Monthly Archives: December 2011

WHEN MAMA BAKES A CAKE

Sometimes when breakfast dishes have
Been washed and put away,
My mama looks at me and says
“Let’s bake a cake today!”
From a peg she takes her apron
While from a low peg, I take mine,
We tie the strings behind our backs,
And don’t we look just fine?
Mama’s biggest yellow bowl
Stands upon the kitchen table,
And I step up on a little stool,
To help, because I’m able.
Mama cracks some eggs fresh from the barn,
I take a fork and stir them up,
You have to beat those eggs a lot,
Before you can add a cup
Of sugar, butter, flour too,
And soda for the rising,
And Mama grates some nutmeg in,
For a taste that’s right surprising;
It’s my job to butter up the pans
And dust them both with flour,
And then the cakes go into bake,
And that takes ‘near an hour.
While they bake, we tidied up,
And tiptoe cross the floor,
Cause you don’t want those cakes to fall,
And have to make some more.
The kitchen fills with spicy scent,
And I can hardly stand the wait,
It’s always something special, when
My Mama bakes a cake.

–Sandra Lee Smith

NO TIES ON EARTH TO BIND HIM (FOR ROBERT)

NO TIES ON EARTH TO BIND HIM
(For Robert)

No ties on earth to bind him,
This spirit freely soars,
Spanning mighty mountains,
Skimming distant shores.
Amongst the stars in heaven,
Beyond the reach of man,
This spirit wakes in wonder,
And cries aloud, “I can!”

And seeing those who loved him,
Still bound by earthly ties,
He hears their sounds of mourning,
And feels their sorrowed cries.
Yet from that timeless, distant space,
Beyond the reach of man,
His spirit wakes in wonder,
And calls to home, “I am!”

–Sandra Lee Smith,
September 22, 2011

ONE DAY WHEN MAMA AND PAPA WENT TO TOWN

One summer morning I woke up
And much to my surprise,
I didn’t smell the coffee brewing;
I went down—and could not believe my eyes;

There mama sat, in her Sunday best
With gloves, her purse and hat –
Then pa came in –and he’s dressed up too,
What could I make of that!

He said “The team is hitched to go”
Mama said “I’m ready too,
I just need to give young sis a list
Of things for her to do”

My eyes were wide; I took the list
That mama wrote for me;
I was to go and gather eggs,
And give the hens some feed;

I was to take some jars from the pantry shelf,
Some applesauce and beets,
And there was bread and butter that
My brother and I could eat.

”He’s got his own chores,” Papa said,
And “You have got your own,
Don’t want to hear about no fussing,
Feuding over some old bone”

“Yessir,” I said, my eyes still on
The list that seemed so long,
Ma said “I want you to make up supper
And we’ll eat when we get home”

“Yes mam,” I answered, feeling fearful,
They’d never gone away before;
Mama gave me a kiss and off they went
Out through the kitchen door.

I fixed tea for Bud and milk for me,
And got out bread and jelly,
I ate a lot of fresh baked bread
To satisfy my belly.

Then Bud went out to tend the pigs
And led the cows to pasture,
Then he went out to sow the seed
That Pa said he should master.

With mama’s basket, I gathered eggs,
And fed the hens some mash,
Mama sells the eggs in town,
That’s how she gets some cash.

I cleaned the eggs like mama did,
And laid them down in straw,
I swept the kitchen and the yard,
It wasn’t hard at all.

I brought up applesauce and beets,
And then thought I’d bake a cake;
I followed mama’s recipe
And put it in to bake,

From the smokehouse I cut a slice
Of ham and chopped it up,
Then in a pot I put runner beans
And carrots, ‘bout a cup,

Midday my brother came to eat
More mama’s bread, and butter,
Then I tidied up the kitchen,
So there wasn’t any clutter.

‘Bout supper time it all was done,
And I had the table set,
When we heard the wagon wheels,
Bud said “That’s them, I bet”.

Oh, pa and mama praised us both
And said we’d done them proud,
They ate the supper that I made,
And Pat said that he allowed

He’d left some room to try the cake,
I fixed the plates with pride.
I saw my mama’s eyes fill up;
The first time I’d seen her cry.

Then Papa said “We have some news”
We wondered what it was,
They went to see the bank, today,
And the reason was, because,

He said they’d paid the mortgage off,
The farm was free and clear.
Bud and I stood up and clapped
And gave a rousing cheer.

I really didn’t understand
How much it meant, that day,
Years would pass before I knew,
By now I’m old and gray;

Bud and I stayed on the farm
Long after our folks had died,
And now the land belongs to us;
I feel gratitude, inside;

It could have all been left to Bud,
A lot of people think that way,
But papa left it to me, too,
There was naught anyone could say.

And so I cooked and kept the house
And tended to Ma’s hens;
I sold the eggs to folks in town.
The circle never ends.

–Sandra Lee Smith

WHEN IT’S CHRISTMAS ON THE PRAIRIE

Come winter on the prairie and as far as you can see,
Snow makes a great white blanket across the endless prairie sea,
Pa gets the big sleigh from the barn and greases up the blades,
To make the pulling easier for the horses, on the grades.

Mama takes out the oldest blankets, that help to keep us warm,
Pa checks the sleigh most carefully, to keep us all from harm.
Then snug in mittens, scarves and coats that mama made from wool,
Pa takes us every morning to our little country school.

He stays a while to help our teacher fill the old wood bin,
She thanks him with a curtsy, brings out the gentleman in him.
We students hang our coats and things in the cloak room at the back,
And teacher claps her hands and says, “Since Christmas’s coming that—

Today we’re going to decorate a tree that kind Mr. Mc Clune
Went up north to get for us and will bring it to us soon,
For now we’ll all make popcorn garlands and chains of colored paper,”
And from a box she lifts up a silver star—nothing had escaped her.

No reading, writin’, rithmetic, no studying today!
We’re going to decorate a tree and enjoy a day of play;
On Christmas Eve our families will come to see the tree,
And Santa will come and give us each a bag of candy, free!

“Tain’t no Santa,” One of the big boys in the back row shouted out,
The little girls in front began to shriek and cry and pout;
My younger sis is with the little girls that were in tears.
I knew I had to do something to take away their fears.

“You take that back!” I said with fists clenched, ready for a fight,
When teacher intervened and said “Now, boys, this isn’t right.
On Christmas we all celebrate the birth of Christ the King,
George, you say you’re sorry and we’ll all forget this thing.”

Then teacher told a story, while we cut and pasted rings,
As we made a garland for our tree, she told of many things,
Of the birth of one small baby, in a manger far away,
And how folks far away and near remember Him on this day.

She told about Saint Nicholas who filled the wooden shoes,
Of all the good Dutch boys and girls to remember this Good News,
She said how now, we all remember Jesus in this way,
And all of us remember Him on every Christmas Day.

The big boy, George, he was abashed, and said he didn’t mean it,
But he had no ma or pa and no Santa Claus would visit;
He lived with one old aunt who had no time for foolishness,
No time for trees or holly, for Santa Claus or Christmas.

On Christmas Eve our families came and crowded in the room,
We’d cleaned our desks, the blackboard, and candles chased off gloom,
Then Santa came and brought a sack, and we all lined up to get
A little bag of peppermints, a night we’d not forget.

When all the candy had been passed out, Santa stood upright
And asked, “I wonder if a boy named George is here tonight?”
George came forward and I noticed that his face had turned beet red;
As he said “I’m sorry, Santa, I really didn’t mean to be so bad.”

