I should probably be embarrassed, but I'm not: English degree from UVA notwithstanding, I really don't read any "serious" books, like Middlesex or The Kite Runner, both of which were lent to me by well-meaning friends this past year.
I do read books, plenty of them. My preferred are Fearless teen-lit paperbacks, graphic novels by Brad Meltzer, and mysteries by Brit Elizabeth George. Oh, and community cookbooks.
You know the type I mean: spiral bound on plain paper pages, maybe with some scratchy black and white photos inside. I've amassed quite a few from estate sales and used book stores, and prise them from unsuspecting hosts on house visits to friends and family. I scan them while eating meals quite contradictory to the content: spooning up cold SpaghettiOs while learning how one makes a Shoo-Fly Pie, for example, or cutting into a spinach-Italian sausage calzone at the Gondolier on Chapman Highway while contemplating the ingredients for a Pimento Cheese Salad. It's fun.
I've come across a particularly enjoyable one recently, written by some folks 20 miles or so due west: the Kodak Historical Cookbook. It was originally pulled together for the Kodak centennial in ‘92 and has been expanded some into a "Second Helping."
I got the wrong idea at first, because I'd been told that it was historical. It does have lots of history from that area, pithy posts about everything from the significance of ferries to Sevier County, to the Peter Bryan House built in 1792 for a Revolutionary War soldier, to the slave quarters at the Joe Moore house on Dumplin Valley Road.
So I expected the recipes would be old-timey, too, maybe for clabber or sorghum something, or involving milling your own corn. Nope—the first page that fell open elucidated on the topic of "Hardee's Biscuits." It then spun out from there, with recipes for dishes that surely never graced a rural mountain table 50 years ago: Pretzel Salad, Fruit Pizza, Bruschetta Chicken Bake.
I've spent several sessions pawing through pages of Frances' Strange Fudge (key ingredient: Velveeta), White Creamy Shrimp & Corn Soup, Pizza Spaghetti, and No-Peek casserole. I learned a few things, as I always do when a community shares, like a new casserole topping that involves Rice Chex (for the Turkey Lasagna Casserole), and how a bay leaf really can be used in a modern dish, which was a skillet Shrimp and Rice we scarfed down last Thursday.
It's occurred to me this is more a message in a bottle from cook to cook than literature. There's not a lot of preamble—just kind of a "here we go, tell me how to do it" with the recipes, and a name of the donor at the end. They answer your qualms before you even have them: "Yes, use the whole jar [of horseradish]," Linda Lubke writes at the end of the Savory Horseradish Pot Roast recipe. And they anticipate things about their fellow cooks, like that you'd want both recipes for Watergate Salad in their entirety, even though the way Maxine L. Tuggle makes hers differs from Connie Alexander's only by the addition of some coconut and nuts.
Here's the neat thing: Sales of the cookbook benefit the Kodak branch of the Sevier County library (they sell it there, too). You know what the branch librarian, Kelly Hamilton, told me? Well, first she did say she's more into pasta—not much of a country cook—but she loves the Italian Cream Cake, Lemon Pound Cake, and Red Velvet Cake from the Kodak cookbook.
And then she said she reads other cookbooks all the time—checking them out from the library's own collection, which numbers around 100 and is very popular with patrons.
I forgot to ask her what she thinks of cold SpaghettiOs.