The best books to savor Southern foods

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a retired professor who wrote about and taught about the American South for almost four decades. I directed a research center focused on the South, and I helped found an institute dedicated to the study of Southern food. The South’s creative traditions in music and literature are well known, and its foodways are now recognized as a distinct American cuisine that represents the region’s innovations in culture. Through reading about southern food, readers can explore the traditions of eating and cooking in the region, and the creative contributions of ethnic groups with national and global sources. I've chosen books that give flavor to thinking about the South as a distinct place in the imagination.


I wrote...

The Southern Way of Life: Meanings of Culture and Civilization in the American South

By Charles Reagan Wilson,

Book cover of The Southern Way of Life: Meanings of Culture and Civilization in the American South

What is my book about?

The American South has had a dramatic history, and its writers, musicians, filmmakers, and others have made it well-known around the world. The book looks at the South in a long perspective, from its colonial origins in the seventeenth century to the South of the twenty-first century. Events like the Civil War and the civil rights movement reveal such broad forces as tradition and modernity as they struggled to dominate the region’s development.

Culture lies at the center of my efforts to explore the mind of the South and the differing concepts associated with it. The interactions of a diverse society have sometimes led to conflict, but these have fed into a culture of world-class writers like William Faulkner and Richard Wright and even better-known musicians.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South

Charles Reagan Wilson Why did I love this book?

This book is a people’s history of the modern south, told through what people in the region have cooked and eaten. 

Edge is my former student who became the founding director of the Southern Food Alliance and the author of more than a dozen books on food.

He tells a story of what the modern South inherited in terms of cooking ingredients, techniques, and traditions, and he shows the central role that cooks and waiters served in the civil rights movement. He is particularly adept at sketching profiles of southern food leaders from Paul Prudhomme to Colonel Sanders.

The book is perhaps best in showing the changes in the southern food scene over the last three centuries so that now southern food has become a shared culinary language for the nation.   

By John T. Edge,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Potlikker Papers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“The one food book you must read this year."
—Southern Living 

One of Christopher Kimball’s Six Favorite Books About Food

A people’s history that reveals how Southerners shaped American culinary identity and how race relations impacted Southern food culture over six revolutionary decades

Like great provincial dishes around the world, potlikker is a salvage food. During the antebellum era, slave owners ate the greens from the pot and set aside the leftover potlikker broth for the enslaved, unaware that the broth, not the greens, was nutrient rich. After slavery, potlikker sustained the working poor, both black and white. In the…


Book cover of Southern Food: At Home, on the Road, in History

Charles Reagan Wilson Why did I love this book?

Egerton was a prolific journalist and historian, and he was the godfather of the movement to study southern food.

He showed that from the beginning of southern history food was central to the region’s image, its personality, and its character. He visited over 200 cafes, plate lunch diners, boardinghouses, barbecue shacks, seafood places, and others, both plain and fancy.

The book has recipes for 150 time-tested dishes and a bibliography of 250 Southern cookbooks. Well-selected photographs of southern eating scenes illustrate the book.

Edgerton brought together fine-dining chefs, home cooks, waiters, restaurant owners, and customers to give readers a lively and down-to-earth portrait of the edible South.

By John Egerton,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Southern Food as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hailed as an instant classic when it appeared in 1987, John Egerton's Southern Food captures the flavor and feel of what it has meant for southerners, over the generations, to gather at the table. This book is for reading, for cooking, for eating (in and out), for referring to, for browsing in, and, above all, for enjoying. Egerton first explores southern food in more than 200 restaurants in eleven southern states; he describes their specialties and recounts his conversations with owners, cooks, waiters, and customers. Then, because some of the best southern cooking is done at home, Egerton offers more…


Book cover of The New Southern-Latino Table: Recipes That Bring Together the Bold and Beloved Flavors of Latin America and the American South

Charles Reagan Wilson Why did I love this book?

Guitierrez forged a hybrid cookbook around the blending of Southern and Latin American ingredients and cooking techniques.

In the process she gives readers a glimpse into the twentieth century South of increasing ethnic and cultural identity. Like many recent cookbooks, hers is as much memoir as cooking guide.

She relates her memories of living part of the year in Guatemala and part of each year in North Carolina. She claims that southern food found her soul and she discovered a southern belle within herself.

Gutierrez has taught thousands of people how to cook, and she uses her educational skills to highlight the surprising affinities between the foodways of Latin and southern regions, including diverse ethnic roots in each tradition and many shared basic ingredients.

Filled with 150 innovative recipes that show the delights to the palate of blending two notable cuisines into one new, contemporary southern one.

By Sandra A. Gutierrez,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The New Southern-Latino Table as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this splendid cookbook, bicultural cook Sandra Gutierrez blends ingredients, traditions, and culinary techniques, creatively marrying the diverse and delicious cuisines of more than twenty Latin American countries with the beloved food of the American South. The New Southern-Latino Table features 150 original and delightfully tasty recipes that combine the best of both culinary cultures. Gutierrez, who has taught thousands of people how to cook, highlights the surprising affinities between the foodways of the Latin and Southern regions--including a wide variety of ethnic roots in each tradition and many shared basic ingredients--while embracing their flavorful contrasts and fascinating histories. These…


Book cover of The Taste of Country Cooking

Charles Reagan Wilson Why did I love this book?

