I have another answer for the question people most often ask me."What is the best book to teach me about North Carolina or about the South?"People who live in North Carolina -- newcomers or those who have been here all their lives --sometimes feel that they do not know enough about where they live. Often, they want to know more about the history and traditions of their state.I usually recommend different books for different people. If their interest is simply North Carolina history, a book by professor William Powell or another North Carolina historian might be just the thing. But history books are not the only way to find out about our area's background.In fact, my answer to the "best book" question this week is a book about food, "A Love Affair With Southern Cooking: Recipes and Recollections," by Jean Anderson.How can reading the recipes in a Southern cook book teach about North Carolina?First, "Southern Cooking" is not a simple recipe collection. It has hundreds of recipes of favorite Southern dishes, all of them tested and adjusted by the author. They are arranged in typical cookbook order: appetizers, soups, main dishes, sides, etc. The dishes the book describes are so very Southern, including black-eyed peas, Hoppin' John, okra, collards, fried chicken, chicken bog, grits and hominy.These dishes have diverse origins. Each of the major ethnic groups that came to live in the South brought something to the table. American Indians, Spaniards, British, French, Africans and other groups brought their own favorite foods and their own methods of preparation.We are getting close to seeing how a book about food can teach us a lot about where we live.When Anderson gives her readers a recipe for a Southern dish, she also tells them where it came from. For instance, before giving the recipe for "Hoppin' John" she relates how this dish made its way from the black slave cabins to the "big house." Then she shares the possibilities that the dish and its name originated in the Middle East and made its way to Africa long before it became a favorite in our region.Along with the recipes and their backgrounds, Anderson delivers generous helpings of the background of food businesses that originated in the South. Coca-cola, RC Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Cheerwine, Krispy Kreme, Lance, Planters, Tom's, Smithfield hams, Duncan Hines, Col. Sanders, Perdue, Mt. Olive Pickle and Vidalia onions are the bases for just some of the stories of how hard-working entrepreneurial Southerners took food and made a fortune giving the public something special.These recipes and these food histories tell the story of our region about as well as it can be told. And because the author grew up in Raleigh and lives in Chapel Hill, much of the material is about our North Carolina.It just might be the best book right now for you to learn about our state.How could one book do so much and do it so well? The answer is that the author's background, training, experience and interests give her an edge over her colleagues and competitors. She has been studying, loving and collecting Southern food since she was a child growing up in Raleigh. She worked in the test kitchens at Good Housekeeping magazine. Early on, she began to write about what she knew and what she was learning. She wrote countless magazine articles and cookbooks.All these factors come together to make a recipe for an extra special, authoritative, entertaining book that really does teach us about where we live.