Rebecca Henderson is a contributing columnist for Johnson City Press.

Rebecca Henderson

Rebecca Henderson

In the United States, October is National Cookbook Month. As someone who loves to cook, I collect cookbooks.

Growing up, I was fascinated by my mother’s love of cookbooks, and her collection of them. She read cookbooks like I read novels or mysteries! However, she didn’t like to cook. For years, I loved to cook but didn’t like to read cookbooks. That changed when Mama gave me a copy of Patty Smithdeal Fulton’s “And Garnish with Memories.” I met Patty when I was an active member of the Junior League. I didn’t have to think twice to tell her how much I enjoyed her cookbook. Patty’s book is the cookbook that made me a cookbook collector. Thank you, Patty Smithdeal Fulton!

I have inherited several cookbooks that belonged to my great-aunt, Mary Henderson. Mary, as she liked to be called, became the dietitian of East Tennessee State College, now ETSU, in September 1949. Before coming back home to the Limestone area, she was head of the Home Economics Department and cafeteria at Austin Peay State College, now also a university. I feel sure she used most of the cookbooks I inherited from her in her work in the cafeteria, as well as in the classroom.

For years, I tried to find cookbooks Mama would find interesting, want to use, and read to give her on gift-giving occasions and that she could add to her growing collection. I spent hours at Books-a-Million! I saw my good friend Joy Fields Miller there near Mama’s birthday. At the time, I was using a buggy to hold several cookbooks. Joy has told me several times, “You’re the only person I know who shops for books using a buggy!”

One day, Mama was proudly showing me a well-used cookbook she had purchased at Bag-a-Bargain, a gigantic indoor yard sale. It was filled with hand-written notations, such as “I made this for Thanksgiving in 1962. Jack loved it, but Jim didn’t.” Grease spots liberally dotted the pages. Mama used it often. It was one of her favorites.

Mama told me, and I quite agree, the best cookbooks are usually the community cookbooks (churches, book clubs, PTAs, etc.), cookbooks from Southern Living and Taste of Home magazines, and the Junior Leagues. She knew these cookbooks could be consistently counted on for clear directions, and used ingredients easily located. (The cookbooks that Patty Fulton, Fred Sauceman and Mary Duke McCartt wrote, mentioned elsewhere in this column, are certainly exceptions to the community cookbook rule.)

When I was on the board of directors of the Association of Junior Leagues, International, we met in cities with a Junior League presence. The Leagues using cookbooks as fundraisers presented us cookbooks. I kept my cookbooks for a while, and slowly re-gifted them to Mama, knowing she would enjoy reading and using them, more than I would at that stage in my life.

I confess I would go to garage and book sales to search for those community cookbook treasures that Mama so loved and enjoyed. Friends of the Library book sales in several area cities consistently netted me the most success. When Mama turned 85, I presented her 85 individually wrapped cookbooks. None were new, but several looked like they were.

My friend of well over half a century, Linda Kassem, loaned me her copy of “Home and Away” by Fred Sauceman. Linda knew of my interest in Johnson City history and the resulting “Today in Johnson City History” column I pen for the Johnson City Press. This book will prove to be a treasure-trove resource for the column, but the recipes also abound. If you’ve been a resident of Johnson City for very long, you will recognize many of the names of the contributors. Linda, thank you SO much for reminding me of this wonderful resource. I wish I had thought of it earlier.

I have known Mary Duke Chambers McCartt since first grade at North Side School. Beginning in second grade, we were Brownies. Following college graduation, we became members of the Junior League of Johnson City. Our friendship was cemented with the work we did as members of Lottie Ryans’ Bag-a-Bargain committee, mentioned above. I am pleased and proud to count Mary Duke as one of my good friends and prayer warriors.

The last cookbook I will mention is “Sassy Southern” by Mary Duke. Like “Home and Away,” “Sassy Southern” is a coffee table cookbook. The pictures are beyond gorgeous, and the recipes are easily followed, because Mary Duke fills the pages with helpful hints she has found by experimentation that makes the recipe faster to follow, easier to make or to taste even better. Truth be told …. I love the stories Mary Duke includes with the recipes the best.

Now let me find a good cookbook to read!

Rebecca Henderson of Johnson City is an author and community volunteer.

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