Growing up on a farm in a community begun by freedmen after the Civil War in Virginia, this African American writer shows how freshly grown food sustained her family even in hard times.

In this memoir and classic southern cookbook, the “first lady of southern cooking,” as she has been called, evoked a warm agrarian sensibility, portraying a distinct southern sense of place through poetic prose that describes the sensual nature of life close to nature.

The tastes, smells, and sounds of the South jump off the page as she describes her family’s sustenance through their knowledge of farm life. Seasonal produce and the dishes from them give the book a structure that continues to resonate.

The recipes breathe an authenticity of a remembered life around food, and the reading experience is an immersive one, putting readers in a beloved place to its author.

By Edna Lewis,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Taste of Country Cooking as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this classic Southern cookbook, the “first lady of Southern cooking” (NPR) shares the seasonal recipes from a childhood spent in a small farming community settled by freed slaves. She shows us how to recreate these timeless dishes in our own kitchens—using natural ingredients, embracing the seasons, and cultivating community. With a preface by Judith Jones and foreword by Alice Waters.

With menus for the four seasons, Miss Lewis (as she was almost universally known) shares the ways her family prepared and enjoyed food, savoring the delights of each special time of year.

From the fresh taste of spring—the first…


Book cover of Barbecue

Charles Reagan Wilson Why did I love this book?

Reed is a leading scholar of southern culture, and he brings his considerable knowledge of the region to bear in a slim book loaded with stories and recipes about barbecue.

Since early settlement of the South, southerners have held barbecues to mark homecomings, holidays, reunions, and political campaigns.

In a lively and witty style, Reed traces the story of southern barbecue from its root in the sixteenth-century Caribbean, showing how the slow, smoky cooking of meat established itself in the coastal South and then spread inland.

He discusses how choices of meat, sauces, and cooking methods vary from one place to another in the region, reflecting local environments, farming practices, and ethnic traditions.

He suggests that barbecue in the South, in its diverse expressions, is the closest thing we have in the United States to Europe’s traditions of wines and cheeses, as one finds mustard sauce in South Carolina and ketchup in Mississippi, pork ribs in Memphis and barbecued brisket in Texas.

Reed is an engaging guide to his subject, and the book is filled with practical advice for those aspiring to barbecue.

By John Shelton Reed,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Barbecue as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

John Shelton Reed's Barbecue celebrates a southern culinary tradition forged in coals and smoke. Since colonial times southerners have held barbecues to mark homecomings, reunions, and political campaigns; today barbecue signifies celebration as much as ever. In a lively and amusing style, Reed traces the history of southern barbecue from its roots in the sixteenth-century Caribbean, showing how this technique of cooking meat established itself in the coastal South and spread inland from there. He discusses how choices of meat, sauce, and cooking methods came to vary from one place to another, reflecting local environments, farming practices, and history.

Reed…


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Grand Old Unraveling: The Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the Rise of Authoritarianism

By John Kenneth White,

Book cover of Grand Old Unraveling: The Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the Rise of Authoritarianism

John Kenneth White Author Of Grand Old Unraveling: The Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the Rise of Authoritarianism

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Why am I passionate about this?

Reading was a childhood passion of mine. My mother was a librarian and got me interested in reading early in life. When John F. Kennedy was running for president and after his assassination, I became intensely interested in politics. In addition to reading history and political biographies, I consumed newspapers and television news. It is this background that I have drawn upon over the decades that has added value to my research.

John's book list on who we are, how we’ve changed, and what gives us hope

What is my book about?

It didn’t begin with Donald Trump. When the Republican Party lost five straight presidential elections during the 1930s and 1940s, three things happened: (1) Republicans came to believe that presidential elections are rigged; (2) Conspiracy theories arose and were believed; and (3) The presidency was elevated to cult-like status.

Long before Trump, each of these phenomena grew in importance. The John Birch Society and McCarthyism became powerful forces; Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first “personal president” to rise above the party; and the development of what Harry Truman called “the big lie,” where outrageous falsehoods came to be believed. Trump…

Grand Old Unraveling: The Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the Rise of Authoritarianism

By John Kenneth White,

What is this book about?

It didn't begin with Donald Trump. The unraveling of the Grand Old Party has been decades in the making. Since the time of FDR, the Republican Party has been home to conspiracy thinking, including a belief that lost elections were rigged. And when Republicans later won the White House, the party elevated their presidents to heroic status-a predisposition that eventually posed a threat to democracy. Building on his esteemed 2016 book, What Happened to the Republican Party?, John Kenneth White proposes to explain why this happened-not just the election of Trump but the authoritarian shift in the party as a…


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