“Oh, I know that!” Santa laughed, “Why, I know what’s good and true,
There’s just one gift I have to give, and George this one’s for you!”
And from his burlap bag, he reached and handed George a box;
George opened it and all of us heard him gasp with shock;

Inside the box there was a very fine Swiss army knife;
George’s eyes lit up with wonder, “I’ve wanted one all my life,
But,” he said, “I never told this to a single living soul!”
Santa patted him on his shoulder and said “Oh, George, I know!”

We all shed tears and teacher said “Let us sing a song of praise,
That we all remember this night all our living days.”
And so we sang, then hurried home in the cold night with elation,
Before we left, I heard my ma extend a special invitation.

George said he didn’t think his aunt ever would agree,
Ma said “I won’t take no for an answer; dinner is at three.”
And so next day, George and his aunt and our teacher came for dinner,
That all of us told mama was so fine and sure a winner.

In the parlor there were presents for sis and George and me,
Scarves and mittens ma had stitched and it was plain to see
That no one had done this much for George in all his sorry life,
“Scarves and mittens!” George exclaimed, “And a fine Swiss Army knife!”

We all sipped hot tea with cookies ma had baked, just for this day,
And our guests all carried home tins of cookies wrapped so gay,
Before we went to bed that night, I heard my mother whisper,
“You dear old Claus, I do believe, I’d like to kiss your whiskers!”

Years later, when my pa was old frail and could not see,
I ventured then to ask him what had long been bothering me,
“How could you know,” I asked him, “About George and that army knife?”
“Because,” he said, “I wanted one, most of my own life.”

George married my kid sister and they have a bunch of boys;
Their farm is off in Kansas and sis tells me it’s a joy,
For George just loves his rowdy bunch, for them he’d give his life,
And every one of those young boys owns a fine Swiss Army knife.

–Sandra Lee Smith, 2010

(*This was a poem I wrote in a small collection of poems called An American Childhood, for my poetry club in 2010. Then my Canadian girlfriend, Doreen, took all of the American Childhood poetry and put it together with illustrations and one of her own poems, and compiled a booklet titled MAMA IN THE KITCHEN/AN AMERICAN CHILDHOOD, 1900, RECEIPTS AND VERSE WRITTEN BY SANDRA LEE SMITH).

THE APPROACH OF WINTER…AN AMERICAN CHILDHOOD

THE APPROACH OF WINTER

We knew that it was coming; all the leaves had fallen down
And lay in wet and heavy clumps and clusters on the ground;
The cats and kits and dogs and pups had gotten winter coats,
And ice was forming on the pond where in summer we sailed boats;
My ma had taken out our scarves, warm mittens, and galoshes,
And got out heavy blankets that we laid across the horses;
The cellar was jam-packed with fruit and veggies ma had canned
All through the scorching summer months, and we all took a hand
Making jams and jellies, packing eggs in lots of straw;
Apples filled the barrels and it was late in fall
When papa butchered us a pig and hung the hams to cure,
We all helped make the sausages; the smokehouse was a lure;
We all strung miles of pole beans that ma hung up in the rafters,
And thought that we would surely eat like kings forever after,
Along with apple slices that she hung up there to dry,
On some snowy winter morn, they’d be great to fry;
We gathered nuts from all the trees and put them all in sacks
And in the cellar loaded squash where pa had put up racks,
Ma quilted through the winter making covers for our beds,
And using feathers from the geese, made pillows for our heads;
Pa and I had chopped up wood until the shed was overflowing,
Through the cold and bitter months, the woodstove would be glowing,
The pantry shelves were overfull with flour, salt and honey,
All the things that ma had bought selling eggs to get the money;
The cabbages had been shredded and were salted in a crock,
And when we had put up everything, my ma and pa took stock
And pa would look into the skies and say that winter’s here;
But we would have a lot to eat and there was naught to fear.

–SANDRA LEE SMITH

T’WAS A WEEK BEFORE CHRISTMAS

T’WAS A WEEK BEFORE CHRISTMAS

T’was a week before Christmas
And all through the house,
Gift-wrap was littered,
It even covered a spouse,
Who sat forlorn in his old easy chair,
Wondering if there was
An extra cookie to spare—
For cookies were baked
And filled every tin,
But to eat even one
Would be considered a sin—
(Unless it was one that was broken or burned)
Decorations hung every where that you turned.
In the guest room, presents were piled everywhere,
And trees were put up, not a moment to spare—
Twinkling lights and ornaments too,
But it will look pretty, when we’re all through—
I’ve scorched all my fingers giving candy a test
And thought it was time that I had a good rest;
When out on the roof there arose such a clatter,
I dashed to the door to see what was the matter;
Up on a ladder, Grandpa swayed to and fro—
Trying to decide where the fake reindeer should go—
I was sure he would fall and smash all the lights,
I shouted come down and we’ll fix it all right!
The dollhouse is back where it belongs
And hundreds of CDs play holiday songs,
Pork Loin’s in the freezer and wood on the fire,
Eggnog in the frig we hope will inspire
But if not there is brandy, bourbon, and port,
To serve every guest who is a good sport;
We’ll work at it all until we fall with a jerk
And let Santa get credit for all our hard work!

–Sandra Lee Smith

THAT’S WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THE SOUTH – PART FOUR

From Virginia, I have VIRGINIA HOSPITALITY by the Junior League of Hampton Roads first published in 1975 and reprinted many times since, and THE MOUNT VERNON COOKBOOK by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association of Mount Vernon, Virginia, first published in 1984 and from WEST Virginia there is an excellent cookbook titled MOUNTAIN MEASURES (1974) and the sequel, MOUNTAIN MEASURES, A SECOND SERVING (1984) both by the Junior League of Charleston, West Virginia. Many years before, the Charleston (as in West Virginia) Woman’s Club published CLUB HOUSE COOKBOOK, grandiosely subtitled “COMPILED BY YOUNG WOMEN’S DEPARTMENT, CONSERVATION DEPARRMENT, AMERICAN HOME DEPARTMENT OF THE CHARLES WOMEN’S CLUB (1929)—another old cookbook that makes for good reading, while from the State of Arkansas, I have not one but TWO copies of SOUTHERN ACCENT by the Junior League of Pine Bluff, Arkansas (because my 1976 copy bore so little resemblance to the 1993 edition that I got fooled into thinking it was one I didn’t have—you know you have too many cookbooks when you start buying duplicates). I also have EVENING SHADE COOKBOOK which also falls into the celebrity category , and a cookbook titled RECIPES FROM HOPE, ARKANSAS, BIRTHPLACE OF BILL CLINTON, which offers lots of neat photos and presidential trivia, along with recipes.

What’s left? Kentucky! I must confess, I seldom think of Kentucky as truly Southern—I was born and grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, only a few miles from the Ohio River, across which is Kentucky. (In fact many people don’t realize that, when you FLY to Cincinnati Ohio, the airplane LANDS in Kentucky. Greater Cincinnati Airport is located in the State of Kentucky!) Over the years, whenever I have flown to Cincinnati, you get the feeling you are home when you cross the bridge over the Ohio River, into downtown Cincinnati.

Helen Lawson, Courier-Journal staff writer, in commenting on Marion Flexner’s book OUT OF KENTUCKY KITCHENS, wrote “Kentucky food is a happy combination of both Northern and Southern cooking. Since this is a border state, our food was influenced by the hot-tasty food of New Orleans and the bland food of New England…”

In the introduction to the same cookbook, Ms. Flexner writes, “It was said in the old days that if you had examined the contents of a Kentuckian’s pockets, you would have found a bowie knife, the précis of a lawsuit to defraud his neighbor and a copy of ‘Paradise Lost’. There would also probably have been a sheaf of invitations to a ball, a New Year’s Day ‘Open House’, a formal hunt dinner, a Derby breakfast or, in summer, a burgoo or a barbecue party. For Kentuckians have always loved to entertain and have always been overly fond of good ‘vittals’.

