As I write, North Carolina chef, restaurateur and television personality, Vivian Howard, is ambling toward Atlanta, Georgia in a food truck, two and a half weeks into a nine-week book tour that will take her to more than 20 towns and cities across the southeast United States. Together with a small team, she’s serving up stories and dishes from her new (and first) cookbook, Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South. The book is a comprehensive record of modern Southern cooking that explores the history of North Carolina cuisine, catalogued by the ingredients that residents have cooked around for generations.
“Eastern North Carolina is my Tuscany, my Szechuan, my Provence,” Vivian writes. “This is a Southern cookbook, but not one that treats the South like a homogenous region where everybody eats the same kind of fried chicken, ribs, shrimp and grits, collard greens, or gumbo. Instead, I interpret Southern cooking the way we’ve long understood French, Italian, and Chinese food: as a complex cuisine with abundant variations shaped by terrain, climate, and people.”
Fans know Vivian from the award-winning PBS series, A Chef’s Life, as well as her two Kinston, North Carolina restaurants, Chef and the Farmer and Boiler Room. (Kinston is 15 miles from Vivian’s home in Deep Run.) In Deep Run Roots Vivian shares stories from all three, along with tales from her own childhood and those of her family (she and her husband have a young daughter and son). Her writing is warm and down-to-earth, rich with vivid detail and plenty of humour.
“First, for a proper fish stew, it has to be chilly outside,” Vivian writes. “This is not a hot-weather affair. Second, you need the right type of fish, something meaty and full-flavored, like rockfish, sheepshead, or drum. Flounder, catfish and grouper make soup, not stew. Third, potatoes, onions, and fish must be layer with salt and chili flakes. And no matter what, not even if Jesus Himself walks on water over to you and asks nicely, you will never stir a fish stew. That would make it a muddle, an inferior dish from farther east.”
Deep Run Roots is a doorstopper of a book, with over 200 recipes in more than 500 pages. There are recipes for every meal and occasion — for beginners to more experienced cooks — and plenty of practical tips (i.e. how to peel peaches, how to find the perfect melon, and the difference between cornmeal and grits). Sweet Potato Onion Bread, Sage Honey-Glaze Pork Tenderloin with Bacon-Roasted Rutabagas, and Turnip Run-Ups in Parmesan Pot Liquor with Ricotta Cornmeal Dumplings and Tomato Jam all sound especially delicious to me as we head into the cooler months, ‘tho it’s truly a year-round resource as it celebrates seasonal ingredients. (Many of the recipes are plant-based.)
I made two recipes, Blueberry-Rosemary Breakfast Breakfast Pudding (above) and the Pecan-Chewy Pie (below). Both were easy to prepare and delicious hot or cold, the blueberries in perfect balance with the subtle rosemary flavour and the pecan-chewy pie like a marvellous butter tart with a chewy pecan brownie for a crust. (I made the pie in a loaf pan and served it in squares.)
The photography is beautiful and not overly styled, with shots of Vivian and her family throughout. (The shots of Vivian biting into a messy Elbow-Lick Tomato Sandwich and getting Smoked Corn Mayo all over her chin tell you this is a woman who doesn’t take herself too seriously.)
If you love Southern cooking and/or you’re curious to learn more and love a cookbook you can curl up with and read, then I think you’ll enjoy Deep Run Roots. And if you’re already a fan of Vivian Howard’s, well I know you’re going to want to add a copy to your library.
To win a signed (!) copy of Deep Run Roots, tell me which recipe mentioned in this post you’d like to try or your favourite Southern dish. This entry is mandatory.
For an additional entry, follow try small things on Facebook and share this post, then tell me you did so and your name on Facebook in the comments below.
And feel free to tweet the following once per day and leave the url for your tweet in the comments below (one entry per tweet).
#Win Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South from @trysmallthings http://bit.ly/deeprunroots CAN 11/12 #DeepRunRoots
The giveaway is open to Canadian residents 18+ and ends at 11:59 p.m. EST on November 12, 2016. The potential winner must respond to prize notification within 48 hours, including the correct answer to a skill-testing question, otherwise another winner will be selected.
Good luck, everybody!
Update November 14, 2016: Congratulations Amber B!
Hachette Book Group Canada sent me a copy of Deep Run Roots in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.