Every Cookbook Collector’s Dream: A Photo Finish

Esates sale

Two shelves of unique cookbooks were offered at a recent estate sale in Gulf Breeze, Florida. I pulled up a chair and started reading, getting to know the cook.

Southern writer Pat Conroy collected recipes and cookbooks. So did Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Anne Porter. I hope, when they died, they didn’t have as many cookbooks as food journalist Russ Parsons.  He claims, at one time, to have owned more than 1500. In fact, his Prius was full with his initial donation of 500 cookbooks to the Long Beach Public Library. But Russ is small potatoes compared to Sue Jimenez, who holds the Guinness World Record for her cookbook collection. In May 2018 it totaled 6,372.

Lately I’ve been tempted to buy cookbooks at estate sales in my quest for 300 recipes to celebrate New Orleans’ 300 years. But after seeing photos of Jimenez’s collection (think Library of Congress shelves), I’ve established some rules before purchasing a second-hand cookbook.  First, it has to be personal and on a small scale (church, community, club, school).  It must be well-used in the kitchen (a splatter of grease or penciled-in correction proves it), and include at least four tasty and tempting gumbo recipes.  And I need to have faith in the book.

Saturday I almost bought the Navarre, Florida Cheerleader Cookbook but I just couldn’t imagine cheerleaders bouncing around the kitchen. It takes a lot less energy and much more patience to make a roux.  I also passed on A Book of Favorite Recipes compiled in 1973 by the Alabama Association of Credit Women.  You can bet the measurements are accurate and there’s no fudging on ingredients. But despite the confidence-building organization, the book lacked the sufficient gumbo recipes to earn a spot on my shelves. Instead of buying, I’m now photographing gumbo recipes.

At a genuine estate sale — not a downsizing sale — a row of cookbooks can tell a story about the deceased.  Inscriptions on the inside cover, notes in the margins, and dog-eared pages point to favorite recipes. And then a row of Weight Watcher cookbooks (like mine) shows a lifelong struggle with the scales. Anti-inflammatory, heart health and diabetic cookbooks tell another tale.

I can guess the places the cook has lived.  Who makes Cincinnati Chili unless they’ve lived there?  And, more than once, I’ve opened a cookbook to find a family Christmas letter to the cook.  I not only know the cooks, I also know their friends.

Before I started photographing recipes, I made some bad purchases.  I’d buy a cookbook for one recipe, bring it home and stuff it on my bookcase. Now my shelves sag.  For example, I always use Crisco, but I’ve never used an entire 3-pound can for gumbo. But, Ruth Thomas from The Woman’s Club of Pensacola does when she makes 10 gallons of gumbo. I needed that recipe.

Gumbo 10 gallons

And of course it was worth a quarter for a Creole Gumbo for the Crock Pot recipe. Crock Pot Recipe

I even bought a cookbook without a gumbo recipe, but I loved the name — Stove Pilot: Favorite Recipes from Maxwell Air Force Base.  I’d never seen recipes penned and illustrated by the cooks. Drawn cookbook

Last week at a Leigh Shell Estate Liquidation sale (yes, Leigh Shell really is her name), I snapped photos of these recipes along and only bought  three more cookbooks. Sea-Food GumboCreole Gumbo

I’m going to have to downsize (in lieu of dying) but I’m not letting loose of my new cookbooks from Judy, Meredith and Gina! Thanks, girls! Covers

 

 

 

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Community Cookbooks on the Pulitzer Scale

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My ragged collection of Junior League cookbooks (front stack)  received a much needed face lift with books in great condition, thanks to a gift from author Judy Fawley.