Flexner further explains how Kentucky’s cuisine was shaped by “unknown culinary artists”—early settlers, English and Scotch, French émigrés, Austrian and German refugees, and African slaves who came to “Kentuck” (Land of tomorrow) to make their homes Other recipes, she explains, crept in with Yankee traders, steamboat passengers, Southern planters, and foreign dignitaries who passed through the State or made long visits.

OUT OF KENTUCKY KITCHENS was published in 1949 and copies may still be found in used bookstores. There is also a 1993 reprint of this famous title, published by the University Press of Kentucky. (I was excited to discover, when I Googled the 1949 title, that copies are still available for the original and Amazon.com has copies at a most reasonable price, around $5.00.

Another of my favorite Kentucky cookbooks is a little book titled WHAT’S COOKIN’ IN BARBOURVILLE KENTUCKY. Published in 1948, it was compiled by the Younger Woman’s Club of Barbourville, and my copy used to belong to my best friend’s mother, who came from that State. When I googled the title, I discovered it was reprinted in 1964. This one may be a little more difficult to find. There is no ordering information provided by Amazon.com for either the 1948 or the 1964 edition.

For those of you who think of Texas as southern, I offer my apologies. I’m not including Texas in this post because I think of Texas cuisine as being more southwestern than southern. And I probably have at least several dozen Texas community cookbooks and intend to write about it at a later date, if this is something my readers would like to see. My apologies, too, if I didn’t mention YOUR favorite cookbooks—but this was only intended to be a sampler and is based on the cookbooks in my own collection. I wouldn’t want to recommend a cookbook I didn’t have and had never read—and have anyone disappointed

Finally, I want to tell you about an offer that was recently made to me. Many—several hundred—community cookbooks, many of them southern, are available at Favorite Recipes Press, through their Marketplace Cookbook catalog. From now until January 31, 2012, the Marketplace is offering a 50% discount on the cookbooks of your choice, to Sandychatter readers. You must enter the code SCHAT-HOL at checkout . The books ship from Nashville, UPS ground.
The Marketplace is a great source for finding many of your favorite community cookbooks (southern and otherwise). They have nearly 300 titles from which to choose and color illustrations of the covers. You can get a catalog by writing to the Cookbook Marketplace at 2451 Atrium Way, Nashville, TN 37214 OR call them toll free at 1-800-269-6839. This offer is good to Sandychatter readers until January 31, 2012 – so this may be a perfect opportunity to obtain some of your most coveted cookbook titles.

This concludes THAT’S WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THE SOUTH but as soon as I get my head back on straight after Christmas, I would like to share with you some of my more recent southern cookbooks!

Happy cooking – and even happier cookbook collecting!

Sandy

THAT’S WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THE SOUTH – PART THREE

There is a marvelous cookbook titled TWO HUNDRED YEARS OF CHARLESTON COOKING, which was published in 1976 by the University of South Carolina Press. Let me share a secret with you—some of the finest regional books you will ever find about any state are often published by their respective university presses. Many university presses will send you a catalog of their publications, either free or for a small fee of a few dollars. ***

TWO HUNDRED YEARS OF CHARLESTON COOKING was first published in 1930, then reprinted in 1931 and again in 1934. Some of the original recipes are in the 1976 softcover edition. The ladies who collected the recipes and wrote the introduction explain how many of “…the receipts came from old unpublished or out of print collections saved in plantation kitchen from time out of mind. One of these collections was owned by the family of Bossis Plantation, passed down from mother to daughter…two hundred years leans heavily on this collection, which has never been published…”

Other Carolina cookbooks to look for might include CAROLINA CUISINE ENCORE published in 1981 by the Junior Assembly of Anderson, South Carolina, or THE CAROLINA COLLECTION by the Junior League of Fayetteville, 1978, or PALMETTO PANTRY by the Heathwood Hall Episcopal School of Columbia, South Carolina, published in 1983. There is another wonderful book titled MCCLELLANVILLE COAST COOKBOOK by the McClellanville Arts Council of McClellanville, South Carolina, which, incidentally, won the Tabasco Community Cookbook award in 1993). This cookbook provides its readers with an in-depth look at the importance of rice and seafood to the townspeople. Louisiana and South Carolina are both famous for their rice crops.

The Junior League of Greenville, South Carolina, compiled UPTOWN DOWN SOUTH, first published in 1986, and of course, there is the ever-popular previously mentioned CHARLESTON RECEIPTS, first published in 1950. According to CHARLESTON RECEIPTS, their fine city was the birthplace of rice in America; the first seed was brought to the province of Carolina about 1685.

In 1993, the Junior League of Charleston published PARTY RECEIPTS, with emphasis on hors d’oeuvres, savories and sweets—along with many great recipes. There is also a lot of fascinating information for us food faddies.

From NORTH Carolina, I have MOUNTAIN ELEGANCE by the Junior League of Asheville, published in 1982, and another favorite, OUT OF OUR LEAGUE was published by the Junior League of Greensboro in 1978. Later, in 1978, the Greensboro Junior League published a small, thin cookbook titled OUT OF OUR LEAGUE TOO, which is entirely devoted to one of my favorite food topics—appetizers! (After decades of throwing elaborate parties with tons of food, I discovered I could “do” parties entirely with appetizers).

Betty Fussell, in her book I HEAR AMERICA COOKING writes this about the Carolinas: “If you ask about southern cooking, a Southern will ask ‘Which South?’ There’s a white south and black south, rich south and poor south and coast south and the south that moved north when slaves were freed. To draw the line somewhere, I picked the two Carolinas, North and South, in that large quilt called ‘Dixie’ where folks number the accents not just region by region or state by state, but town by town. Three cities—Charleston, Columbia and Greensboro—had to stand for three major ecologies: the lowlands and tidewaters of the coastal plains that stretch from Florida to Chesapeake Bay, the central plain of the Piedmont: the long chain of the Appalachian Mountains, from Georgia to Maryland. In the South where you come from means not just what family but what land and no where are the products of the table more rooted in the land.

Southern cooking was,” she writes, earth cooking was the way the Southwest was sun cooking and Louisiana was swamp cooking.” She continues in her chapter on the south, “The plantation ideal was founded on the fertility of southern land in weather softer and warmer than the hard North. Land produced the cash crops of indigo, tobacco, cotton and rice, but it also produced the food for each self-supporting fiefdom (plantation)…the fabled hospitality of the southern plantation was rooted in farms and gardens so civilized they put the North to shame.”

Later in the chapter, Fussell notes, “When a Southerner leaves the South, he loses neither his accent nor his sense of place, because he takes his cooking with him. Whether it’s earth foods, like grits or greens, rice and gravy, or country foods like ham biscuits and crackling breads, or fancy foods like syllabubs and brandied peaches, hospitality betrays his origins. For an eighteenth century traveler from France, hospitality distinguished North from South. In the North, inns were frequent but the people inhospitable, he complained, whereas in the South, inns were few but the hospitality of the people abundant and generous.”

There is also a thick, comprehensive book titled NORTH CAROLINA & OLD SALEM COOKERY by Beth Tartan, published by the University of North Carolina Press. It was originally published in 1955 and reprinted in 1992.

