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Homage From the Experts : American Cooking: A Tradition Remains Proud of Its Southern Exposure

November 19, 1987|ROSE DOSTI | Times Staff Writer

It's no surprise that a large number of important regional cookbooks in the market today should center around the South, where America's great cooking began and continued through even its bleakest period after the Civil War.

The proud Southern cooks who have paid homage to fine Southern American cuisine are some of the big names in the food world--Craig Claiborne, author and former food critic for the New York Times, Camille Glenn, one of Kentucky's favorite cooking teachers and food journalist, and Nathalie Dupree, Atlanta cooking school teacher and television personality.

Craig Claiborne's Southern Cooking by Craig Claiborne (Times Books: $19.95, 364 pages).

The book, which would make a fine holiday gift for cooks who really cook, is a personal compendium of Southern recipes from Claiborne's past and present. There are authentic Southern recipes from his own mother's boarding-house kitchen in Mississippi, such as fried chicken, field peas, collard greens, fresh corn on the cob, sliced tomato with vinaigrette sauce, and home-baked pecan pie topped with vanilla ice cream. Recipes from the repertoires of famous modern Southern chefs are also included; among the examples are yellow bell pepper and Serrano chili soup, halibut fillets with mango and basil sauce.

Laden With Regional Cuisines

Because Southern cooking spans Cajun, Creole and Tex-Mex cuisines, the book is richly laden with recipes from the sub-regional cuisines, such as Cajun-style gumbo, blanched crawfish tails, tamale pie and flour tortillas, as well as the refined Southern recipes that can be traced to their French influences when the South was in its infancy.

The charming introductions to the recipes unfold a story of nostalgic love for a cuisine of Claiborne's childhood. "One of the principal cooks in my mother's boardinghouse over the years was named Pearl Hutchins. He not only cooked but acted as my personal part-time nurse. It never occured to me in my childhood to wonder if Pearl was his given name or a nickname. One of his many fine Southern specialties was his sweet potato biscuits." Such.

The Heritage of Southern Cooking by Camille Glenn (Workman Publishing: $14.95 paperback, 480 pages, illustrated.)

Camille Glenn, who was raised in the kitchen of her parents' Kentucky country inn and taught gourmet cooking for 29 years while writing for the Louisville Courier, feels lucky to have had a family who were "terribly interested in superb food."

Her cookbook reflects the pride and dedication to a cuisine that encompasses her experiences. There are 550 recipes representing a culinary tour of Southern cuisine culled from a vast number of recipes gathered while traveling and living in Charleston, New Orleans, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, the Carolinas, Georgia and Alabama.

Deviations From Authenticity

There is Chesapeake Bay oyster stew, New Orleans Remoulade rouge, Deep South red beans and rice, Louisiana crab meat and shrimp stuffing, Kentucky beer cheese, North Carolina Moravian sugar cake, among hundreds of other authentic Southern specialties.

Not that there are no deviations from the authentic. A cornmeal puff pastry was an outgrowth of the teaching of puff pastry preparation. "A little cornmeal gives the puff pastry large dimension, especially if used as turnovers for cocktail parties," said Glenn during an interview at The Times. Cornmeal also figures in a Melba bread that Glenn created because she wanted something to serve with country ham, butter and cheese.

Her loyalties, however, remain Southern. "I've studied at the Cordon Bleu, taught a lot of French pastry, but I am a Southern cook first," she said.

The cakes in the book are typically Southern. A chocolate pound cake is beautiful and freezes well, to boot. Southern breads, such as an orange and apricot bread, are served typically at receptions or as a late night snack, never with meals.

New Southern Cooking by Nathalie Dupree (Alfred A. Knopf: $18.95, 345 pages).

Nathalie Dupree could be said to represent the new breed Southern cook and this, her second book on Southern cooking, proves it. A cooking teacher at Rich's Cooking School in Atlanta, where she lives, as well as a television cook, Dupree offers 350 recipes representing both tradition and innovation, most of it reflecting the way Southerners cook today.

You get the feeling thumbing through the book, that of meeting her Southern neighbors: Jewell Hoefer's Brown Sugar Pound Cake, Billy's Baked Shad, Cicero's Sauteed Shad Strips, Barbara Persons' Marinated Shrimp and Scallops. There is also a sort of teatime, gossipy introduction of some of the recipes that is equally captivating. "When my friends the Bentleys and I grilled a duck one day, it occurred to us to use duck fat rather than traditional streak-o-lean in cooking these peas, and my goodness, are they good this way."

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