The Classic Cookbook That Always Makes a Great Hostess Gift
Give the inspirational work of a Southern icon this holiday season.
The lifespan of a standard 750 ml bottle of wine can be measured in one party, six or eight glasses, two or four friends. But for a hostess gift with a much longer shelf life, a cookbook not only provides a sustained reminder of what a standout guest you were, but also a present in the form of a meal each time it's used.
Although there's an arsenal of releases from this past year like Alba Huerta's Julep, Sheri Castle's Instantly Southern, The Red Truck Bakery Cookbook that you could (and should) consider giving as open house and holiday party season approaches, Edna Lewis' The Taste of Country Cooking endures as a classic worth giving no matter the season or reason.
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Originally published in 1976, The Taste of Country Cooking chronicles the ingredients, dishes, and celebrations of Lewis' life in Freetown, Orange County, Virginia, a community her grandfather, an emancipated slave, helped found. In it, she wrote about her family's Southern food, from the biscuits and blackberry cobbler to the Virginia fried chicken and persimmon pudding, in unapologetic, romantic, and hallowed terms when few others did. Instead of organizing it by soups, entrees, vegetables, etc., she divided each chapter into seasonally inspired menus from "A Dinner Celebrating the Last of the Barnyard Fowl" to "Sunday Revival Dinner" and "A Late Spring Lunch After Wild Mushroom Picking."
The food she wrote about would go on to inform the items she offered at her restaurant in New York City where regulars included Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams. Now the seasonal farm-to-table ethos is all but expected in cookbooks and restaurants, which makes the work Lewis did on her own terms long before even more remarkable in retrospect.
While The Taste of Country Cooking may be a classic, it's also very much a part of contemporary conversation. This past year, Lewis' pioneering work has been revisited by authors like Sara B. Franklin, who curated a series of essays about Lewis in the book Edna Lewis: At the Table with an American Original and chefs like Mashama Bailey who recently reorganized the menu at her restaurant The Grey in Savannah to reflect the influence of Lewis in her cooking. Bailey also wrote the foreword to the reissue of Lewis' In Pursuit of Flavor, which will be released in 2019.
In The Taste of Country Cooking, Lewis wrote that she believed the foodways and recipes she wrote about should "live on for us to learn from, to enlarge upon, and pass on the following generations." By sharing her book with a friend or loved one, that sentiment lives on too.