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Published: Tuesday, 7/21/2009

Country cooking is evolving

A visit to Sauder Village in Archbold, Ohio, is a reminder of how much country cooking has changed.

In the 1800s country cooking meant homemade, from-scratch foods. Bread was baked. Jelly, jam, and apple butter were made through the summer and fall. Vegetables were canned, including tomatoes and corn. Noodles were made from scratch. Meat and poultry were butchered. Bacon and ham were cured and/or smoked. Pickles and sauerkraut were pickled in a crock and then preserved in jars.

In the 20th century, canned and processed foods became available for consumers.

And despite 21st-century food technology and gourmet items, country cooking still has great appeal to consumers with comfort foods, simple flavors, and home cooking.

Four cookbooks bring a taste of the country to the table.

Betty Crocker Country Cooking (Wiley, $25.95) with well-loved dishes of American cooking, from pancakes and French toast to chicken noodle soup and chicken and dumplings, reminds us how diverse country cooking is in 2009. In this cookbook, country cooking today includes ethnic flavors, including Chinese Chicken Stir-Fry, Fajitas, Chicago Deep Dish Pizza, and Antipasto Salad. A Curry-flavored Country Captain recipe is from India. Regional American recipes fit into country cooking, including Shrimp Creole, Yankee Pot Roast, Chicken Fried Steak, Hoppin' John, Candied Sweet Potatoes, and Hot German Potato Salad.

The Betty Crocker book also includes Gazpacho, Pita Sandwiches, Grilled Tuna with Salsa and Southern Fried Catfish, and Stuffed Crown Roast of Pork. Green Tomato Pie is on the same page as Key Lime Pie.

Country cooking is all of this and more as new cooks and younger cooks bring to their kitchens the flavors of their homeland and the foods they buy in restaurants or learn about when traveling.

Television food shows impact country cooking. Paula Deen's The Deen Family Cookbook by Paula Deen with Melissa Clark (Simon & Schuster, $26) has old-time home favorites like Southern Style Fish Boil and Country-Fried Chicken Livers with Chipotle Cream Gravy. The latter is a marriage of the old-fashioned chicken liver with a contemporary spice of chipotle. Casseroles and pasta have always been a mainstay of country cooking, whether it's a gumbo rice bake or a spicy chili and sweet potato casserole. Although the author tends to eat grits with sausage and shrimp, she's experimenting with dessert recipes that have grits.

Country Living, The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen by Teri Edwards & Serena Thompson (Hearst, $27.95) reflects the Farm Chick philosophy with tasty, simple recipes. Craft and sewing projects are included. Fifty-two recipes focus on breakfast, appetizers, lunch, and dessert: Enchilada Soup, Bruschetta Salad, Cherry Breakfast Swirl, and Orange Meringue Pie.

Mrs. Rowe's Little Book of Southern Pies by Mollie Cox Bryan (10 Speed Press, $16.95) features recipes from Mildred Rowe, the Pie Lady at Mrs. Roe's Restaurant and Bakery in the heart of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. (She died in 2003 at the age of 89.) There are classic recipes for Vinegar Pie Crust, Weepless Meringue, Hickory Nut Pie, and Green Tomato Mincemeat Pie. The most popular pie at the restaurant was Original Cream Pie.

Country cooking lives on thanks to the cooks who teach the next generation and the cookbooks that preserve the recipes.



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