FEAST HERE AWHILE BY JO BRANS

Jo Brans captivates me in the first chapter of her book, “FEAST HERE AWHILE” as she writes “…many Americans of my generation, for better or worse, no longer eat the food they grew up on…instead, over the years, we have radically altered our menus. With typical American curiosity, we peer into each other’s carts at the supermarket, crane to check out the steaming dish being brought to the next table, read the food pages in the daily paper, pay attention to what television characters eat…my friends grapple, as I do, with memories of the admirable or reprehensible attitudes at their family table, the best and worst meals of their lives and their own triumphs or catastrophes in the kitchen…”

I’m hooked. I want to sit down and write a letter to Jo Brans. She has written a book I think I COULD have written, that I wish I HAD written. I want to share with her my foodlore stories, explain to her that, although she praises her own southern mother’s culinary skills, MY  mother was really a godawful cook who boiled everything—even canned vegetables –for hours until the foodstuff, whatever it was originally, ended up a soggy unrecognizable mess. I want to tell her how my sisters and brothers and I all grew up believing we HATED cabbage HATED rice, HATED beets, when the truth was, what we hated was the way our mother cooked it. What we DID have, however, was a European grandmother who was a culinary genius, whose Dobos torts and goulashes and Paprikas, Wiener Schnitzels and flaky strudels were all works of art. No wonder we all vied for any opportunity to go to Grandma’s…but I digress. This is Jo Brans’ story, not mine.

Ms. Brans goes on to state that in 1950, most households had one cookbook (My mother’s was an Ida Bailey Allen Service cookbook that I wore out and spattered with stains as I learned how to make brownies and hermits and salmon croquettes)  Ms. Brans acquired her first cookbook, the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook, in the late fifties. My first cookbook of my own was a little Methodist Church cookbook that my father bought from a coworker for one dollar – he bought several, one for me, my mother, and my older sister. The one after THAT was Meta Given’s “THE MODERN FAMILY COOKBOOK”. (That Methodist church cookbook was what made me start wondering if there were other cookbooks like it “out there”.  There certainly were!)

Jo Brans writes “Americans love reading about food, even if they never plan to go near a stove. In bed at night, cookbooks, like travel books or novels, soothe us to sleep, where we dream of other places, other lives, other meals. Browsing at libraries and bookstores across the country, in communities as dissimilar as Minneapolis, Dallas, and Manhattan, I have observed all kinds of people, men and women,  young and old, sitting at a table and reading cookbooks, sometimes for an hour or more at a time…”

Ah, yes, we know what she is writing about, don’t we? How many cookbooks might be found at our bedsides, on any given night? How often do we borrow cookbooks from libraries and Xerox all the pages we find “interesting” with no particular intention of going into the kitchen to MAKE all those interesting recipes.

Jo Brans says she thinks about food all the time. I can relate to that. I think most of us, cookbook and recipe collectors, know what she means. I have been thinking about food, recipes, and cookbooks—not necessarily in that order—all of my life.

“Feast Here Awhile” is a food odyssey; it carries you along, with the author, from her Southern roots and early childhood foodie experiences, to a widely diversified adult life that traversed from Texas to New York. You will chuckle over her lamentable “farm life” experiences and you will nod understandingly when she explains that a successful menu was likely to be served over and over again. You’ll love her Texas chili story and the Cod Rotterdam story. Personal experiences blend with food history—an interesting account of the Betty Crocker story—her interview with Julee Rosso, co-author of the Silver Palette, personal, sometimes hilarious accounts of Ms. Brans and her husband as restaurant critics.

I may not agree with everything Jo Brans has written about. I am grateful to her for the statistics she has provided for me regarding community cookbooks but I have the sense that she doesn’t appreciate them as much as I do –but I can easily relate to her Lafayette Park cookbook story, as it reminded me of my Beachy School PTA cookbook experiences.

There are NO r ecipes in “FEAST HERE AWHILE” – this is not a cookbook…excuse me, I am mistaken – there IS a recipe for Best Ever Rum Cake for which Ms. Brans credits the Bethel Presbyterian Church in Olive Branch, Mississippi. However, may I say that – if you like talking about food and recipes and cookbooks, if you like thinking about them and reading about them, I think you will enjoy this book. It’s sort of like sitting down with a good friend  over coffee and cinnamon rolls, and talking over your favorite culinary experiences. As for Best Ever Rum Cake, this “recipe” has been making the rounds for years. I first saw it in a daughter in law’s homemade cookbook created by her mother as a wedding present.

