07/23/2014 04:28 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The South in Your Mouth

Amy Hatch

Southern food has come a long way, and so have southern cookbooks. Gone are the days of red gingham lined pages filled with chicken 'n dumpling, fried okra, and peach cobbler recipes. Modern southern cooking has spawned a new crop of talented foodies and chefs, born and raised in the south, who grew up eating farm to table and foraging their eggs from the backyard chicken coop way before was in' vogue. Some were classically trained at the world's best culinary schools, some acquired their knife skills in the heart of their nana's kitchen. Either way, they are reinventing southern cuisine, by simply updating the tried and true with a swanky southern tweak, they are making the south taste even better. The four cookbooks below do just that - take the familiar (and the not so familiar) southern staples and recipes we know and love, and transform them into southern epicurean deliciousness. And they manage to do so without pretentious ingredients or hard to find spices, because when you simply add a dash of sweet southern spunk and love to your dishes, you don't need much of anything else.

The Southern Bite Cookbook by Stacey Little


From the creator of comes this amazing gem of a cookbook, created by a man with no culinary training, other than from the generations of women before him whose aprons strings he hung on to in the kitchen. Gorgeous photographs of both Little's food and his close knit family grace these 250 pages of pure and simple yum. Nothing too fancy or unreachable, The Southern Bite's recipes are divided into just that, categories of bites; party, side, weekend, weeknight, potluck, holiday, sweet, and my favorite, heirloom. Each 'bites' chapter begins with a short story, memory, or homage to that chapter's theme. Traditional no frills southern recipes make up the bulk of this book; Cornbread Dressing, Hummingbird Sheet Cake, Spicy Black Eyed Peas, and Squash Casserole. Along side them are some jacked-up goodies like the Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya, Sour Cream Chicken Enchilada Pie, Baked Turnip Green Dip, and Red Velvet Brownies. As Little puts it, The Southern Bite Cookbook reminds readers that "Regardless of what you call it, or where it's cooked, when you share your food, you share your history, your family, your life." If you are starting your families' cooking traditions and history, having this full-flavored cookbook in your home library is a great place to start.

The Southern Slow Cooker Bible: 365 Easy and Delicious Down-Home Recipes by Tammy Algood


With the popularity and convenience of slow cooking on the rise, and the many sleek varieties of the good old fashioned crock pot out on the market, it's no wonder southern cooking has jumped on the braise all day band wagon. That, and it's awful hot in the south and sometimes just better to leave the oven off. Nashvillian Algood, author of Farm Fresh Southern Cooking, presents a voluminous array of slow cooked southern meals, uniquely categorized by ingredient and food type. Also included are smart tips for ensuring correct use of your slow cooker, as well as conversion instructions to turn your oven meals into slow cooked ones. Chapters are specific to one main ingredient, like eggplant, carrot, peach, beans, and pumpkin, just to name a few. Protein chapters include pork, beef, turkey, eggs, lamb, seafood, ham, lamb, and chicken. There is even an entire chapter dedicated to chocolate, and one for grits. The chili chapter alone is worth the price of this book, as it features 15 variations of chili, including a vegetarian wheat berry chili. Recipes use fresh and easily accessible ingredients, and do not rely on processed creamed soups, dry spice envelopes, or heavy sauces. For the chic foodie, try the Southern Kale Lasagna and Wine Poached Pears, or the Toasted Coconut Chicken Thighs with German Chocolate Walnut Cake. My other slow cooker books have not been opened since I received this one. It is creative and comprehensive enough to replace all the others.

The Southern Vegetarian by Justin Fox Burks and Amy Lawrence


Ever pick up a vegetarian cookbook and feel as if the authors are presenting recipes in a holier than thou tone, and you end up feeling ashamed that you maybe eat meat once in a while? Rejoice meat eating veggie lovers, because this is not one of those cookbooks. From the creators of the gorgeous and eclectic food blog, comes this heavenly collection of dishes that transform down home southern vegetables into masterpieces of the modern vegetarian table. Forget your preconceived notions of the south being the bacon belt, perhaps no other region in the country boasts such deep vegetable roots as that of the south, the place where the original backyard vegetable garden was born. Described as a "fresh, fun, and slightly irreverent and joyful look at vegetables," this cookbook is a feast for the eyes and the mouth. Intro includes an example of a well-stocked vegetarian pantry, and a list of essential kitchen tools for peeling, chopping, and blending your garden's goodies. Chapters are comprised of breakfasts and brunches, appetizers, soups and sandwiches, mains, desserts, drinks, and the 'basics' (sauces, doughs, crusts, salsas.) Flavor combinations here are extraordinarily unconventional yet mouthwatering. Terrific addition to the vegetarian's cookbook collection, as well as the healthy southern foodie.

The B.T.C. Old Fashioned Grocery Cookbook by Alexe Van Beuren with recipes by Dixie Grimes


Before I even opened up this book, the way the textured cover and heft of it felt in my hand made me want to love it. And then when I flipped through it, I fell madly in love. Water Valley, Mississippi, what a blessing you have in Beuren and Grimes, an unlikely pair who together have curated a little lunch counter from heaven, and a grocery selection that would make a Whole Foods patron jealous. Everything about this book, from the memorable stories of the small town folk who patron the B.T.C., to its humble beginnings, like how it went from a one tomato produce stand to a vibrant, delectable, and eclectic foodie heaven, makes the B.T.C. (stands for Be The Change) cookbook one that should definitely sit on your shelf. The short stories Beuren intertwines throughout tell many charming tales, are unpretentiously written, and reflect a down home yet worldly take on running a small business, sustainable supplying of groceries, and southern food culture. Grimes' recipes, most of which are served at the B.T.C., is a mashup of the south meets sophistication. Consider the soup chapter, which includes a Catfish Gumbo next to a Roasted Pear and Zucchini Soup. Or my favorite chapter, breakfast, where your mouth can water skimming over the four recipes for gravy, as well as the Honey Goat Cheese Frittata with Prosciutto and Arugula. (Unbelievably, this is in Mississippi.) Along with these semi gourmet recipes, Grimes keeps it real with dishes like an amazing Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallows and Coconut Crumble, Baked Brussels Sprouts Casserole, Tex-Mex Pimento Cheese Spread, and Peach Icebox Pie. This is 250 pages of appetizing heaven, and I haven't even mentioned the full page gorgeous photographs. Do yourself a favor, either take a road trip to the heart of Mississippi and visit the B.T.C., or buy their cookbook. You will be happy either way.