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The Complete Nashville Cookbook Guide

Cook your way through social distancing with these 20-plus local books

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Every Southerner has a cookbook so important it will be itemized in their will. The pages are dog-eared, splatter-spotted and covered with handwritten notes detailing what degree one really must set the oven to so the biscuits rise. In true ride-or-die cases, find a poor soul carrying around loose pages of their beloved book in a Ziploc bag, long after its spiral spine has given up the ghost.

Those cookbooks can be lifesavers, particularly in times like these. The food is comforting, of course, but even the act of looking through a cookbook and talking about what to make can be therapeutic and entertaining.

Here is a collection of 20-plus Nashville cookbooks that offer physical and spiritual nourishment during social distancing.

Historical

A Domestic Cook Book: Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Recipes for the Kitchen by Malinda Russell (1866)

David Betts/Metropolitan Photography via NPR

Rediscovered in 2000, this cookbook is one of the oldest written by an African-American woman. Although it was published in Michigan and the author was part of “one of the first families set free by Mr. Noddie of Virginia,” Russell ran a pastry shop here in Tennessee, so we claim her. Her book catalogs dozens of desserts, like puff pastry, rose cake, and sweet potato baked pudding, as well as savory recipes like catfish fricassee and sweet-onion custard. See the original book at HathiTrust and use this link for a text-friendly version to cook from.

Vintage

When hunting for classic Southern cookbooks, there are a few words to look out for. “Home Economics Association” and “Junior League” are at the top of the list. Will 99 percent of their recipes shave two years off one’s life? Probably, but that’s okay. Their batting average on deliciousness is near-perfect.

All of these cookbooks are time capsules, and as such, would make fine teaching tools for kids who’ve only seen the ’70s and ’80s in movies. Sure, they’re full of aspic, sugary punch, and things mixed with so much mayonnaise that arteries will clog just reading it, but that's also why they’re awesome.

Nashville Cookbook: Specialties of the Cumberland Region by the Nashville Area Home Economics Association (1978)

Amazon

“Heart attack on a plate.” “How many cups of sugar!?!!” The Amazon reviews say it all, as does this fact: the majority of purchasers are on their second copy because they’ve worn the first one out. Not sold? Try the recipes on for size: jellied chicken gumbo, sauerkraut surprise cake, “hot cheese dreams,” fish fillets elegante, and, the pièce de résistance: cheddar-cheese fudge. The book’s descriptions of local landmarks could also easily be used for a retro driving tour, starting with the Ryman. In the late ‘70s when the book was published, it was shuttered, but the story of Mrs. Ryman’s famous barreled pickles was still deemed important enough to be included.

While Nashville’s Home Ec pros hold their own with casseroles, the canon of one-pan wonders is 1965’s Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers: Casseroles, Including Breads. It’s not exclusive to Nashville, so it can’t have its own entry, but it’s a Ziploc-bag-level cookbook if there ever was one. (Side rant: Why isn’t Home Ec a class anymore? Cooking is a life skill, and one used far more than Algebra II.)
Buy: Amazon

Encore! Nashville by the Junior League of Nashville (1982)

Amazon

Another sure sign a Southern cookbook is bona fide: being featured in Southern Living, as this was in the ’80s. Again, reviews tell the tale: “Worth the purchase price if only for the recipe for Oatmeal Bars Extraordinaries. Grown men and children fight for the last piece.” Honestly? It’s also worth the purchase price for that boss cover illustration of a chicken looking lovingly at a cowboy hat like it’s a baby.

If you cook your way through Encore and find yourself wanting more, try out its JLN predecessor, Nashville Seasons, from 1964 or its follow-up, Notably Nashville, from 2003. Its Memphis-made cousin — Heart and Soul — from 1992 is also a will-and-testament cookbook for many Tennesseans.
Buy: Amazon

2005-2015

Southern Country Cooking From The Loveless Cafe: Biscuits, Hams, And Jams From Nashville’s Favorite Cafe by Jane Stern & Michael Stern (2005)

Eating local has never been more important, and since that’s not possible right now at the Loveless, this is the next best thing. Written by James Beard Award winners, this book delivers local history alongside famous fare, including hashbrown casserole, red-eye gravy, and all those killer homemade jams that no one had time to master, until now.
Buy: The Loveless Cafe | Amazon

Desserts from the Famous Loveless Cafe: Simple Southern Pies, Puddings, Cakes, and Cobblers from Nashville’s Landmark Restaurant by Alisa Huntsman (2011)

Many considered buying the aforementioned book for desserts alone, and Loveless pastry chef Alisa Huntsman expected that. In this book, the CIA grad breaks down everything from blackberry-jam cake to chess pie. There’s also a helping of local favorites, like Steeplechase Pie made with dark chocolate, pecans, and Jack Daniel’s.
Buy: Parnassus Books | Amazon | Bookshop

Nashville Chef’s Table: Extraordinary Recipes from Music City by Stephanie Stewart-Howard (2013)

This book got an update in 2019, but the original holds a special kind of charm during stressful times like these. It unlocks some serious local culinary secrets, including the tomato soup from the Grilled Cheeserie; the Princess Biscuit from Biscuit Love; the tortilla soup from Mas Tacos; and the mac and cheese, green beans, and tomato pie from Arnold’s Country Kitchen. We are not worthy. It’s even got the recipe for Margot’s famous chicken — for those lucky enough to snag some poultry before grocery-store shelves were pillaged.