In this book, you will find explanations of old-time customs and ways of the old South, many of which I have never seen in print elsewhere, or heard of before. Read here about fly bushes and bottle trees! No, not a tree that grew bottles, but rather, trees with branches made into spikes on which ladies would stick their bottles and jars to dry in the sun. There are stories about the old south kitchen and the utensils used in it, and – oh, yes, recipes—hundreds of recipes indigenous to North Carolina. **

One of my favorite community cookbooks is titled SMOKY MOUNTAIN MAGIC, compiled by the Junior Service League of Johnson City, Tennessee. It was first published in 1960 and is, I believe, still in print. I did a quick check on Google and Amazon.com has copies – not cheap; new ones start at $85 but you can get a copy for under $20. In its preface the cookbook compilers write, “In the hills of Tennessee, there is a tradition that lives on; true native sons appreciate and value good friends and good food. Without the one, life is empty, without the other, one is empty.”

And then there’s Tennessee; my sister, Barbara, moved to the Nashville area some years ago and we both began searching earnestly for Tennessee community cookbooks. I made a number of trips to Nashville when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and became quite familiar with the Nashville Airport and the I-40 freeway from the airport to Lebanon, which was a few miles from her home.

You may want to look for THE MEMPHIS COOKBOOK by the Junior League of Memphis by the Junior League of Memphis, which was first published in 1952 and has since gone through numerous reprints. SOUTHERN SECRETS by the Episcopal Day School Mother’s Club of Jackson, Tennessee (1979) is a good find, as well as DIXIE DELIGHTS, published by the St. Francis Hospital Auxiliary of Memphis, Tennessee, in 1983. The Memphis Junior League published an interesting cookbook in 1970 titled PARTY POTPOURRI which is devoted entirely to party planning and accompanying recipes—and then another favorite of mine (because I collect books about American presidents and first ladies—and collecting cookbooks with a presidential theme was a natural addition) is THE JAMES K. POLK COOKBOOK which was published in 1978 by the James K Polk Memorial Auxiliary of Columbia, Tennessee, and is full of information about the country’s 11th president—not to mention a lot of good recipes. (Another American President, Andrew Jackson, called The Hermitage, near Nashville, home and if you happen to be in the neighborhood, visiting and touring the Hermitage is a rewarding experience.) **

There is also a slim spiral bound book titled THE PEAR TREE, by the Junior League of Knoxville. It was originally published in 1977 but has been reprinted many times since. It may be out of print now and more difficult to find—I was only able to find listings on EBAY while doing a search on Google. THE PEAR TREE focuses on holiday entertaining and is handy to browse through hen you are trying to decide on Christmas and New Year’s menus. (I also collect Christmas cookbooks so this was a twofer—a community cookbook that is also a Christmas cookbook).

I don’t have many cookbooks from the State of Mississippi but I do have a few treasures. One of my favorites is SOUTHERN SIDEBOARDS by the Junior League of Jackson, Mississippi, published in 1978. (You CAN find copies of this one. I saw listings on Google for as little as $1.00). In its introduction Wyatt Cooper writes, “Speak to me of food and what springs readily to my mind is not so much a recall of particular dishes I’ve relished, but a succession of images, sad and funny, sweet and tender, of people and places and happy occasions from the recent or long-ago past, a procession of dear, lost familiar faces and voices, with the echo of laughter from other years. One remembers all those tables, some humble and bearing simple fare, over which have flowed the talk, the tales, the exchanges that have made up the histories of our lives….” This, too, is southern cooking.

Another fine offering from Mississippi is VINTAGE VICKSBURG by the Junior Auxiliary of Vicksburg, first published in 1985 and containing over NINE HUNDRED RECIPES. It also contains historical color photographs, cooking for children, menus, garnishes, and cooking tips. VINTAGE VICKSBURG is also available; you can order a brand new copy from Amazon.com for about $20.00 but they have pre-owned copies available starting at $1.47. (I have bought quite a lot of pre-owned cookbooks from places like Amazon.com, Alibris, and the Barnes & Noble website—without any regrets). If you only had enough room for one Mississippi cookbook, VINTAGE VICKSBURG might be a good choice—although I admit to being very partial to SOUTHERN SIDEBOARDS.

I also have nearly all of the BEST OF THE BEST cookbook series published by Quail Ridge Press (which is located in Brandon, Mississippi), including BEST OF THE BEST OF MISSISSIPPI. If you aren’t sure which cookbooks from the south would interest you the most, you might want to invest in some of the Best of the Best cookbooks—for one thing, the editors provide a listing at the back of each book, of all the community cookbooks featured in that particular cookbook, and ordering information. Most of the featured cookbooks are reasonably priced; a girlfriend and I went on a rampage for a few years, buying many of the different cookbooks featured in the Best of the Best series.

(Incidentally, some years before the Best of the Best came along, cookbook author Anne Serrane edited a series of cookbooks which often turn up in used book stores; the format is similar to the Best of the Best series. Look for THE SOUTHERN JUNIOR LEAGUE COOKBOOK (1977), THE MIDWESTERN JUNIOR LEAGUE COOKBOOK (1976), THE EASTERN JUNIOR LEAGUE COOKBOOK (1980) and THE WESTERN JUNIOR LEAGUE COOKBOOK (1979). What is particularly useful about these four books is that each contains a full list of the participating Junior League cookbooks whose recipes appear in the books. (I found my set, with dust jackets and in pristine condition except for some yellowing of the pages, in a thrift shop in Burbank.) **

From Alabama I have RECIPE JUBILEE published in 1964 by the Junior League of Mobile, WINNING SEASONS by the Junior League of Tuscaloosa, published in 1979, MAGIC by the Junior League of Birmingham, first published in 1982, and HUNTSVILLE HERITAGE COOKBOOK by the Junior League of Huntsville, first published in 1967. There is also a nice cookbook titled COOKS AND COMPANY by the Muscle Shoals District Service League of Sheffield, Alabama, published in 1988. I was bemused to discover, while re-reading COOKS AND COMPANY that I bought my copy at Disneyland one year.

Many years ago, when I first started collecting cookbooks, I purchased a slim book titled FASCINATING FOOD FROM THE DEEP SOUTH by Alline P. Van Duzor, from the University Club of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. But possibly my favorite Alabama cookbook and the most interesting is a book titled SOOK’S COOKBOOK by Marie Rudisill. This is about the Faulk family of Monroeville, Alabama, in particular Sook Fauk who was the great-aunt of Truman Capote and the aunt of author, Marie Rudisell. This book contains almost two hundred “receipts” from Sook’s collection but more importantly, the stories and illustrations bring to life another time and another place. The publishers say that reading this cookbook is like going to your grandmother’s house for Sunday dinner. I couldn’t put it any better.

You’ll read about Aunt Pallie and the wit and wisdom of Mammies, about Little Bit and Jenny and Bud, and, of course, about Sook, who was, Ms. Rudisell recalls, “a frail little woman with skin drawn taut across her cheekbones, almost translucent, like a fragile teacup held up to the light”.

Sook was born in 1871, six years after the Civil War ended, and like so many other women of her time, she learned the value of creating something from nothing The “receipts” (recipes) were compiled from entries in plantation record books dating back as far as 1836. Knowledge about herbs and spices gleaned from the Creek Indians living on the banks of the Alabama Rice was a mainstay of Sook’s experience and always reflected in her cooking. This particular cookbook, published by the Longstreet Press of Alabama in 1989, is still available (Amazon.com has a hardcopy edition for less than a dollar) and is a worthwhile addition to a cookbook collector’s collection. Marie Rudisill also wrote Fruitcake: Memories of Truman Capote and Sook and I think I fell in love with Sook and fruitcake when I read this story. It’s a small cherished book and one year I bought a dozen or so copies to give as gifts.

