Matt: I love to read cookbooks as bedtime stories because they always have happy endings.
Leigh: What comes to mind when you think of cookbooks? Is it a beautifully bound almost coffee-table-like book with tantalizing images of the recipes? Or maybe a food-stained, dog-eared classic like The Joy of Cooking?
I bet you don’t think of a piece of fiction. A book with a beginning, middle and end…that uses recipes interspersed with narrative to help illustrate and support the story of a community and its members. And yet, that is the basis of community cookbooks.
You know, those comb-bound cookbooks that play host to myriad recipes from varied contributors. Not professional chefs, not cookbook authors…just every day cooks. Moms, aunts, grandmas, sisters…sometimes, dads, uncles, grandpas and brothers…A collection of recipes from a community.
This is the type of cookbook that inspired writer, artist and food lover, Matt Terrell, to create his fictional cookbook – The Magnolia Bayou Country Club, Ladies Auxiliary Cooking and Entertaining Book.
Matt: I have a pile of these community and church cookbooks. And as I’ve read them, I’ve discovered they are wonderful ways to really understand a people, a place and a culture through food, through the ingredients, through the recipes, and also how these people write about them.
Leigh: Welcome to The Heritage Cookbook Project Podcast, where we document and preserve heritage by connecting with cooks across the country who share food memories, family recipes and a little bit of themselves. And I am your host, Leigh Olson.
Matt: I am a southerner by birth and I’ve lived most of my life in the south. My experience of the south has always been quite multicultural and diverse. I really wanted to represent that in the cookbook. That was the starting point for picking these characters.The founders of Magnolia Bayou are an African American man and Jewish woman who wanted to live in a upscale community that accepted everyone. So they decided to build Magnolia Bayou themselves.
Hattie May, the wife, was an internationally traveling opera singer and when she would go around the world and Barcelona and in Vienna and in Sydney and New Orleans and San Francisco, she would just give all these wonderful stories about Magnolia Bayou that’s how they got all these people from around the world to move there.
There’s a particular thing about southern cuisine in that it’s quite absorptive, which means that it can bring in the flavors, techniques, and ingredients from all these other parts of the world, but still be distinctly southern. And so that was also one of the reasons why I wanted to have such an international and eclectic group of people. They’re all cooking southern food, but with their own influences and their own lens of what they cook. But done in the new world and I think that’s really representative of how the world is. That is the history of the world on a plate right there.
One of the most important aspects of this book is that I wanted it to look and feel exactly like those church and community fundraiser cookbooks. They have a distinct style where lots of people are contributing recipes to them. They’ve got some stories from the individuals. Some of them have ads in there and above all they have plastic comb binding. So I put all of these aspects into the Magnolia Bayou cookbook.
We’ve got lots of backstories about how the community was built. We’ve made up all these different companies. There’s even a real estate agent who will tell you how to buy your own home and Magnolia Bayou.And they’ve got a restaurants in there with ads for them.
The recipes themselves, I was there a combination of three different things. My own original recipes. There are recipes from my family. I looked at what are the most delicious things that I make and my family makes. And those go in first.
And then the thirdare from traditional or famous cookbooks from the south.
I decided what our historical and significant recipes that can tell the story of Magnolia Bayou and can tell the story of the people and the specific characters.
I think a really great example of it is this recipe called Cheese Salad Sherbet, in the Gasparilla Cookbook. It’s basically blue cheese ice cream served as a salad over shredded lettuce in the original recipe.
This idea of Roquefort blue cheese ice cream is very interesting, but definitely not as a salad. I said to my food editor is like, can you figure out how to make this a dessert? She took the idea of the blue cheese ice cream and combined it with red wine poached pear, uh, and pistachio nuts. And it is so phenomenally delicious.
I was so happy and proud of that recipe and I think it’s really emblematic of what this cookbook does.
The gumbo recipe, the king cake recipe, the jambalaya recipe, it really all comes from that tradition of growing up on the Gulf coast.
