Old cookbooks revive taste of past

Nothing much was cooking at City Hall last week since everybody was either out of town, at the Masters Tournament or in the grocery store shopping or the kitchen cooking for a party. So I've taken a break from politics and will indulge in one of my favorite subjects -- cooking and cookbooks.


NOT QUITE TEA-TIME AT THE MASTERS: My favorite cookbook has been retired because the back cover fell off and I lost a few pages. Mama gave it to me in 1964, and it saw me through years of tuna noodle casseroles, asparagus and English pea casseroles, Bing cherry and Coca-Cola congealed salads, sour cream pound cakes and Chicken Breasts Supreme in mushroom soup. Once I made a ham loaf using a recipe from Favorite Recipes of the Deep South , and after going to the trouble of grinding up ham and mixing in all kinds of other things and baking it in a loaf pan, it tasted just like Spam.

I love those cookbooks from the 1960s and '70s because just about everything had lots of real butter in it and reading them is like walking down memory lane. I collect them from antique shops, and Ernie buys them at estate and used book sales. Especially wonderful are the ones by churches and Junior Leagues with the names of the women who submitted the recipes below them.

A TASTE OF THE PAST: My favorite is Georgia Heritage , published by The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of Georgia in 1979. Reading it is like reading a Who's Who of every town in Georgia I've lived in, except Tifton, the one I grew up in, which had plenty of Colonial Dames but somehow managed not to make the cut. Even little old Hahira, about 20 miles south of Tifton, has recipes in it, such as Nancy Parrott's Cider Mold Salad.

In keeping with the style of the day, the women's married names are listed first with their maiden names in parentheses. So Nancy Parrott is listed as Mrs. Jesse Lyle Parrott (Nancy Rutledge Wainer).

There also are recipes from people I knew in Athens when I was 17 years old and working at Watson's Drug Store, which became Hodgson's Drug Store. I didn't really know Mrs. Leon Milton Leathers (Sarah Pharr Erwin); Mrs. Robert R. Segrest (Laura Ann Phinizy); or Mrs. Bolling Dubose (Mary Neilson Atkinson). I just dipped the ice cream.

Marianne Gordon, who was to become Kenny Rogers' fourth wife, used to come in the store, too. Her mama had her hair done at the beauty shop next door, and the beauticians would come to the drug store and tell us about how she'd brag about all the jewelry Kenny had given Marianne.

Kim Basinger's mama would bring Kim and four other little towheads into the drug store and line them up at the soda fountain for ice cream almost every day.

That was my first real job, and it wore me out. Sometimes I'd walk home for lunch and fall across the bed for a short nap. When I didn't come back after a few hours, they'd send somebody to come wake me up.

AN APPETITE FOR MURDER: In Georgia Heritage, there's a recipe for lamb stew from Mrs. Leonard John Mederer (Hyta Plowden), of Valdosta. She was known all over the Southeast for her prizewinning day lilies. I went to her house one time, and she had at least an acre of them blooming in her backyard. She also had peacocks roaming around and roosting on the wrought iron tables and chairs on her large back verandah.

People say the Mederers spent a fortune on the defense of their nephew Keller Wilcox Jr., who was convicted of killing Hellen Griffin Hanks, the mother of three young children, and burying her body in a field in south Lowndes County in 1972.

She was working at Wilcox Advertising Agency, and friends said after she disappeared that she'd told them Mr. Wilcox had sexually harassed her and that she was afraid of him. Some people said she'd run off with another man, until eight years later a farmer plowing the field struck the wood Wilcox Advertising Agency box she'd been buried in and dragged it to the surface.

At the trial, an old man who worked for the Wilcoxes testified he'd helped bury the box one rainy night. He said they put her in a box and then put her legs in.

The defense claimed the old man was senile, but the prosecution had her remains exhumed and found knife marks on her leg bones.

Then-Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers prosecuted the case, and Mr. Wilcox was sentenced to life in prison for her murder. He's up for parole this year, and Mr. Bowers has changed his opinion and now represents him.

GARDEN CITY SAMPLER: Augusta is well represented in Georgia Heritage with many prominent Colonial Dames. There's a recipe for lasagna casserole from Mrs. William F. Toole (Bertha Barrett Lee); hot tuna sandwich from Mrs. Clayton Pierce Boardman Jr. (Ann Carter Burdell); and stuffed shoulder of lamb from Mrs. William Shivers Morris III (Mary Sue Ellis).

And did my heart skip a beat when I saw Bea Massengale's devil's food cake with seafoam icing from Mrs. Thomas Maxwell Blanchard (Anne Harper). The secret was knowing when the boiling water and sugar could spin a thread. If you knew that, you could make seafoam. If not, you had goop.

I did not see a recipe from one of Augusta's most accomplished hostesses emeritus, Martha Boardman Fleming, a classically trained cook and the author of The Grits Tree and Mycelium Madness! Fun With Portabella Mushrooms .

Mrs. Fleming threw fabulous Masters parties, and each party had a theme, such as Flora and Fauna, with orchids and animals.

In The Grits Tree, she tells how to plant a grits tree and harvest the grits by placing sheets on the ground around it. Usually in late July, when the full moon is high in a clear midnight sky and shining on the grits, the harvest begins.

"This sight makes a Southerner's heart palpitate so fast that a libation is in order," she wrote. "The finest aged bourbon -- for medicinal purposes only -- is brought to the harvest site in the oak barrels in which it was aged. Tin cups dip into the nectar."

When the barrels are empty, two or three volunteers grab the trunk and shake the tree, and the "grits come down like falling snow on the waiting white cotton sheets below." Then the grits are put in the empty bourbon barrels "to await their blessed destiny."

She says one tree grows enough grits to feed a family of 13 for a year.

Recipe For Disaster: Now, don't think just because I love Southern cookbooks, I can't cook fancy when I want to. I made quiche Lorraine from scratch before anybody I knew had ever heard of it or knew real men didn't eat it. I've made baba au rhum twice in my life and spumoni once. That was for dessert for the coaches' wives at the University of Georgia.

I had never made it before, but it sounded like a good dessert after lasagna. I mixed up the ingredients just like the recipe said and froze the concoction. When I served it, after a few bites there was dead silence. Then Barbara Dooley said what they were all thinking, "This is awful!"

Everybody started laughing. I laughed, too, but I never made spumoni again.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.



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