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WB01419_1.gif (2752 bytes)    La Belle Cuisine

A Tribute to Eudora Welty
April 13, 1909 - July 23, 2001

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Fine Cuisine with Art Infusion

"To cook is to create. And to create well...
is an act of integrity, and faith."




“I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be
a daring life as well.  For all serious daring starts from within.”

~ Eudora Welty

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La Belle Cuisine


A Tribute to Eudora Welty
by Michele W. Gerhard, 23 July 2001

  Our household is in mourning tonight. The world has lost not only a phenomenal literary giant, but a great lady as well. And we have lost a friend.

 One of the fringe benefits of growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, is getting to rub elbows now and then with geniuses of all sorts, including an astounding number of award-winning authors. Ms. Welty was not a personal friend of mine, and probably would not have recognized either my face or my name, although I have been in her company on several memorable occasions. My Aunt Josephine, on the other hand, came to know Ms. Welty quite well due to the ladies' mutual  involvement in and dedication to Jackson’s esteemed theatrical community.

 You see, Ms. Welty was not one whose fame tarnished her gentility. Despite her myriad honors (including the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and Presidential Medal of Freedom), she remained, all her days long, a kind, unpretentious, gracious lady.
In fact, in my mind, she was gracious in a definitive way. She lived in a very
simple house on Pinehurst Street, right across from Belhaven College, in the neighborhood of my youth. That same neighborhood was later enjoyed by my
younger son and his family. I must have driven past the Welty house thousands
upon thousands of times, and every single time, it was my pleasure to pay Ms. Eudora a silent tribute.
It is now my privilege and extreme pleasure to express my esteem in a more
formal manner.

 How better to honor an author than to share the expression of her thoughts with you? Among my vast collection of community cookbooks is a cherished coffee-stained, grease-spattered, well-worn copy of The Jackson Cookbook, published in 1971 by the Symphony League of Jackson. The foreword, called “The Flavor of Jackson”, was written by Eudora Welty, from which I quote:

 “… Sometimes we branched out from home as far as Shadow Lawn. When parties were given there it wasn’t in order to save the trouble at home but
to offer the guests a change – an al fresco entertainment in the quiet country
air of the Terry Road. Some of our high school graduation ‘teas’ took place
at Shadow Lawn. The receiving line stood there on Miss Anita Perkins’
lawn, in the very early shadows, and the punch bowl waited on her porch,
and there were her own delicious things to eat – frozen fruit salad was her
specialty – and all was elegant. It was the era of the Madeira tea napkin.
I believe I could say that more tea napkins were handed round at that
high-minded time than I ever saw in my life, before or since…

“As I child I heard it said that two well-traveled bachelors of the town, Mr. Erskin Helm and Mr. Charles Pierce, who lived on Amite Street, had
‘brought mayonnaise to Jackson'. Well they might have, though not in the literal way I pictured the event. Mayonnaise had a mystique. Little girls were initiated into it by being allowed to stand at the kitchen table and help make it, for making mayonnaise takes three hands. While the main two hands keep up the uninterrupted beat in the bowl, the smaller hand is allowed to slowly add the olive oil, drop-by-counted-drop. The solemn fact was that sometimes mayonnaise didn’t make. Only the sudden dash of the red pepper onto the brimming, smooth-as-cream bowlful told you it was finished and a triumph.

“Of course you couldn’t buy mayonnaise, and if you could, you wouldn’t. For the generation bringing my generation up, everything made in the kitchen started from scratch, too. There was a barrel of flour standing in the kitchen! Perhaps a sugar barrel too. The household may have provided (ours did) its own good butter (which implies a churn, and, of course, a cow) and its own eggs, and most likely it grew its own tomatoes, beans, strawberries, even asparagus. There’d be the seasonal rounds of the blackberry lady, appearing with her buckets at your door, and the watermelon man with his load, who’d plug you one to your taste, and the regulars sending their cries through the summer streets – ‘Butterbeans, snapbeans and okra!’ – followed up by the
ice man, of course. Meat? Why, your mother called up the butcher, talked
to him, asked what was especially nice today, and let him send it. There was communication with butchers. And my father sometimes saw them, for he’d stop by on his way from the office and come bringing home by hand the little squared-off, roofed over, white cardboard bucket with the wire handles, fragrant and leaking a little – and produced oysters for supper, just ladled out of the oyster barrel that the butcher got in from New Orleans.

