DON’T COOK—COLLECT RECIPES

My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction, awarded the Moonbeam Silver Medal for Young Adult Fiction, and awarded the 2016 Frank Yerby Award for Fiction. Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazon.

FAYE WITH HER RECIPE BOX

I like good food, but let’s face it—cooking involves messing up your whole kitchen, including every pan you’ve collected during your entire life.  Those utensils don’t scrub themselves. Collecting recipes, on the other hand, just requires a huge cabinet drawer or a medium size shipping crate. You’re ready to start!

At a potluck dinner a while back I found the best cake I’d ever tasted. “I want this recipe!” I declared between bites. “You can have it,” said the cook who was standing nearby.  “Just take a pound of butter…” I quit listening.  Anything containing a pound of butter would have to be good, and I already have half a shipping crate of recipes to prove that.  As official taster, I also have a roll around the middle as supporting evidence.

Jeff Foxworthy says, “You might be a redneck if most of your best recipes begin with, ‘Take a can of Campbell’s Soup…’” Well, Mr. Foxworthy, it just so happens that half the recipes in my shipping crate begin that very way.  Ten or so years ago I took a number of cooking classes with the intention of moving up to “cuisine.” And, yes, the resulting food was good, but most dishes couldn’t hold a shuck to my Campbell Soup dishes. Plus, cuisine is a lot more work.

So here’s the deal, when I go out to a really ritzy restaurant or when I’m in France, I’ll go for the finest cuisine they can whip up. But when I’m cooking for company, I’m heading for my collection.

My mountain Georgia mother didn’t have recipes.  A lot of times she had no ingredients. There were no measuring cups or spoons or casserole dishes in the house.  No electric mixer until I was in college. Yet she was a good cook.  Her biscuits were better than anyone’s. Her watercress topped with new onions, crumbled bacon (when we had it), and drizzled with hot bacon grease was the best.  Her soup beans were out of this world.  My sister and I did not learn any of these “recipes.” Mama was afraid we’d waste grocery staples. Our job was to clean the kitchen after the meal. And I mean clean. A fly had better slide if it landed on one of her pans. As a result, when I married I knew how to cook one meal—Kraft Spaghetti dinner in a box. Only when I became a stay-at-home mom did I decide I needed to learn to cook.  I asked my prize-winning cook mother-in-law for help, and she was glad to give it.  A little too glad, now I think about it!  I’m sure she had been dying for me to ask.

I learned all right.  Soon I could puree, fold-in, saute’, and braise. I learned to make a banana pudding which did not require instant vanilla pudding. Many of the recipes in my hoard are written in my mother-in-law’s hand. So for twenty years I cooked two or three pretty good meals a day and collected more recipes than I’d ever use even back then.

Time moved on. Now my sons are married to lovely women who know how to cook better than I ever dreamed of.  One of my sons learned to cook pretty well during his long bachelorhood. 

As for me, sometimes I think I’ve come full circle. No, I haven’t returned to Kraft meal in a box.  Not yet anyway. But my crate of recipes gets little use unless the kids or grandkids are coming. Otherwise my husband and I have a lot of one-dish meals—beef stew, chicken soup, gumbo, Chicken ala king—things you can cook in big batches and freeze for later meals.And while the big pot simmers on the stove I have time to read the latest Southern Living and maybe collect new recipes for my stash!

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