When Southern Living recognized the most famous and cherished community cookbooks, eleven of the fourteen cookbooks were published by Junior Leagues across the South.  My copy of River Road, published by the Junior League of Baton Rouge, is forty years old, crumbling and missing the gumbo section, but it still has the recipe all Louisiana cooks rave about – Spinach Madeleine.  I heard about River Road long before I bought it.  When at friends’ houses in New Orleans, I’d compliment a recipe, and inevitably the response was “That’s from River Road.”  I was young and poor but scraped together the cash to purchase my first cookbook.  Of course I had received wedding gift cookbooks, but this book I chose.  I loved it so much I even bought the “healthy” volume several years later.  It’s just not as tattered.

In the South, Junior League cookbooks are on par with The Joy of Cooking or Mastering

Julia Child

Julia Child, author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was a member of the Junior League of Pasadena (I’m guessing that’s California, not Texas). Photo credit biography.com

the Art of French Cooking.  No matter the city, Junior Leaguers capture the essence of a community with popular, tested recipes that reflect the region.  They also have a knack for titles and, in some cases, you can name the town before you open the book.  Look at these — Encore! from Nashville;  Winning Seasons from Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama football champions; Pirate’s Pantry from Lake Charles, Louisiana; Gasparilla from Tampa; Jubilee from Mobile; and Jambalaya from New Orleans.

In Tyler, Texas, rose capital of the world, the league coined the title Through Rose-Colored Glasses along with fictitious cook Rosie.  After living there for seventeen years, I agree it’s a perfect title. Tyler exists because the muddy, oil-laden streets of Kilgore were way  too dirty. The oil barons settled in Tyler and viewed the town through rose-colored glasses.

Rose Colored GlassesFor a place with less notoriety like Greensboro, North Carolina, the league editors came up the fitting phrase Out of Our League.

More than 200 Junior League cookbooks are now in publication. And, as the text of Truffles to Trifles of St. Joseph, Missouri, reminds readers

To make an artist of the cook,
We recommend to you this book,
For gathered here from all about,
Are dishes gourmets dream about,
Some handed-down from Great Aunt Sue,
Some straight from father’s bar-be-cue,
We thank the cooks whose inspiration,
Resulted in our publication,
A noble book you will agree,
For proceeds go to charity.

According to the Association of Junior Leagues, the first Junior League cookbook, Recipes from Southern Kitchens, was published by the Augusta, Georgia, Junior League in 1940 to begin their tradition of cookbooks as fundraisers.  Despite the wave of feminism and decline of women’s pages in newspapers, Junior League cookbooks have survived as have 284 clubs in the U.S.  Founded in 1901 by a New York City debutante, the womens’ group makes a difference with the profits from cookbooks. The groups assist nutrition centers, literacy programs, children’s theaters and museums, promote clean water, domestic violence awareness, and tackle contemporary issues like cybercrimes and juvenile justice. In the South, though they’ve never quite shaken the debutante image, Junior League is synonymous with excellence in cookbooks and community service.

The Lafayette, Louisiana, Junior League, which has four cookbooks in print, has earned over $1.2 million for the community from cookbook sales, according to the Washington Post.  And, much to my surprise, no one has ever tested the recipes in Talk About Good!  – number fourteen on the Southern Living list.  I paid two dollars for a first edition (1967) at an estate sale recently.  The tabbed dividers include a gumbo section with twelve – yes a dozen – gumbo recipes.  Gumbos with duck, sausage, guinea, wild goose, oysters and goose reflect local fare.  I’m partial to submissions by Martha Jones (not me, but my first name and my maiden name) and more Davis Family recipes.

Talk About Good!Talk About Good 2

Many Junior League cookbooks feature recipes from local restaurants, celebrities and chefs. Sugar Beach from Fort Walton Beach, Florida, has an entire section of restaurant recipes. They’ve reprinted the original seafood gumbo recipe from The Original Seafood & Oyster House Restaurant. Get a big pot because the recipe makes 16 gallons.

