Wednesday, December 12, 2007

CHARLESTON RECEIPTS by The Junior League of Charleston

The Book: CHARLESTON RECEIPTS Collected by the Junior League of Charleston (S.C.), 1950. Printed by Walker, Evans & Cogswell; 15th printing, 1968. Spiralbound, missing back cover. Previous owner's name ("Ellen C. Lamb") on front flyleaf. Pages are slightly brown with age.
First read: 1970 (approximately)
Owned since: 2007

This book is another legacy from my mother. I suppose I could have bought my own copy, but it means more to have hers.

As a child, I used to read this book like a historical novel. It describes a way of life that was already an anachronism in the mid-1950s, a society in which one might need a punch recipe that served 140 people (Rum Punch: 1 gallon brandy, 1/2 gallon rum, 1 pint peach brandy, 2 quarts black tea, 2 dozen lemons, sugar to taste, 5-6 quarts carbonated water), or be able to make a syllabub with "three squirts from the cow."

Each chapter begins with quotations in Gullah, the Lowcountry dialect, that might well be considered offensive today. I haven't seen the most recent edition of this book, but I suspect that it now begins with an introduction that apologizes for its context. My mother used to give newer editions of this book as wedding presents; I believe you can still order it directly from the Charleston Junior League.

It's a practical cookbook, though, as well as a historical artifact. I've made the Lady Baltimore Cake for more than one occasion, though it includes a cooked frosting, and I don't usually like to make those. The recipes for cheese straws and cheese wafers are essentials, and I remember Mom making the cheese roll recipe for Christmas one year. (Like all mid-century cookbooks, this one is heavy on the canapes; I love canapes.)

That said, it includes recipes I will never make. You will never eat Bluff Plantation Cooter Pie at my table; quit snickering, "cooter" means "turtle." The recipe for Roast Possum is wasted on me, too, as I have nowhere to hang a possum for 48 hours before cooking, as the recipe recommends.

We had more snow and ice last night, and the roads were really bad. Driving home from trivia, I spun out into a snowbank. No harm done; I was going very slowly, and remembered the rules about turning into the skid. But today the sun is out, and the temperature's supposed to approach 40, so I'm hoping everything melts -- at least for a day or two.

Five Random Songs

"Marry Me a Little," Raul Esparza. From the soundtrack of the Company revival, one of the newest additions to my collection -- a birthday/Christmas gift from my friend Tom. Thanks, Tom!

"Koka Kola," The Clash. The pause that refreshes in the corridors of power. I hope I get to see the Joe Strummer documentary somewhere over the holidays. God only knows when it will get to Maine, if it ever does.

"Summer Dress," Red House Painters. From Voices from the Dark, the CD John Connolly put together to accompany the US edition of The Black Angel. Romantic and sad.

"How Long Has This Been Going On," Carmen McRae. From the Verve Remixed CD.

"Do Ya," Electric Light Orchestra. Another great song ruined by its overexposure in TV commercials, and I can't even remember what the commercial is for.


Laura said...

Cheese straws!

I have a 1966 printing of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The 1961 original is the one that woman used for her book, JULIE AND JULIA.

It was signed, To Carole, Jan 1969 from HS Payne, then To Monica, June 1972 from Carole. Then it was signed to me, November 1980 from Sandra. (I don't know how it came to Sandra.) It also came with a zig-zag trimmed clipping of Sandra's engagement announcement. I feel a little wicked having kept it these 27 years! But I love this cookbook. Where else would I get detailed instructions for trimming whole sweetbread (which, the book tells me is the thymus gland of a calf) and brains?

I'm also very fond of the 1982 cookbook, WELL-SEASONED from Les Passees, a Memphis civic org. Excellent pies!

One of my fondest reading memories is of spending a rainy afternoon reading a friend's copy of a 1940-something Fannie Farmer cookbook. Old cookbooks really are historical documents.

Laura said...

which, the book tells me,...

I really should proof myself better

Anonymous said...

Regional clubs seem to put out good cook books. I have "Talk About Good" issued by the Junior League of Lafayette, La. and a book called "Cajun Men Cook" by the Beaver Club of Lafayette, La. Some good gumbo recipes- some involving native wildlife that I haven't tried yet.
One of them does have a few recipes that use cool-whip.

I did have in college a cookbook of Canadian Inuit recipes. It was a governement document that had some stories intersperced with the recipes. In the index, one of the more interesting titles was "Baked Stuffed Whale" Because of the image it created, I didn't want to actually know what it was until I gave the cook book to a neighbor.


AnswerGirl said...

Wow -- Baked Stuffed Whale. I suppose the first step is to catch your whale ... and then worry about your oven size...

Anonymous said...

I loved that Charleston cookbook as a child too. Isn't there a recipe for an elephant stew? And if I remember correctly there are multiple punch recipes.

My favorite old cookbook is a 2 volume set from the 1920s by a bon vivant who travelled the world to exotic places. One volume is drinks and cocktails and the other is food. Oh and the author is pictured in a hammock strung between two coconut trees and he's wearing a captain's hat.

I've also got both volumes of Nana Kiely's The Art of French Cooking. The best Coq au Vin recipe ever.


AnswerGirl said...

I am looking through the cookbook right now and don't see an elephant stew recipe -- how disappointing! But it's a mark of the era that I'm finding a spaghetti recipe that calls for catsup instead of tomato sauce ... and here are several recipes for tongue, one for Baked Calf's Head, and one for Creamed Sweetbreads with Sherry. Oh, and Hog's Head Cheese, which Grandmother did supposedly use to make. Mmmm.

Peggy & Scott said...

Hi Clair, I watched the Joe Strummer film last night on demand here at home. Let's watch it again when you visit!
I could watch it over 'n over .. what a life.

AnswerGirl said...

Great, Scott -- can't wait!

Libby said...

Was cruising around i'net looking for the Charleston Receipt for Cheese Straws (daughter has my treasured 1950 version of the book). Found that info and saw the comments about Elephant Stew. Here's the recipe from my tattered old recipe box. Don't even know where I got it from.

Elephant Stew

1 elephant
2 rabbits
4 sacks of salt

Cut the elephant into small pieces. Make enough gravy to cover the chopped elephant. Cook over a kerosene stove for approximately 3 months.

Serves about 3,000 folks.

NOTE: If expecting more folks, add the 2 rabbits to the stew. But...only if necessary because most folks do not want to find hare in their stew!

AnswerGirl said...

What a riot -- thanks!