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When voices in your head call for Southern food, go crackers


‘The Cracker Kitchen: A Cookbook in Celebration of Cornbread-fed, Down-Home Family Stories and Cuisine’

By Janis Owens (Scribner, $25)

Janis Owens, a Florida-based writer and the daughter of a Pentecostal preacher-turned-insurance salesman, proudly calls herself a Southern Cracker. Her new cookbook invites readers to kick off their shoes, swig a little sweet tea and join in a celebration of recipes from the rural South.

Cracker was originally used in Shakespeare’s Elizabethan England to describe a braggart or big shot. On this side of the pond, the word morphed into a derogatory term to describe Southerners who were ill-read and overchurched. Crew-cut, toothless miscreants with ax handles that were captured on news footage during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s didn’t help the Cracker image. But things have a way of evolving and, according to Owens, the term as used today describes proud people who have a deep love for their country, their family, good food and storytelling. Her new recipe collection is a tribute to this heritage and especially it’s down-home cooking.

To prove a common thread runs throughout Southern cooking, some of the recipes chosen by Owens are similar to ones I found several years ago in the “White Trash Cooking” series edited by Ernest Matthew Mickler. That series and “The Cracker Kitchen” have the same homey appeal. The more than 150 recipes feature such concoctions as Easter Ham made with Coca-Cola, Sister Jackson’s Sausage Cheese Balls, Peanut Butter Pie, and Velveeta Rocky Road Fudge. In addition to the recipes, there are family pictures and stories.

The book includes 20 different seasonal menus for significant occasions such as Easter, bridal and baby showers, Sunday dinner, Christmas and even funerals. Take it from someone who knows, no Southern funeral is complete without at least two or three casseroles and an assortment of covered dishes. This unique and incredibly charming cookbook is a genuine piece of Americana, but it is not for those watching their weight or cholesterol. Even the basic Sweet Peas recipe is drenched in butter.

I tested four recipes from this cookbook. I made a decadent Pecan Pie and an incredibly rich Peanut Butter Pie, which I gave to a neighbor. Both of the pies are the real deal. The Wilted Country Salad is basically the same recipe I remember my grandmother making and it was a nice change of pace for one of my weekend meals. My fourth pick was Roy’s Famous Biscuits. It took a little time and extra effort, but the result was a surprisingly flaky treat that I served with Arizona honey and country butter.

This is a delightful book that is highly recommended. Most of the recipes are accessible and easy to prepare. The directions are straightforward and clear.

Tucsonan Larry Cox’s “Shelf Life” reviews of fiction and nonfiction books and his “Treasures and Trends” antiques column run Thursdays in Calendar Plus. For more, go to tucsoncitizen.com/ calendar. E-mail: contactlarrycox@aol.com

Peanut Butter Pie


20 chocolate sandwich cookies, crushed

1/2 cup sweet butter, melted

1 tablespoon sugar

Preheat oven to 323F.

Put the cookies in a plastic freezer bag and crush them with the heavy end of a tumbler, a meat pounder, rolling pin, or a regular old hammer.

Mix the crushed cookies with butter and sugar in a mixing bowl, then press the mixture in a 9-inch pie plate, covering the bottom and sides.

Bake 10 minutes. Let cool 20 minutes before filling.


8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup powdered sugar

12-ounce tub of whipped topping, thawed

2 ounces dark chocolate, grated

Beat the cream cheese, peanut butter, sugar and whipped topping in a mixing bowl until smooth and blended.

Spoon the mixture into the cooled cookie crust and smooth the top, then top with grated chocolate.

Serve chilled.


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