A Memphis community cookbook arrived in yesterday’s mail and had me wondering just how many Memphis cookbooks did I have? Well, not as many as I originally thought – I have two copies of the Memphis in May International Festival Cookbook which lays claim to being the Official Cookbook of the Memphis in May International Festival, Volume One, published in 1989. Are there more Memphis in May International Festival cookbooks? I wondered. As in a Volume 2 or Volume 3? I have been unable to find any trace of additional volumes on Google. Perhaps tagging it Volume One was a bit over ambitious on somebody’s part.
And then I discovered that my oldest Memphis Cookbook published by the Junior League of Memphis in 1976 (and a gift from my penpal, Penny, in Oklahoma)—was not the oldest edition, not by a long shot – THIS Junior League cookbook was first published in September of 1952! Between that first edition published in 1952 and republished in 1976, there were sixteen editions resulting in the publication of 194,000 copies!
17th through 20th editions were published between 1977 and 1988 and I am assuming that the newly designed cover was first created for the 1977 cookbook and what I have is a copy of the 20th edition published in 1988. This edition also has a seal proclaiming it to be the Official City of Memphis Cookbook. Out of curiosity, I checked a few recipes in both of my copies to determine whether or not the recipes are the same. They are.
In 1970, the Junior League of Memphis published a new cookbook, PARTY POTPOURRI, which is a compilation of parties and menus. A guide such as this is especially handy when you are hosting some kind of party and don’t know where to begin. This cookbook offers breakfasts, brunches and coffees recipes, luncheons and teas, receptions, children’s parties, informal entertaining and even elegant entertaining. I don’t know if Party Potpourri was published more than the two editions listed in my copy published in 1971. Google was not much help other than providing me with the information that this cookbook contains over 500 recipes.
Then I also discovered that my copy of “A MAN’S TASTE” published in 1980—is also a creation of the Junior League of Memphis. In the introduction, the Junior Leaguers comment that 1980 marked the 28th anniversary of their first publication (the Memphis Cookbook first published in 1952, which had since sold over 200,000 copies and was still going strong). They write that Party Potpourri has successfully sold over 130,000 copies.
A MAN’S TASTE is their third cookbook. They say they couldn’t bring themselves to call this one SON OF MEMPHIS COOKBOOK, feeling it would sound derivative—and they didn’t want to deny this unusual collection of men’s recipes the chance to seek its own special identity in the world of cookbooks.
Still, they write, “Son of Memphis Cook Book” would not be an inappropriate title. In the pages of A MAN’S TASTE are the names of many rightful sons and heirs, as well as nephews, cousins, brothers and their friends—of the ladies who contributed to their first collection of Southern recipes back in 1952. The culinary talents displayed in A MAN’S TASTE did not spring from dormitory hot plates, army field kitchens, scout camps and hunting lodges alone. “A mother’s hand may be detected here and there, light though it may be”, they write.
A MAN’S TASTE was meant to be much more than a collection of men’s recipes and not a mere sequel to what has gone before. This was intended to be a book about men cooking, what they do and how they feel in the kitchen, and the Junior League of Memphis succeeded in this endeavor, although you will get the feeling that a cookbook by and for men was simply before its time, for don’t we see a bushel basket full of male chefs in abundance on the cooking shows on the Food Network lo these three decades later? It’s the female chefs who tend to be scarce on these television shows, but in the Unofficial Foreword, the Junior Leaguers write “We have trouble remembering exactly what it was that started people thinking about putting out a men’s cookbook. It had something to do with the notion that there is something funny about men’s cooking, and something to do with the notion that the Junior League House-husbands (a secret society of indeterminate membership with its own handshake and heavy recurring annual dues) could make an off-beat contribution to the distinguished cookbook publishing tradition of the Memphis Junior League. The underlying premise was, as near as we can recall, that the League’s coffers might be modestly enriched through the sale of a recipe book that was, if nothing else, out of the ordinary. ..”
And out of the ordinary it was. Some recipes had to be left out—Pigeon Drop Soup and Roast Rack of Armadillo, for example, were omitted for lack of essential raw materials to test them Coral Snake Stew was abandoned for want of a single soul who would volunteer to try it first (and the contributor himself could not be found) But be not dismayed or reluctant to find a copy of A MAN’S TASTE. Weird recipes aside, there are plenty of yummy recipes for man (and woman) alike. Easily the kind of cookbook to read in bed with a packet of post-its on hand to mark your favorite recipes-to-try.
STIRRING RECIPES FROM MEMPHIS HEART & SOUL cookbook was also the work of the Junior League of Memphis. This larger than life cookbook published in 1992 has a seal proclaiming it the National Winner of the Tabasco Cookbook awards for 1993.
The Memphis Cookbook published in 1970 is available on Amazon.com starting at $2.25 for a pre-owned copy.
Amazon.com has the Heart & Soul cookbook starting at $1.51 for a pre-owned copy. They also have the revised copy of the Memphis cookbook (with the blue cover) starting at $2.36 for a pre-owned copy.
The original Memphis Cookbook can be yours from Alibris.com starting at $2.36 for a pre-owned copy. Many of these cookbooks are also available new and often for very reasonable prices. I often find I have to shop around to see what is the best price for the best available condition. Other times (and I have complained about this before) – ordinary cookbooks such as these are priced by private vendors at hugely inflated prices. Every so often someone writes to me and asks how much I think such-and-such a cookbook is worth; my answer always is – it’s worth as much as someone is willing to pay.
My final mention is that the 1952 edition of The Memphis Cookbook contained poetry and essays similar to what I collected and posted as the Kitchen Poets. Much love and attention to detail went into the making of that first Memphis Cookbook. Much love and attention to detail went into the making of A Man’s Taste and Stirring Recipes as well.
Reviewed by Sandra Lee Smith