BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Heritage by Sean Brock, photographs by Peter Frank Edwards

HeritageThanksgiving is just two weeks away … what are you planning to put on your dining table? In case you’re still in search of menu suggestions, why not try some Heirloom fare?

Since I’m spending Turkey weekend in my home state of Virginia, I thought I’d get you salivating over the stupendous fare created by Chef Sean Brock. See that smaller tattoo on the cover? Yup, we share a home state (his roots are rural Appalachian and mine are capital suburban, but we can both claim to be Virginian). Besides, his cooking manifesto sure speaks to me: “Cooking should make you happy. If it starts making you angry, stop cooking and go eat at a nice restaurant. Come back the next night and think about what went wrong and give it another try,” his penultimate point of 22 rules advises. I’m all for going out … as much of a Luddite as I am, I’m actually far worse in the kitchen. Ironically, I have a superb cookbook collection, most of which I’ve read cover to cover like memoirs: the best irresistibly combine revealing stories with remarkable food. Talk about a perfect pairing!

Brock, alas, has fled the state, and opened two award-winning, can’t-get-a-spontaneous-table restaurants further south: the original Husk in Charleston, and the latest Husk in Nashville. For those who can’t get to his kitchen, Brock debuts this toothsome stand-in.

Heritage celebrates exactly that. Brock starts with his own, especially paying homage to his grandmother whom he credits with being “the greatest influence in my life.” Living with her after his father died at age 39 when Brock was just 11, gave Brock “the foundation for [his] love affair with food” – from growing it, tending it, picking it, eating it, and most importantly, to appreciating it. He moves to the heritage of the land, from knowing exactly where your food comes from to reclaiming vanished varieties, from Carolina Gold Rice to West African cowpeas brought centuries ago to the new world by slaves. Brock not only offers enviable menus, but he’s also got a definitive culinary agenda: “One of the things that I’ve learned is how misunderstood Southern cuisine is – it is a lot more complicated than most people realize,” he explains. “As I experience other cultures and traditions, I’ve realized how precious the South’s ingredients and traditions are.”

He sets up Heritage in chapters “characterized by where the food comes from,” such as “The Garden,” “The Pasture,” and “The Sweet Kitchen.” Each recipe (most of his creations have an accompanying photo so perfect that you wish you could just grab the food off the page right now) has a short personal tidbit attached, like testing antebellum recipes to KFC’s secret batter in getting his “Fried Chicken with Gravy” just right, or the memory of watching his mother dropping dumplings into broth for “Rabbit Stew with Black Pepper Dumplings,” or how he gets flounder fresh off the boat in Charleston for “Flounder Crudo with Rhubarb, Buttermilk, Radishes, and Sea Beans,” or the fun of mushing too-ripe peaches that won’t make it into his “Pickled Peaches.” He also wants you to meet some of his good friends, from Glenn Roberts with his perfect rice, to Celeste Albers and her legendary eggs (“if Celeste doesn’t like you, she won’t sell to you”), Gra Moore and his guinea pigs and “real hens,” “Clammer Dave” Belanger and his “Caper’s Blades,” and many other buddies, as well.

Food, tales, friends: Don’t you just want to pull up a chair? Brock can feed you belly and soul with every dish. And really, isn’t that the spirit of Turkey Day? Gluttony aside, we get to tell stories, make memories, overlap our busy lives … that’s our true heritage to share as family and friends. #Grateful indeed.

Now, pass the pumpkin pie already!

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2014


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