La Belle Cuisine
to Eudora Welty
Fine Cuisine with Art Infusion
cook is to create. And to create well...
“I am a writer who came of a
sheltered life. A sheltered life can be
Recipe of the Day Categories:
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.
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.
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:
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
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
“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?
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,
“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.
like to express the pious hope that we’re to find these recipes given in
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
~ Eudora Welty
Of Eudora Welty, the dancer Martha
Graham said, “…such a glory as Eudora