Savoring Savannah: Feasts from the Low Country


NATHALIE DUPREE, a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author, is considered the founder of the New Southern Cooking movement.
MARTHA NESBITT teaches cooking classes at Armstrong Atlantic State University and writes a monthly food feature for Savannah magazine.
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NATHALIE DUPREE, a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author, is considered the founder of the New Southern Cooking movement.
MARTHA NESBITT teaches cooking classes at Armstrong Atlantic State University and writes a monthly food feature for Savannah magazine.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781580082525
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2003
  • Series: Cooking Across America Series
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 8.32 (w) x 10.31 (h) x 0.71 (d)

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Chapter One

I am a nurturer, a mother, and I truly believe that food is the energy that we put into our body. I think that something will be beautiful on the plate if you've simply paid attention to nutrition; the colors and textures will happen," says Elizabeth Terry, one of the nation's most acclaimed chefs and a foremother of New Southern cooking.

    "Food has long been my passion," admits Elizabeth. "I've always enjoyed poring over old manuscripts of recipes by Southern home cooks." The Southern home cook's practice of keeping a small kitchen garden, where indigenous herbs and vegetables are cultivated so they can be immediately accessible, is an integral feature of Elizabeth on 37th. The restaurant, in a Victorian mansion in the heart of Savannah that Elizabeth and Michael Terry renovated, has become a kind of mecca for people who want to experience Southern cooking at its zenith. Elizabeth Terry takes foods and herbs long savored in Savannah and creates a sophisticated collage of tradition and inventiveness, thus rendering her own signature version of New Southern cuisine.

    The bright sun, heat, and humidity make growing herbs and vegetables easy in Savannah. "They don't need cultivation here. And the items we like for soups and salads—garden lettuce, turnips, tiny tomatoes, as well as several herbs—can be literally backdoor-fresh. We have many perennials growing naturally; in fact, downtown gardens feature large hedges of rosemary. I enjoy cooking with herbs not only because they intensify the flavor of food but also because lessfat or oil is needed."

    The principles and techniques of more than two hundred years of Southern cooking inform every dish on the menu at Elizabeth on 37th, and Elizabeth exhibits an especial appreciation for the stream of ethnic and cultural traditions that influence today's Southern table. Among her awards are the James Beard Best Chef, Southeast Award; Food Arts' Silver Spoon Award; Mobil Travel Guides' Four-Star Award for 1997, 1998, 1999; and Food & Wine magazine's Top 25 Restaurants in America, Fine Dining Award.

    People in Savannah enjoy life. And Elizabeth Terry enjoys conveying a leisurely fine dining experience with local foods that are the natural treasure of Savannahians.

* * *

Bernard McDonough

* * *

Bernard McDonough began his culinary career with several part-time jobs while attending first Savannah College of Art and Design and later Tulane University in New Orleans. During the summer of 1992, he was given a line cook job at the prestigious 45 South in Savannah under Chef Walter Dasher. By the end of that summer, he had decided not to return to Tulane but to focus his energy solely on cooking.

    Today, as the executive chef at the Ford Plantation, the historic home of Henry Ford that is now an exclusive second-home community, Bernie McDonough designs meals and creates dishes that have never before been tasted in Savannah—or, in many instances, anywhere else.

    Bernie's philosophy of food reflects his innate passion for high-quality ingredients and his artistic drive to be innovative. He says that his food focuses on the purveyor: "My menus are dictated by what's in season, what's fresh, and what is available to me." For example, he may buy his salmon from the Pacific Coast, one type of goat cheese from California, and tiny hybrid yellow squash from Chef's Garden in Ohio. He likes the notion of eclecticism—bringing big-city dishes found in San Francisco, New York, or Boston and marrying them to traditional regional favorites. Hence, those dining at the Ford Plantation may enjoy a native bird, such as squab, grilled in a Georgia peach teriyaki marinade and served with a ragout of chorizo, black lentils, and potato.

    In addition to enjoying finding new ways to pair indigenous foods, Bernie is not afraid to take a risk or to mix a metaphor on the menu, an affectionate nod to the punning humor of his deceased father. That is why the menu may feature "Running with the Deviled Red Lobster Tail" or "Thank Heaven for Little Birds." The menu at the Ford Plantation changes monthly, and members look forward to the variety Bernie's culinary craftiness offers them. For instance, "Something Briny, Something Bubbly" featured a selection of four types of oysters paired with fine champagne.