BEST EVER RUM CAKE

1 or 2 quarts rum

1 cup butter

1 tsp sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup dried fruit

Baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

Lemon juice

Brown sugar

Nuts

Before you start, sample the rum to check quality. Good, isn’t it? Now, go ahead, select a large mixing bowl, measuring cups, etc. Check the rum again. It must be just right. To be sure the rum is of the highest quality, pour one level cup of rum into a glass and drink it as fast as you can. Repeat. Now, with electric, beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl.  Add one seaspoon of Thugar and beat again. Meanwhile, make sure rum is of high quadidy. Add 2 argeleggs, 2 pucs fried druit, and beat until high.  If druit gets stuck in the veaters, pry it joose with a drewscriver. Sample the rum again checking for highest conscisticity. Next, sift 3 cups pepper or salt (it really does not matter which). Sample the rum again. Sift ½ pt lemon juice, add 1 babblespood brown thugar (or whatever you can find) . Wix mell. Gease oven and turn cake pan to 350 gredees. Now, pour the  mjole wess into the     boven and ake.  Check the rum again and go to bed.

Bon Appetit!

FEAST HERE AWHILE by Jo Brans originally sold in 1993 for $18.95. It is available at Amazon.com for $1.68 new, or as low as 13 cents for a preowned copy. It can be purchased on Alibris.com for 99c.

 

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7 responses to “FEAST HERE AWHILE BY JO BRANS

  1. A book I just bought — for $1 — is OUT OF THE KITCHEN by Jeannette Ferrary. A great bedside book

    • Should I look for a copy or wait & see ifyou send it to me? I am on a roll right now writing some posts that arent necessarily cookbooks but may contain some recipes. I love food related books…I had to stop typing to go find the book on MY nightstand – it’s A HOMEMADE LIFE by Molly Wizenberg. will go to Amazon and see what OUT OF THE KITCHEN is all about. – Sandy

    • PS LOOKED UP THE BOOK ON AMAZON. I love the cover. You know what? Jim & I had a stove like that when we were first married. I dont know where it came from or where it went – I wasnt into cookboks or something really old like the stove featured on the cover of your book. (heavy sigh) – although I have had my Wedgewood stove for about 20 years and just love it.

  2. Michelle Hawes

    I have a huge collection of cookbooks from women’s groups and here in Hawaii the Electric Company puts one out every few years that is a big seller. LOL I don’t pay the price of the new ones I seem to pick them up years later at the Swap Meet or Garage Sales for a fraction of the price of them when they were sold new. I find it interesting to see which pages in my old cookbooks that I buy are the most worn and tattered with the notes written in the margins as previous owners of my “new treasure” have tried and modified the original recipes. One of the things my own children will treasure will be these cookbooks when I am gone. My earliest cookbook is from the 1800’s lol want to know how to break down a fresh caught whale and make whale blubber oil for your lamp?
    I am definately going to be on the lookout now for Out of The Kitchen to read now : )

    • This was a really interesting email, Michelle – while I have both Hawaiian and Alaskan cookbooks I have never seen anything for breaking down a fresh caught whale–are you interested in sharing this with us or is it too long to type up? I’m curious! I think your Electric company cookbooks would be very collectible since its regional and a particular company – I have hundreds of booklets published by food manufacturers but some of my greatest treasures are old little booklets featuring holiday recipes that were published in the 1940s or thereabouts, and given away free to customers by the gas and electric companies. There are a few that were so well done, I just love them. I bought some Hawaiian cookbooks when I was there on vacations – have been to Oahu twice. Have been thinking I really need to return and visit the other islands.
      Thanks much for writing. I enjoyed hearing from you! – Sandy

  3. Wait as I will send it to you as soon as I finish it, I am about half way thru it. Also I will send a box of cookbooks to you tomorrow. Wait on postage.

  4. Another great book of this type just published is A HOME ON THE RANGE by Elizabeth Gilbert. Amazon and Barnes and Noble have it and it is reasonable

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