Let’s start with transparency. I have had the honor of meeting Ms. Nathalie Dupree on several occasions at local book signings. She is well known in Charleston and is a pleasure to speak to. So I may be tad biased in this review, after all she calls my city home and has praised me for writing Home-Ec 101. I will have the pleasure of seeing her again on Sunday at the Center for Women’s Annual Local Author Signing held at the Citadel Alumni House. (If you’re local you should try to attend, if for no other reason than to keep me company for a little while).
You know the answer to that, right? I didn’t even have to look up the book to decide.
Then I learned it was by Ms. Dupree and Ms. Cynthia Graubart.
And then the book arrived. All 720 pages of my culinary heritage. (Later, while reading the book I learned they had cut out 300 additional pages.)
I’m not disciplined when it comes to reading cookbooks, I open to the middle, to a page at random, and let the book share what it will.
Chicken-Fried Steak with Flannel Sauce p438
Chicken Fried Steak is steak fried in the manner of chicken. Merle Ellis, a butcher turned television and cookbook food authority, was famous in the latter part of the twentieth century for his easy explanation of meat cookery. We cooked together several times, and his food was as top-notch as his writing. We debated such things as salting or not salting meat ahead of cooking, and he was obdurate about salting first, always. We both agreed salting and peppering flour is an excellent way of flavoring meat and chicken.
I had never heard of gravy referred to as flannel sauce, but then I looked at the ingredients: onion, heavy cream, chicken stock, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce. Without even looking at the technique, I knew the velvety texture from which the name was derived. And my mouth watered and I began looking deeper into the book.
The recipe is written much like the ones you see here, in plain language with practical advice -use one hand to keep the other clean and free to turn the meat- and parenthetical notes. Naturally, I’m a fan of the writing style.
I love that there is a thorough explanation of Southerners that goes well beyond those born and raised within the specific geography. Heck, I was born in Vallejo, CA, I’m a military brat and we moved here when I was two. Some would say I don’t qualify. Yet, Charleston is my home and I identify Southern, because it is what I know and love. The South is what I longed for when I spent five years in Minnesota -okay, maybe it was the climate as much as the food, but you get my point.
This book is in part an homage to Julia Child -you caught the title, right? It has thorough explanations of techniques, with only the barest reliance on processed foods (pantry staples like canned tomatoes). This book isn’t for those looking to shortcut their way out of the kitchen. Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking is for those who want to appreciate what honest food can be, it honors the history and tradition that gives Southern food its unique characteristics. And no, it’s not all about adding a stick of butter, no, not this at all. It’s about appreciating the history of the ingredients and the cultures that brought them here.
Rick McKee’s photography shines, to say more would detract from his work.
This book is not cheap, but this isn’t a gimmicky cookbook, this is a reference. This book deserves a place of honor on the shelf. It’s the one you’ll open when you can’t remember exactly how to make a roux (and for some reason don’t have internet access and don’t visit me).
It’s the book you’ll curl up with at night and fall asleep dreaming of shrimp burgers, collards with pot likker, and hot pepper jelly. You’ll follow their advice and spend a dreary winter morning practicing the art of biscuit making and even if you’ve never met Nathalie or Cynthia, you’ll hear them guiding your efforts.
I’m keeping my copy (and getting it autographed on Sunday, maybe by both Ms. Dupree and Ms. Graubart). However, I’ll ALSO be buying a copy for one of you at the signing and having it autographed, as well.
To enter the random drawing for the giveaway all you have to do is comment.
(Please make sure you use a valid email address, this is the mandatory entry).
This giveaway is open to US residents only, due to shipping costs, I’m sorry rest-of-the-world.
Additionally, each entrant can have up to three additional entries, by tweeting about the giveaway, signing up for the daily or weekly version of the Home-Ec 101 newsletter, or pinning this post on Pinterest. For the additional entries, just leave a new comment with the url (link) to the tweet or pin or say you’ve signed up. (If you already receive the newsletter, you can leave a comment saying so, I will be checking the email addresses to be sure they are truthful) And, to make sure you get the additional entries you are entitled to, only leave one url per comment. If you do all three, you should have 3 extra comments. Got it?
The entries will close at 9pm Eastern Sunday December 9. (If The Walking Dead is on, you’ve missed your chance, sorry). The winner will be contacted via email on Monday morning and announced via Twitter -in case I don’t have a new post in which to include the news.