Perhaps you have heard of one Ronni Lundy? If not let me introduce you. She once likened making onion soup to learning to love. She knows a thing or two thousand about food. When you read words Ronni has written, you feel like she was actually just with you, at the table, telling you stories, feeding your belly and your mind. Her book Shuck Beans, Stack Cakes and Honest Fried Chicken was in the cookbook section at the Brooklyn Public Library, main branch, just off Eastern Parkway where I lived in 1996. It lit a fire in me, melding my two main passions, food and music, and introduced me to a way of life that seemed almost foreign to my own Yankee upbringing.
Since then I have devoured any literature- cookbook or otherwise that promises to further reveal the magic of the South. For that I owe her thanks. A few months ago I saw her book Butter Beans to Blackberries: Recipes from the Southern Garden, at the main branch of The Richmond Public Library, it was then that she tipped me wise to Eugene Walter. Thanks again, Ronni.
As best I can gather, Mr. Walter was a modern American amalgam of Escoffier and Savarin. A bon vivant and a bunch more. Born in Mobile, Alabama he was a writer, an actor, a composer, a cryptographer, an illustrator, a stage hand and a puppeteer. He died in Mobile after 75 years of quite the extraordinary life.
Currently this is the only book of his I own, but I am already on the hunt to read all that he left us. Just this one book is a spectacular find and a jewel in my Southern cookbook collection. This excerpt from the introduction leaves me pining to be a guest of Mr. Walter’s table.
“In Rome, I live as I lived in Mobile. On my terrace garden I have five kinds of mint, five kinds of onion and chives, as well as four o’ clocks and sweet olive. I take a nap after the mid day meal; there is always time for gossip and writing letters.I eat Southern dishes; fried chicken, grits and spoonbread,having learned to cook all of them since I left home. I enjoy guests, I stay up nights of the full moon, my life is one long quest for the perfect cup of hot strong black coffee”
It only gets better when you see the realities of the then present day South, of the late 60s and early 70s. A chicken cooking contest in Delmarva, an oyster roast on the Carolina shore, pictorials that illustrate an era that it seems we are yearning collectively, to return to.
The photographs are hyper vivid, evoking the styles and hues of the time period. They are gorgeous and I selected a couple to share:
If you see that iconic cover at a used bookstore, snatch it up for yourself.
I would be thrilled to see a book such as this published today. As much as we would think it would be vastly different from 40 years ago, I don’t believe it would be.