The contribution of community cookbooks is not to be overlooked in the Lowcountry’s rich food history.
For one, they have given a voice to generations of families cooking “real” food day in and day out. By real, I mean recipes used by countless home cooks whether they were preparing an appetizer for a party, fixing Tuesday night’s supper or baking a cake for a church bazaar.
They are recipes with generally accessible ingredients that aren’t too long or hard to follow. Among them are old recipes that speak to our culinary past.
Many of these cookbooks also offer a big helping of context or history along with the recipes. Some have earned national recognition and have seen numerous printings, such as the Junior League’s grande dame, “Charleston Receipts,” or “Popular Greek Recipes” from the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church.
But others have been like shooting stars that blazed for a time then faded.
My bookshelves at the office are filled with the likes of “Charred to Recognition” (Green Pond Volunteer Fire Department) and “From the Camp to the Road” (Church of Our Savior, Seabrook).
Recently, “Close to Heaven” came to my attention. It’s subtitled “The Lowcountry Cuisine of St. Paul’s Parish, South Carolina.”
The cookbook was originally published in 2000 by the St. Paul’s Garden Club but underwent a major updating in 2006. The book has been successful enough for the club to do a reprinting of 500 this year.
The cool thing about this cookbook is its format: two books in one. Open it one way and you’ll dive right into the 300-plus recipes. Flip the book over and you’ll find a completely different cover that leads the reader into a brief history of St. Paul’s Parish, including prominent families, political officials and maps.
Did you know that Meggett was known as the “Cabbage Capital of the World” in the early 1900s?
In addition, each section of the recipe part is prefaced with a color page that profiles a historic home in the parish.
Patti Dutko, a garden club member who did the illustrations and cover for the book, says the cookbook was a labor of love for those involved: “the members giving up their wonderful recipes,” along with gathering the historical material and pulling all the details together.
“We love our gardening and we love our cooking and came up with the idea to do this book,” she says. “We’ve had such a great reception.”
The club, which dates to 1929 and is 42 members strong today, uses the money for a scholarship and a number of projects. Those include maintaining a Meditation Garden in the St. Paul’s Episcopal Cemetery on Chapel Road and a Champney Rose Garden at the Ravenel Depot on S.C. Highway 165.
“We do a lot. The money goes a long way,” she says.
The cookbook is priced at $20 and is available at several locations and also by mail, with an added $4 shipping fee. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if interested in a mail-order.
Retail locations include the Edisto Museum and King’s Market on Edisto Island; The Piggly Wiggly and Firehouse restaurant in Hollywood; Charleston Collections near Citadel Mall; Historic Charleston Foundation on Meeting Street; and Magnolia Plantation.
Here is a good summertime recipe from the book:
Betsy’s Chicken A’la Johnny’s
6 red potatoes
2 zucchini squash
1/2 cup white wine
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 ripe tomatoes, diced
Salt and pepper to taste
Oregano to taste
Parmesan cheese to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Wash and cut up chicken; pat dry.
Peel and slice onions, potatoes and zucchini.
Butter a casserole dish generously. Place chicken in center, surround with onions, potatoes and zucchini. Pour wine and lemon juice over all. Sprinkle to taste with salt, pepper, oregano, olive oil, Parmesan cheese and ripe tomatoes over all.
Bake until chicken is tender and juices run clear (Internal temperature should reach 165 when a meat thermometer is inserted into the thickest part of the thigh; about an hour.)
A recipe from Patti herself:
1 (18.25-ounce) box white or yellow cake mix
1 (3.4-ounce) box pistachio instant pudding mix
1 cup club soda or ginger ale
1 cup vegetable oil
1 package Dream Whip dessert topping
1 (3.4-ounce) box instant pistachio pudding mix
11/2 cups milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
For the cake: Combine all ingredients together. Using an electric mixer, beat on high speed for 4 minutes. Pour cake batter into a greased and floured bundt pan.
Bake for 45 minutes. Cool in pan 10 to 15 minutes then invert onto wire rack to cool.
For the frosting: Mix all ingredients and blend until frosting thickens. Spread over the top of the cake.
Optional: Add nuts or cherries for decorations.
Who’s got the recipe?
Gennie Segal of Mount Pleasant is looking for a recipe for an Italian cookie “that is just as wonderful” as biscotti, but not biscotti. She is hoping someone will come forth with a family recipe.
Coworkers are seeking slow-cooker recipes with chicken or beef that are good for summer eating.
Reach Features Editor Teresa Taylor at email@example.com or 937-4886.