Q&A: Gay Lyons, editor of Knox Heritage's 'Summer Suppers' cookbook

Summer Supper chair for Knox Heritage (and Metro Pulse contributor), Lyons compiled and edited more than 300 recipes for the non-profit's recently released Summer Suppers cookbook. The group will host a book event Thursday, Dec. 8 from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. at Union Avenue Books (unionavebooks.com) and Saturday, Dec. 10 from 4 p.m.-6 p.m. at Bliss Home (shopinbliss.com).

Did you attend all of the summer suppers featured in the book?

Wow, no, but I was there for a lot of them—in fact, I was there for the very first one. It was my first Knox Heritage event, in 2004. By the next summer, I was on a Summer Supper committee, and by the following year I was its chair.

Can you remember the first menu?

I definitely can, and even if I couldn't, I still have all the booklets from all the summer suppers. Some of the items served were fried chicken, deviled eggs, fruit cobblers, and homemade ice cream. And this was the first time tomato pie was served.

Tomato pie?

Yes, now it's a tradition. At least one supper each summer, tomato pie is served. There are three recipe versions for it in the cookbook, one with a potato crust. And there's a funny story about that first tomato pie. There were a few pies leftover at that summer supper, and Bill Haslam, who was there, auctioned them off for $50 a piece.

Do you have any more, you know, low-brow recipes in the book?

Sure we do. I think the corn pudding that I served in—I can't believe I remember what year that was—2006. It is the version where you used canned corn—creamed and whole kernel—and Jiffy corn meal mix.

Is the hemp cole slaw the most unusual recipe in the book?

Possibly, if vegetarianism is foreign to you. But not otherwise. We have several vegetarians on the Knox Heritage board, so very early on we started having at least one vegetarian supper a year. Todd Wicher, Cheryl Holcomb are both vegetarians, and that's her recipe. And the hemp nuts are unusual, but you can buy them locally, it's not like you have to mail order them.

Are there more unusual recipes?

Well, the hardest dessert in the world is there. It's also, by the way, one of the best and it's one of mine. It's a French dessert, but we changed the name for an Italian dinner—now it's Meringa al Cioccolata. I served it to some friends this year, and Mickey Mallonee wrote me a note that said, "I'm putting it in writing to make it official. Your dessert is the best thing I've ever put in my mouth."

What are you hoping to accomplish with sales of the book?

One, it continues to promote the very popular Summer Supper series, which just gets bigger every year. And second, it's a fund-raiser for Knox Heritage, and all proceeds go directly to our causes.

Is there an entree in there you'd recommend for the less-experienced cook?

Here's something that sounds fancy but is really not that hard to make: Pork Tenderloin with Maple-Sage Corn Relish, on page 200. And there's one that probably no one is going to make: Helen McNabb's Handmade Pasta. I put the recipe in exactly as she sent it to me—it's just so Helen. She made hand-rolled pasta for every one of those Italian wine dinners, and we had four or five. On page 218, there's a lasagna type dish, her recipe. You could use—I hate to say this—store-bought noodles to make it, but it would not achieve the level of heavenly perfection that Helen does.

The Knox Heritage Summer Suppers Cookbook can be purchased directly by calling the group at 523-8008, or from the website, knoxheritage.org. Through Dec. 31, the price is $20.