Jennifer Nettles’ Cookbook Gives a Glimpse Into Her Upbringing
Jennifer Nettles is easily one of the busiest women in country music. Now the songwriter, performer, broadway star, TV host, film actress, philanthropist and full-time mom can add two more things to the list: Author and culinary inspiration.
That's because her new cookbook Sweet, Savory & Simple is finally available to fans everywhere. Co-authored by Nettles and her mom Carla Temple, the book takes a unique approach to the increasingly popular kitchen spinoff.
"This idea came from my mother," Nettles tells Taste of Country with a laugh. "My very creative and fiery mother. She really formatted the whole thing and picked out the stories and pictures she wanted to share along with the recipes."
The "greatest hits" recipes, so to speak, of Nettles childhood include fun stories and insights into the Sugarland singer's upbringing. "I still do a lot of these recipes, like the tomato cracker salad and the potato soup, and a lot of them I still request of her," Nettles says.
She attributes the legacy of strong women in her family for keeping many of these recipes and traditions alive. Dishes like the "Johnny hoecake" instantly transport Nettles to her great-grandmother's kitchen where she used to watch her make the Southern favorite.
But there is at least one recipe Nettles will take the lion's share of credit for. "The pecan sandies, which are like a shortbread cookie—I did win a 4-H cookie competition with when I was in elementary school," Nettles laughs.
So why put out such an intimate cookbook? It's part of Nettles' pattern of putting good into the world, and food adds a different dynamic from the other mediums she so deftly navigates.
"I think what you're best able to express through food that you can't with other mediums is how culture can be nurturing," she explains. "Food is not only sustenance, but it's part of your history, your heritage and your culture."
The holidays are, of course, a perfect time to bask in the comforts of home-cooked meals. Nettles enjoyed a festive Thanksgiving, taking her soon-to-be 6-year-old son Magnus to watch the Macy's Day Parade floats inflate the night before Sugarland appeared on the Ocean Spray Cranberry float during the parade. Nettles also wrote the song performed by Anika Noni Rose on the Sesame Street float.
It's a particularly nostalgic time of year, as Nettles reflects on a special Sugarland concert earlier in the year in which her mom was in attendance. During an emotional moment, she thanked her parents while playing the song "Baby Girl."
"I don't take any of it for granted," Nettles says. "To be able to have that 'full circle' moment playing 'Baby Girl' in Nashville and thank them. I'm just so grateful for their support."
Nettles says being a mom has really opened her eyes to her own parents' experiences. "Being a parent gives me a lot more compassion for my parents," she laughs. "It makes me go, 'Oh my God, you were just humans doing your best!'"
The role of "mom" touches just about everything she does in some way or another. "There's no part of one's life that becoming a parent does not touch, mold, shape, change, completely and irrevocably transform," Nettles says. "My whole lens of the world has shifted, or it's a new lens I use now. I would definitely say it's affected my writing."
For the most part, Nettles has been able to bring Magnus on the road with her when she travels for work—such as during Sugarland's summer tour, or when she went to Virginia to film the upcoming Harriet Tubman biopic Harriet.
"It's still very hard, because when you travel for work, when you're home you want to be with your family," she says. "But then your concept of taking time for yourself changes."
Despite his whirlwind upbringing, Magnus keeps Nettles pretty humble. Especially because he doesn't know any different. "He does not understand," Nettles laughs. "He considers [my career] in the realm of 'this is reality and it must be everyone else's reality.' He has no idea."
Nettles also knows there are far too many children who don't have the love and support she felt growing up or that she's able to provide Magnus. That's why she wants to continue shining a light on World Vision, a charity that largely focuses on helping children overcome poverty and injustice.
"[Sugarland partner] Kristian [Bush] and I are both parents with families, so I felt like the collaboration between us and World Vision was really appropriate," Nettles says. The duo shined a light on the charity in a special way throughout their entire summer tour, but emphasize now more than ever is a good time to get involved with putting good into the world.
"There are so many areas, for better and worse, for us to be able to make improvements and help other people," she says. "Putting good things out into the world. That's what we have to do. So let's all keep doing it."
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