A bloomin’ lot of cookbooks

If you needed more proof that Southern food is hot, look at the number of cookbooks by North Carolina authors that have popped out like the azalea blossoms this spring. One is by longtime Durham, N.C. chef and caterer Sara Foster (of Foster’s Markets in Chapel Hill, N.C. and Durham). Another is by Chapel Hill food writer and cooking instructor Sheri Castle and the third shares recipes from Asheville, N.C.’s popular Tupelo Honey Cafe (yes, the recipe for the sweet potato pancakes is there).

Foster’s cookbook, her fourth, trumpets her Southern roots. “Sara Foster’s Southern Kitchen: Soulful, Traditional, Seasonal” (Random House, $35) has all the requisite standards: Buttermilk biscuits, fried green tomato BLT, and a whole chapter on pork. Pork must make a substantial contribution to any cookbook that calls itself Southern. There are hints for matching cocktails to hors d’oeuvres, which is so Southern.

The book includes surprising recipes using what I consider an under-appreciated Southern vegetable: Summer squash. When it’s in gushing supply in midsummer, squash gets passed around – and avoided – like a baby with a stinky diaper. Everyone has squash, but no one seems to know what to do with it. Foster uses it in a version of hush puppies, plus as pickles, in a pot pie and soup. Of the three cookbooks, this is the most elegant, showing more than a touch of Foster’s previous life working with Martha Stewart.

Castle’s book, “The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands and CSA Farm Boxes” (UNC Press, $35). is gorgeous, too. Rather than organizing recipes by course, Castle walks through the garden with chapters highlighting individual vegetables and fruits. Nice to have when the blueberries are pouring in and you’re looking for ways to use them. The organization makes it a bit more challenging to put together a menu, but you do have the serendipity of running into Chicken and Sweet Potato Stew alongside Sweet Potato Rum Cake. Nothing wrong with a meal of sweet potatoes, I say.

The book exhibits Castle’s wide range of experience and expertise, leading to clear directions, especially for the bread many fear to tackle, biscuits. It’s a homey read full of stories, too.

“Tupelo Honey Cafe: Spirited Recipes from Asheville’s New South Kitchen” by Elizabeth Sims with Chef Brian Sonoskus (Andrews McMeel, $29.99) is as much about life in the mountains and Asheville as the food. The book seeks to identify the food by rooting it in the culture of the mountain town, and it makes for a witty read. The book starts off with recipes for gravys. How Southern is that?

The cookbook recognizes Asheville’s place as a craft brew haven by offering both wine and beer matches for dishes. There’s a laid-back quality to this book that makes it feel accessible.

If you’re only going to invest in one, which cookbook should you buy? That really depends on what you’re looking for and which recipes call to you.