It is rare for me to cry when I read a cookbook. But Stephanie L. Tyson’s “Well, Shut My Mouth! The Sweet Potatoes Restaurant Cookbook” had tears running down my face. I came to Tyson’s 2011 book as a result of reviewing her “Soul Food Odyssey” for Devour. Her writing style interested me enough I sought out earlier work, which is, frankly, now my favorite of the two. “Soul Food Odyssey” is much more the story of Tyson coming back to soul food cooking after culinary school and owning a restaurant. “Shut My Mouth” is much more the story of opening the restaurant—and how she and Vivian Joiner traveled the country working at restaurant jobs before they decided to come home and open one of their own.
Well, Shut My Mouth!
The Sweet Potatoes Restaurant Cookbook
Stephanie L. Tyson
John Blair Publisher, 2011, pgs. 167
This is how the book’s introduction begins:
“How do you define sweet potatoes?
“A super food filled with a day’s supply of beta carotene, lots of vitamin C and potassium (I’m not sure it still has all of that if you add sugar, butter and eggs).
“A really cool restaurant in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, that captures the flavors of the South with uptown funk and down-home soul to the beat of Ella and Miles.
“A place that employs a number of people trying to get back into the workforce after making some mistakes and paying their dues—people who want and need to earn a living.
“A part of Winston-Salem and its growing arts community, with local artists adorning its walls, where a number of celebrities and non-celebrities can ‘get their feed on.
“Vivian Joiner and me: All of the above.”
Tyson goes on to detail the trials and tribulations of learning her trade (cooking) and trying to open a small business. Perhaps that’s what touched me so much. I don’t have any experience in the restaurant world, but I do know the struggles of entrepreneurship as a young woman. I understand being told by people who have no experience in my field or endeavor that everything I am doing and planning is wrong. Tyson relates to being told she should open a hot-dog stand instead of a restaurant.
If anyone has ever been curious about the steps to opening a restaurant and what that journey looks like, Tyson provides a powerful and uplifting roadmap.
Most people buy cookbooks for recipes, and here Tyson has my heart because she starts with desserts. Amen. (Who wants to start with a salad?) Tyson explains her grandmother always ate dessert first, until her death at 93. So, Tyson decided to start the book there. She also notes baking is not her passion, so she only makes desserts with three steps or less.
There is, of course, a recipe for banana pudding—because no Southern cookbook is complete without it—and this one makes my mouth water just reading it. But Tyson also has a recipe for homemade vanilla wafers that are surprisingly simple but decedent. However, the one I like best is “Sweet Potato Bread Pudding with Pecan Crunch Topping (Things to Do with Leftover Sweet Potato Biscuits #1).” I can taste the butter in the recipe even now. Wow!
Here’s the thing: I suffer from a sweet tooth (witness my no-longer hourglass figure); I can read recipes for desserts for hours and just salivate on the page. It takes a lot to get my attention with savories. But has anyone ever encountered pimiento-cheese fondue? I am not making this up!
It is on page 140 and it will change everyone’s lives. I came late to the pimiento cheese game. Though I grew up in the South, my parents were not from here and didn’t really understand Southern food. So, I had a couple of misadventures on my way to the Southern food table. There is such a thing as bad pimiento cheese (note: copious amounts of sugar added)—and the first few times I encountered it were indeed awful. But thanks to some well-meaning friends I am now a convert, and holy cow, the pimiento cheese fondue literally blows my mind and my tastebuds!
This is what Southern cooking is all about.
Before anyone gets the idea that it is not a cookbook written by a culinary school-trained chef, she also has a recipe for “Pan-Roasted Oyster-Stuffed Quail with Red-Eye Gravy.” I mean, really. Tell me that doesn’t sound beautiful just to say, let alone serve! Holy sweet potatoes, Batman! I think I am in love!
Tyson really makes each recipe approachable, she breaks down and explains steps that would intimidate the hell out of me (like stuffing a quail with oysters). But she doesn’t talk down to her audience; it is much more about giving credit to the process of learning.
If readers are looking for a book for an aspiring restaurateur, I cannot recommend “Well, Shut My Mouth! Sweet Potatoes Restaurant Cookbook” enough. It will inspire to persevere and remind what this journey is really about: sharing good food with people.
Books we love to indulge in again
Eat Your Roses …
Pansies, Lavender and 49 Other Edible Flowers
St. Lynn’s Press, 2011
Page count, 90
I remember standing in the driveway at K&K Farm eating primrose flowers from the bush and having Dave admonish me to save some for the salad. Ever since then, I think, I have been not so covertly in love with the idea of edible flowers. Perhaps that is why I like Denise Schreiber’s book “Eat Your Roses … Pansies, Lavender and 49 other Edible Flowers” so much.
Schreiber starts with really good photography and identification of each flower she addresses, and adds page numbers for specific recipes in the following section. Obviously, she covers roses and suggests, among other uses, rose-petal jam and rose-petal ice-cream. She also uses the space to remind readers the flower of the artichoke is the part they eat—and, technically, it is a thistle.
She doesn’t include kudzu-flower ice-cream—which might be the most wonderful thing I have ever put in my mouth. Then again, kudzu’s ability to swallow a hillside in a season makes it a controversial plant. However, Schreiber does include savory recipes, as well as sweet ones. My favorite is for salmon pizza with nasturtiums.
To me, it is still part of the thrill to enjoy something from the yard or forest as part of a meal—and flowers just make it feel so otherworldly and special. If anyone is curious about the edible flowers they can cultivate, this is a fabulous resource.
A Modern Herbal
Mrs. M. Grieve
Penguin Books, pgs. 912
I have long, long been fascinated by the intersection of food and medicine. The day I realized my mother’s spice drawer was an apothecary’s cabinet forever changed my life. There are some herbs I will not be without: thyme for congestion and my favorite fever buster, yarrow.
Mrs. Grieve has far and away one of the most fascinating herbals I have encountered. I can spend hours browsing, constantly making new discoveries or relearning tidbits I had forgotten.
“A Modern Herbal” was first printed by Jonathan Cape in 1931 and has been reprinted several times since—thus, I am not alone in my admiration of the work. She includes carrot and cayenne with as much sincerity as the common oak. This is not really an identification guide. Though there are some pictures, they are not really intended for foraging purposes. What Mrs. Grieve is trying to instill is to respect the power of what readers put into their bodies—whether it is at a meal or from a bottle with a dropper. She gives Latin and common names, and a brief description of the plant, followed by directions for use and warnings about times not to use.
As an introduction, it is incredible. As an advanced study, it covers material people can spend a lifetime trying to master. Perhaps most important of all in a reference book, there is an excellent index. Herbs appear everywhere in our lives, from pepper on the dining-room table to the rows and rows of bottles in the supplements section. For a more in-depth explanation than found on Web MD, “A Modern Herbal” provides unparalleled insight, and will help folks better respect and understand what they are ingesting.