END OF PART THREE – TO BE CONTINUED

THAT’S WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THE SOUTH – PART TWO

Hundreds of community church-and-club cookbooks were published by southern ladies in the late 1800s and early 1900s but in the 1950s, the ladies of the Junior Leagues began to really REALIZE the potential of fundraising cookbooks when CHARLESTON RECEIPTS and RIVER ROAD RECIPES were published. Perhaps southern ladies discovered that keeping family ‘receipts’ secret wasn’t necessarily sacrosanct, especially when a good cause was at stake. The past six decades have witnessed a deluge of community cookbooks. I began dividing mine up by States—from Georgia here are some of my favorites:

GEORGIA ON MY MENU by the Junior League of Cobb-Marietta, first published in 1988;
LASTING IMPRESSIONS, by St Joseph’s Hospital of Atlanta Auxiliary, 1988;
A SOUTHERN COLLECTION by the Junior League of Columbus, Georgia, 1979;
PEACHTREE BOUQUET, by the Junior League of Dekalb County, Ga. 1987;
Another by the same Junior League, is PUTTING ON THE PEACH TREE first published in 1979, with a 6th edition published in 1991;

Two of my favorites are COOK AND LOVE IT (1976) and COOK AND LOVE IT MORE (1989) were compiled and published by the Lovett Parent Association in Atlanta.

Also in my collection is A TOUCH OF ATLANTA published by the Marist Parents Club (1990), UNBEARABLY GOOD by the Junior League of Americus, GA (1987), and ATLANTA COOKS FOR COMPANY by the Junior Associates of the Atlanta Music Club. ATLANTA COOKNOTES, another favorite that I purchased at my niece Leslie’s wedding at Stone Mountain in 1989, and PERENNIALS by the Junior Service League of Gainesville, Georgia, published in 1984. The latter has especially lovely illustrations created by Owen Newman, a native of Atlanta, Georgia. There are some utterly decadent Vidalia onion recipes in this book! (If you aren’t familiar with Vidalia onions, which enjoy a limited season and come from Georgia, you are really missing something special. Vidalia onions are almost as sweet as apples and incredibly good—I buy as many as I can afford when they are available, then dice and freeze them to have on hand when they are no longer available in the supermarket).

Not long ago, I found several Savannah cookbooks, including the previously mentioned SAVANNAH SAMPLER COOKBOK. There is also SAVANNAH STYLE by the Savannah Junior League, originally published in 1980, but reprinted many times. It also holds the distinction of being awarded Southern Living’s Hall of Fame Award.

What makes a cookbook like SAVANNAH STYLE so special? Well, for openers—as noted in the introduction—the Junior League required that the recipes be uncomplicated, with fresh ingredients, avoiding recipes that generally call for a can of this or a box of that. They sifted through old family favorites and came up with over a thousand recipes. These were tested three times until finally a book of 435 recipes was published.

One final word about Georgia—if you ever happen to come across any books by Georgia-author Celestine Sibley—take my word for it; you’ll love them. Ms. Sibley was, for many years, a journalist and columnist for the Atlanta Constitution. Her book A PLACE CALLED SWEET APPLE is a combination story of country living and southern recipes. It is mainly the true story of Ms. Sibley’s love affair restoring a 140 year old abandoned log house. ****

When I say “Louisiana” what do you think of? New Orleans? Jambalaya and Crawfish pie? Mardi Gras? Jazz? All of the above?

Gwen Bristow, one of my favorite fiction writers, author of many southern and historical type novels, such as THE HANDSOME ROAD, and THIS SIDE OF GLORY, in an introduction to a cookbook written by Lena Richard (NEW ORLEANS COOK BOOK published in 1939) wrote “New Orleans has three seasons, summer, fog, and February. Not that we mind. For our thick blue summers and our thick silver winters produce the materials from which many generations have wrought our great achievement, the indoor art of good dining” Ms. Richard was famous, in the 30s and 40s, as a cateress in the City of New Orleans, whose specialty was Creole cooking.

Long before Lena Richard, the Times-Picayune Publishing Company (first in 1901) published THE ORIGINAL PICAYUNE CREOLE COOK BOOK. Its authors tell us, “…it was such cookery as this that won the hearts of beruffled gentlemen and crinolined ladies of the early nineteenth century and made them declare that never were there such cooks as in New Orleans”…and, “All through these pages one will catch glimpses of long-ago festivals and the graces and courtesies that made them charming, of the wit and the wisdom that flash back and forth across the mahogany of the bright eyes, now asleep for this many a year, of the gallant hearts that have long ceased to beat.”

Does the book live up to its introduction? Indeed, it does! Whether it’s a recipe for blackberry cordial or Pain Perdu (Lost Bread or Egg Toast—a kind of forerunner of our French Toast) – green tomato pickles or pecan pralines, watermelon rind preserves or a Gateau aux Figues (Fig layer cake), just about everything reminiscent o Old New Orleans can be found in this cookbook.

If, however, you are unable to locate a copy of the Original Picayune Creole Cookbook, here are a few of the current (or almost current) Louisiana titles to look for—LOUISIANA LEGACY, (1982) by the Thiodaux Service League. THE COTTON COUNTR7 COLLECTION by the Junior League of Monroe, Louisiana (first published in 1972 – it was in its 12 printing in 1984 and may have been reprinted since then- LOUISIANA SAMPLER “2” by the American Cancer society of New Orleans. DOWN THE BAYOU by the Bayou Civic Club of Larose, Louisiana, (1984)—or, how about JAMBALAYA by the Junior League of New Orleans (1981).

One of my favorite Louisiana cookbooks is A COOK’S TOUR OF SHREVEPORT, by the Junior League of Shreveport, published in 1964. Another nice cookbook is RECIPES AND REMINISCENCES, published by the Ursuline Academy Cooperative Club, in 1971. From RECIPES AND REMINISCES, “Sister Marie Madelein Hachard de St. Stanislaus of the New Orleans Community of Ursulines, wrote a number of letters to her father in Rouen, France, giving him what was to be a prophetic insight into the heart and personality of the City of New Orleans. She saw then, almost 250 years ago, what any visitor to the City will tell you today—that it is a charming city, gay and pleasure loving, owing a lot of its joie de vivre to its French background”

From RECIPES AND REMINISES, then, come recipes for Chicken Jambalaya and Creole Chicken, Boiled Catfish and Shrimp Orleans, authentic gumbos, pralines and desserts and hot breads, along with a wealth of history of New Orleans.
Yet another Louisiana cookbook that provides a wealth of information about its cuisine is PIRATS PANTRY, published by the Junior League of Lake Charles, originally published in 1976. The editors tell us “Southwest Louisiana is an area naturally conductive to tales of mystery and romance. A maze of moss-shadowed bayous, lush with vegetation, vines and the ghostline knees of bald cypress roots; of sinuous rivers and windswept marshes, it exudes mystery and the promise of hidden riches…Perhaps it was the ‘natural’ riches, coupled with super Creole cooking skills, which brought Lafitte back to the area time and again to savor the plump oysters, the rich shrimp creoles and the crab gumbos seasoned with spices and hot with pepper, and to relish the aroma of wild duck roasting over the coals…”

Not to be overlooked, Louisiana is also famous for TABASCO sauce! I like the Tabasco sauce story; it seems that John Marsh Avery discovered, on Avery Island in 1862, that beneath the brine springs that supplied the Confederate Army with salt, was a deposit of solid rock salt, about the size of Mount Everest! After the Civil war, when a man named Mcilhenny married Mary Eliza Avery, he combined a handful of hot peppers (first brought to the United States by veterans of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48) with the salt and first produced, in 1868, a sauce which he put up in used cologne bottles and sealed with green wax (the reason why, today, there is a little green band of paper around a bottle of Tabasco sauce). The name “Tabasco” was am Indian word meaning “damp earth”; it was the name of a river near Vera Cruz that Edmund McIlhenny, a New Orleans banker, liked when he was looking for something to call his hot pepper sauce. The reason Tabasco sauce is so distinctive is that red capsicum pods are ground with salt on Avery Island – and then placed in white-oak barrels to ferment.

