Television cook Paula Deen is famous for enriching her recipes with a pat of butter and then a few pats more.


PAULA DEEN: And now the ingredient that's going to make it so good and so rich, that's one stick of melted butter. I use a lot of butter ‘cause I can.


INSKEEP: Many people on YouTube have watched Paula Deen make her Donut Burger. She calls her latest cookbook "Paula Deen's Southern Cooking Bible." She writes that Southern food varies from place to place. New Orleans cuisine is different from Savannah cuisine, which in turn is different than in her hometown.

DEEN: I spent my first 40 years, Steve, in Albany, Georgia, near the Alabama and Florida lines. And then about 24 years ago, it was 1987, I was relocated by my children's father to Savannah, Georgia, and that is now, and always will be, home.

INSKEEP: You say you were relocated by him, as if he put you on a hand truck and carted you up the...

DEEN: And that's just about the way it was.


DEEN: It's just about the way it was. I was devastated.

INSKEEP: Well, now, if you just go from Albany, Georgia to Savannah, Georgia, which is after all, from one corner of one state to another corner, does the cuisine change even in that amount of space?

DEEN: You know, it really does. I found that when I went from Albany to Savannah, you know, that I needed to put that white rice away. And I needed to turn that into Savannah red rice because they were big into that sausage, tomatoey, bell peppery rice mixture.

INSKEEP: Now, you have a recipe here for what you call the Best Braised Southern Greens. I think maybe people who don't eat greens don't get what it is about greens. Maybe you can explain, although you include the words bacon and butter in here - maybe that begins to explain the attraction.


DEEN: Well, you know, Southerners have never been afraid of seasoning. It's kind of the other way around; our seasoning is afraid of us.


DEEN: You know, and I think sometimes the South gets a bad rap. But I found over the last 10 years that in all my travels, you know, there's nowhere in this U.S. that eats more vegetables than us Southern folks. We love our fresh green beans and new potatoes and fresh butter beans.

So I figure that it's almost like a balance, you know? We're eating these wonderful collard greens and turnip greens, which are so medicinally good for you. And okay, so what if it has a little ham hock in it?


INSKEEP: Well, let me ask. Is it Southern cooking without the bacon and the butter?

DEEN: Hmm.


INSKEEP: I think I've stumped you.

DEEN: Maybe a cheating version, you know?


INSKEEP: Okay, so it's important. You got to have it. Maybe this is a good moment to ask what makes cheese grits - because you have them in here - a good cheese grits as opposed to not-so-good cheese grits?

DEEN: Oh my, gosh. The one secret to making good grits is you've got to salt that water before you add your grits, otherwise you can put a box of salt in it and it won't be salty enough. So that is a secret. There's a couple of secrets to cooking good grits. One of them is making sure that water is good and salty; making it's got some butter in it.

Just like, you know, when you cook your pasta you put a little olive oil in your water so it won't get gummy and stick together. And you want to make sure you use a whisk, and whisk those grits for about two minutes in that boiling water. You want to make sure that all those grains of ground corn are all completely wet - because if you turn your back and don't stir them, then you've got a pot of golf balls.


INSKEEP: I can picture that now. I think I've had it at some point.

DEEN: And you got to add a little milk at the end of your cooking time. And sometimes I'll accidentally trip when I'm walking across the kitchen with a block of cream cheese and it falls in there.


INSKEEP: I hate it when that happens.

DEEN: Hate it when that happens.

INSKEEP: And you've just got to go with it, you know?

DEEN: You just have to go with it and say, oops. Then, you know, people ask me all the time, Steve, do you and your family eat like this every day? Well, no we don't. Of course we don't.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about one more thing and take you back to Albany, Georgia here...

DEEN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

INSKEEP: ...because you include a recipe for what is described - this is your term - South Georgia caviar or redneck caviar, what is that?

DEEN: Yeah.


DEEN: That's black-eyed peas.



DEEN: You know, we didn't eat much caviar in the South.

INSKEEP: Not yet.

DEEN: Although my grandmother would fry the best fish roe and serve it to us in the morning, with scrambled eggs and grits. So we ate our caviar in that form.

INSKEEP: You know, because you mentioned your grandmother, I want to ask you one more thing.

DEEN: Yes.

INSKEEP: Does the smell of certain foods in the kitchen remind you of certain people?

DEEN: Yes.

INSKEEP: Your grandmother would be one of them, I bet.

DEEN: Yes, and my mother and my father. I lost my mother and daddy when they were very young. And my daddy's favorite meal was chicken and dumplings. And I was 19 when he died and he was just 40 years old. And I got in the kitchen with my grandmother after my daddy died. And I said, Grandmamma, I've got to learn how to make your chicken and dumplings, just in case this is a bad dream and my daddy comes back.

INSKEEP: And she showed you.

DEEN: And she taught me how. And it's not hard but it's physically tiring because Grandma taught me that you have to make a tough dumpling. You want to be able to cut it with your fork, and in order to do that you have to mix your flour and your salt along slowly with ice water.

Well, I mean that's a hard ball, you know, that you're having to work with, and it probably takes me 30 minutes to roll out that hard ball. But I know when I do that that I've got them right. So it's work but certainly worth it.


INSKEEP: "Paula Deen's Southern Cooking Bible" is out now. Recipes are at and you'll find a link to that video of her Donut Burger in my Twitter feed @nprinskeep.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

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