By Michelle Keller | Photography courtesy of Justin Fox Burks
Memphis cookbook author offers classic to contemporary recipes for delicious and unique snacks for any occasion.
Dedicated to the truth that Southerners are just as skilled and generous with snacks as they are with their bounteous, overflowing meals, Perre Coleman Magness brings us sweet, savory bites in her “Southern Snacks: Small Bites with Big Flavors” cookbook.
With a down-to-earth, yet eloquent persona, Magness’ approach to food preparation is as intricate as a white tablecloth menu, yet as traditional as cornbread is to the South.
“I think I am like most people, somewhere in the middle between food snob and food schlub,” she says. “Sometimes I pull out all the stops; sometimes speed and convenience win out. I love to eat at white-tablecloth restaurants; I love small, neighborhood places with good, simple, honest food; I love fresh, new cuisines from around the world.”
You’ll find her at the noisy, busy Mexican joint that serves decent, filling food at an affordable price. She also frequents a simple mom-and-pop Vietnamese place that won’t win any stars, but offers fresh, different food at a reasonable price.
“I love street food – corn dogs and funnel cakes at the fair or rice flour pancakes with taro in Thailand or corn fritters in Burma,” she says.
With 77 recipes that range from classic to contemporary, Magness embraces the Southern approach to snacking, including all the small bites you’ll need for any event, whether a football game, a party, or, even a funeral spread. Many of the recipes are inspired by community cookbooks, home cooks, and chefs who put new twists on Southern flavors.
Magness studied food and cooking around the world, including coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France. Candidly she says her knowledge came mostly by eating but also through serious study. Her kitchen of choice is at her Memphis home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.
When asked about her love of cooking and recipes, she attributes her inspiration mostly to her childhood. “I’ve been cooking since I could reach the counter top,” she says. “I come from a family of cooks, both my parents and my aunt influenced and taught me to love food and cooking. My Dad had phases – a bread baking phase or a Chinese cooking period – and he opened my mind to experimentation and different cuisines.”
Her mother put a great meal on the table every night and gave her confidence in the kitchen. Her aunt used to cook with her from her childhood Betty Crocker cookbook. “We’re talking teepee cakes and pears that looked like bunny rabbits. She taught me to be creative,” Magness says. “I grew up around great food too, grand meals and lovely picnic lunches with my grandparents and lots of family meals at home.”
Highlighting local ingredients and traditional techniques, snacks such as Fried Dill Pickles with Delta Comeback Sauce to Louisiana’s Natchitoches Meat Pies and Charleston’s Benne Wafers shine a light on the diversity of regionally distinct Southern cuisine. The contemporary recipes work ingeniously with familiar Southern ingredients, from Field Pea Hummus and Country Ham Paté to Smoked Catfish Spread and Sweet Tea Pecans. The recipes are enriched with delightful stories and lore as you turn each page.
Magness has a background in public relations and owned an event-planning business for years, but her roots have always brought her back to her love of cooking.
“I started writing a column on entertaining for a local magazine and I loved developing recipes, so eventually I started a blog and doing freelance work and that led to my first book,” she explains. “I love sharing stories about food and memories, and I’m lucky I get to spend my life doing it. I spend my days in the kitchen, which is my happy place.”
When pressed to choose a personal favorite from her new cookbook, the author says, “I love all the recipes. It’s a little hard to choose, but I am particularly fond of the Country Ham Cheesecake. It gets rave reviews every time I serve it. It’s unique, and it can be made ahead. It serves a big crowd, so it’s perfect for parties. And I absolutely adore country ham, it’s part of my most vivid and best childhood food memories and it is so wonderfully Southern.”
Magness also wrote “Pimento Cheese: The Cookbook: 50 Recipes from Snacks to Main Dishes Inspired by the Classic Southern Favorite” and “The Southern Sympathy Cookbook: Funeral Food with a Twist.” She is also the cook behind the website The Runaway Spoon, which focuses on creative recipes with a Southern slant.
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