    What would Bernie say is his signature dish? "I don't want a signature dish; if a food I serve becomes my `signature,' then it is no longer new and different."

    What did he have the other night on his day off? "Oh, that's easy. A sweet potato baked in foil and two pounds of peel-and-eat shrimp." Bernie McDonough may have enticed the palate of the South's Hostess City, but the seduction has been mutual.

* * *

George Spriggs

* * *

George Spriggs's personal style of cooking is best classified as a blend of Southern and Caribbean. He takes traditional Southern food and preparations and adds Caribbean over- and undertones.

    "When looking for chefs, I search not only for talent and a knowledge of the basics but also for individuals who are bold and aggressive with their creations and who have a substantial command of the use of herbs, spices, and flavor combinations."

    George Spriggs is the co-owner (with George Jackson) and chef of North Beach Grill and of the upscale Georges' of Tybee, both on Tybee Island just east of Savannah. He and Jackson also own Creative Cuisine Catering Services.

    Enthralled by the preparation of meals on his grandparents' farm in Florence, South Carolina, where dinner was always an event rather than a meal, George developed an early taste for what is good and authentic about Southern cooking. He was able to see the whole journey of his family's food—"from the garden, field, or holding pen to its final edible state."

    George's experience in the food service industry started on the other end of the restaurant, however—in the front, where he worked as a waiter. After five years in this role, the opportunity arose for him and Jackson to open a beachside concession stand. When a regular patron asked them to prepare a full meal for a party, George realized that he had found his calling. Soon after, North Beach Grill was established. At North Beach Grill, the surf provides the mood, and diners in flip-flops munch on jerk chicken or Key lime pie and drink wine from plastic cups.

    Georges' of Tybee is the Georges latest culinary enterprise. It is a handsome restaurant where diners enjoy their chardonnay in delicate glasses and savor gourmet combinations of seafood, fowl, meats, and the freshest vegetables in the quiet manner of fine dining. Georges' of Tybee has received rave reviews from regional and national publications, and it is consistently booked solid.

* * *

Susan Mason

* * *

Susan Mason's family home in Dothan, Alabama, may have been the smallest house on the block, but it was bursting with people who were welcome to enjoy the hospitality of home cooking. "Our family always said `I love you' with food," she says. "You never knew who would be there for dinner."

    Every year Susan and her mother, two aunts, and two sisters (with an occasional sister-in-law) would travel to Europe, rent a van, and ride throughout the western nations discussing food and different ways to prepare it. "We associated people and events with the food that the people made or that was served at the event. Somehow our lives have always revolved around food."

    Susan was acting as cochair of a charity ball when the idea of having a catering business occurred to her. Within three years she and her partner were catering the governor's daughter's wedding in the Governor's Mansion in Columbia, South Carolina. He had a great kitchen staff, she says; there was one chef and a cooking staff of local prisoners only too willing to work and to plesase.

    Today, after fifteen years as the most in-demand caterer in Savannah, Susan asserts that her philosophy on her business and success is simple: "I offer Savannahians what they like and want." She also credits her own love of people and the dedication and pride that her staff demonstrate in their work. "I wave the baton; they make the music," she says. "I also was told to know my limitations; and I told myself I have no limitations." Her business is a stressful one, in that she expects perfection from herself. The biggest challenge she sees in Savannah is, quite understandably, the heat. It's not easy to keep 1,500 crab cakes cold for a dinner that is being served in a picnic area fifty miles north of the home city.

    Some of her secrets? "I use the best ingredients—I don't cut corners. I always use the highest quality cuts of meat, the best produce, and the freshest seafood—which is one of the advantages of being in Savannah. And I always overbuy; I don't ever want to run short of food."

    Presentation is inherently important, and Susan is known in Savannah for her elegant style. Susan appreciates a skill that is innate for many girls brought up in the traditional South: "We enjoy using our inherited china, our best crystal. Food that looks good and is garnished well tastes good too."

    So what does Susan Mason make for herself on days when she is not catering a wedding for one thousand or a tea party for two hundred? "Salmon steak with risotto. And I love to play with sauces—it's fun to create new ones."

* * *

Joe Randall

* * *

As a boy, Joe Randall enjoyed accompanying his mother and grandmother to the 135-year-old farmers' market near his home, where he came to appreciate the freshest produce, a variety of cheeses, and all cuts of meat.

    "My uncle, restaurateur Richard Ross, first gave me a tease for the culinary career. It later became a joy to develop the menus for restaurants built upon African-American cuisine and to be totally committed to the authenticity of food," says "Chef Joe," a thirty-year veteran of the hospitality and food service industry.

