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Tom Chaney: Five Years and Going Around Again

Of Writers And Their Books: Five Years and Going Around Again. Tom says Out of Green River Kitchens is what a cookbook should be -- a vivid picture of a master cook and teacher at work. This column first appeared 7 March 2010.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Even If It's Broken, Don't Fix It

By Tom Chaney

Five Years and Going Around Again

I'm sitting in The Bookstore trying to figure out just what to write about for this week. I've got about three books on tap that I want to write about. I haven't finished a couple of them and cannot, for the life of me, get my head around another. It comes to me that I have been at this for five years -- beginning February 20, 2005.

Thunk I, let's go back to the start.

The first column was about A. A. Whitman, the important Black poet born in Hart County in slavery. I recently did an update on him and the publication of the fine new anthology of his work.

I'll go with the second piece about a local cook and local writer -- mother and son. And the book is still for sale at the Bookstore, he said greedily!

And a word of thanks to those who are reading these pieces; to those who have with gentle kindness commented upon them; and to my friend Robert Stone who is my constant proof-reader and critic.

Mrs. Williams' Splendid Table Out of Green River Kitchens. By Charlie Dowling Williams. 2004. Munfordville, Kentucky. 400 pages. $25.00.

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.

Charlene Keith Dowling Williams, mother of the author, learned to cook in the Woodsonville kitchen of her mother.

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.

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 2015-03-08 04:00:56
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