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By Anne Blythe
The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
Crispy fried chicken. Barbecue bathed in a classic vinegar- or tomato-based sauce. Greens in pot liquor. Grits. Biscuits. Cornbread. Hushpuppies. Pies. That's just a sampling of the foods that say: This is the South, y'all.
In an attempt to stock kitchens and bookshelves across the country, UNC Press has launched a cookbook series called "Savor the South" focusing on Southern foods and culinary traditions.
In a collection of short books, food writers and well-known cooks dish up bite-size essays and recipes on topics ranging from pecans to peaches and buttermilk to bourbon, among others. Each season will bring two books with 50 recipes in each. Just out are "Pecans," by Charlotte Observer food editor Kathleen Purvis, and "Buttermilk," by Raleigh, N.C., food writer Debbie Moose, priced at $18 per petite volume.
Books on tomatoes and peaches will be out in the spring. Fourteen books are in the works, including a volume on pickles and preserves.
"The idea is to give a really nice highlight and focus to the kinds of food that are common to Southern foodways," said Elaine Maisner, the senior executive editor at UNC Press who launched the project.
Each book shows how the ingredient can be used in a classic Southern way, along with farm-to-table ideas.
Moose's first taste of buttermilk was a glassful combined with crumbled cornbread. Over the years, she has learned that a touch of buttermilk can do wonders for many dishes.
Purvis explains how pecans became rooted in Southern cuisine, starting with Native Americans.
As she blends the history of pecans, Purvis shows how to use the protein source in appetizers, salads, meat or fish dishes and such sweets as pies, tassies and pralines.
A recipe for success
UNC Press, founded in 1922, has long counted regional cookbooks among its recipe for success. It has a tradition of editors who love food as much as they do literature and scholarly works.
Maisner, at UNC Press since 1994, has worked on the Nolin River Farm in Kentucky, cooked with Deborah Madison at the renowned Greens Restaurant in San Francisco and interned at Chez Panisse in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Her last two titles--Sandra Gutierrez's "New Southern-Latino Table" and Sheri Castle's "New Southern Garden Cookbook"--won rave reviews in the cookbook world.