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Book Review: Sara Foster’s Southern Kitchen by Sara Foster with Tema Larter

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When you open Sara Foster’s Southern Kitchen, you will want to start cooking right away, just to transform the gorgeous photos on the page into food on your plate. As with Foster’s other cookbooks, Southern Kitchen focuses on crowd-pleasing food made with fresh, seasonal ingredients. This time, she’s returned to her roots and offered classic Southern dishes with a modern sensibility. This is the food of church picnics and summer barbecues, the food Grandma used to make, but more healthful and definitely easy to cook.

Foster makes these Southern classics very accessible to the home cook. While you may need to stock up on certain ingredients, such as cornmeal, buttermilk, and grits, most are available at the local grocery. The main exception might be country ham, called for in many dishes, which may have to be mail-ordered depending on where you live. Foster provides a handy glossary and list of sources that will help you locate some. While it’s worth special-ordering a country ham for a holiday meal or party, that’s not an ingredient I would want to keep on hand all the time.

One thing I like about Foster’s recipes, besides the mouth-watering pictures, is how easy she makes it to adapt or vary them according to the cook’s taste or what’s in season. She offers seasonal variations on many dishes to encourage cooking with ingredients that are fresh and readily available, preferably from the local farmers market. And she suggests “Sara’s Swaps,” ways to change up the recipe and make it new every time. Also handy are the tips provided for learning new techniques or what to serve on the side.

Of course, I couldn’t resist trying the Pimiento Cheese, a Southern classic. This sandwich spread is definitely better when you make it yourself, but be aware that the quantity this recipe makes is enough to feed an army of Southern belles. Another good test of Southern bona fides is a cornbread recipe. The Salt and Pepper Skillet Cornbread was truly one of the best cornbreads I have ever made, and is sure to become a staple in my house.

Foster pays homage to other traditional Southern foods, dedicating one chapter to pork, “a food group all its own,” and another to grits and Carolina rice. The seafood chapter covers everything from catfish to crawfish. If you’re a fan of Foster’s cookbooks, you know she loves breakfast, and she doesn’t skimp here. I highly recommend the Fried Green Tomato BLT, for breakfast or any time of the day.

This cookbook is a boon for gardeners, who will find many ways to use up excess produce. One of the longest chapters is dedicated to vegetables, as sides, casseroles, and salads. The Watermelon-Tomato Salad with Shaved Feta and Handfuls of Mint is a new classic, perfect for a picnic or barbecue. Speaking of barbecues, the Baked Butter Beans should be a Fourth of July cookout standard. A chapter on dressings, pickles, and condiments has tasty recipes for putting food by, such as Sweet Pickle Relish, Quick Cucumber Pickles, Green Tomato Chow-Chow, and many more.

Many recipes in Southern Kitchen seem best-suited to special-occasion cooking: parties, barbecues, holidays, and other get-togethers. There are some recipes suitable for weeknights mixed in, though. For instance, the Crispy Chicken Cutlets with a Heap of Spring Salad are not only tasty, they’re ready in 30 minutes.

Most of the recipes I tried turned out as lip-smacking as their photos made them out to be. There were only a few disappointments. For instance, Granny Foster’s Simple Pound Cake took much longer than the recipe directed to bake, and it was still liquidy in the middle when it came out of the oven. It firmed up as it cooled, however, and it was pretty yummy underneath a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some fresh berries. When even the “failed” dishes get eaten, you know the cookbook is worth the investment.

Whether you’re a Southerner by birth missing the tasty foods of your childhood, or you just want to try your hand at some down-home Southern cooking, Sara Foster’s Southern Kitchen is the perfect place for you to be.

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About Shannon Turlington