- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Gr Macmillan Publishing (December 1994)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0026220156
- ISBN-13: 978-0026220156
- Product Dimensions: 19.7 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
- Shipping Weight: 862 g
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #799,744 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
My Mother's Southern Kitchen: Recipes and Reminiscences Hardcover – Dec 1994
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James Villas' background is an unusual blend of Greek, Swedish and old American South, and this book combines the recipes and often-hilarious cooking tips of his genteel-yet-feisty mama, Martha Pearl (Martha Pearl says: "There's nothing, repeat nothing, worse than a heavy, poorly seasoned, warmed-over hush puppy that's been fried in old fat") with memories of a happy gourmet childhood.
From Publishers Weekly
From the introduction, with its wry recounting of Martha Pearl Villas's vilifications of the Northern flour intended for baking "biscuit," to the carefully collected family photos, James Villas re-creates the bustling and sometimes brawling approach to cooking that typifies his family. Martha Pearl Villas, the author's mother, fights the good fight for Southern tradition. James Villas, food editor of Town & Country and author of several cookbooks, adopts the chatty vernacular of his native South in documenting his culinary heritage. Snobs may find the tables turned, as favorite targets of food jokes (the recipes that begin, "Take a can of cream of mushroom soup") are staunchly defended by Mrs. Villas: "All real Southern cooks use canned soup in certain casseroles. Why don't you taste it before ridiculing?" So, bring on the can openers for the "Congealed Sunshine Salad," made with canned pineapple. Not that Mrs. Villas has anything against fresh food; she waits at farmstands for Silver Queen corn to come in from the fields to get the very sweetest ears for her corn pudding, made with lots of of eggs, butter and half-and-half. Though many of the dishes here seem exceedingly rich, remember that a good deal are meant for feasts and holidays. Lively anecdotes of Martha Pearl Villas butting heads with Craig Claiborne over the proper way to make giblet gravy, or arguing with her son about the best binder for meatloaf, will give rise to smiles.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
According to Villas, "the Southern day begins with a hearty breakfast" such as Ham with Red-Eye gravy, fresh country sausage, crusty Green Tomatoes, and Real Grits (recipes for each are found within, of course). Villas's Mother, Martha Pearl, has combined backgrounds from the Greek and Swedish heritage both families share and adds her own special Southern touch to create fabulous luncheons for bridge clubs, church bazzares and charity get-togethers. My favorite is a lovely recipe for Lemon Tea Bread- light and rich all at once, it's a perfect bread for a light tea, or, as I often do, to bring to a get together when a dessert is requested (never fails to draw "oooh's" and "ahhh's"). From her homemade Macaroni and Cheese to an impressive recipe for Shrimp Bisque, you'll find this cookbook is a great investment. I love the way Martha Pearl watches all her family members, her children included, as they embark on trial recipes of their own- she then adopts these recipes herself, but adds her own little touch (Villas lovingly included Martha's recipe cards and notes- such a personal touch!). Still, she always gives credit to whom it is due. The hallmark of a truly great cook!
These are not recipes, however, that one can consume on a regular basis. Almost every recipe calls for either butter, cheese, heavy cream, lard, bacon and/or bacon grease, sausage, etc. Some recipes are lighter than others, but believe you me, these 'aint "low-fat recipes", and that's just fine with me, baby. I'd rather eat the hard-core real stuff in a limited manner than gorge myself on tasteless, fun-free low fat foods (ugh, ugh, ugh). If truly great food is a party for all five of the senses, "My Mother's Southern Kitchen" is your ultimate party guide. Forget the usual shee-shee-poo-poo ingredients fancy-schmancy recipes call for (you probably can't locate in your supermarket anyway)- this is where taste sensation begins!
As a bonus you get the story behind many of the recipes and running commentary from Villas' mother on many of the recipes. It is clearly a give-and-take mother and son relationship when he says his mother drives him crazy over this or that ingredient and she implies that his version of the family recipe is a little "uppity". She says Jimmy makes his hush puppies with yellow corn meal, but she prefers white. It is both bitchy and sweet at the same time!
I already have my next meal planned from this wonderful book and can recommend it for the cole slaw and BBQ chicken recipes alone - not to mention the lively stories and commentary. Enjoy.
