Thursday, August 7, 2014

Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine

There is not a single member of Norma Jean and Carole Darden's family that you want to hang out with.  While most of them are gone now, they live on in this delightful cookbook and memoir.  Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine was one of the first cookbooks to combine recipes and reminiscences in one book.

The book was seven years in the making as the sisters collected recipes and stories from family members in Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina, and Ohio.  Not only did they have recipes, but they had great stories as well.  Their grandfather, Papa Darden was born a slave who went on to be a successful business man and the vintner of the strawberry wine. 

Aunt Maude was a matchmaker who not only arranged marriages, but organized the weddings, too. A frequent visitor at Tuskegee, she was friends with Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver.

Aunt Lil, an octogenarian when interviewed didn't remember much about food, but she had a great recipe for Violet Vanishing Cream.

While the recipes are wonderful, the family photographs are a treasure. Published in 1978, the photographic reproduction is not great, but the photos are elegant and offer a glimpse into the lives of the family in the stories.  Family in this book is that extended Southern family that might not be connected by blood, but by an even deeper bond.  When the Darden's father was interning at Tuskegee, he met nursing student, Mattie Winner.  When he landed in New Jersey, he talked Mattie into leaving Texas and becoming  his nurse.  Soon she talked her sisters into joining her in the North.  Their house was often a holiday gathering place.

One of our favorite vegetable is the lowly rutabaga.  Perhaps if we began to call them yellow turnips, they might grow in popularity.  This is a Thanksgiving recipe from one of Mattie's sisters.

Waltine's Mashed Turnips and Carrots

1 large yellow turnip
6 large carrots
3/4 stick of butter
1 medium sized onion, diced fine
2 tablespoons sugar
2-3 teaspoons salt

Peel and quarter the turnip.  Pare and halve the carrots. Bring water to a rapid boil and toss in the vegetables.  Cook rapidly until completely tender.  Drain and mash with potato masher.  In a second pan melt butter and add diced onions.  Saute until tender and translucent.  Add the butter and onions,sugar and salt  to the mashed vegetable, blending well.

Who doesn't love a cookbook with a fine rutabaga recipe!  If you are in New York, Norma Jean Darden is still cooking up a storm. There is a catering company and two restaurants, named after Miss Maude and Miss Mamie.