South Carolina history, stone-milled grains, and Gullah Geechee recipes in heavy rotation among the new cookbooks on this month’s bookshelf
Taste the State
Kevin Mitchell and David S. Shields
University of South Carolina Press
Part food history, part cookbook, and part compendium of somewhat-bizarre bygone recipes, Taste the State from food historian authors, Culinary Institute of Charleston instructor Kevin Mitchell and University of South Carolina professor David S. Shields, is a deep dive into South Carolina’s foodways.
This academically minded new cookbook is complete with dozens of recipes (like these okra fritters) from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But it includes a few contemporary versions sprinkled throughout. While some may not inspire you to revive centuries-old traditions, they provide an unparalleled understanding of the state’s food history and how some of the dishes we enjoy today have evolved with the times.
The new cookbook, for example, has a section on pilau—a risotto-like dish also known as pilaf, pillau, perlo, perloo, and purlieu—includes recipes for versions you’d often see on menus around Charleston today, studded with chicken or crab, and classic variations like hoppin’ john. But it also includes options for dove pilau and fish kedgeree (made with “one-half box of shredded codfish”). Apparently, squirrel pilau was also a common occurrence according to historical records, though no recipes have survived. (Read an interview with the authors in our Fall 2021 issue, on stands now.)
New Cookbooks for Bakers
Southern Ground: Reclaiming Flavor Through Stone-Milled Flour
Ten Speed Press
Baker-turned-miller Jennifer Lapidus has been at the forefront of the artisan bread movement since the 1990s. After founding her own wood-fired brick oven bakery and developing a community of fellow bakers in Western North Carolina, she turned her attention to the ingredients and set out to broaden her community by forming direct relationships with local growers.
Carolina Ground is her focus now. It’s a mill centered on its place, and it connects the seed producer to the farmer to the miller to the baker. Her research has been extensive and she shares much of the science and data of her findings in her new cookbook, Southern Ground. But she also gets to the heart of what makes the mill a success: the people.
In thoughtful, personal profiles, she introduces readers to the faces that make the community a success. She highlights wheat breeders, farmers, and eventually, bakers from around the South. Those bakers supply a long list of recipes that are organized by the type of flours used—hard winter wheat, rye, soft red winter wheat, and blends and outliers.
Hard-core baking fans will appreciate the attention to detail put into the reasoning behind using specific flours for each recipe, as well as exactly how those flours are produced. For baking novices it’s really a crash course in understanding how the artisan bread circle ought to work.
Either way, readers should take the time to source the proper stone-milled flours (through Carolina Ground or their own local resources) and try their hand at the bakers’ recipes, such as seeded rye bread, naturally leavened carrot cake, sourdough doughnuts, and much more.
New Cookbooks for Gullah Geechee Cooking
Bress ‘n’ Nyam: Gullah Geechee Recipes from a Sixth-Generation Farmer
Matthew Raiford with Amy Paige Condon
The Countryman Press
An ode to both the land Matthew Raiford now stewards, as well as many of his ancestors, his new cookbook of Gullah Geechee recipes (the title means “bless and eat” in Gullah) shares the traditions of a prodigal son. An accomplished chef who was a semifinalist for the James Beard Best Chef: Southeast award in 2018, Raiford roots readers in a very particular place—a piece of coastal Georgia land that’s been in his family since the late 1800s, through the hands of six generations. Raiford returned there to revive the farmland in 2011 and continues to live and cook there.
The book weaves together Raiford’s story with his ancestors’, while the recipes blend the self-proclaimed CheFarmer’s formal training with his family’s cooking roots. Organized by elements (earth, water, fire, wind, nectar, spirits), the book shares traditional dishes that tie to the land, like Gullah rice, muscadine jelly, and a blackberry doobie (sort of like a cobbler), as well as ones tied to Raiford’s family, such as Grandpa Arthur’s citrus-candied sweet potatoes, and Effie’s shrimp creole. The chef’s own global travels shine through with recipes for coastal paella, giardiniera, and crab diablo, his take on deviled crab.
New Cookbooks for the Everyday
Southern Grit: 100+ Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Cook
Kelsey Barnard Clark
Winner of Top Chef season 16, Kelsey Barnard Clark wants to make Southern cooking simple. This new cookbook—her first—is geared toward those who might be trying their hand at classics like deviled eggs, breakfast casserole, and chicken pot pie for the very first time. From tips on hosting parties to knife skills, she breaks things down into easy-to-manage directions, while also ensuring (through both standard and metric measurements) that the recipes are fool-proof.
The mom of two is also a plant enthusiast and throws in tips for being a green thumb as well as how to tend chickens—she claims fifteen at her home coop and counts eggs as her favorite food group. Dishes show up from her time on television, including the corn-mold skillet cornbread she served during her final winning meal, as do shout-outs to New York restaurants Café Boulud and Dovetail, where she once worked. So, if you’re trying smoked wings or tomato pie for the first time or looking for a showstopping red velvet cake, Clark’s first book has you covered.
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