and if you did find a copy, I have a few newly married-in cousins who might hurt you to get their hands on it), but there are thousands of country churches with Ladies' Missionary Circles and high school youth groups who've put together cookbooks of their own. Ebay has a whole category of church cookbooks . Or, just start digging through your local thrift store or used bookstore. And yes, if you have these books and don't use them, by all means, donate them--there are plenty of people who'll treasure them and use them regularly!

              2. I love "River Road Recipes." These are more Louisiana vs. straight "Southern" as in Alabama, Mississippi, North Florida, Georgia style recipes.

                Another one that is crucial to have is "Cotton Country Collection." It is what you are looking for if you want the Southern home-cooked meals of your memories (since I can read your mind. LOL).
                "Charleston Receipts" is another classic gem.

                Each of these is an older style cookbook, and has only recipes and no photos. The recipes are ones you'll flag and end up leaving the books looking like sticky note porcupines, I promise! (Especially "Cotton Country Collection").

                Gio's recommendations are also good ones, from the modern cookbook style repertoire. I'd also mention Edna Lewis's books in this category.

                Southern Living's book is good, too. I'll get the title, as there are many. (edit: I could not find the old title I was looking for, but this one looks like it fits the bill perfectly --> ). Southern Living recipes are always reliable, in my experience. Tried and true.

                There was a great thread on this topic a couple of years or so ago. Actually, this shows even more threads:

                10 Replies
                1. re: alkapal

                  Oh.. I totally forgot Edna Lewis, Alka. Her book "The Taste of Country Cooking" was the June 2007 COTM.

                  1. re: Gio

                    Ooh, I didn't know it was COTM. I've had it for ages but not sure I've EVER cooked from it. Thanks, Gio.

                  2. re: alkapal

                    +1 for those Junior League type River Road and Charleston Receipts.

                    I have a couple from a little community in Southeast Louisiana, that I love.

                    I also enjoy The Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook.

                    Disclaimer: I am a mis-born Northern boy, so I don't have the "bona fides" of others...these are just opinions!!!

                    1. re: Monch

                      Here's another good Junior League cookbook, Pirate's Pantry out of Louisiana.


                      Another one I love is Oceans of Cooking, just Texas Gulf coast seafood.


                      1. re: James Cristinian

                        yes indeed, "pirate's pantry" is a rock star of real-deal southern seafood cookbooks! nice to see you, james!

                        1. re: alkapal

                          Thank you alkapal, enjoy your posts and you always keep it civil.

                    2. re: alkapal

                      I love River Road recipes too, along with Southern Sidboards (Jackson, MS) and Pirates Pantry ( Lake Charles, LA). I've yet to pick up Charleston Receipt's although I should as it's part of my family heritage. Who's Your Mama books 1 and 2 by Marcelle Bienvenu are also wonderful. Although not with the OP is looking for.

                      Are you thinking of Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook? It's been around for quite awhile in various editions. I haven't seen the 1001 book yet.

                      1. re: rasputina

                        I didn't see your Pirate's Pantry post until just now. Obviously, great minds think alike,

                        1. re: rasputina

                          rasputina, i have a very old Southern Living cookbook --maybe-- : "Best Recipes," with a brown cover. My mom gave it to me around 1980.

                          My sister, Kay, sent in and had published from SL a cornflake oven-fried chicken recipe back in the 70's.

                        2. My rural southern background does not really involve recipes.

                          You get vegetables out of the garden, put them in a pot with some bacon grease and cook them until nice and tender. Tender enough to make CH shudder.

                          Pork chops, cubed steak and chicken are dredged in flour and fried in a skillet.

                          Roasts are seared and then braised with (gasp) water.

                          We get Southern Living magazine and they always have some tasty looking recipes but they are nouvelle southern.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: kengk

                            Southern Living magazine recipes are often trendier than those in the SL cookbooks I own.

                            As to recipes, one of the joys of these Southern cookbooks is the fabulous array of southern pies and cakes! For most of those (esp. cakes), one does need recipes -- recipes that used to be guarded like hawks would guard their young! LOL.

                            I suggest a relatively new high-quality magazine for those who appreciate the South -- Garden & Gun. Check it out online, and then subscribe. It is a substantial magazine printed on quality paper with quality writing and photography. (You'll treasure back issues and never toss them. You'll want to share them with family members, but get them back. Ha!).

                          2. I agree with thos have suggest the River Road Recipes from the Baton Rouge Junior League. All of them are fantastic.

                            I have also used A Gracious Plenty: Recipes and Recollections from the American South. I find everything in it to be authentic southern.

                            Another good one is Meals Like Mom Used to Make. I grew up in the south and while this one may not be specifically southern it is the meals I had growing up.

                            I know Paula Deen elicits either a love or hate response from most people but I very much like her Southern Cooking Bible. Just throwing it out there.

                              1. re: mudcat

                                I agree, Bill Neal's Southern Cooking could be the book the OP is looking for.
                                The author was a key figure in the Southern food revival in the late 80's - nearly every modern version of shrimp & grits is based on the recipe from his restaurant. It's a short but authoritative book - he was both very smart and a good writer.

                                1. re: caganer

                                  Thanks for your comments. However, I'm not looking for a late '80s, "modern" version of Southern cooking. That's just what I don't want. As I explained, I'm looking to make some of the dishes that my grandma's black cook served us when I was a kid, some 50-60 years ago, and she was elderly even then. And I've found some sources that are giving me what I want.

                                  1. re: John Francis

                                    Then Edna Lewis is who you are looking for......

                                    1. re: John Francis

                                      There is nothing "late '80's 'modern'" about Bill Neal's Southern Cooking. The book is explicitly intended to showcase recipes that would have been recognizable to a Southern cook in early 20th century - before convenience foods and canned soup began to obliterate traditional cooking.
                                      It is the one of the most thoughtful and well written cookbooks on the subject. You can reject it for the fact that it was written in the 80's if you want, it's your loss.

                                        1. re: mudcat

                                          I agree. His are authentic home cooked recipes,and his baking book is also wonderful, and historically based (with great historic photos). It's not 80's cooking at all.