Through you may think I was bad-mouthing Florida earlier, I must admit, some of my favorite community cookbooks are from this state. Let’s begin, then, with my absolute favorite, CROSS CREEK COOKERY, by Marjorie Kinnean Rawlings, published in 1942. The cookbook is written in the same chatty way as CROSS CREEK. For instance, prefacing a recipe for Baked Peanut Ham with Sherry, you may read Marjorie’s words “Florida or Georgia peanut-fed ham has, to my notion, the finest flavor of any ham. I admire the well-aged Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia Country hams, but I am not an addict. This is purely a matter of personal taste. I happen to prefer a moist juicy ham, to a dry one…”

You may find it difficult to obtain even a used copy of CROSS CREEK COOKERY, as it seems to be one of those rare cookbooks eagerly sought after by cookbook collectors. In 1983, Sally Morrison wrote—and Kate Barnes illustrated-a book titled CROSS CREEK KITCHENS (Triad Publishing Company, Gainesville.) Ms. Morrison was a tour guide for the Florida Park Service and once lived in the Rawlings’ farmhouse. At the time this book was published, she cooked and gardened there to show visitors what rural Florida was like sixty-something years ago.

CROSS CREEK KITCHENS provides a wide range of truly Southern recipes, ranging from barbecued herb-smoked turkey to lemon okra, ‘sopping shrimp, gingerbread waffles and okra pickles. There are jelly and preserve recipes made from fruits indigenous to Florida—such as Roselle Jelly and Roselle Relish. Roselle is the Florida version of a cranberry, an “old-timey” domestic plant, the authors tell us, that is a member of the cotton and okra families. While you might not find roselle wit which to make jelly, there is also a recipe for “George’s backhand Chutney” that uses common ingredients found everywhere. Like its predecessor, CROSS CREEK KITCHENS is written in a folksy, informal style that makes for good reading.

(*Sandy’s cooknote—if I remember correctly, Marjorie, although a diverse writer, never set out to write a cookbook, but CROSS CREEK was enormously popular in the early 1940s and many servicemen read it and wrote to Marjorie, asking for the recipes to go with the food she wrote about in CROSS CREEK. She obligingly created CROSS CREEK COOKERY.)

In the three years that I lived in North Miami Beach, I often went in search of cookbooks. At the time, there weren’t very many bookstores in the area (and NO Internet! No Amazon! No Alibris!) However, on the west coast of the state, near my mother’s home in Largo, Florida, which is near Tampa, I found some decently stocked bookshelves and even a few good cookbooks. Some of cookbooks purchased during those years included SEASONS IN THE SUN by the Lowe Art Museum in Coral Gables (1976), Jane Nickerson’s FLORIDA COOKBOOK by the University of Florida Press in 1973. Ms. Nickerson was a food columnist for various Florida newspapers. In her introduction to FLORIDA COOKBOOK, Nickerson writes, “Culinary traditions thrive here, too. In the peninsula stretching some 800 miles from Key West to Pensacola, many styles of fare may be savored—Deep South, Cuban, Jewish, Greek. They reflect the backgrounds of our settlers, the people who have moved to Florida over the past century and a half and have shared their cookery.

Economically and culturally, the northern half of Florida belonged to the traditional antebellum south of cotton plantations and slavery. Descents of slaves developed a repertory now called ‘soul food’ – fried fish and fried chicken, barbecued pork, hoecakes and egg bread, greens with fatback and sweet potato pone..”

Yet another regional cookbook titled fLORIDA HERITAGE COOKBOOK by Marina Polvay and Marilyn Fellman, published I 1976, comments on the diversity of Florida cuisine. Note the authors “From the croWn to the Panhandle, from the Heartland to Tampa Bay and to Palm Beach and Key West, Florida gastronomy is as varied and exciting as the Peninsula itself…The regional cooking of Florida reflects the diverse peoples who settled this narrow strip of real estate. Spaniards, Conches from the Bahamas, French, Minorcans, Greeks, Jews, Russians…Confederate soldiers all have left their gastronomic mark…”

There is a beautiful hard-covered cookbook titled SOME LIKE IT SOUTH, compiled by the Junior League of Orlando-Winter Park, first published in 1982—with utterly enchanting alligator illustrations by artist Jeni Bussett. SUGAR BEACH by the Junior Service League of Fort Walton Beach, 1984. GULFSHORE DELIGHTS by the Junior League of Ft Myers, also published in 1984 (a good year for community cookbooks). Another interesting older Ft Myers cookbooks is titled FORT MYERS COOKBOOK, published by The Lee Memorial Hospital Auxiliary in 1951. The older cookbook is done in that hand-written style that appears to have been popular in the 1940s and 1950s—each recipe was handwritten by the contributor. There is also THE GASPARILLA COOKBOOK by the Junior League of Tampa, first published in 1961 and since reprinted many times.

Another fine cookbook is FOOD FAVORITES OF ST AUGUSTINE, copyrighted 1973 and filled with historical information about this oldest city in the United States. This also makes for interesting reading (and will make you want to visit St Augustine, if you haven’t already).

Quite possibly my second-favorite Florida cookbook is KEY WEST COOKBOOK by the members of the Key West Woman’s Club in 1949. It, too, has handwritten recipes and illustrations, including Bess Truman’s recipe for Ozark Pudding. The Trumans’ Summer White House was in Key West. My copy is very worn and part of the spiral binding is missing. What amuses me most is a worn, almost illegible price tag of “20 cents”. I think it was found at a yard sale. Sometimes you may find the many different handwritten recipes a little off-putting in these older cookbooks; may I suggest, when you find a recipe you want to try, to copy it in your own handwriting or make a typed copy. It was in this particular cookbook that I found—and tried—a recipe for grouper with white wine, that became a family favorite. You never know when you will find a treasure, when you are reading old cookbooks!

Another acquisition from my Florida years is a book titled SUNNY SIDE UP by the Junior League of Ft Lauderdale, published in 1980, and GATOR COUNTRY COOKS by the Junior League of Gainesville. The latter was originally published in 1975. I bought my copy Easter weekend of 1980, while visiting my parents. (The reason I can tell you this is not because I have a fabulous memory, but rather, that I generally scribble on the first page of a cookbook when and where I bought it).

Another Florida cookbook is MIAMI SPICE by Steven Raichlen, published in 1993 by workman Publishing Company. This book focuses on the “new Florida cuisine.” It may be “new” Florida cuisine but I noticed that the author (who is a cooking teacher, food writer, syndicated columnist and lecturer) devoted several pages to Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and included Idella’s recipe for biscuits (Idella Parker was Ms. Rawlings long-time maid). MIAMI SPICE is one of the finest books about Florida cuisine that I have come across and I do recommend it.