In addition, Table serves up some much-needed nostalgia with dishes from now-shuttered Nashville restaurants: sweet-potato gnocchi from F. Scott’s, a Holland House cocktail, the baguette from Provence, shrimp and grits from Sunset Grill. If you’re a proud member of Not-New Nashville, it’s a must-have.
Buy: Parnassus Books | Amazon | Bookshop

Flavors of My World: A Culinary Tour Through 25 Countries by Maneet Chauhan & Doug Singer (2013)

It’s no secret that Southern cookbooks, on the whole, skew white and upper-middle class because that’s the group that’s always had the power to write and publish what they wanted. We know, of course, that a huge percentage of the recipes in those books are owed to people of other cultures, and thankfully, today’s industry is working to catch up. Maneet Chauhan’s 2013 book is an easy way to start, with dishes such as masala-flavored fish and chips or cocktails made with cherry liquor, garam masala, and amaretto. As the title indicates, the book is broad — it features two recipes per country — but that’s what makes it a solid intro to cuisines that may be new to some.
Buy: Parnassus Books | Amazon | Bookshop

The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia (2013)

Nashville has a large Iranian community, yet few Nashvillians eat Persian food regularly (or ever). Chef Louisa Shafia remedies that, reimagining classic Persian fare for the modern table. Learn how to use rose petals, dried limes, and sumac; try out vegetable-forward dishes like vinegar carrots with sesame seeds; or indulge with saffron and cardamom ice cream sandwiches (which are actually made with Greek yogurt for a tangy zip).
Buy: Parnassus Books | Amazon | Bookshop

Nashville Eats by Jennifer Justus (2015)

Few people in the Nashville food community have a higher approval rating than Jennifer Justus. Before she took up her post at the Nashville Food Project, she ate and wrote her way around town and co-founded recipe storytelling project Dirty Pages. Justus puts her reporting skills to use here, sharing stories of the people, music, history, and food that make Nashville great. The food that goes with those stories — pulled-pork sandwiches, fried green tomatoes, and chess pie — is pretty great, too.
Buy: Amazon | Bookshop

Soul Food Love: Healthy Recipes Inspired by One Hundred Years of Cooking in a Black Family by Alice Randall & Caroline Randall Williams (2015)

In 2012, bestselling author Alice Randall (The Wind Done Gone) wrote an op-ed in the New York Times detailing her hope that she be “the last fat black woman” in her family. A few years later, she and her daughter, Caroline Randall Williams (a Nashville author, poet, and academic in her own right), turned that wish into a cookbook. The pair transformed recipes handed down by generations of black women into healthy yet satisfying modern cuisine. From fiery green beans to “sinless” sweet potato pie, Soul Food Love tells the stories of their family history and so many others through food.
Buy: Parnassus Books | Amazon | Bookshop

Southern Cooking for Company: More Than 200 Southern Hospitality Secrets and Show-off Recipes by Nicki Pendleton Wood (2015)

It seems counterintuitive to make “show-off” recipes at a time when you can’t invite people over, but let’s be real: You’re posting every minute of your life on Instagram right now anyway, so you might as well give Aunt Linda something pretty to look at. A Nashville native, Wood packs this book with showstoppers such as Cuban-Southern pork roast with chimichurri barbecue sauce and lemon-miso sweet potatoes. Bonus: Each recipe comes with a hospitality tip from one of the 100-plus people who contributed.
Buy: Thomas Nelson | Amazon

Lockeland Table: Community Kitchen and Bar by Hal M. Holden-Bache & Cara Graham (2015)

This self-published book is a bit of a collector’s item, but that also means finding a copy online would make a nice, possibly time-consuming activity for those homebound, tech-savvy kids. When the team behind Lockeland Table penned it, they had to decide whether to wait on a publisher or just do the damn thing. Anyone who knows Holden-Bache and Graham knows the route they chose isn’t surprising. The result is a book that’s full of grit, determination, and love for their East Nashville community. In it you’ll find comfort food like shepherd’s pie, short ribs, and a peanut-kale salad they made before kale was cool (and then uncool again). Bonus: If that teenager fails to find the book, it’s easy to order Lockeland Table’s food curbside.
Buy: Lockeland Table | Amazon

The Hot Chicken Cookbook: The Fiery History & Red-Hot Recipes of Nashville’s Beloved Bird by Timothy Charles Davis (2015)

A Nashville hot chicken cookbook is such an obvious idea it would be a success even if it sucked; this one doesn’t. In it, chef and writer Timothy Davis dug deep, tracing the dish back to its 1930s roots and, shockingly, finding new stories to tell about Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack — no small feat circa 2015. He rounded that out with input from celebrity chefs such as Carla Hall, Ed Lee, and Stephen Satterfield, plus dozens of recipes from Nashville restaurants. It’s a hot chicken cookbook written by food people for food people.
Buy: Parnassus Books | Amazon | Bookshop

