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Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South
WINNER OF AN ASTONISHING FOUR IACP AWARDS, INCLUDING COOKBOOK OF THE YEAR AND THE JULIA CHILD FIRST BOOK AWARD
Vivian Howard, star of PBS’s A CHEF’S LIFE, celebrates the flavors of North Carolina’s coastal plain in more than 200 recipes and stories.
This was a serendipitous find of a cookbook. First, it showed up on several lists of cookbooks to look for. Then it won the IACP Cookbook of the Year award. Then I was looking around PBS and stumbled on this show called “A Chef’s Life” and it took a few episodes before I realized that this show starred the author of this cookbook I kept hearing about. Kismet!
I selected it for my cookbook discussion group (there is such a thing and I’ve been facilitating this group for several years at my library,) ordered 15 copies and waited. We met yesterday to discuss and watch the “Broccoli” episode where Vivian begins her book/food truck tour. Yes, this chef went on tour with a food truck. How brilliant was that? Made me wonder why all chefs weren’t doing that.
The consensus of the group was that we loved reading the book – her stories are just wonderful. However, cooking from the book was an entirely different thing. A few people felt intimidated by it, and remember, this is a group of people who cook regularly from cookbooks, most for many years so that really surprised me. Most people felt the recipes were overly long and complicated and a few others didn’t care for the style of the food but loved reading the book. Southern cuisine is not for everyone, and this is a very specific, eastern Carolina style of food. One of the group is actually from eastern Carolina and has relatives still living in the area and she probably enjoyed this book the most. Vivian Howard is a hero there.
So about the book – the positives. There are stories, lots of stories, and they are wonderful. The book itself is beautiful, sturdy, heavy paper sewn into the binding so it lies flat pretty much at every page. Towards the end of the book (it is a big cookbook, over 500 pages) the sheer weight of the book tends to snap it closed. There are also instructions on how to can fruits and vegetables, which seems important to a cookbook like this.
There is a table of contents (which is odd, by any standards) and then a very detailed Recipe Guide which is in a completely different order and sectioned differently from the table of contents. At the end of the book is an index, which is a sorry thing that often refers back to the page of the Recipe Guide to find the actual page number of the recipe. Confusing? Yep. So for clarity’s sake, on the left side of this picture is the actual Table of Contents, with the chapters:
Looking at just the table of contents, one would think there were no chicken, beef or fish recipes, for instance, but there are. There is an explanation given as to the way the book is organized. Vivian says,
…the way I ordered the chapters and recipes is personal, driven more by story than anything else. But it’s a cookbook, after all, and I want you to cook from it, and that’s why I’ve included this more practical guide (that would be the Recipe Guide.)
On the right side of the picture is the beginning of the Recipe Guide. It is divided into sections that make a bit more sense, more like a traditional cookbook, with sections called Breakfast and Brunch; Sandwiches; Pickles, Preserves, and Relishes; Sweets etc. I do like that she included a box at the end of this guide with “Eastern North Carolina Traditions”, a list of recipes that are truly native to that area like Collard Kraut, Fresh Corn Roasted in Chicken Drippings, Squash and Onions, and so forth.
One of my members made the Squash and Onions and said she made the rookie mistake of not reading the recipe all the way through before beginning. By the time she realized that these vegetables would be cooking for hours, she was already into it. She said that to her, a Yankee born and bred, this dish epitomized everything that is wrong with Southern food, taking beautiful, fresh ingredients, like summer squash straight from the farm, and cooking it until it is an unrecognizable mush. She ended up taking the mush, adding in quinoa and finely chopped mushrooms and turned it into a most delicious veggie burger. The mushy squash acted as the glue in holding it all together.
Another member of the group, the one from eastern North Carolina, made the Stewed Collard Greens with Ham Hock. She said this recipe is very similar to the way she grew up making this dish and it was delicious.
We all noticed that citrus plays an important role in many recipes, and we all liked that. I loved the Citrus Sweet Potato Butter although I did leave out the sugar, and found it more than sweet enough. I will be making that again. When I have some time off from work, I am going to attempt the Sweet Potato Onion Bread, which is a four page long recipe that requires a lot of attention, this is no mix it, knead it and wait recipe. I also am planning on making the Stuffed Butternut Bottoms, where butternut squash “bowls” are roasted then stuffed with a mixture of sausage, leek, turnip greens (or kale) and cheese, then topped with bread crumbs and baked again. She doesn’t specify the type of sausage so I’m thinking maybe a spicy chicken sausage would be good here. It sounds really good and winter squash season is almost upon us.
I did not care for the Watermelon Tea – basically a mixture of tea and pureed, strained watermelon that I thought would be akin to a sweet tea without adding actual sugar, but I found it an odd combination of flavors. Another member of the group made the Peaches and Cream Cake, another four page recipe (including pictures) and loved it but said it really was overly complicated. I also made “Viv’s Addiction,” a spiced pecan that was delicious. The nuts are folded into a stiffly beaten egg white with lots of spice then baked. I love these things, but this was the most complicated spiced nut recipe I’ve ever made. Breaking apart what is essentially a sweet & spicy praline required a bit of attention but I think the end result was worth it.
I mostly enjoyed reading this cookbook more than cooking from it, if that makes sense. But if you are looking for unusual recipes, and you like Southern food, and you enjoy the challenge of long, complicated recipes, you may love this cookbook.
9/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™
DEEP RUN ROOTS by Vivian Howard. Little, Brown and Company; y First edition edition (October 4, 2016). ISBN 978-0316381109. 576p.