Southern Heirloom Recipes
This article contains affiliate links. Please read the disclosure page for more info.
Part of being a Southerner is, that you are expected to know how to cook. And shame on your mama if you don’t. Southern food is something that is handed down through generations on smudged 3×5 index cards written in illegible grandma cursive.
Southern cuisine, specifically Oklahoma style, consists of bread, taters, and sweet tea with every meal. And when it comes to meat, beef is king.
At my house, fried chicken is also a Southern staple, but is reserved for picnics and Sundays after church. We even swapped the ham for beef tenderloin at Easter and Christmas. Our family dinners are based around ground beef: tacos, spaghetti, goulash, hamburgers, hobo dinners, hamburger stew, enchiladas, sloppy joes, meatballs, and meatloaf. Most of these are not “Southern” cuisine, but it’s what Southern families commonly have for dinner: Tex Mex, Italian, American, and sometimes Cajun.
Quintessential Southern Cookbooks
People used to collect books of recipes called “cookbooks” with real paper pages and everything. I actually have a few of these relics from the past on my bookshelf. Here are three of the best Southern cookbooks:
Helen Corbitt has been publishing cookbooks since 1957. She started out in the Zodiac Room of Neiman-Marcus in Dallas. She traveled the world teaching and lecturing people in the food business for several years in the 1950s and 1960s.
Stanley Marcus himself encouraged Corbitt to publish a cookbook and wrote the forward. She died in 1978, but in 1981, her estate released the Helen Corbitt Collection.
This cookbook is absolutely essential for a Southern cook; nearly 500 pages of real food reference.
Among the top recipes are the quiche lorraine, mushroom and chive bisque, orange muffins, and Beef Stew in Burgundy with Parmesan Crust”.
Reading the introductions at the beginning of each chapter are an amusing look at food from the past. In the “Hors d’Oeuvres” intro, Helen muses about entertaining for a party, and the expectations of party goers in the 1950’s. “…You can no longer provide just whiskey. Wine, beer, and champagne are becoming the usual rather than the exception.” -Helen Corbitt, 1957
This cookbook has no pretty pictures, it’s more of a workhorse reference cookbook. Not for coffee table.
Oh Fannie, you just get me with your Old Fashioned Beef Stew, Chicken with Dumplings, Cheese Soufflé, Banana Nut Bread, and Chocolate Coconut Pie Crust recipes.
Originally published in 1896, it was titled “The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook by Fannie Merritt Farmer. There’s a good reason cookbooks stick around that long.
This book not only has recipes, but is a wonderful reference on how to cook everything, helpful infographics, tips, and troubleshooting, measurement conversion charts, and quick reference guides.
752 Pages of recipes, this cookbook is a hardcore reference guide.
The copy shown here is from 1979, but the latest version is the Anniversary edition, printed in 1996. You can find it on Amazon here.
The Southern Junior League
The Junior League is an international volunteer organization founded in 1901 in NYC. Most notable members include Former First Ladies Barbara Bush, Laura Bush, Nancy Reagan, Elanor Roosevelt, and Betty Ford.
Other famous people Julia Child, Katharine Hepburn, Shirley Temple, and the Wicked Witch herself, Margaret Hamilton.
The Southern Junior League is more like a sorority, requiring many volunteer hours their first year of membership. The roll is chalk-full of the who’s-who of Southern debutantes.
The first Junior League cookbook actually came from the Southern Chapters in 1940 and the League has been a Southern social staple ever since.
You might be able to find a copy of this, but good luck!
You will certainly need one of these cookbook holders to keep your heirloom cookbooks off the counter and open to the right page. Nothing worse than having a your hands covered in flour, trying to find the page with the recipes on it.
The Recipe Box
Before the advent of the internet, people relied on printed recipes and recipe books. When you found a favorite recipe, you couldn’t just pin it to your Pinterest board, you had to copy it down on a 3×5 index card and file it in a box made for recipe cards: a recipe box. If you wanted to get fancy about it, you used a typewriter. Gasp!
These days, if you want a recipe for anything in the world, you can type it in to the internet and bam- thousands of recipes at your fingertips. With so many blogs and websites posting recipes and variations of recipes, it’s hard to know which ones are good and which ones are not so good. When I find one that I really love, I copy it down on a 3×5 and file it in my old school recipe box. I like it because I don’t have to wade through an ocean of recipes for sandwich loaf when I have the best one on a card in my box.
The best recipes come from your grandparent’s recipe boxes. I always look for them at estate sales. Although, I can’t believe anyone would let go of their elders’ recipes; some people don’t realize what a treasure they have.
You can tell a good recipe by how dirty, smudged, or stained the card is. That means it was used over and over again. Same thing applies for used and hand-me-down cookbooks… as long as the pages aren’t stuck together.
Some of my cards are not very old. This one is from the 1970s when my mother-in-law was in high school home economics class. I hand write my own recipe cards when I find one I like. I would love to get my hands on a typewriter so my cards can look as cool and as retro as these do.
Straight from the source
All of my grandparents, and my husband’s grandparents, have all passed away. So if you still have a grandma or grandpa that likes to cook, let them teach you something. Even if all you do is stand there and listen, do it. One day, you’ll be able to tell your kids “This is a recipe for grandma’s famous …..(fill in the blank).” And of course, one day, your grandparents will be gone too.
At my house, it’s Old Mammy’s Biscuits or “Mammy Biscuits”. Or just a way of preparing a simple dish like eggs. My mother-in-law has always chopped hard boiled eggs and that’s how my husband and my kids like it. Somehow, I never quite get it just “like Mammy”, but that’s ok. I’ll let her have that. This is how family traditions are made– they have to be passed along.
One day, your kids will be parents too. What traditions will they pass along to their children?
Shop this article on Amazon
This article contains affiliate links to Amazon.