2016 - today

A Colander, Cake Stand, and My Grandfather’s Iron Skillet by Erin Byers Murray (2016)

What’s the one kitchen tool you can’t live without? That’s the hook for this fun, bang-for-your-buck compilation by Erin Byers Murray, a respected Nashville food writer and author many times over. In it, Murray interviews the big guns — 37 to be exact — including Andrew Zimmern, Linton Hopkins, Chris Shepherd, Virginia Willis, and Kevin Gillespie. For anyone who is a gear-head for kitchen tools (“toolhead” doesn’t sound quite right), this will be your Bible.
Buy: Parnassus Books | Amazon | Bookshop

The Laura Lea Balanced Cookbook: 130 Everyday Recipes for the Healthy Home Cook by Laura Lea (2017)

For those looking for a way to stave off the Quarantine 15, Laura Lea has it covered. The certified holistic chef focuses on easy, nutritious recipes made with fresh ingredients and fewer processed foods. Paleo, vegan, vegetarian, gluten- or dairy-free: Lea’s got recipes for every dietary restriction in the book. Fan favorites include her mocha smoothie and spicy black bean quinoa soup. Her forthcoming second cookbook, Simply Laura Lea, even has a foreword written by Sean Brock.
Buy: Amazon | Bookshop

Whiskey in a Teacup by Reese Witherspoon (2018)

Now for the gingham-covered elephant in the room. Reese Witherspoon is an icon, and she’s in the midst of building a Goop-like empire without, you know, being an affront to science or common sense. Draper James, her clothing line, is total yuppie catnip, but it’s also totally cute, so hopes were high about her cookbook. For some, those expectations were met. Die-hard ’Spooners will swoon over the pretty pictures, overtold Southern stories, and recipes that feel ripped from the pages of a vintage Junior League cookbook.

Those who grew up in a less WASPy South, however, will find many things about the book problematic, and many more things trite and cringe-y. Did you know Southerners are polite? Hot damn. And, as a lady, thou shalt always wear lipstick and never chew gum in public. The importance placed on hot rollers and sweet tea alone is enough to make you puke a dog off a gut wagon (a Southern phrase that shockingly doesn’t make the book). Again — lots of people love this book, but if you were hoping it would be more Madeline-Martha-MacKenzie from Big Little Lies — sharp, obsessive, crazy but lovable — you need to recalibrate. In reality, it’s far more Elena from Little Fires Everywhere — staid, fussy, and Stepford-esque — and the book is the poorer for it. And if you listen to the stilted, saccharine audiobook, may God have mercy on your soul. Silver lining: This Vulture article about trying to live this book for a week is salve for the soul.
Buy: Amazon | Bookshop

Ramen Otaku: Mastering Ramen at Home by Sarah Gavigan & Ann Volkwein (2018)

Making ramen is a beast. Most of the time it’s a jail sentence, considering how many hours you have to simmer bones to make broth that tastes half as good as it does at Otaku Ramen. But now? Time is on everyone’s side. Hell, the word “otaku” literally means “at home,” and sadly, home is the only place you can get Otaku broth right now. Gavigan herself calls ramen-making “sport cooking, for the sort of people who spend all weekend working on complicated dishes.” So get your mind right, order your bones, and start simmering.
Buy: Amazon | Bookshop

South: Essential Recipes and New Explorations by Sean Brock (2019)

If you’ve seen Sean Brock on TV, you know he’s a natural storyteller, and his cookbooks echo that vibe. Both South and Heritage (2013) are beautiful, hefty coffee-table books that are sincere love letters to the South. In the past, the toughest part of a Brock book was that his recipes take time. You might have to hit a few markets to source ingredients, and you’ll often find yourself flipping through pages to make the pickled ramps and rendered fat you’ll need in order to make the fried cabbage you started out trying to make. As with ramen, that’s not a bad thing — but it is a thing you should know going in. If time-intensive sounds like your speed right now, buy either book, prepare to make some ingredient swaps on the fly, and feel secure in the knowledge that the all-important cheeseburger recipe from Husk is in both.
Buy: Chef Sean Brock | Amazon | Bookshop

The Peach Truck Cookbook by Stephen K. Rose & Jessica N. Rose (2019)

In a normal year, Nashvillians would be ramping up for their favorite spring ritual: collectively losing their shit the first day the Peach Truck shows up at farmers market. The good news is that doesn’t happen until mid-May anyway, so now’s the perfect time to study up on what you’ll make when it does. From pizza to pie, this book offers recipes from local heroes like dessert queen Lisa Donovan and favorite son Tandy Wilson, in addition to recipes like peach tamales from Mas Tacos and peach margarita from Burger Up (which we could all use right now).
Buy: Amazon | Bookshop

I don’t want to buy any more cookbooks! Now what?

Sign up for Eat Your Books! For $3/month or $30/year, it indexes the cookbooks you already own, which allows you to search “your bookshelf” by recipe, ingredient, cuisine, or author. For anyone who owns 10 cookbooks — and especially for those of us who own 100 — it will instantly make you feel better about using what you have.

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