Book Review: Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South by Vivian Howard

A trait I share with my mother is reading cookbooks like most people read novels. Luckily, many more authors are realizing there are those of us that will read their commentary . It is nice to see more cookbook authors cater to readers as well as cooks.

Southern food is a big umbrella that actually varies by region and geography, but there are also some foods that cross these lines.  This cookbook focuses on where Vivian grew up and where she an her husband operate The Chef and I. While the grocery store makes modern life easier, it is assimilating the food traditions of not only regions, but the entire country. Convenience and national distributors are making us boring.

While not from a coastal region, I share many traditional southern food traditions with Vivian including BBQ, cornbread, grits, greens, cucumbers in vinegar, wedge salads, tomato sandwiches, crook neck squash, okra, watermelon, and pimento cheese. BBQ is pork unless clarified as Barbecue Chicken or Smoked Turkey. A barbecue is a gathering where a whole pig or large sections of pork are cooked low and slow. A cookout is where friends gather for burgers, chicken and/or hot dogs on an outdoor grill. Texas BBQ is beef.

The recipes are a mix of traditional, updated traditional and completely new takes on traditional foods. I saved several recipes. The Squash and Onions hits the spot and watermelon in a salad is an August must eat. The next ones I am most looking forward to trying are the Apple Pie Moonshine and Lentil Soup with Apple and Bacon once fall arrives.

I enjoyed her introduction of each chapter. Rather than try to describe her writing, I’ll just share a sample:

“IF THE SOUTH HAD A MASCOT, it would be okra. Loved, hated, misunderstood, defended, and worn like a badge that defines you, both okra and my region’s people go out into the world pridefully carrying the same baggage. You love, hate, or have an unfounded fear of okra—and the same is true of the South. There’s no vegetable more polarizing than this poor little pod. You’d think people would save such malice for more ostentatious, scene-stealing produce like tomatoes and watermelon, but no. Haters want to hate on a little green phallic thing the size of your index finger. And it’s only one part of okra that tends to bother people: the slimy seeds. People who hate okra pluck it out of soup and demand an extra plate for fear the goopy goo might ruin the whole bowl. They tell exaggerated stories about the childhood encounters that scarred them for life. Okra’s reputation is so bad, some people won’t even try it.”

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