A Gracious Plenty

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9780399145346: A Gracious Plenty

A beautiful book, featuring hundreds of classic recipes, that captures the essence of Southern foodways.

In the tradition of The Junior League Centennial Cookbook, The Black Family Reunion Cookbook, and the regional and community cookbooks that are treasured by millions of home cooks, A Gracious Plenty is an exuberant celebration of the food and culinary traditions that define the character of the American South.

The more than 400 recipes--culled from community cookbooks representing a diversity of geographical and social influences--are only the first layer in this richly textured work. Throughout the book, evocative essays recall the distinctive food myths and stories of the South. Among the contributors, B. B. King remembers his sharecropping family; Roy Blount, Jr., talks of his mother's giblet and red-eye gravies; Edna Lewis praises dandelion greens and poke "sallet"; and Shelby Foote tells of buying hot tamales from a street vendor. These, and dozens of other meal memories, are testaments to the importance of family, community, and the gracious plenty of food in the South. Index.

* illustrated with black-and-white-photographs throughouttext printed in two colors

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Review:

There is a calmness to this book, and it comes from an assured knowledge rising out of the kind of scholarship that sets aside popular mythology in favor of the ways things actually are and have been. No U.S. region suffers more from popular mythology, some of it benign, much of it mocking and cruel, than the South. Author-editor John T. Edge encourages the reader of A Gracious Plenty to taste the South for what it is and has been. The book has the backing of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. In his introduction, Center director Charles Reagan Wilson points to the Southern Thanksgiving of his father-in-law, a native Mississippian who happens to be Lebanese. Both deep-fried turkey and kibbe are served, with stuffed grape and cabbage leaves as well as oyster dressing and sweet potato casserole. The heritage, he writes, is strictly Southern.

The recipes are drawn from community cookbooks--"those clunky, spiral-bound, gravy-spattered volumes." While they get little respect, these volumes are an important part of the Southern kitchen and food tradition. The earliest ones date back to the Civil War and then as now were published to raise funds for a cause. Apparently, by the close of the 19th century, more than 2,000 community cookbooks were in print. Edge rightly points out that recipes gathered into a community cookbook are never authored by one, but by many. In effect, he encourages the reader to pull a seat up to the Southern table. Many of the voices heard in A Gracious Plenty come from material gathered by writers and journalists between 1935 and 1942 working for the Federal Writers Project.

The recipes are divided into sections that include appetizers, beverages, breads, salads and dressings, sides and vegetables, soups and stews, meats, poultry, fish and seafood, sauces, preserves, jellies and pickles, desserts, and a final section on menus. These are home recipes, church-basement recipes, proud recipes. They taste like reality made up of pain and hospitality and careless laughter. A Gracious Plenty is a wonderful book and an important addition to anyone's cookbook library. --Schuyler Ingle

About the Author:

From his post at the University of Mississippi's Center for the Study of Southern Culture in Oxford, Mississippi, John T. Edge researches and writes about Southern foodways. He is a featured columnist for Y'All, a magazine of Southern culture, and the author of Belly of Atlanta: Homegrown Guide to Good Places.

Ellen Rolfes is a longtime publisher and packager of community cookbooks. She has developed such bestsellers as The Junior League Centennial Cookbook and The Black Family Reunion Cookbook. She lives in Oxford, Mississippi.

Established in 1977 at the University of Mississippi, The Center for the Study of Southern Culture has become a center for innovative education and research promoting scholarship on every aspect of Southern culture. It is well known for both its programs and its publications, including the award-winning Encyclopedia of Southern Culture.

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