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Different from most Junior League books, Pensacola, Florida’s Some Like It South! rarely names the contributors. I miss that personal touch.  There’s a “joy in cooking” to find a neighbor’s recipe in print. Some Like It South’s sixth printing includes four gumbo recipes, two which reflect today’s woman. The first is a microwave gumbo for the working woman with a busy schedule. Making microwave roux is enough of a shortcut for me.Pensacola 1

The second is the prize-winning recipe from a working woman — local chef, restaurateur and cookbook author Julie DeMarko.  The former Poet Laureate of Northwest Florida, when Julie’s not cooking, she’s creating delicious poetry.  Yes, it’s nice to see a friend’s name under a recipe.

Pensacola 2

Baton Rouge Junior League trimmed the calories from favorite recipes from River Road when they published River Road Recipes: The Healthy Collection.  All recipes include the nutritional analysis for calories, fat, percentage of fat calories, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.  The cookbook also includes a section with tips for lightening recipes and a fat-free roux recipe. The editors have taste-tested and included three lighter gumbo recipes.  The lightest is the seafood and okra, which, glory be, still has a roux.

River Road 2River Road 3River Road Seafood

True Grits from Atlanta resembles a coffee table book more than a cookbook.  The Junior League of Atlanta, 5000 women strong, is the largest in the world.  Their 304-page impressive hardback is rich in stories, photographs and recipes. Faithful to its title, it includes eight recipes for grits  but lacks one single gumbo dish.  Surely my copy is missing a page.

I’m not sure how cooks rank Junior League cookbooks from the rest of the country, but I think the titles are just as catchy.  From the Midwest, the pork capital of America, comes I’ll Cook When Pigs Fly from Cincinnati, and my favorite, from the Waterloo-Cedar Falls, Iowa, Junior League two simple words:  Pig-Out

 

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Looking for a fundraiser? History has the answer

Dueling Covers

I thought I was seeing double when Jeannie Zokan brought me a club cookbook that included an easy gumbo recipe.  I almost said “I have that cookbook,” but stopped short.  I realized this wasn’t the cookbook from the Gulf Breeze Mom’s Club.  This one was from Pensacola’s Montessori moms. The covers are identical –except for a single box of text.

Jeannie, a fellow writer, understands my plight in collecting 300 gumbo recipes to celebrate New Orleans’ 300 years.  Because of my respect for copyright law (the journalist in me) and fear of plagiarizing (the English teacher in me), I’ve only published 26 of 300 so far.   I adapt gumbo recipes to support an enlightening (hopefully) narrative.  And there’s no way I’m using a recipe unless I know the source.

The identical cover cookbooks are both printed by Morris Cookbooks of Kearney, Nebraska.  I have two other cookbooks printed by Morris, but I also own club, school and church cookbooks published by their rivals in the cookbook-fundraiser business. These printers provide software and online sites complete with covers, dividers, helpful hints, measurement tables, sales and marketing tips, and anything else a cookbook editor could desire, including more recipes.  Morris was the first such publisher in 1933, and still exists. You can even tour the plant or “buy cookbooks from some random family. “ Morris was followed by Fundcraft, which originated in eastern Kansas in 1940, but now prints books in Tennessee.  The third big one, Cookbook Publishers, started in 1947 in Lenexa, Kansas.

Women peeling tomatoes

Churchwomen have long been the key to mouth-watering recipes. In this photo, parishioners peel and slice tomatoes for a benefit picnic supper on the grounds of Saint Thomas’ Church near Bardstown, Kentucky. Photo courtesy Library of Congress LC-USF34-055253-D

I don’t know why Midwesterners cornered the market on printing cookbooks as fundraisers,  unless they were inspired by the success of the “Receipt Book” compiled by the Ladies of the Congregational Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1873 or the “76 Cook Book” published by the Ladies of Plymouth Church in Des Moines, Iowa,  in 1876. These church cookbooks are the two oldest cookbooks in the Library of Congress database, so it seems fitting that Fundcraft’s first fundraising cookbook was for their local Methodist congregation in Pleasanton, Kansas.  Grammar lovers take note: recipes were once called receipts (from the Latin recipere) and cookbook was once two words – cook book.

