A newspaper cookbook of favorite foods from 21 years of columns

For the last 21 years one of the most popular columns of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch food pages has been an annual review of the year's most popular recipes.

Some of the all-time hits include Potato Skins (1981), Herman the Sweet Sourdough Starter (1981), Peach Buttermilk Ice Cream (1970), Roman Chicken and Rice (1963), Sour Cream Noodle Bake (1962), and Deep Butter Cake (1973).

This year the newspaper put out a spiral-bound cookbook in answer to readers who keep writing and calling asking for copies of these favorites. The recipes, though compiled by a local newspaper, are by no means limited to a specific area. Many are familiar to home cooks throughout the country who swap and exchange them with families, friends, and neighbors.

The book is available for $10 by check or money order payable to the Post-Dispatch at: Public Affairs, St. Louis-Post Dispatch, 900 North Tucker Boulevard, St. Louis, Mo. 63101.

Here is the recipe for Potato Skins, the top favorite in l981 which brought more than 2,000 letters to the newspaper's food department. A close runner-up was Herman the Sweet Sourdough Starter with more than 1,800 requests. Potato Skins 4 baking potatoes Vegetable oil for deep-frying 6 to 8 ounces Cheddar cheese, shredded 1 to 2 ounces bacon, cooked until crisp, crumbled 2 ounces sour cream

Bake potatoes, then let cool. Cut into quarters and scoop out centers, leaving about 1/8 inch of potato along skin. In hot oil, deep-fry skins until crispy. Drain on paper towels.

Arrange fried skins on ungreased baking sheet. Top skins with thick layer of shredded Cheddar, then sprinkle with bacon bits.

Bake in a 450-degree F.oven until cheese melts. Serve hot with sour cream on the side.

Makes an excellent appetizer or side dish. Makes 2 servings of 8 strips each.

In l982 one of the favorite recipes was a homemade version of a concoction of candied popcorn and nuts. The recipe came from Byerly's, the famous and unusual Minnesota supermarket chain. Popcorn a la Poppycock 1 cup butter 2 cups granulated sugar 1/2 cup light corn syrup 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon vanilla 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 5 quarts popped corn 3 (2 3/4 ounce) packages almonds 2 (5-ounce ) packaged pecan halves

Note: You can substitute light brown sugar for granulated sugar and use any kind of nuts.

Combine butter, sugar, corn syrup, and salt in heavy saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring constantly.

Boil without stirring 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and baking soda. Pour mixture over corn and nuts. Quickly stir until well coated.

Pour mixture into 2 9-by-13-inch baking pans. Bake in 250 degree F. oven until dry, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, stirring every 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and break apart if necessary. Store in airtight container. Makes 5 1/2 quarts.

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