Martha Hall Foose won a James Beard award in the American Cookery category for her book Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook. And I completely understand why, and I've only just made one recipe!
Cornbread Crusted White Chili - and yes, it's as good as it sounds.
Here is the outer cheesy cornbread crust - inside, there was an amazing white chili with tomatillos, chicken, and hominy, but my friend and I devoured it before I remembered to take a picture. Whoops.
I read this cookbook like a novel. Foose throws us into the slow Mississippi Delta world that she loves so much. Every recipe has a history; we meet characters like Aunt Mary Stigler Thompson - a woman who declares none of the entrants in the mayonnaise making competition are "as good as my own"; Mrs. Ethel Wright Mohamed, a woman who stitched hundreds of tea towels to remember her beloved late husband; and M. Taylor Bowen Ricketts who cooked black-eyed peas just as well as she painted. Foose's notes section with cooking instructions are just as charming as the histories that grace every recipe.
Oh, and the food. Huge color photographs adorn nearly every page of complex, beautiful, mouth-watering Southern food. From curried sweet potato soup with pork rind croutons to banana puddings served in a mason jar to field peas with snaps... I was hungry every time I picked up this book. I took my time with Screen Doors and Sweet Tea - in fact, I took so long that it's now over-due. I had to quickly photocopy all of the recipes I want to try and return it to the library. I know I'm not the only one who's actually cooked from this book - at the front, I found a post-it note from another patron who had meticulously written out each recipe that she tried.
Southern cooking is not fast, nor is it easy. Many recipes require hours of prep work, and I know that I don't have a lot of time for this kind of cooking during my hectic work week. But for special occasions, I will definitely make a caramel cake. Or the greens with cornbread croutons. Or overnight dinner rolls.
Oh, it's time to start planning the next dinner with Foose. And I'm adding this book to my Christmas wish list. I foresee running out of shelf space at this rate.