Pat Branning is a prolific author of Southern lifestyle cookbooks - at least that's how she's recognized officially - but I consider her a romance writer.
The recently published "Shrimp, Collards & Grits Volume II" expands on the love stories told in words and pictures in earlier incarnations, with several Bluffton-centric narratives, recipes, stunning artwork and photographs.
Bluffton-based Branning Publishing, established in 2014 and run by Branning's son Andrew, specializes in high-end art book printing and has done design work for several Charleston galleries and the Princess of Saudi Arabia.
Andrew Branning also is the genius behind the book's spectacular food photography and compelling images of oystermen, shrimpers and clammers on Lowcountry waterways.
The beautifully bound, coffee-table size "SC&G Volume II" ($39.95) will make a cherished Christmas gift for locals. Branning's love letter to Bluffton begins with "A Place Called Home" on page 17, opposite a gorgeous Jonathan Green watercolor.
"Taking up a new life in Bluffton was easy," writes Branning, who went about discovering its many artists, craftsmen, farmers, oystermen, shrimpers, crabbers and world-class chefs. "My list of reasons for loving this place is long and ever growing...I love that we have a distinct sense of place."
On pages 46-47 are mouthwatering pictures of Heirloom Tomato & Vidalia Onion pie, "a slice of the South with every bite," inspired by Leslie Rohland of The Cottage on Calhoun.
Its recipe, calling for different colored heirloom tomatoes, cheddar, Gruyere and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese with fresh thyme, parsley and basil, sounds every bit as delicious as it looks.
Chef John Soulia of Berkeley Hall was the inspiration behind the recipe for Lemon Buttered Jumbo Lump Crab with Crispy Potato Cakes.
Chef de Cuisine Robert Wysong's Charleston Wreckfish with Almond Pesto and Parsley Root Puree is "like the opening of football season" when he puts it on the menu at Colleton River Plantation Club. Wysong's Colleton River Strawberry Shortcakes with Granita are featured in the "Sweet Dreams" section.
There are simple recipes in the book that draw on traditional Southern classics, Gullah-Geechee culture, farm-stand produce, and Southern seafood. "Shrimp may be the backbone, but crab and oysters are the heart and soul of our coastal cuisine," Banning writes, but she is most eloquent when describing the tide flowing in and out of the May River salt marsh, casting a net, crabbing off a dock, the smell of pluff mud or the light playing on spartina grass.
"SC&G Volume II" showcases the work of a team of the Lowcountry's finest painters. The recipes, stories and fine art will likely make this edition as much a collector's item as Branning's previous works. For more information visit www.shrimpcollardsgrits.com.
Freelance writer Pam Gallagher was a copy editor at USA Today and a staff writer and fashion editor for the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press.