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

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5 responses to “THAT’S WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THE SOUTH – PART TWO

  1. The two posts on southern cookbooks are invaluable! I’m headed to my LibraryThing site to see which ones I don’t have and want to put on my Alibris wishlist. Then I’m going to check my Eat Your Books “bookshelf” to see which ones are indexed. Thank goodness for technology. Now if someone could tell me where the books are on the shelf . . .

    • Mellisa, I am working on Part three – just couldnt get it all done yesterday – and there might be a Part 4. RE where your books are on the shelf, I can’t help you with that = I have the same problem. I DO have my southern cookbooks grouped by states and most of them are in my spare bedroom – but I can relate. I often have the same problem. Thank you for writing! You have brightened my day!

  2. I really admire your blog and have gotten a lot of pleasure out of it. It is has been very reassuring to know I am not alone in my cookbook addiction! You have been responsible for a number of cookbook purchases and I expect more to come from the Southern posts.
    If you are curious about by my collection, feel free to check my LibraryThing site. Unfortunately I am way behind on “tagging” my books by subject. Now that I have retired, I intend to face the challenge of organizing the physical books for more efficient retrieval. Not a simple task..
    http://www.librarything.com/profile/melissamickey (profile)
    http://www.librarything.com/catalog/melissamickey (library)

    • Melissa, thank you for writing – and you are not alone in this particular addiction – I have friends who have the same obsession with cookbooks and I have pretty much given up cataloging. Before I moved in 2008 (over 600 boxes, mostly filled with books) I did all of my Christmas cookbooks logged onto a spread sheet and after 500 books, I gave up. I have Librarything but havent listed any of my books on it. It HAS been useful in learning about some other books though. I have maintained I need a secretary. THATs not likely to happen! I’ll check up on your books. Thanks! Sandy

    • Will do, Melissa and thank you SO MUCH for writing. If it were not for all the positive feedback I would not have continued writing the blog. messages like yours make my day and give me inspiration. So again, thank you. Typed until 12:30 am this morning trying to finish part 3 (I may already be in part 4 – I have been trying to divide That’s What I like about the South in parts of about 2000 words each (give or take a few hundred or a thousand). Expecting to have some good information to share at th conclusion to this article. – sandy

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