Anyone who has pushed away from the table after a big Southern feast, sated and wishing for more give in the waistband, can attest to the many emblematic ingredients of the regional cuisine.
Crispy fried chicken. Barbecue bathed in a classic vinegar- or tomato-based sauce. Greens in pot liquor. Grits. Biscuits. Cornbread. Hushpuppies. Pies.
Thats just a sampling of the foods that say: This is the South, yall.
In an attempt to stock kitchens and bookshelves across the country with a flavoring of the region, UNC Press has launched a cookbook series called Savor the South that focuses on characteristically Southern foods and culinary traditions.
In a collection of short, pithy books, food writers and well-known cooks will dish up bite-size essays and recipes on ingredients and topics that range from pecans to peaches, buttermilk to bourbon and sweet potatoes to Southern holidays.
Each season will bring two books with 50 recipes in each . Just out are Pecans, by Charlotte Observer Food Editor Kathleen Purvis, and Buttermilk, by Raleigh food writer Debbie Moose (an N&O columnist and former food editor), priced at $18 per petite volume.
Books on tomatoes and peaches will be out in the spring. Fourteen books are in the works, including a volume on pickles and preserves by N&O food writer Andrea Weigl, and editors are thinking about more.
The idea is to give a really nice highlight and focus to the kinds of food that are common to Southern foodways, said Elaine Maisner, the senior executive editor at UNC Press who launched the project. It provides an opportunity to rethink the Southern food tradition in a fresh new way.
Each book shows how the ingredient can be used in a classic Southern way along with providing farm-to-table ideas used by contemporary chefs and international twists.
Buttermilk, Moose writes, is truly representative of the South both the traditional South of country farms and the evolving region of creative chefs and international influences.
Her first taste of the lip-puckering liquid came as a child when her father crumbled leftover cornbread into a tall glass and filled it with buttermilk, an experience many Southerners can recount. Over the years, she has learned that a touch of buttermilk can add fluff to pancakes, bring a bit of sour to a trendy ice cream or lend flavor and froth to a cool mango-spice lassi.
Purvis explains how pecans became rooted in Southern cuisine, starting with Native Americans who packed them as protein sources to the horticulturist in Louisiana who successfully grafted a tree that produced the large, thin-shelled nuts now used in commercial production.
As she blends the history of a nut that spurred a never-ending debate (is it pronounced pee-can or pee-cahn?), Purvis shows how to use the rich protein source in appetizers, salads, meat or fish dishes and such classic sweets as pies, tassies and pralines.
Its hard to remember any occasion, from a picnic to a cocktail hour to a postfuneral spread, when pecans didnt turn up somewhere, mixed in the chicken salad, embedded in the cheese ball, sprinkled on the casserole, or just buttered, salted, and put out by the bowlful, Purvis writes.
A recipe for success
UNC Press, founded in 1922, has long counted regional cookbooks among its recipe for success. It has a tradition of editors who love food as much as they do literature and scholarly works.
Maisner, at UNC Press since 1994, has worked on the Nolin River Farm in Kentucky, cooked with Deborah Madison at the renowned Greens Restaurant in San Francisco and interned at Chez Panisse in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Her last two titles Sandra Gutierrezs New Southern-Latino Table and Sheri Castles New Southern Garden Cookbook won rave reviews in the cookbook world.
She hopes the Savor the South collection will be met with the same plaudits.
The food books are part of our regional trade programs, Maisner said. The Press needs to have a nice mix of books so we can support our scholarly works.
In 1989, when New York food critics were lavishing praise on new food trends in the South, UNC Press published Bill Neals Southern Cooking, showing the diversity and range of cooking with classically Southern ingredients.
Mama Dips Kitchen, reminiscences and recipes from Mildred Council, the much-loved owner of the popular Chapel Hill restaurant, has been a UNC Press hit since its publication in 1999. They call it their Harry Potter.
In 2000, the Press published Not Afraid of Flavor: Recipes from Magnolia Grill, by Ben and Karen Barker.
We dont fancy ourselves a kind of generic cookbook publisher, said Maisner. Our cookbook list reflects that.
Savor the South, though, is a little different, devoting each book to an emblematic ingredient or tradition.
Ideally, people will want to collect them all and create this little shelf that will be a connection to Southern culture and foodways, Maisner said.
To see printable links to the recipes, click on the recipe names below: