Eudora Welty on recipes
Eudora Welty, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and short-story writer, still lives in the house where she was born in Jackson, Miss. In this excerpt, she introduces ``The Jackson Cookbook.'' Reprinted from ``The Eye of the Story'' by permission of Random House, Inc. I daresay any fine recipe used in Jackson could be attributed to a local lady, or her mother -- Mrs. Cabell's Pecans, Mrs. Wright's Cocoons, Mrs. Lyell's Lemon Dessert. Recipes, in the first place, had to be imparted -- there was something oracular in the transaction -- and however often they were made after that by others, they kept their right name. I make Mrs. Mosal's White Fruitcake every Christmas, having got it from my mother, who got it from Mrs. Mosal, and I often think to make a friend's fine recipe is to celebrate her once more, and in that cheeriest, most aromatic of places to celebrate in, the home kitchen.
Jackson had its full plenty of recipes, but I hardly remember a cookbook. My mother had the only one I ever saw as a child, The White House Cookbook. I don't recall which President's wife was in headquarters at the time of our edition, but the book opened to a full-length drawing of a deer, complete with antlers, marked off with dotted lines to show how to cut it up for venison, which suggests poor Mrs. Teddy Roosevelt. The most useful thing about The White House Cookbook was its roomy size, for in between its pages could be stored the recipes, jotted down on scraps of paper and old envelopes, that my mother really used. They accumulated themselves over the years from friends and relations and from her own invention and a time or two from the Mystery Chef who came in over the radio. She had a cookbook within a cookbook. She had some of the making, in fact, of the very sort of cookbook that this one now is certain to be. Today there's a cookbook available for every conceivable purpose and occasion, but in this one we come full circle: We're back again to the local. Using these cherished recipes we can make and delight in the fruits of Jackson itself.
I'd like to express the pious hope that we're to find these recipes given in full. My mother's don't do me as much good as they might because she never included directions. Her reasoning, often expressed, was that any cook worth her salt would know, given a list of ingredients, what to do with them, and if she did come to a momentary loss while stirring up a dish -- taste it! Cooking was a matter of born sense, ordinary good judgment, enough experience, materials worth the bothering about, and tasting. I had to sit on a stool while she made spoonbread and take down what I saw like a reporter, to get her recipe.
I can't resist adding this, for I think it applies. John Woodburn was a New York editor who'd come through Jackson on a scouting trip for young unknown writers and spent a night at our house. He carried my first collection of stories back with him and worked very hard trying to pursuade his publisher to take them. Several years later, when he succeeded, he sent me a telegram to say, ``I knew as soon as I tasted your mother's waffles it would turn out all right.''