    Chef Randall believes that the food of Savannah is truly the food of the South, offering the marriage of Gullah-Geechee ("rice eater") tradition with the abundance of seafood and traditional Southern seasonings. "Well-seasoned food is not overpowered by spice," declares Joe. The basic Southern spices in any pantry, he says, are "salt, pepper, and cayenne; you need just enough cayenne to say `hello.'"

    Here in Savannah, attests Joe, is the opportunity to put a new twist on old things and make dishes of the past contemporary. His guiding philosophy is to cook from one's roots. Pork is a major flavor in many of Chef Randall's recipes, and it appears in several incarnations—salt pork, ham hocks, and slab bacon. "I cook more than collard greens and fried chicken. When Southern chefs do their job right, they lift Southern food to its rightful place among the top cuisines of the world."

    Joe Randall has received many awards, among them the Distinguished Service Award from the National Institute for the Food Service Industry, and gold, silver, and bronze medals in culinary competitions. In 1993, he founded A Taste of Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit organization that addresses career-related issues having impact on African Americans in the hospitality industry. In 1995, the Culinary Institute of America's Black Culinary Alumni awarded him the Lifetime Leadership Award for his efforts to advance the culinary contribution of African-American chefs. In 1998, he coauthored A Taste of Heritage: The New African-American Cuisine, a cookbook melding older traditions with new directions. Today he heads a thriving catering business and enjoys teaching others the rewards of cooking at Chef Joe Randall's Cooking School in Savannah, where eager culinary students learn the significance of Chef Joe's motto: "Put some South in your mouth."

Chef Elizabeth Terry's

Garden Anniversary

Serves 6

"I like to put everything on the table to serve—even the dessert. I love to watch my guests' anticipation for that beautiful double cherry pie. Serve the garden party dishes on platters or in large bowls with serving spoons. I collect platters, bowls, and serving pieces on family trips. Nothing `matches,' but they each evoke wonderful memories from the occasion of their acquisition."

Shrimp and Fennel Salad

Summer Zucchini Salad

Sesame Chicken and Black-Eyed Pea Salad

Corn and Cucumber Relish

Sweet Potato and New Potato Salad

Sweet Potato Brioche

Double Cherry Pie

Chef Elizabeth Terry's
Garden Anniversary

She spread a table for us, brilliant with white linen, and china, and silver, and entertained us with tea and bread and butter, potatoes at my desire, eggs, and other good things. No, it would not have been more possible for a meal spread by fairy hands to have been more delicate or finely flavored.... Savannah might be called the city of the gushing springs; there can not be, in the whole world, a more beautiful city than Savannah!

—Fredrika Bremer (1853)

Elizabeth and Michael Terry bought a six-thousand-square-foot, turn-of-the-century Southern mansion on 37th Street in Savannah in 1980. They renovated the downstairs into an elegant restaurant and moved the family—including now-grown daughters Alexis and Celeste—happily into the upstairs quarters. Almost immediately, the restaurant drew locals and tourists wanting to experience fine dining reminiscent of Southern eighteenth- and nineteenth-century dinner parties. It wasn't long before Elizabeth was discovered by food writers. She has been featured in just about every food magazine in this country and in a number of international ones, as well as in dozens of newspapers, and is the recipient of a number of the nation's most prestigious food awards.

    Elizabeth cooks seasonally, presenting the best of whatever is available in fresh and interesting ways and serving it in an elegant setting, with a knowledgeable wait staff who epitomize Southern hospitality. Critical to her style of cooking are fresh herbs, typically snipped from the lush garden that she lovingly designed, planted, and tends. Today the herb garden literally envelops the restaurant, and it attracts gardeners as well as diners. Elizabeth uses thyme, rosemary, and sage—especially pineapple sage—in her dishes. Another back-of-the-house garden keeps the kitchen staff supplied with unusual vegetables, lettuces, and edible flowers. Such a savory setting lends itself to any outdoor celebratory meal—a special birthday, an anniversary, or simply the first day of spring.

Most herbs in Elizabeth's garden can be traced to ancient Mediterranean gardens. There is evidence that basil, marjoram, oregano, mint, rosemary, thyme, dill, and parsley, among many others, were enjoyed by our Greek and Roman forebears for culinary and medicinal purposes. During the Middle Ages, "salats" were constructed of a variety of fresh green herbs, garlic, leeks, onions, and vinegar—a strong "salat palette" indeed!

