As I noted earlier, I was in Charleston SC for the annual conference of the Annual Society for Indexing. The keynote speakers were Matt and Ted Lee of the Lee Bros. Boiled Peanuts Catalogue and the authors of several cookbooks, including the IACP and James Beard award winner The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook.
Charming, funny and entertaining, the Lees are natural speakers, and I thoroughly enjoyed their tale of getting started in the food retail business and the process of creating cookbooks. I fear some of my indexing compatriots hoped for rather more indexing talk, but I was busy taking notes about the New York cookbook publishing world, obscure local foods, and where to eat in Charleston.
They began with reminiscing about their childhoods and how it wasn't until they were adults that they realized how fortunate they had been to grow up in Charleston, where food traditions are strong and the microclimate allows for a wide range of produce. As children, they and all the neighborhood kids would forage fruit trees including persimmons, citrus, loquats and mulberries. They went crabbing and shucked oysters. They ate regional foods like glasswort, fig preserves and tomalos (pickled baby green tomatoes). They had a special fish guy for fin fish and another guy for shrimp.
Living in NYC and homesick they began their catalog of foods for displaced Southerners. From that sprang the first book and the rest was culinary history. In addition to their books, catalogue and other projects they dropped this gem: they run a cookbook bootcamp! It's a two-day seminar about cookbook writing both from the recipe side and the business side. It sounds challenging and fascinating! They understand something it took me years to articulate--a great cookbook isn't just a collection of recipes, it also tells a story.
Alas, they had to wrap up the talk, so I didn't get to ask any questions. But I did get a new cookbook: The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen. It's a good-looking book, with attractive photos of Charleston people and places, as well as the food. I haven't had a chance to try anything yet, but several recipes are on my to-do list, including:
- Pickled Shrimp with Fennel
- Skillet Asparagus with Grapefruit
- Grapefruit Chess Pie
- Caramel Cake
I'd like to make the following, but I fear obtaining the ingredients will prove difficult:
- Loquat Manhattan
- Butter Beans with Butter, Mint, and Lime
- Deviled Crab
- Whole Flounder with Sunchoke and Shrimp Stuffing