Food & Drink

Cookbook: A dedication to Southern cooking, family heritage

By Emily Smith

For The Sun News

“Melissa’s Southern Cookbook” by Melissa Sperka; The Countryman Press ($27.95, 224 pages)

What started as a popular cooking blog is now a lovely cookbook filled with full page color pictures and dozens of mouth-watering recipes. “Melissa’s Southern Cookbook” is written by Melissa Sperka, who has also had her work appear in national magazines like Better Homes and Gardens and Southern Living.

In this compilation of recipes, Sperka includes plenty of traditional dishes, like deviled eggs and buttermilk fried chicken. She also includes her unique versions of food such as green chile sweet corn casserole, which the chef describes as a cross between corn pudding and corn bread.

Sperka even has a few unusual recipes sprinkled in, like her philly cheesesteak pasta bake, saltine toffee crunch, and her very popular chocolate chip toffee potato chip cookies. Even if every recipe does have a bit of her individual touch, from personal preference or family practice, there isn’t a dish in here that is unfamiliar.

At the beginning of the book, at the start of each chapter, and at the end, Sperka writes a little about why the table and the food that sits on it has an important role in Southern culture. Much of the time, she shares personal experiences as a child and how growing up in a traditional Southern family shaped her as a person and as a cook.

Sperka also touches on the many variations of food found in the South alone and insists there is no “right” way for Southern food to be. All these different kinds of dishes, no matter how they are made, are a legitimate part of the encompassing culture of the South. This includes traditional dishes with a modern twist, as seen in a couple of her own recipes.

It can be said that Sperka divided each section of her cookbook by course, starting with appetizers and snacks, plus fun beverages. Next is breakfast, a chapter that definitely encourages this meal to be acceptable at any time of the day. Breads follow, including multiple types of biscuits (and gravy) and cornbread.

Salads and sides come after, many of which could be happily consumed as entire meals. The entrees follow suit, then many amazing desserts that will no doubt make kids and adults alike cheer. Sperka ends her collection of recipes with a few holiday themed dishes and sweets.

There are baking tips sprinkled throughout the recipes, and her instructions are clear and easy to follow. She does clarify a few things when deemed necessary, but no one recipe is out of reach. Sperka then adds at the end helpful baking substitution suggestions for ingredients all found in her recipes. This is especially useful for those who may have dietary restrictions or preferences, or just simply don’t have all the right ingredients.

Sperka’s cookbook is a loving dedication not just to Southern cooking, but to her own family and history. Her passion and love of cooking is sure to spread to anyone who looks through the book – if they can manage to stop drooling first.

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