END OF PART TWO

THAT’S WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THE SOUTH – PART ONE

Note: the following article was published in the Cookbook Collectors Exchange in the Jan/Feb, 1995 issue – I am reprinting it for the benefit of my faithful blog followers, but will attempt also to bring us up to date, from 1995 to 2010! – Sandy

When the idea first came to me, that I’d like to share with you some thoughts about my favorite southern cookbooks, I had misgivings. What on earth could I write about, I wondered, that hasn’t already been written—by famous southern writers with far better credentials than mine? And, indeed, what claim did I have to southern cooking, aside from having spent three years living in Florida, where I DID master the art of making crispy-crunchy perfect hush puppies to go with my husband’s equally perfectly-fried catfish? (We often had Friday night catfish with fries and hushpuppies). Besides, Florida hardly seems “southern” to me, despite its geographic locale, despite Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s famous “Cross Creek Cookery.” (Please refer to my articles, posted on 5/19/11 “Cross Creek Cookery” and “Cross Creek Revisited”)

Florida today seems to be a mixed bag of culinary influences, sparked, no doubt, by the millions of Midwesterners who have retired to Florida—or the snowbirds; retirees who spend part of the year—the winter months—in Florida and the rest of the year in their primary residences, wherever they may be. My own parents were amongst the snowbirds for a few years, before finally selling their home in Ohio and retiring in Largo, Florida, near Tampa. Their neighbors came from a number of different states, including New York and from as far north as Canada. I do confess, I yearn for the Florida of years ago, the Florida that Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, one of my favorite authors, wrote about in “Cross Creek” and “Cross Creek Cookery”, of swamps and the Everglades, alligators and Key Lime Pie.’

However, what I CAN do, perhaps, is share with you some of the thoughts of those southern cookbook authors and tell you a bit about my own favorite southern cookbooks.

WHAT is southern cooking?

Bill Neal, in his wonderful book “BISCUITS, SPOONBREAD AND SWEET POTATO PIE” (Knopf Publishers, 1990) writes “…when outsiders ask ‘What is Southern cooking?’ I think they don’t look far south enough for answers. Our style is more similar to Mexican than to European cooking. I can’t imagine a southern kitchen without cornmeal and our breads begin with it.

Many of our dishes are European,” he continues. “Some passed directly into the tradition with little or no changes. Wine jellies, trifles, and fruitcakes are scarcely distinguishable from their eighteenth century British ancestors. Other European techniques are adapted to native ingredients: French tortes made with native pecans, crumpets made with grits, custard pies thickened with cornmeal. This hybrid cooking is the most intriguing to me; it reveals the ingenuity and creativity of the Southern cook combining Old World practices and New World foods…”
Neal continues, “The third major and most exotic influence is African. Our sweet potato biscuits, for example, are in the African tradition of using starchy tubers rather than milled cereal grains to make bread…they brought from their homelands techniques for working with sugar in a hot, humid climate which influenced the way we make candies and confections…”

What IS Southern cooking?

In a small booklet published by Culinary Arts Institute, “The Southern Cook Book of Fine Old Recipes”, the authors write “People think of the Southland as the place where the sun shines brighter, the breezes are gentler, the birds sing sweeter and the flowers are fairer…the natural geographic and climatic advantages of the different sections of the sunny south have played an important part in Dixie cookery. The fertile fields, plentiful fruit trees and waterways have each contributed bountifully. Every part of the Southland is individual and distinctive in its cookery. The “Creole Dish” of New Orleans has nothing to do with racial origin but rather indicates the use of red and green peppers, onions and garlic Oranges, grapefruit and avocados play an important part in Florida cookery. Maryland is famous for its fried chicken and its delicious sea food recipes. One thinks of Virginia, its hot breads and its sugar cured hams. Kentucky is known for its corn ‘likker’ and its flannel cakes. Only one thing is universally true: Every corner of the south is famous for its fine cookery.”

What is SOUTHERN cooking?

The introduction to yet another fine book Sarah Belk’s AROUND THE SOURHERN TABLE (Simon & Schuster publishers, 1991) rhapsodizes with “It’s no secret that the ingredients are the heart and soul of all great Southern cooking. After all, the South is home to juicy peaches and corn, gulf shrimp, black-eyed peas, the softest flour on earth, and crunchy pecans. Imagine (if you can) life without plump sweet potatoes, hominy grits, smoked country ham, oysters, green tomatoes, bourbon and the underestimated catfish”.

Sarah Belk writes, Mention the term “Southern cooking” to a non-Southerner and he or she will most likely think ‘Ah, yes, pecan pie, mint juleps, ham biscuits and those awful grits.’ And then there are those who think Southern food is only Cajun and Creole and to them, ‘Southern food’ means jambalaya, gumbo, crawfish etouffee and blackened redfish.”

She continues, “Southern cooking is also the result of geography. This diverse region includes three major mountain ranges, over 3,000 miles of coastline, one of the most important rivers in the country and the largest estuary in the world. Overall, the south has a temperate climate and therefore a long growing season, making it one of the most prolific food-producing regions in the country. But Southern agriculture is more than just pork, peaches, and pecans; farmers are branching out into new areas and cultivating jalapeno peppers and kiwi fruit, raising quail, ‘farming crawfish, catfish and shrimp, making goat cheese and nursing vinifera*grapes not just for juice but for dry, European style wines –through humid summers and cold winters”.

(*Sandy’s cooknote – Vinifera refers to hybrid grapes)

Belk adds, “The South is a place where good manners, going to church and family life are still important. Chiggers, coon dogs and chewin’ tobacco are alive and well, but so are fancy debutante balls, full-dress fox hunts and white-columned homes with formal gardens.”

In a beautiful book titled SOUTHERN MEMORIES, by Natalie Dupree, the author writes “To many Americans, all of the area south of the Mason-Dixon lime and east of Texas makes up a vast slightly mysterious, vaguely rural, and steadfastly folksy place called “The South”. In fact, the South is larger than Europe and as diverse, a loose conglomeration of distinctly differing regions. My south is not the Gulf south, although it is a south too, or all of the counties of Florida, Texas, and Louisiana, where Southerners also live and breathe in batches, as they do in Illinois and Indiana. My South ranges from the Eastern Shore of Maryland through the District of Columbia and Virginia, taking in the Carolinas, weaving its way around West Virginia, embracing Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi…” She continues, “My South encompasses the rice fields I helped seed from a small plane, the grits I saw ground from dried corn in a small mill next to a powerful stream, the small towns and cities of Covington and Social Circle, Georgia, where I made my home and started my first restaurant…”

And what is Southern COOKING?

Join me, won’t you, while we make that discovery?

One of the earliest Southern Community cookbooks is the best selling RIVER ROAD RECIPES, first published in 1959 by the Junior League of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. RIVER ROAD RECIPES holds the distinction of being the “best-selling” community cookbook of all time! New York Times food editor Bryan Miller wrote “If there were Community cookbook Academy Awards, the Oscar for best performance would go hands down to RIVER ROAD RECIPES. RIVER ROAD RECIPES: A SECOND HELPING was published in 1976 and has provided the Baton Rouge community projects with over two million dollars in profits.

