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The Heritage of Southern Cooking

This cookery book, The Heritage of Southern Cooking (1986, Workman Publishing Co. Inc., New York, N.Y.), by the cooking teacher, chef and cookbook writer, Camille Glenn whose base was Louisville, Kentucky, is an additional compendium of southern favourites as well as her own inventions and treatments. This is a tribute to southern America, extolling not only the types of food, but also the use of fresh ingredients and the desirability of using good, seasonal foods. While Camille Glenn does occasionally allude to the influence of slave and Afro-American food practices, my impression is that of crossing to the other side of the tracks. I tread carefully here because I do not want to bias anyone against what is a marvellous book of recipes and lore.

Camille’s style is friendly and accessible. Her writing is heartfelt, inviting and encouraging. In the introduction to the book, Camille concludes with advice about how to build a roster of favourite menus so they become second nature for the cook. This builds confidence in the beginner and saves time when preparing the meal again. This is such good advice.

Each chapter introduction is framed in peach colouring making them easy to locate. There is no doubt that Camille is an expert. Her no holds barred approach to describing foods and techniques is frank and cheeky. She reveres excellent food but her feet remain on the ground. Camille Glenn believes, “…delicious food is an essential part of the good life, and the hours spent in the kitchen are time well spent, and fun.” I concur.

Home cooking with insight, care and application are all to be desired and sought after. As do so many of us reared in the household of a gifted cook, Camille learned to respect excellent food and to replicate it. This brings satisfaction to the cook and the diners. These home cooked dishes become our comfort food and rekindle memories of family.

Camille spent 50 years teaching cooking and writing all manner of cookbooks. Her experience is wide-ranging across the U.S. and through foreign countries and includes reading food histories and cookbooks from the early years of the U.S. She mentions that one of the recipes she learned was from her family’s help, a woman named Lydia. There are hints she and her mother may have learned cooking tips and treatments from black traditions.

The 550 recipes contained in this book are accompanied by advice, counsel, strictures, recommended accompaniments and so on, all concisely presented. The strictures can be gently barbed and often humorous as are many of her asides. For example, in her recipe for Pan-Fried Crappie in Cornmeal, she comments on her variation using catfish, “If you insist upon eating catfish, pan-fry it this way, …” Again, when referring to her Jumbo Shrimp and Wild Rice with Tarragon, her sage advice is, “The more shrimp you cook, the better the dish will be, as you will have a more concentrated seafood flavor.”

Over the years, I have prepared a number of the recipes in this book from vegetables to meats to fish to breads, cakes and pies. One of the two best pies I’ve ever made was Camille’s Maryland’s Chess and Apple Tart. It is a rare occasion when I test a recipe before serving it to family and guests. Well, that never happens. I follow recipes expecting them to work or I make up my own relying on my experience, and voilà! They turn out beautifully. I made this pie for a Thanksgiving dinner and was bowled over by its perfection. The guests admired the look, the taste, the flaky crust, everything. Unfortunately, there was none left over because there were eight guests around the table.

Another wonderful success was the Tidewater Feather Rolls recipe I made for one of our famous brunches with friends and colleagues in Montreal, Quebec. They were delectable, greeted with rave reviews. Again, none left after the meal. My notation in the cookbook is: “Almost as good as Mom’s!” This is very high praise.

The birthday cake in the picture is Camille’s Golden Cointreau Cake. I did frost it with classic buttercream but used lemon curd between the fluffy layers. This was my first birthday celebration with a real cake, not an industrial one, in years. I usually bake my husband’s cake but not mine because I want to enjoy the dinner without having to cook. My husband doesn’t bake. I finally gave in for the pleasure of a fresh, delicious cake.

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