One character Violette Gautier. I grew up in the town of Gautier. So that’s why I called her Violette Gautier. Um, she is a creole woman. Um, and most of her recipes are actually my family’s recipes.
Leigh: One of Matt’s family recipes that captured my attention was Chicken and Dumplings. Not because it was reminiscent of a family recipe. No, the dumplings in this recipe are nothing like the dumplings that I grew up with. More on that later…
But because Lillian Connaly, the fictional uptight blue-haired Southern Lady that submitted the recipe, and I shared a similar experience with well water that could described as particularly unpleasant.
The preamble that she penned for the recipe is called “The Reason I Put So Much Pepper in My Chicken and Dumplings”. The story chronicles the changes made to the recipe as time marched on. But there is one ingredient that stays constant, even though the original condition responsible for the ample quantity of this ingredient no longer exists.
Matt: This recipe is a real recipe. The story behind it is a fictional story based on real elements of real life from my family. My mom makes chicken and dumplings and I make chicken dumplings and it has a lot of pepper in it. And she’s not someone who like loves spicy food, but for some reason she puts like over a tablespoon of pepper in the chicken and dumplings. And so as the writer, my idea was to figure out why on earth does this recipe, um, have so much pepper in it.
And this is actually based upon going to my grandmother’s house. Um, and At my grandmother’s house, everything that she cooks with the water from her well smelled like sulfur.
She didn’t really have a lot of seasonings, but she had a lot of black pepper and black pepper can cover up the taste of sulfur pretty well.
So that was the jumping off point of putting so much pepper in the chicken and dumplings.
The recipe does progress through time. It starts off with talking about, you having to kill a chicken for it. And then daddy gets a job at the factory that’s built down the road and then we get a Piggly Wiggly. And so we’ve got bouillon cubes that come in and then we’ve got pre-packaged chicken and that changes the recipe a little bit. Then the recipe gets to modern day. And the recipe writer, Lillian Connolly’s reflecting upon how it’s changed now, she doesn’t have the well water because the county came in and put a pipe and now they’ve got fresh water from the county.
It doesn’t smell like sulfur anymore. But she’s still putting the pepper in.
Then she specifically mentions there is a certain flavor of the cast iron pot that grandma would cook the chicken and dumplings and and she’s trying to figure out, well, how do I recreate that flavor? She decides to try a little bit of onion in bacon grease and that will give you that sort of like deep set in flavor of the cast iron skillet. The recipe really does follow a progression of probably about 50 to 75 years of this person’s family history and how the ingredients and the techniques have changed and come to modern day. It’s also a reflection on how life changed living on the farm over decades.
I always grew up with flat dumplings, which is more like a, almost like a pasta. Opposed to the puffy dumplings which have, um, they’re a lot more wet. I’ve never really cared for that style of dumpling personally.
That’s actually a big indicator of where your people came from in the south. Whether they came from Scotland, England area or Germanic areas. Germanic people that came to the south cooked the puffy dumplings and then the English and Scottish people who came to the south, they cook the flat dumplings. Oftentimes we don’t realize that the recipes that we’ve been handed down hold the history of our ancestors and where they came from.
The limitations of seasonality that they had. What were the ingredients they had or did not have? What were the religious and cultural boundaries that changed their recipes?
That’s something that I think is really interesting that you can look into your family recipes and almost connect with your ancestors through the ingredients, techniques and presentation of what you’ve been handed.
It’s just like oral history. This, this is how you transmit knowledge of who you are and where your people have come from.
Leigh: You may have picked up on the fact that Matt says “we” when describing decisions made. The way that this cookbook came together was not unlike the compilation of the community cookbooks that it was fashioned after.
Essentially, it took a community.
Matt: I had a group of SCAD Students, Savannah College of Art and Design students who were helping me with this.
I could not have brought this project to life without SCAD.
