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Joni Woolf: A cookbook for Southerners and all those other folks

As anyone who grew up on the food can attest, life without a little South in your mouth at least once in a while is a bland and dreary prospect … John Egerton
At some point in October, while scanning the latest issue of  Garden and Gun magazine, I came across an ad for a new cookbook, The Southerner’s Cookbook, subtitled “Recipes, Wisdom, and Stories.” It looked interesting, so I ordered copies for a few on my Christmas list. I thought it might make a nice “second” gift — the kind you buy to add to one you’ve already bought, to be sure you’ve done enough. Well. The books arrived, and after perusing I have decided each book can be a very special, major gift for a friend or relative. Published in a cloth-bound hard cover, the book really is a book: it is not spiral bound or loose leaf; it is the kind of book you sit down to read leisurely, while you salivate over the wondrous selection of recipes, the best the South has to offer. Over 300 pages of words and illustrations provide the reader with hours of delightful ruminations about the wonders of food — Southern food.
The Southerner’s Cookbook, thankfully, is not a compilation of the latest fad food, or recipes from one’s favorite Atlanta or Savannah or Charleston restaurant. It is more nearly a bible of the foods that Southerners have cherished and passed on for years, improved occasionally by the chefs whose names appear in the credits, and whose work is featured in magazines across the South. I would have bought the book for the essays alone. Well-known writers Roy Blount Jr., Rick Bragg, John T. Edge, Julia Reed and several others offer humorous insights into the ways we Southerners put together food and set it before those we love. The essays are worth the price of the book.
The book is divided into easily accessible sections: Party Bites and Appetizers; Chicken; Pork, Beef, and Lamb; Fish and Shellfish; Game; Vegetables and Sides; Baked Goods and Desserts; Condiments, Sauces, and Spreads; and Cocktails. The editors have not turned up their noses at recipes that no longer attract hordes but that are beloved by a few of us — like tomato aspic: the recipe affirms the belief of my son-in-law Marshall Wooten that no celebratory meal is complete without his mother’s aspic — which he always prepares for our feast days. As the editor’s note on the back cover says, “this … cookbook covers every angle of home cooking, whether you’re feeding your family or entertaining a crowd. From roasting a whole hog to throwing a Lowcountry boil, the secrets of light-as-a-feather biscuits to perfectly crispy fried chicken, the art of spicing a Bloody Mary to mixing a potent punch, The Southerner’s Cookbook  is much more than a collection of recipes — it is a true reflection of the South’s culinary landscape.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Here’s the Bloody Mary recipe, which could be the star of any Christmas morning brunch.

1 46-ounce bottle V8 juice
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons grainy mustard
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
3 tablespoons pork jus or beef stock
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
7 tablespoons hot sauce, preferably Crystal brand
4 tablespoons green hot sauce
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive juice (the brine from a jar of olives)
3 tablespoons okra juice (the brine from a jar of pickled okra)
Vodka of choice
Garnish: Pickled okra and celery stalks
Combine all ingredients except vodka in a pitcher and stir to combine. (The mixture can be made ahead of time and kept in a sealed pitcher for up to 1 week.) To serve: Fill a glass with ice. Add about 2 ounces of vodka. Fill with Bloody Mary mix. Stir, garnish with pickled okra and celery stalks and serve.
(Note: For those who do not drink alcohol, the drink can be enjoyed without the vodka, and is still a delightful wake-up refreshment for the holiday.)
Who could not love a cookbook that includes four recipes for Pimento Cheese? Or one for Fried Green Tomatoes? Or Pool Room Slaw? You get the drift: it’s Southern at its best. And this time, I hope my relatives are not reading the column. There’ll be no surprises Christmas Day.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at indigojoni@windstream.net