Sunday, January 8, 2012

Book Review - A Southern Plate and My First Giveaway :)

Southern Plate by Christy Jordan

Why?  I heard about Christy in the blogosphere and read her blog for a while.  I read review after review hailing her cookbook, and she sounded like the next Paula Deen or Ree Drummond...both ladies I respect and admire.

What Now?  I'll be giving this one away...just not for me.  But, instead of donating it to the library, I decided that since so many other people like this cookbook, I would give them mine. :)

Golden Lines

Almost every memory I have of our dinner table growing up includes my mother, father, sister, brother, and at least one of two "extras."  No matter how tight our grocery budget or schedule was, Mama always found time and managed to feed more people.

I guess in the end, the kids will not likely remember how the cake looked, but they will remember that you made it for them.  And whether it's made from scratch or made from a mix, whether it's chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry, I think when all kids grow up they will agree, their mama made the best cake.  

What I Liked 

The meals are simple; there are no fancy schmancy ingredients to search out, etc. 

Family - like myself, family seems important to Christy...she writes snippets all through the book about her family, where these recipes came from, etc.

Even though I don't think of Christmas as a "season," as Jordan says "it is often said,"  I did think that this section of recipes was the best.  Sugared pecans, chocolate pie, coconut cake, peanut brittle, fudge, Chex mix, divinity, and hot chocolate are all recipes I grew up on as well.

What I Didn't Like  

Photographs - There are nowhere near enough pictures in this cookbook for me.  I am a very visual person and I need photos, lots of them...and not just photos of the finished product.  Show me what the recipe looks like at least a few times in the midst of progress so that I'll know whether or not I'm on the right track.  There's not even a photo of every recipe in here.  I was very disappointed...but I blamed this on myself...I very seldom blindly order a cookbook without holding it in my hot little hands and flipping through it first.  If I had taken the time to do that, I would have never bought A Southern Plate.

Southernness - I am a Southerner...all the way to my bone marrow.  Since the day I bought this cookbook, I have tried and tried to find something in this cookbook that appealed to me.  I even looked up Christy's Chicken & Dumplings recipe the other day when I was experimenting (she uses cream of chicken soup in her recipe).  I have purposely put off writing this review so that I could find something in here I actually wanted to make...that sounded a little different than all the other cookbooks, pages out of magazines, etc. that I own.  I couldn't find a thing.  And, I'm truly sorry.

I don't mean this mean at all...I promise...but there were times when I felt Christy attributed certain aspects of homelife and cooking to Southern homes or specific regions in the South...for example, in her explanation of White Barbeque sauce Jordan indicates that most folks outside of North Alabama have never heard of it...even other Southerners.  I know a whole lot of Southerners, from MS, LA, AL, FL, and even the Carolinas who would argue this point...I promise I'm not trying to be picky...I just felt Jordan tried to force some of the Southernness sometimes.  Does that make any sense at all??
Another place where I felt this push was in the story where Jordan told how she'd gotten in trouble for not waving at a passerby farmer when she was first learning to drive and had received a harsh scolding from her grandfather.  Huh?  While the story is true for Jordan, she attributes this same attitude or set of rules to all Southerners...and that's simply not true.  Nor does it mean when I (or anyone else) travel to Oakland or San Francisco, CA (or anywhere else for that matter) on business that I am not met with the same kind of friendliness.  I've found that most folks within the states I've visited will carry on a polite conversation when one is started...those who don't are not comfortable bc of their personality rather than where they were brought up.
I could cite you many more examples where I felt Jordan overgeneralizes about Southerners and/or nonSoutherners.  There was even one quote from pg. 89 that really actually upset me:

Despite the trend of celebrity chefs in the food world presenting us with fancy dishes with names most Southerners can't even pronounce, at the end of the day what we really want to come home to is the simple food we grew up on.

If this quote had been written by a non-Southerner, I would've actually been angry and taken it as an insult...I don't know what to think about this kind of statement being made by a Southerner...and a really nice one at that...does she just not realize what she just said?  Who was her editor?  and Why did he/she not point out these kinds of possible problematic issues to her?
I honestly think the generalizations were my greatest vice with this cookbook.  Enough that they turned me off from everything and anything else I might have found positive in this cookbook.
And, I can thank my PhD for my tendency to over analyze even a friendly little's a disease I tell you.

Organization - just a personal preference of mine, but I don't like cookbooks organized by seasons...unless within those seasons the recipes are also organized by which type of recipe...appetizer, breads, meat, etc.  I just get lost otherwise.

Fruit salad made with a can of fruit cocktail?  My mama made traditional ambrosia...and we were NOT upper or even middle class citizens when I was growing up.  There are other recipes as well which surprised me with packaged/processed ingredients and shortcuts....that's just not the way I remember it.  Again, had Jordan told this story from her own home's perspective and her individual family's rather than generalizing her experiences to all Southerners, I might have been able to look at the recipes differently.  As it is, however, I can't.

My Overall Response

I wanted to like this cookbook so much.  I almost feel mean saying that I didn't.  But, I didn't.  A friend of mine returned from Savannah, Georgia after visiting there and eating at Paula Deen's restaurant.  When I asked her about the restaurant experience, my friend said that it wasn't that big of a deal.  The food served there was no different than what my friend's grandmother prepares for Sunday lunch.  It was good, my friend said, but nothing special.  I think that may be another reason why I wasn't over the moon about this cookbook.

