Friday, May 1, 2009

Cookbook Has Connections to Literary History

I'm excited to present our cookbook choice for today. The book is Cross Creek Cookery, written by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings who wrote The Yearling, a Pulitzer prize winner. This cookbook is a more personal look at the author, and her home in Florida where she wrote and managed a 72- acre orange grove. She gives stories about her life and family through the background profiles of the recipes.

In this unique and charming cookbook, which was published in 1941, Rawlings even makes references to her dairy cow, Dora (i.e. Dora's Ice Cream). Any recipes that came from her mom or grandma, or aunt are given titles such as Mother's Sunday Night Salad or Grandma Traphagen's Sugar Cookies. She adds little stories, such as the way she used to bribe her mother to make her favorite fruit salad by offering to pick out the nut meats for it.

The author was ahead of her time in using and featuring locally-grown produce; as an orange grove owner, I'm sure that she saw early-on the importance of this. You will find that she includes many recipes with kumquats, Malaga grapes, grapefruit, avocados, pecans, and mangoes. This made the salad section a little exotic for my taste. It had such dishes as: Tomato Aspic and Artichoke; Beet and Cabbage Salad; and Grapefruit and Avocado Salad. However, I would make her Mother's Sunday Night Salad, as well as, Mother's Fruit Salad Dressing.

Through Rawling's writing skills, the reader gets a sense that , although she's from the North and has lived in Florida for 10 years, she loves and appreciates the cultures and foods of her adopted home. Her eclectic mix of recipes reflects both worlds; there are recipes for both Alligator-Tail Steak and Boston Brownies!

The Main Dish section is also varied; there's a wide variety of great seafood recipes, some French, but there's also Cheese Grits, Dumplings and her family's Spaghetti and Meatballs recipe. One section is devoted entirely to " Wild Game Recipes" such as venison, bear and dove preparation.

The dessert section in this book is my favorite. It will absolutely make your mouth water! Typically-Southern desserts are the stars here: Sweet Potato Pone; Peach and Strawberry Shortcake; Pecan Pie; and Syllabub. After all, does it really matter what you had for dinner if the dessert is a show stopper?! If there's no dessert, though, her Shrimp Newburg might make up for it (or Chicken and Dumplings). I think I gained weight just reading this book.

I will warn readers, in advance, that there are some references from that period that might be offensive, and that would not be acceptable in writing today. I believe they are made in passing, with an innocent, unpretentious tone. After all, you have to take into consideration that this is written in the South in 1942. In one such passage, it talks about a kitchen servant making Sweet Potato Pone using butter instead of the usual bacon grease because the children are coming home to visit. As she churns the butter she chants:
"Come butter come. Grandma waitin' for the chillen to come." It's a look back in time, and I believe it adds to the flavor of the book's authenticity, just as her stories of friends and family do.

Cross Creek Cookery reads more like an autobiography than a cookbook. The drawings of an earlier time in Florida's history are well-done by Robert Camp and add to the book's charm. This is one of my favorites from my collection, and I wish you luck in finding it; to my knowledge, there was only one printing.

P. 61 Fried Asparagus

Large-sized can of asparagus, drained
Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
Dip in flour, then slightly-beaten egg, then in bread crumbs, and fry until golden. Yellow summer squash is good this way, too, but cut crosswise in quarter-inch slices.

P 180 Utterly Deadly Pecan Pie

4 eggs
1 1/4 C Southern cane syrup
1 1/2 C broken pecan meats
1 C sugar
4 TBSP butter
1 tsp vanilla

Boil sugar and syrup together two or three minutes. Beat eggs not too stiff, pour in slowly the hot syrup, add the butter, vanilla, and the pecan meats, broken rather coarsley. Turn into a raw pie shell and bake in a moderate oven for 45 min. or until set.

I'm participating in Grocerycartchalleng's Friday Recipe Swap!

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