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In the preface to the original 1951 edition of Marion Brown’s hallmark The Southern Cook Book, she writes: “the Southern recipe cannot be rigidly defined. It may be a cherished old formula handed down for generations, or it may be relatively new—an adaptation, a combination, or an original idea, for Southerners have always wanted the best of the new along with the old, and the art of cooking in the South has never stood still.” For 50 years, the Southern Living food pages have celebrated the best of the old and the new. We’ve featured nostalgic favorites from inside spiral-bound community cookbooks and showcased signature dishes from landmark restaurants and award-winning chefs. But it has always been the close relationship with our readers and the evolution of the extraordinary recipes they share that has set us apart from
Much is written today about the “new” global South, but flip through back issues of Southern Living and you’ll find a culinary history of richly diverse recipes with centuries-old roots that continue to inspire and to tell the story of a multiethnic South—from the bayous of Cajun country and the tiny mountain towns of Appalachia to the coastal Lowcountry of South Carolina. In 1970, four years after the premier issue of Southern Living appeared on newsstands, we published our first collection of recipes, curated by founding Food Editor Lena Sturges. As the magazine’s popularity soared, so did the submission of recipes from our readers—often thousands a month. Our editorial halls were soon lined with rows of mile-high metal filing cabinets filled with handwritten recipes for company-worthy pot roasts, fiery pickled chowchows, and foolproof squash soufflés. Treasured recipes for a great-grandmother’s rose geranium pound cake or spiced holiday eye-of-round were carefully penned on monogrammed notecards. Secrets to homemade boudin, chocolate-colored roux, and perfectly set fig preserves were scrawled on tattered notebook paper. Those of us lucky enough to be a part of the Southern Living food staff at that time had the supreme joy of testing many of those wonderful recipes by gathering daily around the tasting table and breaking bread with the readers whose generous offerings are now woven into the larger culinary history of Southern Living.
In this, our latest collection of favorites, you’ll find that the notion of “recipe revival” is about more than just turning up the flavor of an iconic dish by substituting a novel ingredient. A new generation of Southern cooks is far more inventive. With a thrifty wink to tradition, the rich coastal flavors of Maryland crab cakes reappear as indulgent crab-filled hush puppies at a Deep South fish fry.
The cool sweet-and-sour brightness of a vintage tomato aspic translates into a colorful high-summer pairing of heirloom tomatoes and field pea-nectarine salsa. Spiked with fresh citrus and thyme, a featherlight buttermilk cornbread batter makes the continental leap from cast-iron cornstick pans to shell-shaped French madeleine pans. Classic lemon bars are elevated to new and elegant dinner-party heights as a swoon-worthy cheesecake wrapped in a rustic shortbread crust.
The list goes on—deliciously, we might add.
We continue to document how the South cooks and eats, inviting readers to join us at our table and to share with us the bounty that is theirs. It’s a tradition we hope continues for another 50 years.
- Mary Allen Perry