What's Cooking in Kentucky

If you live in Kentucky, then you've probably seen What's Cooking in Kentucky.
It's one of those cookbooks that's just everywhere. It's in the gift shop at each of Kentucky's State Parks. It's in the Kentucky Interest section of every bookstore across the state. It's been a traditional wedding present for Eastern Kentucky couples for generations. It captures the spirit of traditional Kentucky cuisine. And, it originated in my teeny-tiny hometown of Hueysville.
Irene Hayes, via What's Cooking in Kentucky.
Now, growing up, I just knew that the cookbook was a part of our community. I knew that the book's author,  Irene Hayes, and her family had known my own family for decades. As I've said before, when you're a kid, you don't always know that the folks around you have done impressive things. You simply know them as the people you know. Way before I could be impressed that the great chef and food writer James Beard gave What's Cooking in Kentucky glowing reviews in his Cooks' Catalogue, I simply knew that Irene and her husband Rondal were the backbone of our church. I knew that Mrs. Hayes was a dynamic, opinionated woman who got things done.

When I sat down to learn more about What's Cooking, I wasn't surprised to learn that Mrs. Hayes began the project in 1965 as a fundraiser for the Hueysville Church of Christ. Over the years, the cookbook -- comprised of recipes submitted from home cooks across the Commonwealth -- was released in four editions and sold over 200,000 copies. A sequel, What's Cooking for the Holidays, sold over 20,000 copies.

Hueysville Church of Christ, photo credit: Susan Patton Salisbury

The original Hueysville Church burned when I was a kid (the congregation built a larger, more modern building in its place) and both Rondal and Irene passed away several years ago. The cookbook lives on -- Mrs. Hayes's daughter Sharon continues the legacy by keeping What's Cooking in print. It's a wonderful feeling to still see What's Cooking on the shelves of local booksellers. The classic, uncomplicated recipes reflect nearly fifty years' worth of Kentucky recipes, and they always remind me of home.