The Library of Congress’ Guide to American Church, Club and Community Cookbooks is a fascinating look at the development of cookbooks as fundraisers.  Just reading the list of century-old titles brings back memories of covered dish Lenten suppers at the Christ Episcopal Church in Tyler, Texas – tables laden with creamy casseroles, Jell-O salads and family favorites.  Our oldest son claims the chicken and dumplings were the best he’s ever eaten –massive dumplings with only a little chicken. His two brothers remember the cheesy chicken spaghetti, pancake dinners, and fruit punch.  Me? The plum puddings at Christmas provided my favorite cake recipe.  It’s no wonder churches, their pews packed with great cooks, chose cookbooks as a traditional fundraiser.

The eighty-two churchwomen in the pews of St. Francis Street Methodist Episcopal Church South in Mobile, Alabama, might not have realized they were preserving 1878 history when they collected more than 300 pages of recipes for Gulf City Cook Book.  Blackberry jelly, watermelon preserves, turtle soup, scuppernong wine, pickled peaches and oyster recipes tell us what Mobile residents harvested as well as what they served.  The chapters “Comforts for the Sick” and “Medicinal” also remind me of a few ailments modern medicine has cured.  Even though three gumbo recipes are in the food chapters, any of them would comfort the sick.

Gulf City 1Gulf City 2

Gulf City3

The Women’s Parsonage and Home Mission Society published their New Orleans Cook Book in 1898.  Before the advent of fundraiser cookbook printers, groups like this one often sold advertising to defray printing costs. The New Orleans Cook Book carries ads for Turkish baths, steamships, druggists, dentist and the Great Atlantic & Pacific Team Company, aka the A & P grocery. The ads alone tell a mercantile history.

nola COOKBOOK ADS

New Orleans LOC 1New Orleans LOC 2New Orleans LOC 3New Orleans LOC 4

While attending Christ Episcopal Church, I volunteered as a proofreader for Blessings, the church cookbook. My job was to prepare specific recipes to ensure the ingredients, proportions and instructions worked.  Hopefully, all other churches, clubs and schools use the same process for compiling cookbooks.  After all, they’ve had nearly 150 years to get the process right. Though I didn’t proofread the following three recipes, I feel confident in reprinting them – I know the cooks.

Blessings 1Blessings 2Blessings 3

And here’s the Fast and Easy Gumbo Jeannie delivered and Morris Cookbooks printed in 2003. I trust the recipe because the Montessori moms seem to have it all together with the help of Morris.

Fst & Easy Montessori

Continuing my quest for 300 gumbo recipes, I clicked on Fundcraft’s online free one-Jelly Jarmillion recipe database and, much to my surprise, they have exactly 300 gumbo recipes. If you can’t wait for my 300, click here, search “gumbo” and sing Happy Birthday to New Orleans.

 

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Finding your gumbo roots

Opening

Pensacola’s North Hill neighborhood, once the site of an historic battle, is comprised of stately homes and modest bungalows with styles ranging from Victorian to Spanish Colonial. Imagine strolling down the sidewalks, in decades past, and smelling the flavors of gumbo wafting out the open windows.

Good gumbo recipes surface in unlikely places, but I admit finding them at the Genealogy Branch of the West Florida Public Library was a surprise.  In retrospect, it makes sense. Local cookbooks, especially those collected by history-based organizations, tell stories about customs, neighborhoods, families, friends, and the folks next door.  A cookbook might well be a researcher’s last resort in finding Aunt Sally.

And at the Genealogy Branch I hit the mother lode in my search for 300 gumbo recipes to commemorate New Orleans’ 300th birthday. I went in search of The North Hill Cookbook, which my friend had described as rich in recipes and anecdotes.  Published in 1981 by the North Hill Preservation Association, the cookbook commemorated 200 years since the Battle of Pensacola and Spanish control of West Florida. The North Hill District, a site of an important battle, now contains 425 buildings, including dozens of stately Victorian homes.  Two years after publication of the cookbook, the neighborhood was recognized as a U.S. historic preservation district.