Shrimp and Fennel Salad

This dish pairs the ever popular Low Country shrimp with fresh fennel—a delightful combination of delicate flavors and contrasting textures.


1 teaspoon pickling spices, tied in cheesecloth
1 1/2 pounds jumbo shrimp (21 to 25 count), pealed, deveined, and tails removed
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 fennel bulbs, very thinly sliced
1/2 red onion or Vidalia onion, very thinly sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds, toasted (page 18)


1 clove garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
Freshly ground black pepper

To prepare the salad, put the pickling spices in a large pot with 3 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Add the shrimp and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until pink. Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the sesame and olive oils over medium-high heat. Add the fennel and sauté for 10 to 12 minutes, until crisp-tender. Remove from the heat. Add the onion and coriander seeds, and set aside to cool.

To prepare the dressing, whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl.

To serve, arrange the fennel-onion mixture on a large platter, top with the shrimp, and drizzle with the dressing.

Chef Elizabeth Terry's
Garden Anniversary

Summer Zucchini Salad

Although zucchini is not native to Savannah, summer squash, the suggested substitute, certainly is. Georgia pecans add crunch and their own unmistakable Low Country flavor.

1/4 cup pecans
8 zucchini or summer squash, scrubbed well
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, julienned
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, julienned
1/2 teaspoon salt

To toast the pecans, preheat the oven to 325°. Spread the pecans on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes until lightly browned. Check and stir them often to prevent burning and toughening. Remove from the oven and allow to cool, then mince.

Trim the ends of the zucchini and halve them lengthwise. With a spoon, scrape out the seeds, leaving 1/4 inch of flesh around the edges. Slice the zucchini into 1/4-inch-thick strips, then slice the strips into matchsticks. You should have about 4 cups of zucchini. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini and garlic, and sauté until the zucchini is crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Remove the zucchini from the pan and spread on a plate to cool. When cool, put it in a bowl and toss with the basil, mint, salt, and pecans. Serve at room temperature.

A wide variety of vegetables were enjoyed by Southerners long before their Northern neighbors caught on. The old City Market in Savannah overflowed with vegetables such as beets, okra, squashes, beans, turnips, sweet potatoes, and eggplant as early as 1800.

Chef Elizabeth Terry's
Garden Anniversary

Sesame Chicken and Black-Eyed Pea Salad

This recipe marries the oil and crunch of the sesame seed—so integral to Low Country cuisine—with the dry taste of the traditional black-eyed pea—such a staple in the South. The addition of mint and parsley brightens the flavors of both.


5 teaspoons honey
2 tablespoons coarse-grain mustard
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup dark sesame oil


1/4 cup sesame seeds
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, minced
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
5 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup water chestnuts or fresh celeriac, minced
5 whole scallions, minced
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, minced
1/2 cup golden raisins, minced
5 cups mixed salad greens
1 (15-ounce) can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed

To prepare the dressing, bring all the ingredients to room temperature. In a large bowl, whisk together the honey, mustard, soy sauce, and vinegar. While whisking constantly, slowly add the oils. When the dressing thickens slightly, set aside.

To prepare the salad, first toast the sesame seeds: place them in a dry skillet over medium heat. Cook for about 4 minutes, or just until the seeds begin to release a hint of fragrance, stirring or shaking often to prevent burning. (This method may also be used to toast coriander, fennel, and cumin seeds.)

Excerpted from SAVORING SAVANNAH by Nathalie Dupree (Foreword), Martha Nesbitt (Introduction) and featuring chefs: Elizabeth Terry, Susan Mason, Bernard McDonough, Joe Randall, and George Spriggs. Copyright © 2001 by Design Press. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved.
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Table of Contents

Foreword viii
Introduction x
The Chefs 1
Elizabeth Terry 2
Bernard McDonough 4
George Spriggs 6
Susan Mason 8
Joe Randall 10
Garden Anniversary Luncheon 13
Formal Madeira Dinner 25
Picnic at Bonaventure Cemetery 35
Plantation Game Dinner 47
Beach Party 61
Formal Symphony Dinner 71
Wormsloe Plantation Picnic 85
Ladies' Bridge Club Luncheon 97
Sunday Brunch 107
Courtyard Buffet 121
Specialty Dishes 134
Black-Eyed Peas 135
Corn 136
Sweet Potatoes 137
Oysters 138
Collard Greens 139
Peaches 140
Grits 142
Index 143
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