One of the wonderful programs that they have is called the Alumni Atelier funded by President Paula Wallace, the founder of SCAD to provide alumni seed funding for these outside the box projects that they just need a jumpstart.
I formed a team of three Rachel and Lyla and Catherine, Rachel was my food editor. Laila was my, managing editor and book a designer and Catherine was my illustrator.
And I really just gave her free rein to do what she wanted.
We looked through a lot of these old cookbooks and we found what are these ill illustrative elements from these traditional cookbooks. So for example, um, lots of sort of like borders that are, uh, around like introductory pages with like flourishes and fleur de lis, and expressive drawings of like certain dishes like salads and soups and stews and desserts. Each section has its own illustrations and some of them are just like so beautiful.
The cover for desserts features three famous recipes from the dessert section, a monster cookie, a pound cake. And then one of our favorites was a pink champagne Jello with raspberries inside of it. So she was able to capture, um, all of these sort of elements in her illustrations.
Together we put together this 340 page book in six months.
The final product is almost a little too real. Each copy I’ve stuffed with newspaper clippings and handwritten note cards and all these other items.
One of my favorite aspects of getting these old cookbooks is when you have marginalia in there, when you have a note card in there with a, um, like a biscuit or a soup recipe, those are real treasures. And so what I was thinking about what this cookbook is, that this is not just a cookbook, but you are receiving someone’s cookbook. And so the items stuffed into the cookbook actually continue the story outside of the, the book itself. Um, and so if you look through the clippings, if you look through the recipe cards, if you look through the handwritten materials I’ve stuffed in there, you’re going to learn what happens to the person who owned that cookbook after it was published.
It really changes the entire story. It really tells the story on these multiple levels in a way that it’s just so personal and it feels very real.
I’ve had multiple people that come back to me and say I think you left something personally in these cookbooks. I was like, oh no. Look through them. Read them. And then you’ll, you’ll understand what story that it tells. You will get a full story of the people and place of Magnolia Bayou. It has a lot of heart to it and it has a lot of drama and story.
But this is a cookbook and the recipes are good. They are real modern, delicious food that is southern but also reflects upon the multicultural heritage of the south and how the world is changing and becoming smaller through food.
Leigh: At this time, we would like to the member of the Ladies Auxiliary. By thinking them individually we not only reface upon their hard work, but all upon all they give to the Ladies Auxiliary through their loyal membership and rich personal history.
Mrs Lillian Connaly and Mr. Charles Connaly. We extend our warmest thanks to the matriarch of the Ladies Auxiliary and her husband. Thank you for all your editing, hard, work, and disturbingly in-depth stories.
Duquesa Infanta Maria Teresa Pontalba De Barcelona Y Andorra. Thank you for all your editing, beautiful recipes, and allowing us to put you second on this list instead of first. Your humility and desire to help those less fortunate is always inspiring.
Kitty Conway. Thank you fr all your delicious drink recipes, and for staying sober during the editing process. We understand how difficult this much have been, and value your contribution.
Dr. Elaine Punjabi and Dr. Sid Punjabi. Thank you so much for taking care of our little community and for explaining to each of us in depth which Ayurvedic tea we needed to drink. We likewise greatly appreciate your accepting canned preserves and fresh chicken eggs for your copays.
Colonel Tex Crawford, USA RET & Darryl Willis. Thank you for your beautiful flower arrangements and delicious finger food which helped to get us through the long nights editing this cookbook.
Mz. Justing Connal. Thank you for reminding us of our privileges and attempting to keep us ‘woke’. We’re still not entirely sure what that means but we are none-the-less appreciative.
Poinsette Arrabelle Fontainbleu and Violette Gauthier. Thank you for all the delicious smells you have put into our kitchen and all the spices you have put into our pots.
Kimber Park-Jones. Thank you for all your hard work editing and compiling this beautiful cookbook. We know your grandfather, our founding father, would be proud of all that you have done.