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Complete with its library “Do Not Check Out’ sticker.

The cookbook is as rich as the history contained on its now-yellowed and near-crumbling pages. Recipes are interspersed with illustrations by local artist Pat Regan and historical accounts like the biography of Bernardo de Galvez, who led the Spanish troops at the great victory at North Hill. On the personal side, are “I Remember  When” anecdotes like shopping at the markets in old Pensacola. The publication reflects the diversity of North Hill with ethnic recipes like Poet Laureate Adelia Rosasco-Soule’s Italian contribution — Aiolo Mayonnaise.  Contributors even include their North Hill address – a jackpot for family history researchers.  The biggest surprise for me – a pressure cooker gumbo recipe.North Hill 1

North Hill 2

North Hill 3

North Hill 4

North Hill 5

The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Ft. Pickens Chapter cookbook lacks the nostalgia of North Hill’s publication, but offers some tempting desserts from America’s First Ladies.  There’s only one gumbo –and it’s not an original Florida Panhandle concoction, but this Cajun Red Bean Gumbo is on my menu for Mondays, the traditional Red Beans & Rice Day in New Orleans. That’s washing day, you know, so start a big pot of red beans.

Cajun Red Beans Gumbo

gumbo

My first batch of Cajun Red Bean Gumbo was delicious — no need for nutmeg.

Just a few Dewey Decimal points down from North Hill and Ft. Pickens, I discovered Old Customs of Pensacola and Favorite Recipes of the Times by Catharine Stewart and Maude Hollowell. The 8 ½ x 11 plastic-bound collection printed in 1974 takes the “Five Flags Over Pensacola” approach to organize recipes from Spanish, French, English settlers along with American Territorial, Confederate and Old Pensacola favorites.  Chicken and Oyster Gumbo, according to the authors, was the typical first course for Christmas dinners in Pensacola. The authors include two variations of the recipe. Gumbo recipes appear in the French, Confederate and Old Pensacola sections.

Old Cusstoms French 1

Old Customs French 2

Old Customs French 3

Old Customs French 4 File Chick Oyster

The Confederacy recipes in Old Customs of Pensacola and Favorite Recipes of the Times show the scarcity of ingredients during the war and reconstruction years, though the hard tack recipe might make it go a little farther.

Confederacy Okra Gumbo

Fresh ingredients used in the two gumbo recipes in the Old Pensacola section point to bountiful harvests and thriving markets in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Gumbo Z-Herbes

tomato gumbo

The Pensacola Heritage Foundation wasn’t to be left out from preserving culinary history.  In 2003 the organization published Two Dashes of Sevillity: Pensacola Specialties from Mullet to Mignon. I suspect only residents catch the play on words with “civility” as a reference to Seville Square, the site of a 1752 Spanish outpost named a public plaza in 1813. Today it’s the site of one of America’s largest outdoor art fairs, the Greater Gulf Coast Arts Fest. The cookbook editors carried out the theme with tongue-in-cheek titles for chapters Dixie Doin’s, Garden Street Greens and Five Flag Specialties. The 254-page plastic bound cookbook includes four gumbo recipes.

Steak & Okra 2 Dashes

The Gonzalez family submitted recipes for seasonal gumbos.  The difference is okra versus oysters. After all, folks who live on the Coast never eat oysters in May, June, July or August – months without the letter “R.” Those hot months might spoil oysters.  I’d leave the wine out regardless of the month.

Gonzalez FAmily

PHF 3 Nedra Tuttle

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I remember an episode from TV’s House Hunters International when a South American resident explained a local dish. “Everyone eats it, but visit seven families and each one makes it differently.”  So it is with gumbo.  Reading these genealogical gumbo recipes, I realized each is a little different, just like families. And each one has an oddball ingredient or two.

