First impressions: A Southerly Course is organized logically, much in the way all cookbooks were ten years ago: Passed/Plates, Salads, Vegetables, Entrees, and Desserts. And while it isn't the hippest way to organize a cookbook these days, it certainly does serve a purpose in making it easy for the reader to navigate and find what they're looking for. What strikes me right away is the simplicity of so many of the recipes. Many times this is a breath of fresh air as is the case with the Oyster Patties or Custard Pie. Although other times, some dishes don't seem involved enough to warrant an actual recipe: they're too simple, in fact. Recipes for sweet potato wedges or grilled green onions make some of the pages of Martha's book seem a bit more like filler than actual substance.
Number of recipes: 100+; 256 pages.
The angle: What I appreciate about this book is the way Martha Hall Foose deliberately stays away from sentimentalizing Southern food or "mythologizing" it, as she mentions in the Introduction. Today it's so easy to romanticize the South simply for its slower pace as we continue to dial up the speed of our everyday lives. But Martha devotes this book to understanding the stories and the foods that make up those myths, to "a full immersion baptism in the font of Southern culinary eccentricity, ingenuity, and creativity." I think she succeeds. This book is about food, yes, but it's also about the stories and people behind the food. And that's why it has staying power.
The other stuff: Some recipes will include helpful "Notes" on preparation or serving ideas and occasionally Martha sprinkles in relevant quotes from Southerners. She'll also intersperse short essays introducing certain facets of Southern life (pageants, for instance) or Southerners like Eudora Welty and her cookbooks. In this way, it's not just a reference cookbook -- it's readable and visually captivating with photos depicting average afternoons, lunches, and porches from Martha's world.
Strengths: As always, Martha's headnotes and stories introducing each recipe are a major strength of this book. There's also a nice balance of dishes and they're not the 'same old, same old' that you've seen in every other Southern Cookbook (for instance, you won't see Southern Fried Chicken or Spoonbread here).
Recipes for right now: Crabmeat Casserolettes, Parish Olives, Sweet Pickle Braised Pork Shoulder, Carnival Funnel Cakes,
Recommended? Yes, if you appreciate cookbooks that lean towards storytelling and are looking for a book with some strong, basic Southern recipes.
Read It: A Southerly Course by Martha Hall Foose, $19.96 at Amazon
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