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Best Southern-Style Food Gifts

Georgia chef Hugh Acheson shares his secret sources for down-home holiday gifts.

F&W Best New Chef 2002 Hugh Acheson might be Canadian-born, but he's really a Southerner at heart. At his restaurant Five & Ten in Athens, Georgia, he merges low-country dishes like the shrimp, corn and sausage boil known as Frogmore stew with high-quality local and artisanal ingredients and European cooking techniques. During the holiday season, he loves to give his family and friends Southern-inflected edible gifts. Here are his favorites:

1. Anson Mills Grits and Heirloom Rice

"These stone-ground grits have so much more flavor than the heavily processed instant or quick-cooking kinds available at grocery stores, and they make a great stocking stuffer. Even when just cooked in water, Anson Mills grits are utterly creamy. I also love the company's Carolina Gold Rice, an especially fluffy heirloom variety. Traditionally, all the good whole kernels of rice grown in the Carolinas were sifted out and exported to Europe. The Southern community cooks were left with the fractured kernels. I love these broken grains, which Anson Mills calls rice grits. They make a terrific risotto. Sometimes I include recipes with the grains, like one for grits soufflé. It's also nice to add a wooden spoon to the package. You can never have too many wooden spoons." (Grits from $5 for 12 oz; ansonmills.com)

2. Southern Cookbooks

"The best cookbook from this part of the country, in my opinion, is Frank Stitt's Southern Table, published three years ago. The photography is beautiful, and the recipes are manageable and interesting. It encapsulates a great moment in Southern food. Frank, the chef and owner of the Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Alabama, is a seminal genius and has had a major influence on many people who cook in the South—much like the legendary chef Edna Lewis, the co-author, with Scott Peacock, of another fantastic book, The Gift of Southern Cooking."

3. Muddy Pond Sorghum Mill Syrup

"This isn't maple syrup country down here. In the South, we use the sweet, mild syrup from the sorghum cane—a cereal grass—to pour on our biscuits and pancakes. I love Muddy Pond's sorghum syrup from Tennessee because no colors or preservatives are added. Nowadays, sorghum syrup can be hard to find." ($5.25 for 1 pt; muddypondsorghum.com)

4. Lee Brothers' Boiled Peanuts

"Boiled peanuts are decidedly Southern, and people either love the texture—softer than roasted—or hate it. Many non-Southerners have never tried them. I boil peanuts at the restaurant, but the Lee Brothers' mail-order version is just as good." ($25.50 for 5 lbs; boiledpeanuts.com)

5. Homemade Jams and Chow-Chows

"I make jams out of whatever fruit is bountiful in the fall, like figs and scuppernongs, the big, thick-skinned grapes that Southerners sometimes use to make wine. I also make a lot of chow-chows—chopped pickles usually based on green tomatoes, cabbage, peppers and sometimes cauliflower, which I spice with turmeric and cloves."

Published December 2007
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