Connecting with my Grandmother through Two Beautiful Cookbooks

A few weeks ago, I drove to Nashville to attend the Southern Festival of Books. (If you've never been, you should definitely check it out. It's so close and such a great trip. There are all kinds of booksellers there, as well as panels of authors and other literary groups to get involved in. You don't need to be a writer to enjoy it!)

Typically, when I have the opportunity to buy books, I immediately go to the Young Adult section. But  fall always makes me miss my grandmother. As the temperature drops and the leaves start to turn, she never fails to enter my mind (as evidenced by this post I wrote around this time last year).

There are a million things that make me think of herthe scent of Estée Lauder's Beautiful, any well-dressed elderly woman with coordinating purse and shoes, prayer, loud talkers, mashed potatoes, decorating for the holidays, babies, hearing a great laugh, brightly-painted fingernailsthe list goes on and on.

So on this day, I headed for another thing that always makes me feel close to her: the cookbooks. And right there, on the very top of one of the stacks, sat At My Grandmother's Table by Faye Porter.

My favorite kind of cookbook is the kind with stories intertwined throughout beautifully-photographed food and well-written recipes. A quick flip through the pages of this book, and I knew it was a must-buy.

I have this highly technical formula I use when I'm deciding if I want to buy a cookbook. I open it to a random page, and if the recipe on the page is something I would actually cook, I buy it.

In this book, that recipe was Sweet Potato Biscuits on page 53. The photo on the opposite page looked so good it'd make a tomcat spit in a bulldog's eye. (Learned that saying from my Papaw. You're welcome, dear readers.)

Usually, one cookbook would be enough, but then I happened to spot one with a cover so cute I had to pick it up: Y'all Come Over by Patsy Caldwell and Amy Lyles Wilson.

Basically any cookbook that has "Y'all" in the title is probably one I need in my kitchen. And it's ANOTHER one with stories and traditions scattered throughout the recipes.

I did my really complicated random page test and landed on page 55's Puffed Up and Proud French Toast.


(A second random page had a recipe for Blackberry Wine Cake, which reminds me- have you tried Acres of Land's Blackberry Wine? I've never liked sweet wine but this one is incredibly tasty.)

My granny would've loved these cookbooks, even though she'd never have needed them. The woman simply worked magic in the kitchen. Her toast even tasted better than anyone else's. (You think I'm exaggerating here, but I'm not. Somehow she managed to completely drench it in butter but it still stayed crunchy. Magic, I tell you.)

And now, since I can't share these with her, I'm going to give one away to a lucky HerKentucky reader! Fill out the rafflecopter below, and if your name is drawn, you'll pick which cookbook you'd like to have and I'll send it to you! (You can't choose wrong. They're both so perfectly southern and beautiful.)

Do you have a favorite cookbook? I'd love to hear about it! Leave the title in the comments!

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

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.

In Search of the Perfect Beer Cheese Recipe

When I was a kid, I thought beer cheese came in a plastic tub from the grocery store.  Specifically, one that said "Hall's."  My parents are EKU alumni, and they had fond memories of trips to Hall's on the River  from their Richmond days.  It was always a huge treat when we could find containers of Hall's Beer Cheese at our local grocery store; I loved the snappy, spicy cheese spread as a snack with vegetables or crackers.
When I got to college, I first heard of making your own beer cheese.  My roommate's aunt would whip up a batch a few times a year and send us some.  And, you know, it tasted a whole lot fresher and less "chemical-y" than the pre-made stuff.  I also developed quite an affinity for the beer cheese and crudité plate at Charlie Brown's.  (I was, by this time, way too grown-up and sophisticated to just call them vegetables anymore!)

Now, beer cheese has gotten creative.  Winchester, the birthplace of beer cheese, hosts an annual festival to spotlight it.  Local restaurants have found that it sure is good as a hamburger spread.  And, many people find that the flavor of their beer cheese can be altered by the quality and type of beer added to the recipe.  Beer cheese connoisseurs use stouts or ales to provide complex flavor.  My personal favorite recipe is from Chef Jonathan Lundy's cookbook; it uses Kentucky Ale's fantastic Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. The result is a spicy, nutty cheese spread with wonderfully subtle bourbon notes.  

Whether you prefer gourmet or classic recipes, though, pretty much any beer cheese is wonderful.  Just open a beer, take a drink or so off the top, and fire up the food processor.  It's a great taste of Central Kentucky in just a few minutes' prep time.

Basic Beer Cheese:
  • 10 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • 10 ounces mild cheddar cheese
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 7 ounces beer
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder
  •  Dash of hot sauce (I prefer Louisiana or Crystal)
  • 1. Open beer and bring to room temperature.
    2 Grate cheese with box grater and mince garlic. Place in food processor.
    3. Add remaining ingredients, mix in food processor until smooth.  You may need to add seasonings to taste.
    4. Refrigerate overnight.  This is best served the next day.

    HerKentucky Entertaining: Kentucky Cookbooks

    Mark Badgley and James Mischka's KY Farmhouse, via Elle Decor.
    I collect cookbooks obsessively.  This is odd, because I'm notorious for freestyling recipes.  I tend to line two or three recipes for the same dish out onto the kitchen counter, then compare ingredients and techniques before deciding how to independently proceed.  Sometimes, this technique produces unique and inspired recipes.  Other times,I'd be well-advised to find a recipe and stick to it.  Personal cooking style aside, though, I've found quite a few lovely Kentucky-themed cookbooks over the years.  Here are a few of my favorites, and a few I want to try.

    Tried and True Favorites: 
    • What's Cooking In Kentucky -- The author, Irene Hayes, was my hometown's postmistress and a member of my parents' church.  In my town, "Irene's Cookbook" is a traditional gift for brides or others who are setting up housekeeping.  I love to see this 1960s favorite proudly displayed at State Parks and local bookstores!!
    • Bluegrass Winners -- The original Bluegrass Winners and its companion volume, Entertaining with Bluegrass Winners, contain classic recipes from the kitchens of central Kentucky horse farms.  Excellent recipes and stunning photography.
    • Splendor in the Bluegrass -- The Junior League of Louisville's signature cookbook. I sure have had to sell a lot of these, so I can certainly assure you that there are some wonderful recipes.
    On my to-buy list:
    What is your favorite Kentucky Cookbook?