Little Big Town’s Kimberly Schlapman Talks Love, Loss, and Home Cooking

·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Food
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Kimberly Schlapman in her new cookbook, “Oh Gussie!” (Photo credit: @ohgussie/Instagram)

Yahoo Food’s Cookbook of the Week is “Oh Gussie: Cooking and Visiting in Kimberly’s Southern Kitchen,” from Kimberly Schlapman, a founding member of platinum-selling country music band Little Big Town.

Schlapman is a bona fide country star. Her band, Little Big Town, is one of the hottest on the music scene right now, garnering attention, awards, and raves with each new album. Their sixth and latest release “Pain Killer” has made a huge splash and even generated a little bit of controversy thanks to the single “Girl Crush,” which the band performed with Faith Hill last week during the 2015 Billboard Music Awards.

Schlapman is a diva alright — but not the kind you’re thinking of. She’s a domestic diva. Schlapman recently released her first cookbook, “Oh Gussie! Cooking and Visiting in Kimberly’s Southern Kitchen,” a humble collection of family recipes handed down from her grandmothers to her mother to her over the years. Translating these culinary heirlooms into something the modern home cook could easily follow took a lot of work. “Some of the recipes have grease stains on them and you can’t read them very well,” said Schlapman, who wrote the book with author Martha Foose. “Some of them say, ‘add a dab of this and stir for a little while’! It took me a long time to test these and get ‘em just right.”

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Schlapman on stage with the rest of Little Big Town. (Photo: Little Big Town.)

Equally hard was writing the personal stories sprinkled throughout the book. “The publisher let me make this a bit of a memoir. It was quite the labor of love,” said Schlapman. “It was very emotional writing about my grandparents who have passed. And writing about my late husband. Probably the most emotional part of the book was writing about him.”

Halfway through “Oh Gussie!” Schlapman shares how she lost her first husband, in 2005, to a heart attack. A thoughtful neighbor dropped off a walnut cake and at times, it was the only thing the devastated Schlapman could bear to eat. “What I learned about my grief is that if I share it with others, it helps my feelings and it helps someone else,” she said. “I was glad I got the opportunity to tell those stories.”

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A collard green grilled cheese recipe from the new cookbook, “Oh Gussie!” (Photo: @ohgussie/Instagram)

The idea of seeing one through good times and bad with food is central to “Oh Gussie!” Schlapman, after all, was raised by a woman who celebrated and commiserated with others by cooking for them. “When I was growing up, my mother taught me that’s how you take care of people. If someone had a death in their family, or if they had a baby, if they lost a job or got a new job, she was at their doorstep with some kind of yummy dish in hand, whether it was a cake or a pie or a casserole,” remembered Schalpman. “I would go with her to deliver things to these families and I would see them either happy or grieving and I learned that’s how you love on people.”

So it turns out you can communicate via pie. “Sometimes we can’t think of the words,” she continued. “But when someone knows you spent a little time making something with love, it says a lot.”

Despite the honest moments about loss, “Oh Gussie!” is a very cheerful book, filled with pictures of Schlapman at home with her husband, Stephen, and their daughter, Daisy Pearl. The book has an upbeat spirit similar to the one she projects on her cooking show, “Kimberly’s Simply Southern.” You can see past episodes on YouTube.

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Kimberly includes her mother’s biscuit recipe in her new cookbook “Oh Gussie!” (Photo: @ohgussie/Instagram)

The recipes in “Oh Gussie!” skew Southern and traditional, but some are updated for a modern palate and a country star waistline, such as the okra hash, made with coconut oil, and turkey meatballs. There are new classics, too, including the kale salad with dates and grilled watermelon with goat cheese and prosciutto. 

While the Little Big Town star hopes the book inspires people to cook, her real dreams is that it spurs a renewed interest in eating with your loved ones. “Any time I’m home, even if I’m throwing together sandwiches because we only have 10 minutes, we’re going to sit together, hold hands, and say a prayer,” she said. “We’ll eat and talk to each other about our day and I just think that’s so very important.”

And one last thing. What in the world does “Oh Gussie” mean? As she explained on Hank FM radio, “It’s a Southern saying and I say it all the time. It means all kinds of things. It means ‘I’m excited’ or ‘I’m nervous,’ or ‘Oh, that’s incredibly delicious!’ Any time I need a good clean saying, I pull out ‘Oh Gussie.’”

No doubt she says it a lot these days.

Little Big Town are big foodies. Here are some of their favorite recipes:

Little Big Town’s Vegetarian Collard Greens

Little Big Town’s Party Food Recipes, From Chorizo Nachos to Healthier Pretzel Dogs