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The South has risen—at least in the salad war. Culinary Confederate Vicky Moon leads the charge, bashing the North’s boring “Caesar salads, left and right” in her new cookbook, Best Dressed Southern Salads.
“The Yanks don’t care as long as it’s green and it crunches,” Moon writes, quoting an unnamed source. Southern salad-making, by contrast, has “passion.” How else do you explain the existence of nine different recipes for mayonnaise?
Moon further seeks to quash the region’s “congealed” cliche—that is, the stereotypical notion that all Southern salads are made of gelatin and fruit. Her book includes only one such concoction (Ginger Ale Fruit Salad, a classic of the genre, involving both packaged gelatin and canned fruit cocktail).
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Moon, 52, is a former contributing editor for Home and Garden magazine who’s also written for People, Town and Country, and Southern Accents. Her previous books—The Official Middleburg Life Cookbook and The Middleburg Mystique—drew their inspiration from Virginia’s high-toned horse country, where she lives with her husband, Washington Post sportswriter Leonard Shapiro.
In Best Dressed, Moon expands her geographical focus, taking “a literary road trip” from Key West, Fla., to Washington, D.C.—but never crossing the Mason-Dixon line. “I would never take on anything Northern,” she stresses. “This,” she says of Washington, “is as far north as I go.”
Moon says she’s been compiling salad-dressing recipes for nearly a decade, tapping the expertise of Southern cooks and socialites including current White House social secretary Cathy Fenton, whose Champagne Dressing is her own recipe—not Laura Bush’s.
Some recipes, of course, were easier for Moon to obtain than others.
“In the South, a hostess will covet her recipes more than anything,” Moon says. “Some unscrupulous Southern bitches will give you a recipe and leave out a key ingredient.” The author admits she’s been duped a few times. “You have to go home and test them,” she advises.
Moon says she’s already brainstorming about a book on Southern desserts, but she’s not ruling out a Best Dressed sequel. “I’m saving my congealed recipes,” she says. “They may make a comeback one day.” —Chris Shott