New Cookbook Alert.

August 2, 2008


I could talk (or I guess, typitty type away) for a very long time about cookbooks I like and what makes a cookbook special in my opinion. Like I have said before, I have been reading cookbooks since I was 5 years old or so. I know, weirdo.

It's rare that I really fall for a cookbook these days in a new and different way. (Note: I did not say I have trouble falling for new cookbooks -- there are so many out there that are fantastic and that I want to add to my collection. They are just sometimes more of the same...you know what I mean?) I first read about Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales From a Southern Cook on one of my favorite food blogs, 101 Cookbooks. Heidi went on and on about how great this book, which celebrates the food of the South (in particular, Mississippi), is and how excited she was to find it. If you are familiar at all with Heidi, you know she is the ultimate sophisticated, health-conscious, vegetarian foodie (in a good way!). So, it was a bit ironic that she was waxing poetic about this book, given its subject matter. It was enough to make me order it (and I don't do that very often as the shelves in my kitchen are jam-packed with cookbooks and B is beginning to look at me with a worried confusion that I haven't seen before).
I must say, I have not been able to put this book down. As promised, the author of the book -- Martha Hall Foose -- is a master of the head note. You don't have to read the recipes, much less make them, to experience this book. The notes to the recipes beautifully nail the "food is life" connection. After all, that is why I have always read cookbooks ... food is just another way to reflect upon life.
Since Heidi shared one of her favorite head notes (and you really should read it on her blog), I will share one of mine. It precedes "Mother of the Church Ambrosia, A Labor of Love."
Charlotte Miles came to work for our family one day right after we got home from my father's medical residency in Ohio, the summer I learned to write cursive. She walked up the driveway in a white nurse's uniform, and she informed my mother she had taken care of Doc when he was a baby and was here to take care of us now. She lived in a red house on Cherry Street. She was a Mother of the Church. When asked exactly what that meant, she said it meant you were "not compelled."

Upon further inquiry, it became apparent that it meant you were not compelled to do anything. Not compelled to feed the preacher, not compelled to have folks over after a funeral, not compelled to do pretty much anything you didn't feel like doing anymore, as you had done enough through the years. And you get to sit in the back row, so you can leave early without everyone seeing, or right up front in the first row. I hope to live long enough and do enough good works to be "not compelled."

Making proper ambrosia requires a good deal of labor and is offered lovingly by many mothers of the church. This dish gives you a lot of time to think while cutting the oranges and grating the coconut. I think about Miss Charlotte and her little red house on Cherry Street, and her years of kind works.
{I would live to show you a bunch more of her writing, but I fear for the copyright police.}
I can't wait to try some of the recipes in the book, including that intriguing "sweet tea" I always hear about. In the meantime, I am absolutely loving being transported to Tchula, Mississippi by the lovely Ms. Hall.

3 comments:

  1. Your comment about "sweet tea" makes me laugh. I grew up in the south (North Carolina), not the deep south like Mississippi but still, I grew up drinking sweet tea. To me, it was nothing special and I don't drink it much anymore but northern or western transplants here go crazy for it. I think I could make it in my sleep.

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  2. Jora, sounds like a great read! I grew up in Texas and spent many humid summer days nearby in Mississippi, where my stepmother grew up. The passage from your cookbook transported my imagination back to my youth. However, sweet tea was never my thing, I prefer plain Tetley brand tea with fresh mint, like my grandmother made. Anyhow, you'll have to come over sometime and Adriana and I can cook a "southern" style dinner for you and the fam and we can make red velvet cupcakes for dessert.

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  3. Mel: um, yes, I will come over ANYTIME you or Adriana are cooking. Just let me know. I think I prefer regular tea with fresh mint anyway.

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