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December 13, 2011

Carla Neggers on Cookbooks

Posted by Katherine

Carla Neggers is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 60 novels, with translations in 24 languages. Born and raised on the western edge of the beautiful Quabbin Reservoir in rural Massachusetts, Carla grew up with tales of her father’s life as a Dutch sailor and her mother’s childhood in northwest Florida. At a young age, Carla began penning her own stories on a branch high up in her favorite sugar maple. Now she enjoys spending time at the family homestead (now a tree farm) with her six brothers and sisters and their families. When she’s not writing, Carla loves to travel, hike, kayak, garden, and, of course, dive into a good book. She lives with her family in Vermont, near Quechee Gorge. Here, she talks about journeying through some of the cookbooks she plans on gifting this Holiday season.

On a hot, steamy evening in late August, I was in beautiful Savannah with Hurricane Irene traveling up the east coast toward my home state of Vermont . . . and my mind was on Christmas. I'm not one who Christmas shops early. I like shopping to Christmas music and Christmas lights --- even Christmas crowds --- but I'd just finished a talk and book-signing with a group of terrific readers and noticed we'd set up next to the cookbook section. Savannah, I quickly discovered, is justifiably known for its food, and face-out on the shelves were local cookbooks, many with gorgeous, mouth-watering photographs.

Don't tell anyone, but I decided then and there that a lot of people on my Christmas list would be getting cookbooks this year.

I asked locals for recommendations and ended up with a 1980 reissue of SAVANNAH STYLE:A Cookbook by The Junior League of Savannah, Inc. It's not a flashy volume, but I was assured it's a classic. I also bought MRS. WILKES’ BOARDINGHOUSE COOKBOOK, another classic, with a picture of the iconic Savannah hostess on the front cover and a platter of fried chicken on the back cover. I haven't had fried chicken in years, but it sure does look good.

Back at my hotel, I ordered a glass of chilled white wine and dug out my purchases. I love cookbooks, but I especially love regional cookbooks, not only for the recipes but also for the local history and information. One of my early Christmas presents from my middle Tennessee mother-in-law was a Nashville cookbook that I still treasure. I've tried a number of the recipes --- the biscuits and the fresh coconut cake (okay, once!) come to mind --- but I've also learned more about Nashville landmarks and traditions. Flipping through my new Savannah cookbooks, I got an overview of the city that enriched my experience during my too-brief visit.

I'll give my mother a copy of the Mrs. Wilkes cookbook. Her roots are in southern Georgia and the Florida panhandle. Just before I was born, she and my father packed up the car and my older brother and sister, then toddlers, to move north to New England (and four more kids after me!). She's been to Port St. Joe, Panama City and New Orleans, but never to Savannah. Still, I suspect the pictures, the recipes and the stories will remind her of her childhood, will be a little like visiting. And who knows; maybe I'll get her there one spring to see the azaleas.

From Savannah, I headed to Nashville and another fun talk and signing. This time I bought a Tuscany cookbook. I mean, who could resist those pictures? Tuscany was already on my husband's "must-see" list, but after he opens this cookbook on Christmas morning, I have a feeling it will be more than ever. (No ulterior motive here, promise!)

By the time I reached Columbus, my last stop, Irene was pounding Vermont with heavy rains that caused catastrophic flash floods. Our house was fine, but our town and the surrounding area sustained significant damage. I knew I'd be heading home to a mess. So I took a breather, ordered another glass of wine, and "visited" Tuscany.

Wherever this holiday season takes you, I hope it's a merry one, filled with family, friends and good books.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Read more about Carla Neggers on her website