Southern Spread 

"Don't expect a straightforward read, full of earnest agricultural reportage, stranger-in-a-strange-land travelogues, and money shots of banana pudding," warns Southern historian/raconteur John T. Edge as an introduction to the Oxford American's Spring 2005 issue. Edge was given the reigns as guest editor to mastermind the magazine's first-ever Southern Food Issue. The result is the warmest, quirkiest collection of words on our region's eating habits you may ever hold in your hands.

A quick background: Oxford American, which bills itself as "the Southern Magazine of Good Writing," has been resurrected more times than Al Green's career. The magazine started in 1992 and was kept financially afloat by John Grisham through the late '90s and early part of this decade, until just after Sept. 11, 2001.

Following a failed stint as part of a corporate media group last year, the magazine has arisen yet again by allying itself with the University of Central Arkansas. Hopefully, the university's investment will give the publication time to gather subscription steam.

The food installment should certainly help its cause. The centerpiece of the issue is an essay by iconic Southern writer Carson McCullers called "The Great Eaters of Georgia." It's a remembrance streaked with melancholy that describes a rural Georgia most of us Atlanta transplants would not recognize.

As evocative as the McCullers piece is, though, the real treats are the eccentric, often personal odes to Southern foods scattered throughout the magazine - from chicken and dumplings and chicken-fried steak to praise wine and hangover cures. Times-Picayune restaurant critic Brett Anderson contributes an illuminating piece on the quirks of New Orleans hamburgers. Decatur even gets its due with an ode to the DeKalb Farmers Market. With so many capricious and delicious cogitations crammed on its pages, this is an issue to tuck into the stack of magazines you never intend to toss.

Oxford American is available on newsstands at local bookstores.

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