Delta hostess gives Southern party cookbook a modern makeover

“The Southern Living Party Cookbook: A Modern Guide to Gathering” by Elizabeth Heiskell (Oxmoor House, $35)

“Entertaining is in my DNA as much as the Delta is,” writes Elizabeth Heiskell, whose party-throwing prowess has made her a regular guest on the “Today” show. As a fellow Mississippian who’s been on the receiving end of Heiskell’s talents at several gatherings, I can vouch that she has her ham biscuits and booze-laden milk punch down to a science.

It's no wonder that the editors at Southern Living tapped Heiskell to update its 1972 best-selling cookbook of all time, "The Southern Living Party Book."

Many of those oldies but goodies, she discovered, were already in her grease-stained family collection, and they reappear – along with newer creations – on these splashy pages in menus refashioned for the parties Heiskell throws these days.

Boiled Peanut Hummus resides with Chicken Salad Tarts on a cocktail buffet table; Hoppin’ John Hushpuppies and Mint Julep Pops appear next to cornmeal-dredged catfish for a fish fry. Along with instructions for how to roast an olive-studded leg of lamb for Easter, she shows us how to make monogrammed golden eggs displayed in herb-filled teacups for placeholders.

With good humor and cheer throughout, Heiskell offers tips on everything from choosing a bottle of Champagne to preventing traffic jams on the buffet line. Most of all, she urges us to relax, even when not everything goes as planned — like the time she mistook a glass bottle of dish soap for olive oil and served it to a prima ballerina on her wedding day.

“People make the party, not the food, flowers, or monogrammed guest towels,” Heiskell advises. And she’ll be the first to tell you those sausage balls and dirty martinis taste even better with a funny tale to go with them.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at

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