Side Dish: Southern cooking

By Cheramie Sonnier

Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking by Nathalie Dupree and Cyntia Graubart
Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking by Nathalie Dupree and Cyntia Graubart

Nathalie Dupree’s latest cookbook is monster size. Six pounds and 720 pages, to be exact.

But since the award-winning author and television host from Charleston, S.C., and her co-author, Cynthia Stevens Graubert, are taking on the massive subject of Southern cooking techniques, I’m impressed they kept it to its current size.

In fact, Dupree writes it took “a lot of winnowing over the last five years” and the removal of 300 pages and 100 photographs to do so.

The authors offer more than 750 recipes plus 650 variations in “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking,” along with plenty of full-color photographs and step-by-step instructions. However, most recipes are not accompanied by a photograph of the completed dish.

In deciding on the book’s name, Dupree says they used the “Mastering the Art of” part of the name of Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” out of reverence to Child.

“I feel I must. It was her idea, after all,” Dupree says in explaining how “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking” came about. She met Child in June 1971 on her last day as a student at Cordon Bleu in London. When Dupree asked what she should do with the rest of her life, Child suggested, “Teach school.” And Dupree did, opening a school in Georgia.

Some years later, Child suggested Dupree write a book about Southern cooking techniques. It took Dupree another 30 years and a dozen books before she followed that advice, but readers will agree it was worth the effort.

The book focuses “on the basics — the techniques and traditions we feel should be captured, codified, and carried on to the next generation of cooks,” the authors say.

Its recipes use few convenience items beyond canned tomatoes and store-bought pie crust.

They note that only part of Florida and Texas remain Southern in their cuisine, and they write they are unable to do justice to Louisiana’s Cajun and Creole cuisines. Consequently, while they include some recipes from Louisiana, such as New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp, many iconic Louisiana dishes aren’t in the book.

Recipes, divided into 13 chapters, include pepper jelly turnovers, chili, no-fail eggplant lasagna, Southern cornbread dressing, oven-roasted pecan-crusted fish fillets, chicken and pepper dumplings, hush puppies, biscuits, pecan pie, pound cake, pralines and Creole rémoulade sauce.

This is a terrific book for the person who likes to read cookbooks and wants to know about the history behind Southern cooking and how to achieve really good home meals.

Cheramie Sonnier is The Advocate’s Food editor. Her email address is csonnier@theadvocate.com.

Advocate-tested recipe

Quick ’n’ Easy Cinnamon Apple Cobbler

Serves 4 to 6. Recipe is from “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking” by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart (Gibbs Smith, 2012). “As my intern Joseph Dweck was growing up, he remembers going to his best friend’s house and smelling a fragrant home-baked apple cobbler on occasion,” Dupree writes. “To this day, smelling one takes him back, remembering tasting it fresh out of the oven. A treasured family recipe, this cobbler is a comforting old-fashioned dessert. It travels well and slices nicely, so it’s perfect for picnics or tailgate parties. Use another favorite fruit to wow any number of people.”

8 tbls. unsalted butter, divided

2 cups thinly sliced apples

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 cup self-rising flour

1 cup granulated sugar, divided

1 cup milk

1. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in an 8- by 10-inch baking dish in the oven while the oven preheats to 375 degrees.

2. Melt the remaining butter in a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat. Add the apples, cinnamon and 2 tablespoons sugar. Sauté the apples until they are light golden brown. Set aside.

3. Meanwhile, mix the flour, the remaining sugar, and milk in a medium bowl. Remove the pan with the melted butter from the oven and pour the flour mixture into it. The butter may sizzle while rising to the top of the batter. Spread the apples on top and return to the oven. Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until light golden brown on top.