Museum Musings: Cookbook now available

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Madison County Historical Commission’s new cookbook, Recipes & Remembrances, Volume 2, is now available for $10 each and can be purchased at the Museum and at the local Chamber of Commerce office.  If you want to purchase by mail and have it shipped out of town, send a check made out to Madison County Museum in the amount of $13.50 per book ($3.50 shipping included), to the Museum at 201 N. Madison St., Madisonville, TX 77864. For that shipping price, it won’t arrive overnight, so don’t wait too close to Christmas if you mean it for a gift.

The cookbook contains approximately 350 recipes, plus some photos we deemed of historic significance.  The cover features a good shot of our courthouse that stood from 1894 until it tragically burned in 1967.  The commissioners court that originally contracted for its construction intended for it to overshadow in grandeur all other East Texas courthouses. The contract was drawn up for $25,300, of which the county government had $300 on hand!  Some things never change!      

Near the front of the book is a photo of the late Dr. J.B. Heath (1906-1993).  It accompanies his recipe or prescription for a good life, copied from his funeral program.  Through the years, he “doctored” countless Madison County citizens, delivering many babies, including me! 

The cookbook’s divider pages include photos of a few of our area’s beloved citizens.  One photo shows Truman Kimbro (1918-1944) in uniform.  He was born in the Cottonwood community here, attended school in the Center community, and was drafted in 1941. He arrived in Europe in late 1943 and with allied forces landed on Omaha Beach during the Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1944. He was killed the following December while placing anti-tank mines before advancing German troops, and he is buried in a U.S. military cemetery in Belgium. Kimbro was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military honor. The President gives the award in the name of the U.S. Congress to our military personnel only, in recognition of personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty.  Our Kimbro Center is named for him, which is fitting. It’s an honor that our county can claim Kimbro. There have been only 76 servicemen from Texas to have earned the Medal of Honor, which was created in 1861. With Texas having 254 counties, it’s a BIG deal that little Madison County can boast a recipient.

Ben and Bessie Bailey’s picture appears on another divider page.  Their home no longer stands, but it was west of Madisonville on the south side of Highway 21 and a bit before F.M. 1372. From the 1940s into the 1960s, the couple operated Bailey’s Pool, which was behind their home.  Mr. Bailey taught many youngsters to swim, though he kept a long stick to reach out to a swimmer in difficulty because he never learned to swim himself. There was a nearby lake, and I’ve heard that young people sometimes swung out and dropped into the lake from rope swings.  Larry McGinty, Elwood Barrett, and Buddy Barrett were among those daring souls, although the lake was known to be the home of a good many alligators.

Another photo includes the late Coach James Byrd, Jr., with his mother, Lenora Mitchell Byrd, and a group. Serving our community a total of 35 years in education, Coach Byrd had great impact on many local youngsters. I had the privilege of working with him, and fishing with him once too. I sure miss his smile and kindness. 

I’m not telling about all the photos in the cookbook.  I want you to be surprised with some. Choices were hard.  Of course, I wanted a photo from my family, but I helped compile the book, and I didn’t want to be accused of favoritism. 

This cookbook is unique. I think you’ll be hard pressed to find a cookbook that includes Mornay sauce, gazpacho, and tomato artichoke aspic, along with fried mountain oysters, fried venison steak, and fried dove or quail. Longtime local residents won’t be surprised at those last three dishes being fried. When I was growing up, I’ll bet about 10 of the 14 big meals a week at our house included a fried meat, and often with a fried side dish too!  Mountain oysters?  If you haven’t tried them, don’t knock them.  You’ve missed something tasty and as Texan as you can get. 

I deem some of the recipes to be “blasts from the past”.  I wish my aunt, Hope Rhodes, was here now so I could make Pearline Johnson’s liver and onions for her, because Hope loved liver and onions. I’ve heard of Doris Byrd’s egg custard pie for many years, and though I am dieting now, I’d go for a sample of that pie. I’m eager to make Clint Cannon’s squirrel chowder recipe, but someone will have to kill a squirrel for me.  The homemade pork sausage recipe, from Bill Cannon and Carl Cannon, starts out with 125 pounds of raw pork, and instructions say “You’ll need hog killing (cold) weather...”  How many of you recall days of hog killing and butchering?  I sure do!  The thought makes my mouth water for some of the resulting delicacies!

Several folks submitted recipes which they had previously cooked and entered in 4-H contests or the Madison County Fair.  Carol Reding Phillips made her casserole titled “More” for her 1981-1982 4-H Food Show entry, and now quite a few years later still serves it to her family often. That recipe is a keeper!  Laney Baker Sikorski’s amaretto pound cake went grand in the senior division of the 1998 Madison County Fair food show, and we enjoy it nearly every Christmas. The late Effie Dean Burnett won the adult division of the Fair at least a couple of times with her peanut brittle, and her granddaughter, Becky Baylor Siemens won youth classes with it a time or two.  Hillary Hathorn’s snickerdoodles went reserve grand in the Fair’s sub-junior division when she was 5, after our Aunt Hope taught her how to bake them.  Leigh Ann McWhorter made her great pumpkin cookies for the 1986 Fair.  Riley Farris’s sopapilla cake went grand in the Fair’s pee-wee division in 2013, and you can ask Mike Farris how tasty it is.   