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A Gallery of Cooks

Refrigerator MosaicA pot of gumbo is a like a masterpiece of art. And, like art, it comes with a story. Along with gumbo recipes, I collect gumbo art. In fact, my kitchen is more of a gallery than galley. Three special pieces  hang out in my kitchen. 

The most unique is a mosaic crafted with eggshells by Mississippi artist Suzanne Nelson. The miniature simmering pot of gumbo is a refrigerator magnet, and the only magnet allowed to mar my stainless steel refrigerator doors.  On the card which accompanied the art, Nelson describes her method of recycling eggshells to recreate the Italian Renaissance mosaic form.  I treasure this small piece even more since it was a gift from my cousin Becky Hart, also an artist. 

Above the sink on an easel stands a primitive gumbo sign by L. E. Sloan whose artist’s Gumbo Plaquestatement is anything but primitive.  Taped to the back of the 6 x 8-inch plywood plaque is his philosophy — “the artist’s responsibility is to define, select and emphasize experiences that the ordinary man might pass by or accept too easily.” And, yes, the image reflects beauty in cooking the ordinary.  I bought it at The Gumbo Gallery in Pensacola, then owned by Sonia Griffin Evans, a noted artist, who has since closed the gallery and returned to her roots in South Carolina. Reese ForetOn the end of my kitchen island hangs “Ready for Gumbo,” a 12 x 12-inch oil on canvas by Reese Foret of Gulf Breeze. The painting was a Christmas gift from Son #2 and family. Since receiving it, I’ve met the artist and visited her studio. And in a twist of fate, she purchased my mother’s art show tent and equipment and is making her own mark in the art world. 

All three of my kitchen gallery pieces are created by artists who have found a way to “recycle” materials for self-expression.  That’s sort of like gumbo, if you’ve ever heard the joke about making a roux and throwing in everything but the kitchen sink. There’s actually a recipe for Freezer Clean-Out Gumbo and another for Empty the Freezer Gumbo.

Tony KrysinskiMy most collectible piece “Watcha’ Got Cookin’” is by award-winning Florida artist Tony Krysinski . The 24 x 24-inch colorful acrylic on hardboard shows the delicate balance of flavors when cooking gumbo. My husband bought it for me when I listed Krysinki’s art as #2 on my Gifts for the Gumbo Lover post. (I also got Gumbo Poster Artthe bowls and platter, #5). 

 

Stowed away in a closet until I find the courage to finish a novel is a framed poster for the 2012 Gulf Breeze Rotary Gumbo Cook-off.  I hope to commission its artist, Julie Clark, to design the cover for Rue the Roux, my cozy mystery about poisonings at a gumbo cook-off — not the one in Gulf Breeze, of course.

Today’s post features three gumbo recipes, all with stories, from friends who are helping me  in my quest for 300 gumbo recipes to celebrate News Orleans’ 300 years.

Lucille Adams’ gumbo, posted here in her simple version, is delicious. A dear neighbor, Lucille sends frozen containers of her gumbo around to folks who are ill. I’ve thought about playing sick just to get some more.

Lucille Adams2

Charlie Davis, a Pensacola native who used to trap crabs in Bayou Texar, shares his brother Ben’s recipe. I’m hoping Charlie can also find his mother’s recipe because his mama probably taught Ben how to cook. Their mother had a way of using crab bodies fresh from the bayou to create a rich gumbo, the kind where you have to get your fingers a little messy to appreciate the taste.

Ben Davis Gumbo

Pat Davis of Birmingham, Alabama, who is no relation to Charlie or Ben, sends Mama Falgout’s  Shrimp Okra Gumbo with this story: “Mama never put tomatoes in her gumbo.  It was not thick at all — more like a soup.  She was Acadian French:  Lillian Champine Falgout.  I spent a month every summer there and lived for this gumbo.  She would walk a couple of blocks to the shrimp processing plant and get the shrimp.  The parsley patch was by her back steps.”

