Bon Appetit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking
By Virginia Willis. Berkeley, California: Ten Speed Press, 2008. $32.50

Virginia Willis has a delightful way of weaving together three generations of Southern cooking in Bon Appetit, Y’all. She begins by introducing her family–her maternal grandmother “Meme,” her grandfather “Dede,” and her mother, all of whom grew up in rural Georgia. Her grandmother’s fond memories of farm life–milking cows, curing hams, and making butter and cheese–inspire her and naturally evolve when her family moved to Louisiana and expanded their culinary repertoire. She watched Julia Child’s show religiously, which led to her work with Southern cooking icon Nathalie Dupree, and then study at both L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland and La Varenne in Burgundy, France.

No doubt, the old South comes through in recipes like Pimento Cheese, Meme’s Fried Chicken and Gravy, Old-Fashioned Pot Roast, Country Captain Chicken, Mama’s Fried Fatback, Gulf Coast Oyster Po’ Boys, and Mama’s Seafood Gumbo. Some Southern dishes are adapted to contemporary tastes, such as Chicken Saltimbocca with Country Ham, Fried Catfish Fingers with Country Remoulade, and Shrimp with Parmigiano-Reggiano Grits and Tomatoes. There are also counterparts with a French accent, such as Fingerling Potato Salad, Boeuf Bourguignon, Provencal Lamb Chops, and Roasted Beet Salad with Walnuts and Walnut Oil.

It’s the techniques that give the book a common thread–the braising, stewing, frying, and baking. Ms. Willis admits trying to update certain dishes without success, like Aunt Julia’s Chocolate Pie, finally admitting, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” There are also many sections with culinary instructions and photos, to help with cutting up chicken, making souffles, choosing fish and fish substitutions, and so on. Who knew that Meme’s Fried Okra, Funeral Grits, and Buttermilk Angel Biscuits would find a comfortable place next to Yukon Gold and Edamame Mash, Coq au Vin, and Chocolate Pots de Creme? Virginia Willis sets a table where it allcomes together and still feels supremely Southern and wonderful.

The Savannah Cookbook
By Damon Lee Fowler. Gibbs Smith, Publisher, 2008. $29.95

The latest in Damon Lee Fowler’s meticulously researched, beautifully written books about Southern cooking looks at the food of his hometown Savannah. It’s traditionally a home-based cuisine, blessed by an abundance of seafood and rice and enlivened by the contributions of the many cultures that passed through this port city. Chief among these is the cooking of the enslaved peoples who provided the labor for the rice and cotton economy.

The cooking of Savannah has much in common with that of the rest of the South, but Fowler concentrates on the dishes that are unique to this community: Savannah Black Turtle Bean Soup, Daufuskie Crab Fried Rice, Creamed Chicken Madeira on Rice Waffles, Crab and Grits. Of particular interest, given the subject of the 2008 SFA Symposium, is the section on Savannah beverages. Madeira is, of course, identified with Savannah, but you’ll also find recipes for Chatham Artillery Punch–the original is said to have been mixed in horse-watering tubs; Sherry Cobbler; and a lethal milk rum punch called Milk of a Wild Cow.

The book is sumptuously illustrated with photographs by John Robert Carrington III.

Reviews by Karen Cathey.