Chef Susan Warmuth came to Madisonville via Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and has been at the Woodbine Hotel and Restaurant since 1999. She was kind enough to submit two recipes to be included in the cookbook.  The pecan-crusted French toast filled with maple cream cheese and the peach cake both sound superb. 

The main dish section of the cookbook has the most entries, 78 if I counted right.  Not everything is cooked old-style; there are crock-pot recipes too.  There are main dishes for special occasions and for everyday meals.  The family of the late Barbara Donaho shared some delicious-sounding recipes that Mrs. Donaho served her family with Parmer Donaho, her husband of 49 ½ years.  Linda Douglas’s Ritz chicken recipe has been a family favorite since she and Jack were newlyweds, quite a few years ago. I can promise you that Nancy Cahill’s lasagna recipe is worth the time!

I counted, and the cookbook holds 46 recipes that call for beef in some form.  There’s a reason for that.  In the 1950s and maybe later, near the Meteor’s title appeared the slogan “Madison County, more cattle per acre than any other county in Texas. They include both dairy and beef animals.” That was true for many years, partly because we had many dairies here then. It seems to me that folks that raise cattle eat lots of beef, hence 46 recipes.  My father was a cattleman, and I remember Mother saying that cattle got so low in the 50s that she and Daddy bought a freezer so we could eat well with no ready cash.  Recently I researched old cattle prices and I saw what she meant. In 1951, beef was selling for 29 cents a pound, and in 1953 it dropped to 15 cents a pound. Even in the 1960s, the average price for all beef was 20 cents a pound! It did not get back to 29 cents until 1969! No wonder Mother fed us so much beef! Now I may need to buy a freezer myself, since cattle prices have tanked lately!  I hope you notice that retail prices for processed beef have not dropped a dime.

It appears that I’ve mostly mentioned recipes from females, and I don’t want to be accused of sexism. Using the cookbook, you can start any special morning with mimosas, per Timothy Sandles. John Vinson’s mango salsa just has to be tasty! The chili recipe from Lew and Beverly Plotts has fed countless folks, especially Madisonville High School employees when Lew taught there. I know from experience that the vegetable beef soup recipe from Larry Richards is a winner. How can you go wrong, starting with bacon and bacon grease?  If you serve it with the cornbread recipe of the from Dr. Bob Jones, please let me know! 

It’s a good time of year to cook with sweet potatoes. The cookbook will tell you how to prepare holiday sweet potatoes, fried sweet potatoes, and Becky Blair’s sweet potato casserole.  I will personally vouch for that last one.  There are also four recipes for sweet potato pies and one for sweet potato cake. 

The cookbook includes history along with recipes. The Halloween Cracker Jacks, under Richard “Dickie” Westmoreland’s name, were made by his mom, Millie Westmoreland during World War II, for trick or treaters. The recipe for butterscotch squares came from Edna Culbreth, originally of England and the World War II bride of Andrew Culbreth, of the Pee Dee community. After all these years, the holiday cookies recipe from Nathal Spillars is still noted, “This recipe was given to our family by Audie Westmoreland.” I’ll bet my bottom dollar that occurred at Westmoreland Grocery, which stood where the Kimbro Center is now. 

Fruitcake, anyone?  I’m looking forward to trying Fred Randle’s poor man’s fruitcake, because it looks like something I’d enjoy.  Elayne Campbell shared an uncooked fruitcake recipe she got years ago from Willie Lee Baker, and I want to try that too.  There are also two other fruitcake recipes that sound superb, but I will let those be a surprise. 

Bread?  There are three biscuit recipes in the cookbook, seven cornbread recipes plus a corn spoonbread, four banana breads, and several other types of bread that sound SO good!  Audie Westmoreland’s monkey bread is not a sweet bread like some monkey breads but really a good soft roll, and it can be frozen before baking.  The cookbook’s bread section was hard proofing for me!

Let me tell you, never help compile or proof a cookbook while dieting! I’ve always been a sweet fiend, and the sweets almost sabotaged my weight loss. The recipe that tempted me most was Elayne Campbell’s recipe for fried apple pies!  I wish someone would sponsor a fried pie contest here soon.  If I could sponsor such, I’d include peach and apricot divisions too! In the last 30 years, I’ve bought and tried a few fried pies, and always been disappointed.  I’m sure Elayne’s would not disappoint me! 

When was the last time you made homemade ice cream?  The cookbook has six such recipes plus another for strawberry sherbet!  There’s even a recipe for homemade hot fudge sauce that is “great over homemade ice cream.” I’m all for a homemade ice cream contest next summer too!  Not recipes, the REAL ice creams!

If you want to worry grandkids, tell them you are going to make grasshopper pie.  They’ll be surprised when they see it. My mother, Ann Cannon, served it often, and it starts with an Oreo crust.  The filling contains crème de menthe.  A slice is light and refreshing served after a big holiday meal. 

The cookbook was a labor of love.  I hope its purchasers or recipients come to feel the same about it. 

Madison County Museum is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  Museum curator Jane Day Reynolds would welcome your visit. 

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