The cookbook explosion of the past two decades has not been limited to the new and exotic. Scholars and cooks have been looking back as well, finding forgotten recipes in America's culinary history.
No region has been more rewarding than the South, in no small part because a preoccupation with entertaining has been a regional characteristic there. And over the years, women published recipe collections.
Three of the best have been reissued this year by the University of South Carolina Press in a "First Cookbooks in America series:" "The Virginia House-wife," by Mary Randolph (1824); "The Kentucky Housewife," by Lettice Bryan (1939); and "The Carolina Housewife," by Sarah Rutledge (1847).
According to Bill Neal, the chef and food historian who wrote the introduction to the new edition of "The Kentucky Housewife," Randolph's Virginia work was the first "unmistakably Southern" collection of recipes. Rutledge's he calls the "most original," while Bryan's contains more than double the number of recipes of either of the others. "The voice I like best in Bryan's writing," comments Mr. Neal, "is the voice of hospitality."
The books are available for $21.95 each from University of South Carolina Press.