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Southern Sympathy Cookbook and the Ghost River book club

Perre Coleman Magness’ Southern Sympathy Cookbook; a book club at Ghost River.


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There are worse ways to go than getting your latest book written up by the New York Times. The Southern Sympathy Cookbook by local food writer Perre Coleman Magness did merit a recent NYT feature. It's a fun, fun book — peppered with outrageous obits and funeral memories as well as some very Southern recipes.

Magness took some time recently to answer a few questions.


What is it about funeral foods that drew you?

I think funeral food is the ultimate comfort food. It's made with love and for love. When people make a meal for a friend in need, they choose the things they do the best, so it is always good, home cooking. And I love the traditions around Southern funerals and how people truly come together to celebrate life. Plus, reading obituaries from around the South and gathering stories about funeral traditions has been very entertaining!

The subtitle is "Funeral Food with a Twist." What's the twist?

The recipes are true classics, with some creative twists and modern takes. I think the funeral spread has often been the realm of canned soup and packaged mixes. I've reworked traditional recipes to use fresh ingredients — like chicken spaghetti that uses freshly roasted poblano peppers, fresh tomatoes, and real cheese, or Jack and Coke Cake, a traditional Coca-Cola cake with Jack Daniels. I've covered everything from breakfast to snacks to casseroles and sweets. And of course, it's a Southern funeral food book, so I couldn't skip the gelatin salad — but I promise they are fresh and good, with nary a dollop of Cool Whip in sight!

Is there a wrong dish one can bring to a wake? Cupcakes?

Ha! I'd leave off the sprinkles and the candles. I think as long as it comes from the heart, it's the right thing. But come on, take the chicken out of the bucket.

What is your favorite funeral food?

You can't go wrong with caramel cake, and for me, pimento cheese is always the right thing. Like a lot of people I spoke to while working on this project, I think you can't go wrong with fried chicken. I know it can get a bad rap, but a ham really is useful. And hey, I'm a born and bred Memphian, so pulled pork with a good sauce.

You seem to focus in on Southern cuisine. Will you be branching out?

Southern cooking is where my heart is. There is such a rich diversity and history, and I feel like I am constantly discovering new ideas or learning more about old ones. We've got such an abundance of beautiful, local, and regional produce and so many people creating interesting products that I find it endlessly fascinating. I do branch out — I travel quite a bit and love to explore new cuisines and ideas, but I always seem to come back to my roots.

We all know that most book clubs are about the drankin'. A new book club collaboration between Ghost River and Novel gets straight to it. The inaugural meeting, held last Friday, revolved around the book Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. This book, super creepy, most certainly led to a juicy discussion. The book club is held on the third Thursday of every month. Stay tuned for next month's selection. Ghost River's Suzanne Williamson fielded some questions about the club.

Where did the idea come from?

Ghost River came up with the idea and reached out to Novel to partner. Novel is very excited about the partnership. We are excited to work together and have a successful club.

How did you choose the book?

Novel chose the first book. We thought that we would discuss future titles with members of Get Lit(erary) early on. Every club has a feel, and we want to see where that lands.

What do you envision for the book club?

Memphians and Ghost River have a great interest in Novel's success. We also thought that it would be a great idea to connect young and old, bridge downtown and East Memphis through this book club. Ghost River's Tap Room has always been a community Tap Room, and this is another opportunity to host the community.

How frequent is it?

We will be meeting once a month — the third Thursday of every month.

What's the next book?

We have a selection, but have decided to get input at our first meeting. We want to make sure our club reaches most of our member's interests.

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