For an Italian-American Yankee raised on the flavors of anchovies, almonds, tomatoes and egglplants, there are few things more exotic than American Southern food—the formica kitchen straightforward flavors of pimento cheese, meat loaf, biscuits, and fried chicken. So I find the Southern food traditions captured in the Tupelo Honey Cafe cookbook very appealing.
Particularly since, as the authors note, the restaurant’s recipes reflect the spirit of its home in Asheville, North Carolina– “coloring outside the lines.” When it comes to cooking that means the pimento cheese is served warm as a dip with corn chips, the fried chicken is interpreted into a BLT, and meatloaf—Chicken Apple, with Tarragon Tomato Gravy.
Along with Asheville’s bohemian spirit, the recipes pick up from the bounty of the Blue Rdige—farms, orchards, smokehouses—all celebrated at microbrewries and tailgate markets. As an aside, one of the best markets I’ve been to is the Western North Carolina Farmers Market. Their rather dry web site shows only two retail buildings, but they are stuffed with peach cider, heirloom beans, smoked pork, scuppernong cider, and yes, tupelo honey.
All that good stuff shows up in these recipes. The book begins, like any good home cook would, with a strong larder of salsas and gravies—from classic milk gravy to tomato shallot gravy, dressings and spreads, preserves and pickles. Three beautiful words: Blackberry Skillet Jam.
The book’s recipes bounce back and forth from traditional to trendy but all are anchored in the direct simplicity of home cooking that will make it easy to use this book at home. Some of the dishes have a restaurant finish—grills and sautees are served with salsas and flavored butters, but others, like the gentle brunch recipes or perky appetizers have a natural flow. You won’t have to stop and think technique to make sweet potato pancakes or Tupelo Honey Wings.
Markets and Chocolate Pecan Pie; I feel a road trip coming on.