Grits cover.jpg

St. Martin's Press

For food writer Erin Byers Murray, grits had always been one of those basic, bland Southern table necessities―something to stick to your ribs or dollop the butter and salt onto. But after hearing a famous chef wax poetic about the terroir of grits, her whole view changed. Suddenly the boring side dish of her youth held importance, nuance, and flavor. She decided to do some digging to better understand the fascinating and evolving role of grits in Southern cuisine and culture as well as her own Southern identity.

As more artisan grits producers gain attention in the food world, grits have become elevated and appreciated in new ways, nationally on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line, and by international master chefs. Murray takes the reader behind the scenes of grits cultivation, visiting local growers, millers, and cooks to better understand the South’s interest in and obsession with grits. What she discovers, though, is that beyond the culinary significance of grits, the simple staple leads her to complicated and persisting issues of race, gender, and politics.

"Grits explores the culinary and cultural complexities of the humble grit with honest curiosity and enthusiasm. You will never look at a bowl of grits the same way. Buy this book today!"—Sean Brock, chef and author of Heritage

"Erin Byers Murray’s soul-stirring travelogue is essential reading for anyone looking to understand the origins and evolution of grits. She takes us from eastern North Carolina, where Cherokee women beat dried corn kernels to make mush a thousand years ago, to the sea islands of the South Carolina Lowcountry, where enslaved Africans in the 1800s cooked grits to nourish their families, to Oxford, Mississippi in the 21st century, where women restoring an old mill is an act of resistance to Big Agriculture. After reading Grits, we’ll always approach that bowl of creamy, nubbly corn grits with a fresh mindfulness—and absolute awe at their deliciousness!"—Matt Lee and Ted Lee, authors of The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen

"Grits is a delightful and authoritative look at the life and times of a familiar southern culinary staple. Murray shows how grits, created by Native American cooks, were eventually treasured by people from all walks of life in the American South: black, white, enslaved, free, poor, and wealthy. Along the journey, Murray introduces an interesting cast of characters—cooks, chefs, farmers, millers, scholars and vendors—who honor this venerable dish."—Adrian Miller, James Beard Foundation Book Award-winning author of Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time

"Murray’s enlightening culinary tour will be of great interest to foodies and students of Southern history and culture."—Publishers Weekly

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In every cook’s kitchen, there is a treasured tool: a workhorse utensil, go-to gadget, or a family heirloom with its own background story and the lofty standing of being a cook’s most-prized possession.

These beloved items say as much about the cook as their style of cooking. They tell stories about a cook’s past and about the moments that led them to where they are today. For some, it might be a spoon inherited from a grandmother’s silver set, which they use to taste every sauce. Or it could be a spaetzle maker picked up during a stage in Germany that’s been used during every job since. Whether it’s a colander, cake stand, or a grandfather’s iron skillet, every chef has a piece in their arsenal that gives a glimpse into their cooking history, their philosophy, and their technique.

In the enlightening kitchen compilation A Colander, Cake Stand, and My Grandfather’s Iron Skillet, author Erin Byers Murray collects stories from 37 top chefs about their favorite kitchen utensil. The stories, told in the chef’s own words, include the tale of how they came to acquire it, the details that make it so essential, and insight into why―and when―they rely on it. Along with each story, the chef provides a recipe utilizing the particular tool or something similar, so that home cooks can try their hand at a professional chef’s approach.

Featured in A Colander, Cake Stand, and My Grandfather's Iron Skillet are some of today's most respected chefs including, among others, Jody Adams, Chris Kimball, Anne Willan, Andrew Zimmern, Norman Van Aken, Linton Hopkins, Joanne Chang, Slade Rushing, Jeremy Sewall, Ken Oringer, Jonathan Benno, Rob Newton, Chris Shepherd, Steven Satterfield, Virginia Willis, Ford Fry, and Kevin Gillespie.

The New England Kitchen: Fresh Takes on Seasonal Recipes (Rizzoli, October 2014)

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Co-authors: Jeremy Sewall (chef, Lineage, Island Creek Oyster Bar, Row 34) and Erin Byers Murray

Photography: Michael Harlan Turkell

In 2015, The New England Kitchen was nominated for a James Beard Book Award in the American Cooking category.

"Intensely personal, straightforward, vibrant, and invariably delicious, Jeremy's cuisine will make you rethink the old cliche of New England cooking. His deep knowledge of the sea, regional lore, and local products is vividly expressed at Lineage, Island Creek Oyster Bar, and Eastern Standard—my favorite eateries when I teach at Boston University." —Jacques Pepin, Chef

"Jeremy Sewall reveals for us the red-blooded passion for food—and exhilarating flavors—that we've yearned to discover beneath New England's unflappable public image. The New England Kitchen rings true to the beautiful seasons, the bounty of the Atlantic Ocean, and the ancient social chemistry of the region. Reading this cookbook makes us long for a perfect chowder on an early fall day on the banks of the Charles River!"  —Matt Lee and Ted Lee, Cookbook authors

"Shucked tells it like it is: the frigid winter days on the water with hands like popsicles, the backbreaking work, the anxiety of nurturing thousands of dollars’ worth of oyster seed, the hard-partying nights. Erin Byers Murray captures the seasonal rhythms of the New England coast and the romance of one exceptional company’s efforts to coax great food from the sea."

– Rowan Jacobsen, author of A Geography of Oysters

Shucked: Life on a New England Oyster Farm (St. Martin's Press, 2011)

In this engrossing and very personal account, a young woman from Boston ditches her pampered city girl lifestyle and convinces the rowdy crew at Island Creek Oysters in Duxbury, Massachusetts, to let a completely unprepared, aquaculture-illiterate food and lifestyle writer work for them for 18 months to learn the business of oysters.

The result is Shucked: part love letter, part memoir (complete with recipes), and part documentary about the world’s most beloved bivalves. It is an in-depth look at the work that goes into getting oysters from farm to table, and shows Erin’s full-circle journey through the modern day oyster farming process. It also tells a dynamic story about the people who grow our food, and the cutting-edge community of weathered New England oyster farmers who are defying convention and looking ahead.

For a look behind Erin's journey, visit her blog Shucked.