Wednesday, July 23, 2008

On the Bookshelf: Lee Bailey's Southern Food & Plantation Houses

I saw this book on display in bookstore recently and was immediately smitten by this fella Lee Bailey on the cover and by the title - "Southern Food & Plantation Houses." Is it a cookbook? Is it a home book? And then the subtitle gets even better - "Favorite Nachez recipes - by Lee Bailey and the Pilgramage Garden Club."

A book about southern food and plantation houses written by a guy in a straw hat and an entire garden club? How can you go wrong?

But wait - isn't this supposed to be a ceramics blog? What does any of this have to do with ceramics? Trust me that I will get there eventually. But first I have to give you a little background.

According to Bailey, Natchez, Mississippi is "the oldest settlement on the Mississippi River...(with)...a concentration of carefully restored antebellum (pre-Civil War, 1861) houses greater than any other comparable place in the country." He describes Natchez food as "representative of the best Southern cooking" and "when you see the settings - that magnificent classic nineteenth-century architecture in the midst of tumbling flowers and towering trees -- against which all this delectable food is served, you can't help glimpsing, for tantalizing moments, the glorious and fertile past that originally spawned such irresistible sensory treats."

So the book is about food and place and how magical it can be when the two are in sync. Published in 1990, it seems very relevant in today's "eat local" climate and it reminds me that eating local can be about more than just the food, it can encompass the whole setting and history of place in which the food is enjoyed.

Each chapter profiles a different plantation house along with a menu and recipes for a meal at the house, with chapter titles like: "Lunch in the Belvedere at Monmouth", "Lunch on the Screened Porch at Hope Farm" and "Dinner on the Gallery at the Elms." Each profile include glorious photos of the home, the grounds, furnishings in the home, and (here is where the ceramics comes in) the table settings. As is appropriate for grand meals in grand settings, the tables are typically set with fine china, silver and crystal. Not really my style - I'm more of a mid-century modern kind of girl, but I still appreciate these layouts. I'm always inspired by thoughtful design and attention to detail.

My favorite table settings are from the "Elgin Barbecue." I'm fond of green in dishware patterns, but who can resist ceramic ducks as part of the table setting?

Look how they've stacked a tray of pecans on top of that footed compote (?) dish to give it some height, even though it doesn't really fit perfectly. Love that!

More of that green and white dinnerware. The other great thing about this book is how he throws in photos of flowers and architectural details about the homes.

This is from the "Informal Dinner at Stanton Hall". I love that simple oval gold-rimmed bowl for serving fried chicken (even though I'm a vegetarian!). And there seems to be a light shining down from above, like it's holy fried chicken or something.

Here is a "porcelain shepherdess among the camellias", also from Stanton Hall.

Goodness! I really didn't intend to go on and on about this book that's not even directly ceramics-related, but I hope you enjoyed taking a peek at these lovely southern table settings as much as I did!

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