Leigh: I hope that you enjoyed listening to Matt’s story about the creation of his cookbook, about community, and about Southern culinary heritageIf you’d like to purchase your own copy of of the Magnolia Bayou Lady’s Auxiliary Cooking and Entertaining Book, head over to MagnoliaBayouCookbook.com. And if you want to hear more stories like this, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And if you could take five minutes away from the the puffy versus flat dumpling debate and leave a rating and review, it’ll help me reach more people like you who love stories about food.
The full recipe for Lillian Conally’s Chicken and Dumplings can be found at theheritagecookbookproject.com. And don’t forget to register for access to the printable cookbook pages. Cheers.
Oh, my Magnolia Bayou cookbook was previously owned by Kimber Park-Jones, the founder’s granddaughter. It tells a story of generosity, family and connection.
The Heritage Cookbook Project Podcast was produced and edited by me, I’m Leigh Olson. Sound design and mixing also by me. The music credit for this episode of the operatic clip, Habanero, is by Kevin MacLeod.
EPISODE 6: Chicken and Dumplings and Community Cookbooks
Cookbooks are as varied and the authors who write them and foodies who consume them. They can be beautifully bound works of art or practical resources. Either way, they provide inspiration. And sometimes that inspiration goes beyond the kitchen.
Listen as writer, artist, and food lover Matt Terrell recounts how his favorite style of cookbook influenced a unique writing project that resulted in a fictional cookbook. Yes, you read that right, a fictional cookbook. Which, if you really think about it isn’t so far fetched. Our cookbooks are more than just a list of ingredients and methods. They tell many stories.
Thank you to our Sponsor Bob’s Red Mill for keeping my pantry full of fabulous flours and baking products!
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Advertisement for Magnolia Bayou Ladies Auxiliary Cooking and Entertaining Book and Cover.
Advertisement for Magnolia Bayou Ladies Auxiliary Cooking and Entertaining Book and Cover.
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 2 tablespoons bacon grease
- 1/2 Vidalia onion, very finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2 quarts homemade chicken stock
- Worcestershire sauce to taste
- 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
- First, start off by making the dumplings. The best way to keep from making a big mess is to lay wax paper all over your work surface.
- In a bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder and sugar.
- Put your eggs and milk into a Mason jar with the lid real tight on it. Shake for 1 minute to combine and get frothy, which will make for a lighter dumpling.
- Pour egg and milk mixture into dry mixture. Stir with a fork until the mixture just starts to become cohesive.
- Dump out onto your work surface. Press down the dough, fold over, and press down again.
- Repeat, mixing in a bit more bench flour each time. Do this until the dough get a smooth exterior and no longer sticks to your hands.
- Roll out dough 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick.
- Using a pizza cutter, cut into 3"x3" squares. Rough edges and uneven pieces are okay!
- Move raw sliced dumplings onto a baking sheet. Place in the freezer for 15 minutes. Throw away wax paper and flour from work area and clean up.
- Salt and pepper chicken breasts on both sides
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add bacon grease.
- Brown chicken on both side in hot bacon grease.
- Do not cook all the way through but do form a good brown crust.
- Remove chicken breasts to meat cutting board to cool (they are will raw inside!).
- Dump chopped Vidalia onion into pan grease and cook on medium for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Use a flat edges wooden spoon to scrape up any brown bits.
- When onions are caramelized, add in black pepper and cook in hot grease for 1 minute, or until very fragrant.
- Add in white wine, scraping up any bits. Reduce wine by half.
- Add in chicken broth and Worcestershire sauce and bring to a low simmer.
- Cut chicken breasts into cubes, add into stock. Simmer for 15 minutes to cook.
- Turn fire up to medium high. Remove dumplings from freezer, and place one by one into simmering stock. Stir to prevent clumping.
- Cook for 10 minutes, or until all dumplings are floating and slightly puffed.
- Add more salt and pepper if you want. Stir in the fresh parsley right before serving, saving some to place on each bowl.