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Storied Kentucky cookbook still has relevance today


‘The Blue Ribbon Cook Book’

By Jennie C. Benedict, introduction by Susan Reigler (University Press of Kentucky, $19.95)

Why would anyone blow the dust off of a cookbook published during the early years of the last century and reprint it? Perhaps, a question more to the point, would be, is such a cookbook even relevant in today’s fast-food world?

Susan Reigler, a former restaurant critic at The Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal, has republished “The Blue Ribbon Cook Book” by Jennie C. Benedict, a collection introduced in 1904, and Reigler says she is convinced that it is just as practical today as it was then.

Speaking from her home in Kentucky, Reigler asserts the cookbook doesn’t offer just a collection of vintage recipes but also features shortcuts, kitchen tricks and tips on cooking technique, all of which have withstood the test of time. She cites as an example one of the tips in the book: By crushing parsley in your hands, you can remove the odor of onions from them.

According to Reigler, Benedict was born in Kentucky just before the Civil War and began working out of her Louisville house, mostly making holiday fruitcakes for friends and neighbors. After studying with Fannie Farmer in Boston in the 1890s, she returned to Louisville and became its most famous caterer.

“In addition to catering the parties and weddings of some of the city’s most prominent families, she opened a tearoom downtown and, of course, published her famous cookbook,” Reigler says.

Reigler believes one of the major draws of the cookbook is Benedict herself. Though she died in 1928, her voice can be heard on page after page. Added to that are the recipes themselves, which have been instrumental in shaping the culinary tastes of the region. This perfect blend has made the cookbook legendary. How legendary?

“The early editions of ‘The Blue Ribbon Cook Book’ have been so impossible to find,” Reigler says. “Copies have vanished from local libraries and ones loaned to friends rarely, if ever, find their way home again.”

She says that throughout her time at The Courier-Journal, she continually heard from readers in search of the book, which went through several editions. (Reigler selected the 1922 edition for the 2008 reprint.)

Even though the recipes are the originals, Reigler says some clarification was necessary, for example, on recipes calling for ammonia powder and zephyrette crackers.

“Ammonia powder, or ammonium bicarbonate, was once used as a leavening agent,” she explains. “To stay true to the recipe, you would have to purchase the ingredient from a pharmacy and then grind it into a powder.”

Instead, simply use baking soda. As for the mysterious zephyrettes, substitute saltines.

Benedict never included her most famous recipe, for Benedictine, in any of the editions of the cookbook. Popular in Louisville for generations, it is spread on pieces of soft white bread with the crusts trimmed. The breads then are cut diagonally into quarters and served on a doily-covered platter. The traditional recipe uses just the juice of the cucumber and onion to produce a smooth spread. (See accompanying recipe).

The book has sections in the back that feature menus for formal dinners, informal dinners and simple luncheons. The most intriguing is “Dainty Menus for Convalescent Patients”, which includes such cure-or-kill dishes as creamed calf brains and peptonized oysters (don’t ask!).

This is a wonderful collection that Reigler says she hopes will make Benedict’s recipes accessible to a new generation of readers and cooks. Whether it’s Benedict’s recipe for Benedict’s Chicken Salad or advice on how to make a perfect cup of coffee, her voice comes through loud and clear even after more than a century.

“The Blue Ribbon Cook Book” is a timely collection that is certain to bring more than just a bit of Kentucky flavor to the family dinner table.

Tucsonan Larry Cox’s “Shelf Life” reviews of fiction and nonfiction books runs Thursdays in Calendar Plus, and his “Treasures and Trends” antiques column runs Fridays in Weekend Plus. For more, go to tucsoncitizen.com/calendar.


8 ounces cream cheese, softened

3 tablespoons cucumber juice

1 tablespoon onion juice

1 teaspoon salt

a few grains cayenne pepper

2 drops green food coloring

Peel and grate a cucumber, then wrap it in a clean dish towel and squeeze the juice into a small bowl. Discard pulp. Do the same for the onion.

Mix all ingredients with a fork until well blended. (Using a blender will make the spread too runny.) Spread on bread sliced into quarters with the crusts removed.


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