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Cookbooks hold treasures beyond recipes –

Cookbooks hold treasures beyond recipes -

Compiling a cookbook involves carefully detailing ingredients, preparation methods, and cooking techniques. However, according to Susan Puckett, sharing the stories behind recipes is one of the keys to creating a successful cookbook.

Puckett should know, she is the author, co-author or advisor of more than a dozen cookbooks.

“Recipes are windows into a person’s life,” Puckett said. “It’s really the stories and memories behind it.”

Born in Jackson, Mississippi, Puckett attended the University of Mississippi and earned a journalism degree.

“I became interested in the stories behind food and Southern food traditions,” said Puckett, who got her journalism start at the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson and served as food editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 19 years.

“I wrote most of my feature films about dying traditions,” said the James Beard-nominated journalist.

Realizing that writing about food was more than a casual interest, Puckett went back to school and took classes in nutrition at Iowa State University.

After leaving the AJC in 2008, Puckett returned to Mississippi and wrote Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler’s Journey Through the Soul of the South, which has been described as “part travel guide, part cookbook, and part photo essay.” book , she traveled along Highway 61, also known as the Blues Highway, collecting recipes and stories that capture the essence of the region.

In addition to writing several other cookbooks, she has also helped chefs, home cooks, and others develop their own cookbooks. Puckett gives coaching to some, others ask for help polishing their recipes and stories to guide those recipes, she said. Sometimes what Puckett calls “heirloom” recipes are scribbled on the back of an old check or piece of paper and the ingredients or instructions may be incomplete.

“I help fill in the details,” she said. “It can be very challenging.”

However, Puckett encourages anyone whose recipes lack information not to be afraid to fill in the blanks through research and experimentation.

“It’s okay to try your best to come up with something close to it,” she said of filling in missing portions of recipes. “And you can write about that, try to capture your own experience [the details].”

Eddie Hernandez, executive chef and co-owner of Taqueria del Sol, relied on Puckett to translate his recipes and ideas into the cookbook Turnip Greens & Tortillas: A Mexican Chef Spices Up the Southern Kitchen. She is also co-author of The Deep End of Flavor: Recipes and Stories From New Orleans’ Premier Seafood Chef.

“People want to write a cookbook for a variety of reasons,” Puckett says. “I like to be the observer, a fly on the wall and I like hearing people’s stories.

Susan Puckett, left, coached Suzy Karadsheh whose cookbook is on The New York Times bestseller list.

“My true love is to help other people tell their stories through food, be it a chef or someone else.”

On September 21, Puckett, who lives in Decatur, joined one of her clients, food blogger Suzy Karadsheh, author of the recently published The Mediterranean Dish at Eagle Eye Bookstore in Decatur for a cooking demonstration and autograph session. Puckett expressed his pride that the book was on The New York Times bestseller list.

“What I want to do is help people figure out what their goals are when writing a cookbook, whether it’s something for their family or if they have higher ambitions to get it commercially published,” she said.

Puckett doesn’t keep to herself how to turn cookbook ideas into reality. On October 1, she led a “How to Write a Great Cookbook” workshop at the Georgia Writer Museum in Eatonton.

“Find out what the story they want to tell and why they want to tell it, why it’s important, who they’re writing it for” are some of the things potential cookbook authors should explore first, Puckett said.

Sometimes the answers to those questions are incredibly personal.

She remembered a woman who made a cookbook as a favor for guests at her daughter’s wedding. The Mother-of-the-Bride featured stories about life on the family farm and old photos.

Puckett has yet to write her own family cookbook, but she has a wealth of resource material: recipes handwritten in spiral notebooks in her “city grandmother” signature cursive handwriting and bulging folders with clippings from her mother’s recipes.

“I just think recipes are so important,” Puckett said. “It’s a connection with who you are and who they are. It’s really nice if you can share that so widely.”

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