In second place is the ever-popular CHARLESTON RECEIPTS which, when originally published in 1950, sold for $2.50 and has since gone through at least fifteen printings*. A new copy, today, costs about $19.00 (You can often find a copy for a great deal less. Amazon has the cookbook for sale, new, for $13.57 and pre-owned copies starting at $6.21). I am leafing through CHARLESTON RECEIPTS as I write this, trying to decipher what it IS about the book that makes it so special. Is it the poems or the drawings or the recipes…ah, yes, the recipes….for here you will find cheese straws and cheese wafers, a simple but tasty mock pate de foie gras canapé, soups, gumbos, chowders, cocktail sauces, fried tomatoes, hot breads. The muffins and rolls melt in your mouth, the waffles and biscuits hit the spot. Oh, hear the table-call of the South, “Take two! And butter them while they’re hot!”

When I think of CHARLESTON RECEIPTS, I am reminded of my friend Adrianne’s copy, which is battered and stained and USED. A good cookbook should, after all, be used.

(*Sandy’s cooknote: CHARLESTON RECEIPTS is now up to twenty-three printings.)

Yet again we come back to the original question—just what IS Southern Cooking? Why is Southern cooking so distinctive from, for example, Midwestern cuisine or that of the Southwest? Why does Southern cooking outshine every other geographic area of the United States?

Perhaps the answer lies in the past, in hundreds of years of southern hostesses, proud of their reputations for hospitality, cherishing and passing from mother-to-daughter the family’s treasured recipes.

In SAVANNAH SAMPLER COOKBOOK, (1978), written by Margaret Wayt DeBolt, the author writes, “The receipts of the plantation period, the gumbos and beaten biscuits, barbecues and pecan pies, have been passed among the generations as carefully as the family silver and china once hidden from the soldiers who marched through Savannah with General William Tecumseh Sherman. They have been rediscovered with delight by tourists and those who have c hosen to make the New South their home.”

Incidentally SAVANNAH SAMPLER COOKBOOK contains quotations from an equally fascinating earlier volume dedicated to Savannah cooking, titled THE SAVANNAH COOK BOOK, by Harriet Ross Colquitt, originally published in 1933 and reprinted some years later by the Cookbook Collectors Library. The latter had the good fortune to have an introduction written by Ogden Nash, the poet. I, luckily, found a reprint copy while visiting a cookbook store in Portland, Oregon.
Cookbooks dedicated to Southern cuisine fall into one of two categories; there are regional cookbooks representing one state (or city) and there are cookbooks presenting an overall view of Southern cooking. A good example of the latter was a book titled, SOUTHERN COOKING, by Mrs. S.R. Dull. Mrs. Dull wrote a weekly page in the magazine section of the Atlanta Journal for twenty years, culminating in a cookbook of her own which was originally published in 1928. The author explains, “Southern Cooking is just what the title implies. It is a compilation of recipes and information gleaned from over forty years of experience in the practical study and application of cooking in the Southern way…”
In the introduction, written by her son, Mrs. Dull is described as a woman born shortly before the close of the War Between The States (the Civil War). “Like most women of the South at that time, she learned early that she would have to work hard for anything she got or wanted…”

It seems that Mrs. Dull’s own mother died when she was very young; when Mrs. Dull was still a young woman with six children, her husband’s health vegan to fail so she turned row ha she knew best—cooking—and began to furnish things to eat for the people of Atlanta. She took special orders for parties, dances, and receptions, and her reputation grew. Next, she began editing the food page of the Sunday Magazine of the Atlanta Journal. Interestingly, the reporter assigned to oversee the cooking section was Margaret Mitchell, author of GONE WITH THE WIND who worked with Mrs. Dull for several years. It was because of the many homemakers who saved the recipes—and repeatedly requested copies of lost recipes—that the idea for a cookbook was born. SOUTHERN COOKING, copyrighted in 1941 by Mrs. Dull, is a big, thick, cookbook, chock-full of recipes. It was reprinted in 1968 by Grosset & Dunlap and copies can still be found. (In a soft cover reprint by Grosset & Dunlap, in the Foreword, Mrs. Dull states that SOUTHERN COOKING was born in 1928. (I really thought I had an original copy of the cookbook but so far my searching has left me empty-handed. I have a hard cover copy of SOUTHERN COOKING published by Grosset & Dunlap, and a soft covered edition, also by Grosset & Dunlap, that was printed in 1977. Ever since we moved in 2008, I am often unable to find a particular cookbook).

Yet another cookbook whose author was a food editor for the very same Atlanta Journal is Grace Hartley, whose book GRACE HARTLEY’S SOUTHERN COOKBOOK was originally published in 1976 and reprinted in 1991. This, too, makes interesting reading. Both books are general, encompassing numerous categories.

Recently, I came across yet another cookbook written by a southern newspaper columnist, Mildred Evans Warren, whose column THE COOK’S NOOK appeared in the Houston Home Journal in Perry, Georgia. She tells us, in the forward, that “picking up one’s pen and writing a cookbook presents problems but we’ll solve them as we go along. There is always a ‘reason and rhyme’ for everything and as for mu cookbook, it’s like Topsy, ‘it just grew.’” You’ll find Mrs Warren’s book, THE ART OF SOUTHERN COOKING interesting reading also.

Two of my all time favorite Southern Cookbooks are CROSS CREEK COOKERY, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, published in 1942, and another equally fine cookbook titled THE SOUTHERN COOKBOOK by Marion Brown, published in 1951 (no relation to the “other” Browns, Cora, Rose & Bob, as far as I know). Marion Brown was kind of a forerunner to the “BEST OF—“ books by Quail Ridge Press. Writes Ms. Brown, in the preface to her book, “When I first started the adventure of collecting, testing and selecting recipes for it, the first step was to review an extensive collection of North Carolina recipes and cookery memorabilia which had been enlarged after my preparation of SOUP TO NUTS for the woman’s Auxillary of the Episcopal Church in Burlington. Then I started to unearth local and regional cookbooks in all the Soutehrn States as a step towards making a truly “All Southern” selection of the best recipes of the South. She then explains how she enlisted the aid of the Chambers of Commerce in every Southern State and accumulated some two hundred cookbooks which were the nucleus of HER cookbook. She even received treasured old manuscript cookbooks, one of which went west in a covered wagon, but returned, generations later, on a train.

THE SOUTHERN COOKBOOK is an immensely interesting, readable cookbook—you know, the kind you like to curl up with in a comfy chair on a dismal rainy day?

Preceding CROSS CREEK COOKERY and Marion Brown’s THE SOUTHERN COOKBOOK by many generations were a number of nineteenth century cookbooks which, not accidentally, were written by Southern cooks. THE VIRGINIA HOUSEWIFE, THE KENTUCKY HOUSEWIFE and THE CAROLINA HOUSEWIFE were all authored by southern ladies.

Mary Randolph, author of THE VIRGINIA HOUSEWIFE, published in 1824, claimed to e related by marriage to Thomas Jefferson. Lettice Bryan’s cookbook THE KENTUCKY HOUSEWIFE was published in 1839. THE CAROLINA HOUSEWIFE was published in 1847 by southern hostess Sarah Rutledge. A few decades later, Mrs. Peter A. White published THE KENTUCKY COOKERY BOOK; A BOOK FOR HOUSEWIVES. And yet another book, HOUSEKEEPING IN OLD VIRFINIA, was edited b Marion Cabell Tyree and published in 1879.

(*Sandy’s cooknote: the last time I offered dates and titles for early cookbooks, I was taken to task by a reader for having offered some misinformation. I have NO idea whose book was first, aside from Amelia Simmons and I don’t think she was a southern cook).

About a century later, Marion Flexner would author a book titled OUT OF KENTUCKY KITCHENS (1945) proving that the subject of southern cookery has, if nothing else, staying power.

END OF PART ONE