"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!