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Tom Chaney: Mrs. Williams' Splendid Table

Of Writers And Their Books: Mrs. Williams' Splendid Table. Tom comments on a family cookbook, recipes kept by Charline Williams, presented by her son Charlie in a format that shows their history. This column first appeared 27 February 2005.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: The Angels' Share

By Tom Chaney

Mrs. Williams' Splendid Table

Out of Green River Kitchens. By Charlie Dowling Williams. 2004. Munfordville, Kentucky. 400 pages. We are what we eat. To know ourselves, our families and our cultural heritage, pay attention to our tables.

Sons and daughters learn to grow, prepare and consume food at the knees and in the kitchens and gardens of their families and in their neighborhoods.
Stories shared around the table
and about the food we eat
tie us to those who came before
and bind new generations to their past.
Charlie Williams, Munfordville cook, poet, story-teller, and sometime attorney, has performed a major feat of historic preservation in his latest family book -- Out of Green River Kitchens: A Collection of Family Recipes.

Charline Keith Dowling Williams, mother of the author, learned to cook in the Woodsonville kitchen of her mother -- a kitchen still in the charge of her daughter.

The more than 240 recipes in this book were 'kept' by Mrs. Williams. 'Kept' is the correct term for any cookbook, for in cooking more than any other art, the result is a building on and expansion of the work of others.

Mr. Williams has chosen a unique format for this book. The recipes are presented in facsimile from his mother's two notebooks. They are in her handwriting, the handwriting of her friends, and in the form in which she clipped them from a variety of printed sources.

This choice gives the reader and the cook a delightful insight into the character of Mrs. Williams and her kitchen. One may presume that a darkened smudge on the recipe for sweet and sour green beans (page 236) is not a failure of the copier, rather the smudge of an ingredient from the hand of the cook.

It is impossible to name a favorite recipe in this book. There are many delicious choices. But one that stands out is the recipe for and description of the making of cream candy beginning on page 330. Neighbors and friends participate. Family members are learning and tasting, succeeding and failing in the process.

And then there is the garden: the asparagus of many varieties; the blueberries and Mrs. Williams' gentle war with the birds for the harvest; and the rhubarb bed.

A fine cookbook with interesting and delicious recipes -- but even more the telling of
"stories about Mother --
her ways, her cooking rituals, her sayings, and her work ethic --
for the benefit of her great-grandchildren and others
who will never know first-hand
just what an extraordinary woman she has been."
This is what a cookbook should be -- a vivid picture of a master cook and teacher at work compiled by a knowing son who is no mean cook himself.

Out of Green River Kitchens is available at The Bookstore in Horse Cave and at the law office of Williams and Williams in Munfordville.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2014-03-16 03:29:34
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