A Southerly Course
by Martha Hall Foose

Clarkson/Potter, 2011. ISBN 978-0-307-46428-6.
Reviewed by Judy Alter
Posted on 04/21/2011

Nonfiction: Life Lessons; Nonfiction: Food/Cooking/Kitchen

Be warned: this is not your grandmother's sentimental southern cookbook. No cheese grits or spoon bread. Few if any casseroles—although there is a good one for crab. But you'll still find jellied salads and other favorites.

Martha Hall Foose has lived up and down the Mississippi from Minnesota to the Mississippi delta, where she grew up and now lives again. For this lavishly illustrated book, she followed back-roads, visited modern and classic kitchens, and explored southern ingredients. The result is a book that offers, at least for me, a fresh look at southern cooking and some recipes I can't wait to try.

There are a few scattered essays which discourse on various ingredients or customs. Foose's essay on venison includes an anecdote (funny only in retrospect) about the time she spilled Tink's Doe-in-a-Rut Buck Lure on her new dress on the first day of seventh grade. But, though not a hunter, she loves to cook with and eat venison, and mouth-watering recipes include Venison Meatballs with a Mustard Sauce, Doe Loin with Winter Biscuits, and Jalapeņo Rolled Loin.

An essay on congealed salads compares the salads to the pageant girls of the South. There should, she says, be a contest, "some way to genuflect towards the spectacles of the congealed salad." She mentions Blushing Peach Melba, Cherry Co-Cola Salad, Carrot Pineapple Salad (who can forget that?) and Jeweled Lime Surprise. A recipe for Cranberry Salad follows the essay.

A recipe for Skillet Fried Corn is preceded by an essay on corn, the difficulty of growing it in the delta, the importance of holding a cob in your hand and eating it, and the traditional corn at the state fair. There is no mention of that Texas state fair favorite, corn dogs. Similarly, creamed corn, she claims, is not a native dish because dairy products were difficult and expensive to obtain. Mississippians used the creamiest thing on hand—bacon fat or lard. Before you start complaining about cholesterol, she suggests you research cream and then get back to her. For the skillet fried corn, like many other dishes, she insists on cast-iron cookware.

The most interesting essay in the book is on Eudora Welty and her strong presence in Jackson, where Foose lived as a youngster. When she was a young girl, an aunt gave Foose a cookbook that already had a name written on the flyleaf—only later would she realize that it was Eudora Welty's name. In recent times, Foose spent time Eudora Welty's house, now home to the Eudora Welty Foundation, exploring the annotated cookbooks and recipes from which the famous author, always hospitable, had cooked. Miss Eudora's recipe in this book is for Custard Pie.

New to me was Rum Tum Tiddy, made from tomato soup, cheese and toast and traditionally fed to sick children. The recipe for Welsh Rarebit cast a whole new light on that dish, which I've loved from childhood—this version is much better. There are recipes for oysters and crawfish (pickled), burgundy duck and rabbit terrine, salsify (or oyster plant) bisque, Potato and Anchovy Salad, that old stand-by Copper Pennies, and many others. I'll be dipping into this book for a long time to come.

A Southerly Course is an oversize book but still one meant for cooking, not the coffee table. The photography is spectacular, from a close-up of a Butterscotch Pot de Creme to a swamp landscape, the billboard for a cafe's menu, or a store counter with a bored-looking clerk above a sign that reads "Catching is Good for the Appetite; Fishing is Good for the Soul."

Welcome to modern southern cooking, which retains the best of the traditions behind it.

Martha Hall Foose is the James Beard Award-winning author of the best-selling cookbook, Screen Doors & Sweet Tea. She attended a pastry school in France and ran the Bottletree Bakery in Oxford and the Mockingbird Bakery in Greenwood. She is a former executive chef of the Viking Cooking School and was the food stylist for the forthcoming movie, "The Help." She lives on the family farm in Tchula, Mississippi, with her husband and son. Visit her website.

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