I will admit that I am prejudiced when it comes to Southern food. It is not just what’s on the plate, but the stories and the history of what’s on the plate.
However. HOWEVER. Sometimes we go terribly astray and that is never more evident that when a community cookbook comes across my desk. Community cookbooks are put together by civic groups with recipes contributed by their members. The most famous, of course, is Charleston Receipts published by the Junior League of Charleston. My copy is nearly falling apart I’ve used it so many times.
But then there are other community cookbooks that include “what were they thinking” recipes. I got one the other day called “Sherman didn’t Burn Our Recipes” put together by the Bartow Community Club of Bartow, Georgia. I hope nobody from Bartow ever reads this, but Sherman should have burned some of the recipes.
Here’s a sampling. How about Simple Salad. This is the recipe: Iceberg lettuce, chopped tomato, salt, mayonnaise and grated cheese. Yes. That is it. I am trying to imagine what this salad would look like and how it would taste. I cannot.
Or how about Salmon Stew? The recipe calls for blending two large onions to “mush” and adding 1 can of salmon “mashed to slush” along with three quarts of milk and a smattering of spices. A salmon died for this recipe. Horrifying.
Many, many Southern recipes for “salads” include crushed pineapple and miniature marshmallows. But I cannot imagine the Sweetheart Salad of cream cheese, maraschino cherries, crushed pineapple, miniature marshmallows and Cool Whip. Where are my teeth? Oh, dear. I believe they have all fallen out.
Am I on a roll here? I think I am. I also find it kind of interesting in a quaint way that many recipes gain that international flair with the addition of ingredients that are not at all international. We have Russian Chicken, which includes Russian dressing along with dry onion soup mix and peach preserves. French Peas contains bacon, onion, iceberg lettuce and…wait for it… Le Sueur brand peas. Uh, that would be a reference to Le Sueur, Minnesota, where Green Giant foods, which makes the peas, was founded. Then there is the United Nations of recipes that is Chinese Salad, which contains a can of the aforementioned Le Sueur brand peas, 1 can of French-style green beans and one can of La Choy mixed Chinese vegetables.
Now I realize that the good women of Bartow were contributing what they considered to be their best recipes to this book. But I do not want to end up at a potluck supper in Bartow.
To be fair, many community cookbooks contain great recipes. I probably have at least thirty community cookbooks and I use them constantly. So let me leave you with a classic community cookbook recipe from Party Receipts, a follow up to the Charleston Junior Leagues ground-breaking first book. There isn’t a cocktail party in the South that wouldn’t benefit from a silver chafing dish full of Bourbon Barbecued Franks.
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons minced onion
1/2 cup catsup
1 cup currant jelly
3/4 cup bourbon
1 pound cocktail franks
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and add the onion, sauteing until translucent. In a medium bowl, combine the catsup, jelly and bourbon. Add to the onions and stir to combine. Add the franks to the sauce and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce begins to glaze, about 25 minutes. Serve in a chafing dish with toothpicks.