Pat Davis Gumbo

Thanks to the gallery of artists and galley of cooks who have shared their talents to make my kitchen a rich and warm place, a place to create stories.

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Pack up all your cares and go – on a culinary vacation

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I live near the Florida-Alabama line and watch morning news on WKRG-TV in Mobile, Alabama. They’re currently airing a tourism commercial for Mississippi – that’s about a thirty-minute drive from Mobile.  In the 15-second food travel spot, smiling diners reach out to accept plates of mouth-watering,   juicy barbecue and crispy fried shrimp. I didn’t even realize food tourism was an industry, but I can relate because some days I feel like driving 496 miles to Savannah for She-Crab soup.

This relatively new industry has fancy names like culinary travel and gastronomic tourism. World Food Travel Association’s 2016 statistics show 93% of travelers are food travelers, in that they participate in a food experience other than dining out while traveling.  While 75% of leisure travelers go someplace because of a culinary activity, only 18% are truly gourmet food travelers.

I’m in the first category. I’ve tasted haggis and listened to bagpipers at a Scottish dinner and enjoyed high tea at a fancy London hotel, but those were extras, not my reasons for traveling. But the foodie trend has sparked scores of food specialty tours. Culinary Backstreets organizes international food tours to Italy (as they say Eataly) and plan Eatineraries (custom made self-guided itineraries). In 2014, Elizabeth Bartman and Maureen Fant coined the term archaeo-culinary tourism and formed Elifant (a blend of their names). Their tours exclusively mix food and archaeology in Italy.  Urban Adventures offers food walking tours in cities around the world, including ethnic neighborhoods in Los Angeles and New York.

Down South there’s not much need of a walking tour – just grab a roadmap, stop at the welcome station, and hit the road to experience great food.  Like the Visit Mississippi site implies with its “eat, stay, play” slogan — there’s no rush, no need to pack it all into one day.  You’ll find plenty of Southern chefs and restaurants (and dives and joints) worthy of a four-star rating or a Michelin star, and you won’t have to go to New Orleans to find them. UPB.jpg

In Pensacola, seven miles from where I live, Le Cordon Bleu Chef Blake Rushing, who worked for both Gordon Ramsey and Wolfgang Puck, has returned to his hometown to open Union Public House with his high school buddy Patrick Bolster.  When Rushing worked at the Gordon Ramsey in The London in New York City, the restaurant earned two Michelin stars. Pensacola Magazine (combining tourism in one half and real estate in the other) recently featured Rushing’s gumbo recipe.  I figure it serves at least 50, so you might want to either downsize or invite a crowd.  As it reads, you’ll need a cauldron and a shovel to make it. UPH Gumbo.jpg

The April-May issue of Coastal Palate (food tourism in one half and lifestyle in the other) features a gumbo recipe from LuLu’s in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Owned by Lucy Buffett, cookbook author, chef and sister to Jimmy Buffett, the open air, casual dining spot is Coastal Palate.jpgmost famous for fried green tomatoes and a lively atmosphere. The same recipe is featured in Garden & Gun.  Flip through an issue of Garden and Gun and you’ll have a list of a dozen places to go in the South.

If you have a few days and are hungry for gumbo, you can try the three-day gumbo self-guided tour of Alabama or head to Louisiana for their three-day gumbo jaunt.  Warning: you can’t actually travel The Gumbo Trail. As interesting as it sounds, it’s an online oral history project from Southern Foodways Alliance. Beware: the interviews might make you reach for the car keys.

Of course, I would like to try one particular food tour in Louisiana.  In 2017, Forbes magazine named Clandestine Food Tours of New Orleans as one of the nine best food tours in the world. I’m most interested in the Progressive Breakfast in the French Quarter.  Imagine Eggs Benedict at Brennan’s, beignets and a steaming cup of chicory coffee with cream from Morning Call, a pecan-waffle at the Camellia Grill in the Quarter. Wait a minute – I don’t need a tour — just a credit card and walking shoes.

