Butter Beans to Blackberries: Recipes from the Southern Garden

by Ronni Lundy

Published by North Point Press

347 pages, 1999

ISBN: 0865475474


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From a Southern Garden

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


There's a certain type of cookbook that jumps most readily into my hand. It seems to have little to do with the type of food on offer -- I love all kinds -- or the food illustrations or lack thereof. For me it's a combination of inviting recipes, logical layout and happy anecdotes and tone. Butter Beans to Blackberries: Recipes from the Southern Garden is a stand up in all of these areas. The book fairly leapt into my hand on first encounter and hasn't been far from it since.

Author Ronni Lundy comes well-prepared to write this particular book. A Southerner, she lives in Kentucky and is the author of The Festive Table and Shuck Beans, Stack Cakes and Honest Fried Chicken. Lundy knows her way around the Southern table -- and the Southern garden, for that matter -- a fact that is proved throughout the book's many recipes and supportive anecdotal stories.

In the introduction, Lundy writes:

The cooking of the South is diverse, ranging from the delicately spiced melanges of Creole coastal cuisine to the more straightforward down-home slow-simmer style prevalent in the highland mountains. It is nearly impossible to define by specific cooking techniques, spices, or ingredients, although to paraphrase: You'll know it when you eat it.

You'll know it when you read it, too. This is the food the South is made of and Lundy's cheerful, down-to-business style is rivaled only by the recipes she's collected for this book.

I love corn in all of the forms in which we eat it, so the chapter in Butter Beans to Blackberries "About Corn" was a special treat. Maybe I'm a Southerner in spirit, because Lundy writes, "Corn may be the lifeblood of the Midwest's agrarian economy, but in the South it is religion." And this is a sentiment I can understand. She goes on to talk about corn: what it is, where it came from and -- most importantly for this particular tome -- how it's used in the South. And so we have Corn on the Cob, Roast Corn in the Shuck, Skillet Corn, Milked Corn, Crabby Corn Pudding, Real Cornbread and more. All of this corn stuff before we even get to the chapter on grits.

Vincent told me that his most French interpretation of fried grits is when he mixes in foie gras. I told him that there is a classic Southern breakfast dish made not with grits, but with its kissing cousin, corn mush, and cooked chicken liver, ground to a paste-like consistency. "There you go," he said. "All great tastes end up being Southern."

The book had been in my hands less than 30 minutes before I tried the Mizithra Grits Casserole, with great success. Subsequent experiments have been just as wonderful.

If you're interested in Southern cooking or enjoy collecting vegetable-based recipes, Butter Beans to Blackberries will be a good addition to your collection. If, however, you are interested in both of these as well as the happy voice of a food writer who really knows her stuff, this is a book you won't want to miss. | June 1999


Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.