Those who know me know well that I have an extensive collection of cookbooks. They range from genuine antiques to reprints of ancient works to modern writings that caught my eye either for the potential of the recipes or the potential for entertainment. Well, I recently picked up a book that filled both of those last two reasons.
The title alone would have made this a necessity for me. I can’t resist a great title. The book seemed to fly into my hands from the shelf of my local friendly independent bookstore (or LFIB for short). I eagerly flipped it open and began to peruse for more reasons to buy. They came thick and fast. It’s filled with attractive, practical recipes for good, solid home cooking: chicken pot pie, pot roast, oatmeal raisin cookies, biscuits, and so on. There are also plenty of recipes for specifically Southern goodies like grillades and grits, butter beans, and shrimp and okra gumbo. There’s a lot of great cooking ahead of me, trying out this book.
But there’s so much more than that. In addition to being a born and bred Southern boy (raised in Hattiesburg), St. John is also a chef/restaraunteur and a syndicated food writer. In between the recipes in his book, are layered some of the best of his columns on food and growing up in the South.
In one, he discusses the assumption that Southerners eat possum:
“As long as I have lived in the South I have never eaten a possum. No one I know has ever eaten a possum. I have never been to anyone’s house who served possum. I have never seen possum offered on a restaurant menu and I have never seen possum in the frozen meat section of a grocery store.”
A few pages later, comes the article resulting from a flood of responses in re: eating possum. In fact, said response includes some instructions for preparing possum, should anyone be inclined to give it a go:
“One reader stated that “baked coon and sweet potatoes” was better than possum any day. Another sent these cooking instructions: “Skin and gut the possum. Place on a nice pine board and slide that combination into a hot oven. Cook for four hours. When the possum is thoroughly cooked, remove from oven and eat the pine board.” Finally, some common sense.”
Whether discussing cadging secret summer second suppers from neighbors as a boy, the importance of sweet tea in Southern culture, or why his leg of lamb Easter dinners will never match those his grandmother cooked, St. John approaches his world with affection and humor. When writing his recipes, he’s clear and well-organized.
Oh, and as promised, not a single can of cream of mushroom soup appears in the recipes. Instead, he gives a recipe for a mushroom bechamel sauce to use where that can of condensed, over-salted soup would go. Miracle Whip, however, does raise its head in several recipes. Maybe it’s a Yankee thing, but I’m probably going to replace that with homemade mayonnaise. Why? Because I can’t stand Miracle Whip.
But I can’t wait to try out the Bananas Foster French Toast. That sounds about seven steps beyond delicious!