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"Sweet Magnolias" cookbook takes favorites from fiction to fact

By Dorene Internicola

NEW YORK, Oct 2 (Reuters) - The town of Serenity, South Carolina, the imaginary setting for author Sherryl Woods's "Sweet Magnolias" novels, now has real food in it.

"The Sweet Magnolias Cookbook" contains 150 recipes inspired by the popular series which follows a coterie of women friends, the sweet magnolias of the title, through life's trials and triumphs, family barbeque days and margarita nights.

Dana Sue's Killer Guacamole, Helen's Lethal Margaritas and Sullivan's Crab Cakes are among the fictional staples made real by chef Teddi Wohlford, who takes a gourmet approach to Southern classics.

"A lot of people who have read the series have been looking for the book because they have wanted to try the recipes," said Woods, who has written more than 100 romance and mystery books.

Woods spoke to Reuters from her home in Virginia about the fact and fiction of friendship, food, and southern comfort.

Q: Is this your first cookbook?

A: "Yes. My contribution is not the recipe part. It's the peripheral world that the sweet magnolias live in that comes out of my series of books. We hired a real southern chef (Teddi Wohlford) to do the recipes so they'd be edible."

Q: How big a role does food play in the "Sweet Magnolias"?

A: "We talk a lot about food because it's typical of southern gatherings that food plays a role. The sweet magnolias are getting together for barbeques, and there's a restaurant that plays an important part. People kept asking me for real recipes for some of the foods that are mentioned in the book."

Q: Are the dishes derived directly from the novels?

A: "Quite a lot of the food is mentioned in the book. Teddi came up with quite a few of her own things but some things are directly out of the book: Helen's lethal margaritas, Dana Sue's killer guacamole, and a lot of the desserts, such as the red velvet cake are things that have been mentioned in the book."

Q: Is this typical southern fare?

A: "A lot of it is traditional southern comfort food kicked up a notch. We don't just have grits, we have cheese grits. We don't do plain old mac and cheese, we do Tex-Mex mac and cheese. We've tried to put a spin on things that anybody in the south would recognize as being staples of their menu."

Q: How did you wind up collaborating with Teddi Wohlford?

A: "Teddi Wohlford was a fan, who mentioned that she identified with Dana Sue Sullivan, the restaurant owner and chef in the books. I knew they (the publishers) wanted a cookbook and I knew a cookbook was not in my repertoire."

Q: Has southern cooking changed since your childhood?

A: "Yes. The little place I go to for breakfast still does grits and red-eye gravy. So you can still find those things. I think in restaurants that have become a little more upscale or where the chef is more inventive, you'll see spins on what we consider traditional southern comfort food.

"When I grew up in the south there wasn't anything we ate that couldn't be made better with butter. We tended to cook our vegetables to death and add a lot of butter. These days in the real world we try not to do that."

Q: How does your book reflect that change?

A: "I certainly don't profess that it's a diet book but we've tried to balance it a little with some healthy alternatives.

Q: Are your sweet magnolias concerned about weight?

A: "Dana Sue has a family history of diabetes. Helen has high-blood pressure because of her high-pressure job. All the women deal with real issues."

Backyard Lowcountry Seafood Boil (serves eight)

3 tablespoons shrimp and crab boil (such as Old Bay)

3 tablespoons salt 1 ½ gallon of water

2 pounds medium red potatoes cut into quarters

2 pounds smoked sausage, cut into 2 inch pieces

12 ears freshly shucked corn, broken into 3-4 inch pieces

4 pounds fresh shrimp GARNISH Chopped parsley

Note: Do not wait for the liquid to come to a boil when timing the sausage, corn and shrimp.

1. In a large stockpot, add shrimp boil and salt to water. Bring to a boil.

2. Add potatoes. Return to a boil, and cook 10 minutes.

3. Add sausage, and cook 5 minutes.

4. Add corn, and cook 5 minutes.

5. Stir in shrimp, and cook 3 minutes. Drain immediately. Garnish with chopped parsley if desired.

Note: Traditionally, this one-dish meal is dumped onto a newspaper-lined table set with paper plates and lots of paper towels. Serve with butter and loaves of warm, crunchy French bread.

(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Paul Casciato)

((patricia.reaney@reuters.com)(For the latest Reuters lifestyle news see:

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Keywords: FOOD CHEFS/WOODS