 

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Legitimizing food journalism: from Sunflower, Mississippi to The Big Apple

Craig Claiborne highway marker

Native son Craig Claiborne knew how to use his Mississippi heritage to his advantage. When interviewing for food editor at The New York Times, he made sure the interviewer, who held a degree from Mississippi State, knew that he, too, had attended Mississippi State. Claiborne, in  fact, stayed only one year at MSU and then went on to earn a journalism degree from University of Missouri. Image from VisitMississippi.org

I know about sports journalism, agricultural journalism, business journalism and photojournalism, but I never considered food journalism until I ran across Craig Claiborne’s name in a book about Jewish food in the South.  Claiborne, a small town Mississippi native like me, is considered by some the “father of food journalism.”  The more I learn about him, the more I want to know about food journalism – a field no one mentioned in journalism grad school at the University of Kansas in 1998. Kansans just don’t take food as seriously as Southerners — there’s no chance this field would’ve been neglected at the University of Mississippi.

Businessman holding fifour star rating.

Craig Claiborne devised a method for reviewing restaurants including multiple visits, anonymity and a star rating system.

Claiborne became the first male food editor in the 106-year history of The New York Times in 1957. He moved food (part of the Four Fs:  fashion, food, furnishings and family then included in a woman’s section) to a section of its own.  Food writing went from home economics tips and recipes to restaurant reviews and chefs. He covered topics from regional cuisine to international dishes and farmhouse cooks to celebrated chefs.  For restaurant reviews, he devised scientific criteria, including multiple dining trips, a star rating, and anonymity.  “He connected the home kitchen to the restaurant,” says Betty Fussell, former New York Times food columnist and author of Eat, Live, Love, Die.

He wrote 20 books, edited The New York Times Cookbook (1961) which sold over a million copies, and acknowledged Wolfgang Puck and Paul Prudhomme as rising stars. Cynics recall Claiborne’s 31-course $4000 Paris meal, compliments of American Express. The sly Claiborne had milked a $300 charity auction bid for an American Express dinner a for all he could get.

Others like John Edge of the Southern Foodways Alliance point out Claiborne brought ethnic food into its own in America and edited the “first American cookbook with international scope.” Some even credit Claiborne for the current food revolution.  The James Beard Foundation presents numerous media and writing awards annually with the Craig Claiborne Distinguished Restaurant Review Award one of its most coveted.

As a food writer, Claiborne ventured outside New York to visit homes of chefs and invited chefs to his home on Long Island.  One promising young chef who specialized in Creole-Cajun was John Folse, who created “Death by Gumbo” at Claiborne’s home in 1987. Folse, in 2004, wrote the ultimate guide in his field, The Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine. It would have been fun watching the two cook this recipe in Claiborne’s home.  At my house, the aftermath of pots and pans from just one man cooking gumbo evokes another kind of death by gumbo.

Craig Claiborne

* Versions for serving 8serving 12

As for me, studying food journalism looks interesting because I enjoy learning. With at least 86 million consumers visiting food and cooking websites, an estimated 16,000 food blogs, and scores of print and broadcast journalists out there, it’s a growing but crowded field. As a Florida resident, the Food Writing and Photography online graduate certificate from University of South Florida in St. Petersburg would cost me $5700.  The Gotham Writers Workshop online food writing course costs around $400 for 10 weeks.

book cover

My best plan: take the $29.95 webinar from Poynter Institute taught by a USF instructor, check out some Craig Claiborne books from the library, and join the Association of Food Journalists. That ought to satisfy my craving for my food writing.

 

 

 

Left: A New York Times review of Thomas McNamee’s The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat salutes Claiborne as “The First Foodie.” The photo shows Claiborne’s trademark smile.

 

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