Review

Jan Karon's Mitford Cookbook & Kitchen Reader

by Jan Karon, edited by Martha McIntosh



"Mitford" devotees, rejoice! If you've long salivated over author
Jan Karon's many descriptions of food in her Mitford novels, you'll
be delighted to find Viking has at long last assembled the recipes
into one delectable volume, JAN KARON'S MITFORD COOKBOOK &
KITCHEN READER.

Despite a nod to Father Tim's diabetes, this is pure,
unadulterated, break-out-the-butter, down-home southern cooking.
Don't look for calorie counts or number of servings. Most likely,
with this carb-fest of comforting, sweet-tooth ticklin' recipes,
you don't want to know the nutritional information! Just think of
it as pure enjoyment.

Each recipe is presented in the order of its appearance in the
Mitford series, and six recipes are included from the forthcoming
and concluding novel, LIGHT FROM HEAVEN (2005). The recipes range
from the simple Silver Queen Corn (butter, sugar, corn, salt and
pepper) to the
dust-off-your-apron-and-clear-your-schedule-for-the-day complex
Esther's Orange Marmalade Cake (although this is photographed as a
two-layer cake, the recipe calls for a more complicated
three-layer).

Recipes run the culinary gamut: main course meals (Rector's
Meatloaf, Ray's Barbecue Ribs, Cynthia's Bouillabaisse); basic side
dishes (Puny's Potato Salad); mouth-watering desserts (Louella's
Buttermilk Chess Pie, Cynthia's Raspberry Tart, Mama's Ice Cream in
a Tray); beverages (Marge's Sweet Tea with Peppermint), and breads
(Magdolen's Spoon Bread, Louella's Cinnamon Rolls). Playful recipes
like Dooley's Fried Baloney Sandwich Supreme are paired with
Dooley's Second Favorite Sandwich --- The Doozie, consisting of
white bread, smooth peanut butter and Cheerios ("Fold the sandwich
in half and jump on your bike and go"). Look for the unexpected,
such as Barnabas's Dog Biscuits or The Lord's Chapel Communion
Bread, and the unusual --- a page devoted to Russell Jack's
livermush --- what it is, where to get it, and how to cook
it.

Declining to try the livermush, I experimented with three recipes:
Velma's Chili, Cynthia's Heavenly Tea, and Emma's Fudge. Velma's
Chili is a thick, meaty concoction with the surprise addition of
cloves and celery, and won rave reviews when I made it for a casual
dinner party this fall. Like many cooks might do, I tinkered with
the recipe a bit, adding more tomato sauce than called for.
Cynthia's Heavenly Tea is a memorable, rich drink with an unusual
blend of tea, apricot nectar, mint, frozen lemonade, and a squirt
of almond extract. Emma's Fudge didn't set up firmly for me, but
was scrumptious anyway --- cooled, spooned up and eaten, rather
than cut into squares.

Though the recipes whet the appetite, they are only a smidgeon of
what makes this cookbook so appealing. Sprinkled throughout the
beautifully designed pages are table blessings, poetry, and little
vignettes about Karon's own culinary life and history. Recipes are
interspersed with full-color, mouthwatering artwork and photographs
of the featured foods, often pictured on Karon's own tableware.
"Puny's Saving Grace" tips offer snippets of cooking wisdom on
everything from keeping lettuce fresh to freezing ripe bananas. The
recipes appear alongside their specific excerpts from the Mitford
novels, inviting contemplation of favorite passages while Uncle
Billy's Sweet Potato Pie bakes in the oven.

Just why is there so much yummy food in the "Mitford" books? Karon
answers that question in her page-long essay, "Writing Hungry," one
of many such nostalgic reflections from the author that makes the
book so wonderfully palatable. Karon remembers life as a freelance
writer when bills piled up, her cupboards were bare, and she
dreamed of good food --- food that found its way into the pages of
the Mitford novels. Karon tells how she learned to make do, even
creating soup broth from chicken bones (recipe included). A lovely
two-page essay recounts one of Karon's "starving writer"
Christmases and how she canned apples, picked free from a tree in
her yard, for Christmas gifts (complete with an original poem and a
recipe). But of that time: "What I learned mostly, however, is that
God is faithful," Karon writes.

It's the personal warmth of Karon that gives this cookbook and
kitchen reader its charisma. On one page, Karon confesses, "Cover
your eyes! Plug your ears! It's confession time. I love anything
fried!" Another page, detailing her grandmother's biscuit recipe,
notes, "If you have a grandmother, go call her right now and tell
her you love her to pieces. Actually, if you have a mother, call
her, too." Gratitude to her readers permeates the pages:
"…together our imaginations have made Mitford real, very real
--- and I couldn't have done it without you."

Mitford fans --- your collection won't be complete without this
book!

Reviewed by Cindy Crosby (phrelanzer@aol.com) on January 22, 2011

Jan Karon's Mitford Cookbook & Kitchen Reader
by Jan Karon, edited by Martha McIntosh

  • Publication Date: October 21, 2004
  • Genres: Cooking, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult
  • ISBN-10: 0670032395
  • ISBN-13: 9780670032396