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Home Run

Martha Foose on her new cookbook.

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Mississippi native Martha Foose is coming to town on Thursday, April 21st, to sign and discuss her new cookbook, A Southerly Course: Recipes & Stories from Close to Home. She'll be returning from New York after an appearance on Good Morning America. Passing through Memphis just may be the highlight of that trip, though.

"I love to get my Viet Hoa on. I have to get my rice vinegar fix," she says.

For all her traveling, Foose continues to come home time and again. After pastry school in France and jobs in California, Minnesota, and New Orleans, she returned to Pluto Plantation, her family's land in Tchula, Mississippi.

At home, she has lots of energy around her. "There are always people coming in and out of the kitchen at Pluto," Foose says.

When she goes back out on the road to promote A Southerly Course, she will have to carry that energy with her, but she will have help there as well. When school is out, Foose is sometimes able to bring along her husband Donald Bender and their son Joe. The experience has led to some changes in Joe, but it has also reinforced some things.

"He has become quite a hotel connoisseur. His key card collection continues to grow," Foose says. "And he still wants to be a zookeeper, so visiting zoos and aquariums continues to be a high priority for us."

Foose's first book, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook, took her across the country from the smallest bookstores to national television. Her triumphant tour culminated with awards from the James Beard Foundation and the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

After the success of that book, Foose has worked hard to make this latest one its equal.

"The first time I had no idea what to expect," Foose says. "This time, there's a little more pressure. [With Screen Doors], it was safe to go with fried chicken and catfish. This time, it's a little more out there. I just hope people will get it."

While her first book celebrated many traditional Southern dishes, it also included new classics such as paper-sack catfish — the Southern staple en papillote — and inside-out sweet potatoes — a marshmallow surrounded by mashed sweet potatoes. How, then, to top that?

"Things can come at you from different angles," Foose says. "Sometimes it's a dish I've had somewhere. I say: What do I have around the house that I can make this with? And other times you learn something strange. A mirliton is a type of squash, but it's also the name of a musical instrument like a kazoo. So I created a stuffed mirliton recipe. Crazy things can take you off on a tangent to make something."

Other times her inspirations come from closer to home: "Sometimes it's paying tribute to a friend, like my essay about going through Eudora Welty's cookbook collection. I wanted to add something that's reflective of her, so there's a plain, simple custard pie recipe. There's a recipe for crab ravigote that I wanted to include to support New Orleans fishermen."

What's her favorite recipe from the book? "Sugar snap peas and peaches. It's kind of like a chutney. It's really yummy," Foose says.

New Orleans Times-Picayune photographer Chris Granger took the photos. "He was absolutely a joy to work with. As a Southerner who understood why some things were important, Chris totally got it," she says, then adds:

"There is a recipe in the book for corn oysters, little fried nuggets like oysters. I say in the book that you should make them for your vegetarian friends. Chris took a picture of the Cornstalk Hotel fence in New Orleans to go along with the recipe, a little inside joke for Southerners."

Martha Foose will sign and discuss A Southerly Course: Recipes & Stories from Close to Home at Davis-Kidd Booksellers on Thursday, April 21st, 6 p.m. She will return to Memphis in August to join Kelly English at Restaurant Iris for his series of brunch collaborations.

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