I get somewhere between three and eight cookbooks every day. Most of them, I glance at and put aside, waiting for a story that they might fit. Truth be told, many are the same, offering smoky covers full of airbrushed ingredients or screaming about the five ingredients that I Must Cook With Now.
But today, Sean Brock’s “Heritage” showed up on my doorstep. It was number three in my mail queue and after tossing aside the first two books, “Heritage” lay there on my counter, hardly out of its yellow bubble wrap. “Wow,” I said stopping dead. “Wow.”
Brock’s tattooed arms mimic the colorful beans cupped in his palms, the word “Heritage” embossed beneath them. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, so I opened it.
Audrey Morgan’s Apple-Sorghum Stack Cake (yes, we’re still stuck on sorghum) calls for heirloom Pippins and a rye whiskey glaze (this will be on my Thanksgiving table.) The Husk Cheeseburger has bacon ground into the meat mixture. And Wild Ramp and Crab Stuffed Hush Puppies — topped with Green Goddess dressing — are something that I can’t believe I have to wait for until spring. There’s a treatise on how to cook grits like a Southerner, and on the history of benne, aka sesame, a plant grown by Thomas Jefferson’s slaves. I love this book, and I have yet to so much as buy the ingredients for any of its recipes.
Brock hails from rural Virginia where his family grew, cooked and preserved everything they ate. That, he has said, is the foundation on which he began to explore Southern food at his two Charleston, S.C., restaurants — Husk and McCrady’s.
I’ve never eaten at Husk, but during a meal at McCrady’s about two years ago my dining partner gave a perfect assessment of the salad: “It’s like walking through the forest, plucking all the little herbs and grasses and leaves.” It takes real talent to make a salad memorable.
I doubt that anything I make from this book will taste like it does when the guy who wrote it gets behind the stove. But I appreciate this insight into the mind of someone who takes food and its heritage so seriously.