Academic journal article Southern Cultures

Thanksgiving Ghosts the Family Cookbook

Academic journal article Southern Cultures

Thanksgiving Ghosts the Family Cookbook

Article excerpt

After a hiatus of many years, it's my turn to host the family Thanksgiving--a perfect opportunity to introduce my new daughter-in-law and several grown-up nieces and nephews to Great Aunt Adele.

About twenty-five years ago, when Thanksgiving was mine to host every year, the menu had frankly become boring. So I began to browse my cookbook shelves for inspiration and discovered a tattered, re-bound volume that had been jammed there for a decade, since my mother downsized and unloaded treasures on me.

The cookbook was bound with wallpaper remnants and had no identification save a small white square adhesive patch on the front cover which had been hand lettered: "Twentieth Century." But there was no title page--author, publisher, and publication date were a mystery. Nevertheless, I turned the frayed, yellow pages and began reading--starting with the lengthy table of contents and continuing through to "Foods for Invalids under Medical Direction" and the appendices. I was hooked when I read the chapter called "Obesity List"--foods to be avoided by "stout people," which, unfortunately, can apply to one side of my family. When I'd finished reading, I felt like Alice fallen down the rabbit hole, into a culinary wonderland of another era. Intrigued, I phoned my mother.

The cookbook had belonged to Mamie--my paternal grandmother, an excellent cook, who had lived with us when I was young. It had been written by Mamie's sister, Aunt Adele Kahn. "You met her once when you were about two," my mother told me. But that side of the family had scattered, and my father, the family link, had died years before.

Aunt Adele's daughter might still live in Louisville, my mother suggested provocatively. And so, in those pre-Google days, I called Louisville directory assistance for the phone number of Marion Flexner. "I beg your pardon," demanded the strong, positive voice of the woman who answered my call. "Who exactly are you?"

Cousin Marion proved to be a good sport, considering that her quiet Saturday afternoon had been invaded by someone purporting to be the granddaughter of her long-deceased Aunt Mamie who was calling to inquire about the cookbook of her own long-deceased mother. "Your cookbook," she related with obvious pride, "was published in 1897. It was written by my mother and Mrs. C. F. Moritz." Great Aunt Adele was a published author in the late nineteenth century, before she turned twenty. …

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