It’s around 250 miles from the smoky pork barbecue joints of Memphis to the elegant antebellum mansion restaurants of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Traveling between them will take you through a haunting 4 million-acre expanse of raggedy floodplain that lies between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers, and is known simply as the Delta. In Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler’s Journey through the Soul of the South, former Atlanta Journal-Constitution food editor and Mississippi native Susan Puckett has penned a paean to her homeland in the form of a combination cookbook and culinary travelogue packed with recipes, restaurant profiles, and endearing anecdotes. Think of it as your road trip companion through a bountiful land of catfish ponds and tamale stands, rundown juke joints and country cafes serving up lemon icebox pies and slow-cooked greens. It’s a book that, if used properly, will wind up tattered and dog-eared in your glove compartment, its pages stained with grease from the fried okra you ordered at the Blue Levee restaurant in Rosedale, a watermark from the Rhett Butler cocktail you savored at Vicksburg’s Cedar Grove Mansion Inn, and a spatter of gravy from the chicken and dumplings you downed at a gas station cafe in the casino resort community of Tunica, where diners still accompany their meals with glasses of ice-cold buttermilk. While guiding you through the region’s restaurants, Puckett delivers odes to Delta-made delicacies ranging from pork cracklins to Kool-Aid—marinated pickles, as well as dozens of intriguing recipes, some sourced from Mississippi icons—Craig Claiborne’s mom’s hotcakes with orange syrup; the late writer Shelby Foote’s foolproof cornbread, which made my Brooklyn kitchen smell like a Delta diner when I baked it up in a cast-iron skillet on a recent afternoon. Along the way Puckett meditates on the area’s most celebrated traditions—its barbecue and blues clubs, its meat-and-three-dishes, and the caramel cakes and other life-affirming foods typically served at funerals. In addition to Puckett’s evocative writing, the book’s regional character is fortified by Mississippian Langdon Clay’s faded photographs, which appear like 1970s tapered-edge snapshots throughout the book. Together these two Deltaphiles have created a keeper of a book—one that inspires exploration both in the kitchen and on the road.
Devouring the Delta
Celebrating a region's storied culture and cuisine