On the face of it, this book would seem to be a transcription of mother Martha Pearl's little black recipe book into a form which William Morrow can publish and we can read and effectively translate into reproductions of Mrs. Villas favorite dishes. The back story of the book seems to be much more complicated than this, as Mrs. Villas' written recipes were sketchy, poorly handwritten, and done only as an aide d'memoire for someone who cooked almost entirely by experience, and look and feel, just like every other traditional southern cook whose praxis has been memorialized in writing. Thus, Villas had to do anthropology by observing his mother at work and doing his best to estimate amounts from quantities doled out by hand and eye. This too was made difficult by an entirely familiar friendly antagonism between mother and son in the kitchen. A running theme is that Mother Villas and son agree that Jimmy simply could never quite reproduce the quality of his mother's own recipes, in spite of years spent at studying and writing about the world's cuisines. Some of the repartee which documents this antagonism is a little difficult to believe, as when Miss Martha cannot find any 'White Lily' or other soft southern flour in Jimmy's East Hampton kitchen with which to make biscuits. I've been cooking regularly for less than three years and I have a regular supply of 'White Lily' shipped to the Lehigh Valley from Tennessee like clockwork.
I am glad I am skeptical of Jimmy's inability to reproduce Miss Martha's recipes, as if this were gospel, it would bode ill for your or my ability to make the recipes in this book into something remotely like the jewels which appear on Martha Pearl's North Carolina dinner table. In fact, I think a fairly well practiced cook with average equipment will do quite well with these recipes thank you.
The best things about the collection of recipes in this book are that practically all of the classic southern recipes are represented here and, in spite of the crack about doing anthropology, true practitioners of this cuisine are interpreting the recipes for us. With all due respect to Villas' friend Paula Wolfert, there is no observation and interpretation going on here. This is the real deal, where cook and scribe are part of the culture on which they report.
Just as Italy has it's 'oil line' separating the butter from the olive oil cuisines of North and South, I think the Mason-Dixon line could double as the mayonnaise line, as I suspect that beginning in Maryland, sales of Hellmans doubles per capita as you cross each state border from Maryland to the Carolinas. Both Villas are on very safe culinary grounds here, as they typically specify either Hellmans or homemade, AND, the Hellmans brands of mayonnaise are consistent winners in 'Cooks Illustrated' taste tests.
Most recipes in this book are fairly easy, although they are typically more picky about some details of method and ingredients than fellow Southerner Paula Deen of Savannah. They are also a lot pickier about the details of method than my own mother whose ideal recipe is Deen's spiral bound church fundraiser cookbook style. Of course, Miss Martha and my mother share a passion for the very freshest corn and tomatoes in season. There are also significant differences between Deen and the Villas in even a basic recipe such as pimento cheese spread. I suspect the Villas' interpretation is more traditional and it is certainly in line with Mother Villas' cardinal rule of not messing around with the taste of the main ingredients by adding a lot of extras. Their recipe for my favorite creamed chipped beef is a good example, as it is almost exactly the same as the recipe from Mississippian Craig Claiborne, but without the addition of Worcestershire sauce.
The recipe chapters fill all the niches you expect in a traditional southern cuisine, including Breakfast and Brunch; Canapes, Appetizers, and Snacks; Soups and Stews; Salads; Meats; Poultry and Game; Seafood; Casseroles; Vegetables; Breads; Desserts; Cookies and Confections; Pickles, Relishes and Preserves; Sauces and Dressings; and Beverages. With the chapter on preserving, the book covers more than most compendia of Southern cooking.
At every turn of the page in this book, I find myself nodding in agreement over choices of methods and ingredients. The use of torn bread pieces in place of breadcrumbs in meat loaf agrees with all my best sources for this delicacy. Patties for frying and doughs for rising are all chilled in the fridge for the righteous length of times to either firm up or relax. Miss Martha does share with Miss Paula the tendency to use canned soup and store-bought croutons in casseroles and such, but the application is judicious. Note that the coverage of the North Carolina speciality, pork barbecue, is a bit light. Do not depend on this book for much smoke work.
I really liked this book. It was a perfect mix of authentic, doable recipes and stories to make them and the authors come to life. Real home cooking with a good read thrown into the bargain.