“And of course they grated from whole nutmegs, they ground coffee from the beans, went to work on whole coconuts with the hatchet. Some people knew how to inveigle for the real vanilla bean. (Vanilla must have had a central importance in those days – think of all the cakes. Wasn’t there a local lady who made her living, and her entertainment, just selling vanilla extract over the telephone?)

“Our mothers were sans mixes, sans foil, sans freezer, sans blender, sans monosodium glutamate, but their ingredients were as fresh as the day; and they knew how to make bread.

“Jackson believed in and knew how to achieve the home flavor. And if ever there were a solid symbol of that spirit, one that radiates its pride and joy, it is the hand-cranked ice cream freezer. I see it established in a shady spot on a back porch, in the stage of having been turned till it won’t go around another time; its cylinder is full of its frozen custard that’s bright with peaches, or figs, or strawberries, its dasher lifted out and the plug in tight, the whole packed with ice and salt and covered with a sack to wait for dinner – and right now, who bids to lick the dasher?

“I daresay any fine recipe used in Jackson could have been attributed to a local lady, or her mother – Mrs. Cabell’s Pecans, Mrs. Wright’s Cocoons, Mrs. Lyell’s Lemon Dessert. Recipes, in the first place, had to be imparted – there was something oracular in the transaction – and however often they were made after that by others, they kept their right names. I make Mrs. Mosal’s White Fruitcake every Christmas, having got it from my mother,
who got it from Mrs. Mosal, and I often think to make a friend’s fine recipe
is to celebrate her once more, and in that cheeriest, most aromatic of places
to celebrate in - the home kitchen.

(See Southern Heirloom Recipes)

“Jackson had its full plenty of recipes, but I hardly remember a cookbook. My mother had the only one I ever saw as a child, 'The White House Cookbook'. I don’t recall which president’s wife was in headquarters at the time of our edition, but the book opened to a full-length drawing of a deer, complete with antlers, marked off with dotted lines to show how to cut it up for venison, which suggests poor Mrs. Teddy Roosevelt. The most useful thing about 'The White House Cookbook' was its roomy size, for in between its pages could be stored the recipes jotted down on scraps of paper and old envelopes, that my mother really used. They accumulated themselves over the years from friends and relations and from her own invention and a time or two from the Mystery Chef who came in over the radio. She had a cookbook within a cookbook. She had some of the makings, in fact, of the very sort of cookbook that this one is now certain to be. Today there’s a cookbook available for every conceivable purpose and occasion, but in this one we come full circle: we’re back again to the local. Using these cherished recipes we can make and delight in the fruits of Jackson itself.

“I’d like to express the pious hope that we’re to find these recipes given in
full. My mother’s don’t do me as much good as they might because she
never included directions. Her reasoning, often expressed, was that any cook worth her salt would know, given a list of ingredients, what to do with them, and if she did come to a momentary loss while stirring up a dish – taste it! Cooking was a matter of born sense, ordinary good judgment, enough experience, materials worth the bothering about, and tasting. I had to sit on a stool while she made spoonbread and take down what I saw like a reporter,
to get her recipe.

“I can’t resist adding this, for I think it applies. John Woodburn was a New York editor who’d come through Jackson on a scouting trip for young unknown writers and spent a night at our house. He carried my first collection of stories back with him and worked very hard trying to persuade his publisher to take them. Several years later, when he succeeded, he sent me
a telegram to say, ‘I knew as soon as I tasted your mother’s waffles that it would turn out all right.’ "

 ~ Eudora Welty


Of Eudora Welty, the dancer Martha Graham said, “…such a glory as Eudora
Welty does not often come to look at us, study us, and sing about us.” I would add that such a glory as Eudora Welty does not often come along at all. We have lost a national treasure, and I am deeply saddened by the sinking feeling that somehow an era has ended with her passing.  How extremely fortunate we are that her thoughts, her words, her artistry remain with us, to keep us company and warm our hearts.

Links to the sort of recipes Ms. Welty might have enjoyed can be found in

Notes from a Southern Expatriate, with Recipes

A Tribute to Craig Claiborne
A Tribute to Julia Child
Daily Recipe Index
Recipe Archives Index
Recipe Search

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