At the Table

A Treasure Trove from Cheryl Day

By: Hannah Lee Leidy

Dust off your rolling pin and dive into Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking (Artisan 2021). Cheryl Day, the Savannah-based bakery owner, has been serving up decadent sweets since falling in love with the city in 1999 and opening Back in the Day Bakery in 2002. Day is also the co-author of The Artisanal Kitchen series (Artisan 2018) and Back in the Day Bakery Made with Love (Artisan 2015), both of which cover the sweeter side of things. Cheryl Day entered the writing process for this, her first solo project, with one goal: “There shouldn’t be a thing that the Southern baker would be craving that isn’t covered in here.” 

Readers can expect a range of classics from Day’s decades-old family recipe cards and church cookbooks, which she’s edited to fit the twenty-first century. She considers the evolving culinary world and believes that Southern cuisine should not be concrete, but rather continue to change. Yes, you’ll find biscuits and chess pie in these pages, but you’ll also be introduced to roasted jalapeño corn sticks, rum raisin milk punch cake, and more than thirty pies (Day’s favorite kind of dessert). 

Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking has breadth that’s worth adding to your arsenal. Here, we catch up with the author to learn more about her inspiration, creative process, and the one dessert that, for her, will never get old. 

Discussing Pie and Inspiration with Cheryl Day

The Local Palate: Tell us a little bit about your love affair with baking and how it started. 

Cheryl Day: [It] started in the kitchen with my mom making pies. We would bake pies with fruit that we grew on our trees in our yard. She grew up in Alabama and as a young girl it seemed worlds apart from my experience growing up in Los Angeles. I spent summers with my grandmother and that was truly life changing for me. 

TLP: It’s obvious that you took some Southern tradition back to California growing up, but did you bring any West Coast inspiration with you to Savannah? 

CD: Absolutely. I would say there’s a very rustic, approachable style to how I decorate desserts and display food. It’s textural and layered, and what I’ve discovered the longer that I’ve been here is that there’s more that connects east and west than I realized. For instance, the focus of using fresh, seasonal ingredients. 

TLP: In the book’s introduction, you emphasize the influence that enslaved women had on cuisine in the American South. How did you go about exploring their impact on the region’s history in relation to baking? 

CD: It started with my personal story of my great-great grandmother who was a slave and pastry cook. From that point, I did a lot of research in my collection of old cookbooks, many of which are church and community books written by women. I wanted to pay homage to women who were typically erased or lost in history. 

TLP: When it came to modernizing some of those recipes, what did you change and what are things that had to stay the same? 

CD: A lot of the older recipes didn’t even have salt. I also found that I like to play around with alternative flours. There’s a chapter in the book about integrating grains where I encourage folks to use sorghum or whole wheat flours, not just because you’re allergic or have a gluten intolerance, but for flavor and texture. 

TLP: Let’s talk about pie. It’s the longest section in your book and your favorite dessert. Why do you gravitate towards them? 

CD: They take me back to a specific place in time spent with my mom. I lost her when I was 22 and I feel very blessed that I had so much time baking with her. I truly crave pie according to the seasons. In the fall, I think of apple; by the holidays, I think of sweet potato pie. I would say my all-time favorite pie—and it’s because of the theory and memory that’s connected to it—is lemon meringue pie. It’s perfect.

Day’s Sweet Potato Pie Recipe

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