I’d never seen a wooden cookbook cover until last week, and then in a span of four days I saw two cookbooks with wooden covers – published 32 years apart. The older one, published in 1939, has reached American Folk Art status – but I didn’t know that when I bought it.
My copy of Fine Old Dixie Recipes cost me $3.50 at an estate sale. It’s an unusual yet confusing find. The cover, inside cover and title page all list different titles. There’s Fine Old Dixie Recipes on the cover, Southern Cookbook: 322 Old Dixie Recipes on the inside cover, and Southern Cook Book of Fine Old Recipes on the title page. According to a cookbook history site, the book’s publisher Culinary Arts Press in Reading, Pennsylvania produced small cookbooks from 1934 until almost fading away in the 1990s, to finally reissue classic cookbooks in 2009. My estate sale find originally sold for five cents and I found it online for $97. That’s when I learned it was folk art.
This cookbook is a piece of history (well, maybe historical fiction) that extols the sunny South as a place of fertile fields, plentiful fruit trees and bountiful waterways. The editors promise to “reveal carefully guarded secrets of real Southern cooking.” The recipes, the editors write, are mostly from Southern city folks, some who undoubtedly gathered their recipes from their mammies (yes, they say that). A few more pompous assumptions, poems in rhyming dialect, and African-American caricatures foster stereotypes of the South which no doubt added to today’s current racial discord. It’s definitely a collection of Southern recipes for Northerners (note I didn’t say Yankees). Regardless, the gumbo recipes look authentic.
I recognized the wood encasing the second cookbook instantly. When my husband sold paneling in the early 1970s, I helped him learn product names using flash cards taped to the back of paneling samples. A Dash of Sevillity, published in 1971 by Pensacola Heritage Foundation, is bound between two pieces of Georgia-Pacific’s “Piccadilly” paneling.
I’d seen a 2003 edition of this cookbook at the genealogy library, but even the library doesn’t have this wooden-cloaked treasure. Fellow writer Lucie Wade shared her copy with me and pointed out the three-and a-half- page primer on “The Authentic and Original Way to Make Oyster Gumbo.” The first ingredient is one full quart of Tennessee sour-mash bourbon for the cook and his helpers. The second ingredient stopped me in my tracks — a 7-pound elderly rooster.
I probably won’t cook the following gopher gumbo either because it took me two years to realize a gopher is a Florida tortoise. But the recipe looks simple enough – except for finding turtle meat. Besides, in Florida now gopher tortoises are a threatened species and both tortoise and burrow are protected by state law. Pensacolians must have dined on lots of Gopher Gumbo.
Pensacolians take great pride in their gumbo, gopher or not. So with this ending quote, I tally 113 in my quest for 300 gumbo recipes to celebrate New Orleans’ 300th birthday.