Maybe also, instead of marketing this cookbook as a Southern cookbook and instead marketing it as a North Alabama cookbook, I might not have had so many problems with the over-generalizations...I don't'd have to ask other North Alabamians about that.


On Jan. 2, 2010 I posted my first blog posting.  Somehow this year I missed my I thought it only fitting to jump right into the land of the Giveaway in order to share my love of books and my love of blogging.  Even though I might not like something or think it's quite as special as others do, I'm a firm believer that as readers (and individuals) we find our own literature that speaks to matter what the genre.  Instead of letting Southern Plate sit on my shelf un-used, I want to offer it to someone else who might find pleasure in the recipes Christy Jordan has worked so hard on and lived her life through.

I'm gonna do this the old fashioned way.  If you'd like to have my autographed copy of Christy Jordan's Southern Plate, just let me know in the comments section below.  One week from today, Sunday, Jan. 15, my girls and I will put all the entries in a mixing bowl and pull one.  I'll announce the winner in my Monday, January 16th post :)


  1. I hate to hear this book wasn't for you. I think I'd still like to give it a try although, like you, I'm a Southerner through-and-through (Born and raised in Louisiana, and I lived in AL for two years for graduate school). 

  2. As a Brit visiting the South last summer, I found the food different to what I was expecting.  We both loved the seafood in New Orleans though.

    And it's a pet peeve of mine when recipe books use processed ingredients - I have got the book because I want to learn to cook properly!

  3. I love the nice pics that go with a great cookbook as well.   Even though I occasionally use condensed soups in a bind, I find it to be a big turnoff when a cookbook uses it.  Check out Homesick Texan by Lisa Fain.  I haven't found a recipe yet that I haven't liked!

  4. Annie, I've used a can of condensed soup myself as you said "in a pinch,"  but I don't want a cookbook that uses those kinds of ingredients as the norm.  I'm adding Lisa's book to my WishList right now!! :)

  5. One of the most wonderful things I've found about Southern cooking is that depending on where you are in the South depends very much on what kind of food you eat...while you might eat collard greens in MS, TX boasts Tex-Mex, AL and TN have some of the best barbeque you'll ever eat, FL has  wealth of seafood options and Louisiana has cajun and creole food...and those are just a FEW of the different kinds of foods you'll find in the Southern states and even within the same state.  To even try to say that one kind of cooking is Southern makes my head spin...which is why I think I was a little put off by this cookbook.  
    I agree! If I buy the book, I want to learn something, and not how to use some shortcut...

  6. JP, the girls and I will put your name in the mixing bowl!! I want this book to find a good mother-in-law cooks similar to Christy Jordan, when she cooks, and she's from North  Alabama...I'm wondering if that's really the part of the South Jordan should have focused on rather than calling everything Southern.  Don't you think we're really an eclectic part of the country?

  7. I'm a very visual person too.. and if I see there aren't good photos for every recipe, I don't bother.

  8. Karen, the first thing I do is turn the cookbook on its side and run my fingers across the pages so that they fly past quickly and I can see overall how many pictures are there.   Like you, if I'm not satisfied by this first test, I don't even bother further.  

  9. Marilyn's MoneyJanuary 8, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    I'd love to have my name in the mixing bowl too! I'd love to give this cookbook to my daughter. She is getting married in Oct. and while the book wasn't your cup of tea perhaps she could still benefit from it, thanks!

  10. Marilyn, we'll put you in the bowl!! A newer, younger, not as jaded as me cook might indeed like Jordan's recipes.  Most of the recipes are basic and have many variations that she can try as she grows more confident with her skills!

  11. No need to enter me.  I borrowed this one from the library and while I liked it well enough, I didn't make too many dishes.  They weren't all that healthy but they were pretty good.  And you are right...there needed to be more pictures.  I love pictures.

  12. I love cookbooks and I love Southern cooking, so please drop Deb Nance at Readerbuzz (debnance at gmail dot com) into your handy bowl. Though I never win anything....

  13. bermudaonion (Kathy)January 8, 2012 at 5:12 PM

    I've met Christy and she is a delight, but I wasn't crazy about this cookbook either.  I think the recipes were almost too simple.

  14. Pictures/no pictures is a deal breaker for me hands down.  

  15. Thanks for a great review. No need to enter me, I also looked through this one at the library and not my style of book. I don't have to have lots of photos but I miss them when they aren't there.

  16. You are in the bowl Deb!! 

  17. From reading this cookbook and perusing her website, I could tell she is probably a very nice person, which is why I felt so mean for posting a negative review :(

  18. Oh man. Southern Cooking. We lived in NC for 11 years and do I ever miss those grits and eggs and biscuits. Mustard greens were yummy too, and so was chicken and dumplings! All with a nice tall glass of sweet tea. I've gotta get back there some day. These Canadians - they just don't understand. 

  19. Well I think I'll pass on this one after reading your review. :)

  20. Leslie, I just think I need the reassurance of a picture or two...especially in process...if the intent of the book is to teach, I need more than what the final product should look like.

  21. See Trish, I think this cookbook probably speaks to the person who either doesn't eat this way on a daily basis or does not have access to this kind of cooking regularly...

  22. I know, Alyce...I hate to offer a book for a Giveaway that I didn't actually like for myself but there were so many others who seemed to like it...I want the book to have a good home :)

  23. Thanks for the chance to win!