-

Friday, August 8, 2008

Exploring Cross Creek Cookery

Cross Creek is a picturesque community in Alachua County just southeast of Gainesville, Florida. It is located on Cross Creek, a natural waterway in Florida. Cross Creek gives its name to the community of Cross Creek, which crosses the creek that carries the outflow from Lochloosa Lake into Orange Lake. The creek is about 1.8 miles long and is normally navigatable by small boats. It offers boating, fishing, canoeing, camping, birdwatching and hiking. Perhaps, you have heard of the tall pines and Palmetto lined roads in the quaint little town of Cross Creek. Or, perhaps you recall Cross Creek as the home of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings who spent much of her time on the creek and wrote about it in her books South Moon Under (1933) and Cross Creek in 1942.

Cross Creek is a bend in a country road, by land, and the flowing of Lochloosa Lake into Orange Lake, by water. We are four miles west of the small village of Island Grove, nine miles east of a turpentine still, and on the other sides we do not count distance at all, for the two lakes and the broad marshes create an infinite space between us and the horizon. (Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings in Cross Creek)

As a tribute to the anniversary of Marjorie Kinnan's [Rawlings] birth, I would like to share a few recipes from my 1942 edition of Cross Creek Cookery published by Charles Scribner’s & Sons.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Marjorie Kinnan was born in Washington D. C. on August 8, 1896. Thanks to the vast resources of information available online about her life and writings, I would like to skip ahead to the publication of Cross Creek Cookery. I will leave a few biographical resources I discovered in my travels below.

Although The Yearling is often considered her most popular book, and earned her a Pulitzer Prize in 1939, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote numerous short stories and magazine articles before her first novel South Moon Under in 1933. As a matter of fact, according to wikipedia, "she was interested in writing as early as age six, and submitted stories to the children's sections of newspapers until she was 16. At age 15, she entered a story titled The Reincarnation of Miss Hetty, for which she won a prize.

Inspired by the culture of her rural neighbors, she submitted a collection of fictionalized anecdotes to Scribner’s magazine. They were published under the title “Cracker Chidlings: Real Tales from the Florida Interior” in the February 1931 issue. The piece was the first of more than 40 short works of fiction and nonfiction she wrote for magazines such as Scribner’s, Harper’s, The Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s and The New Yorker. “Cracker Chidlings” also began the work that occupied Rawlings for the rest of her life: documenting the culture and folkways of rural Florida.

Cross Creek

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings first encountered the people and landscapes of the Cross Creek region in 1928, when she and her first husband Charles Rawlings vacationed there. Later that year, with a small inheritance from her mother, the Rawlings bought a home on the creek. They purchased a 72 acre orange grove in the small town of Cross Creek. Their homestead included an eight-room dingy farmhouse, a tenant house, barn, and hundreds of fruit trees. The acquisition also included two cows, two mules, 150 chicken coops, two chicken brooders, a planter, reaper, cultivators, sweeps and an old Ford truck on its last leg. When the Rawlings moved to Cross Creek making a living in the small community was not an easy task. Farming and hunting were both livelihoods and pastimes for the local folks. Miz Rawlings, became fascinated with the remote wilderness and the lives of Cross Creek residents. It was love at first site. She felt a profound and transforming connection to the region and the land.

On March 16, 1942, Cross Creek was published. In essence, Cross Creek, was an autobiographical account of her relationships with her neighbors, their lives and their experiences living in the backwoods of the Florida river country. In Cross Creek, she wrote of the river: "If I could have, to hold forever, one brief place of time and beauty, I think I might choose the night on the high lonely bank above the St. Johns River." Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings saw beauty and inspiration in the lives of poor farmers struggling to survive in an often harsh wilderness.

When I came to the Creek, and knew the old grove and farmhouse at once as home, there was some terror, such as one feels in the first recognition of a human love, for the joining of person to place, as of person to person, is a commitment to shared sorrow, even as shared joy...I do not understand how any one can live without some small place of enchantment to turn to. In the lakeside hammock there is a constant stirring in the tree-tops, as though on the stillest days the breathing of the earth is yet audible. The spanish moss sways a little always. The heavy forest thins into occasional trees, live oaks and palms and pines. In spring, the yellow jassamine is heavy on the air, in summer the red trumpet vine shouts from the gray trunks, and in autumn and winter the holly berries are small bright lamps in the half light...

Cross Creek received immediate critical acclaim, with some reviewers calling her a "female Thoreau." The New York Times wrote, "she catches the community of land and people in the strength and mirth and loveliness of her book." Her memoirs in Cross Creek rose to the top of the best sellers list and remained there for many months. Additionally, Cross Creek was added to the long list of Book-of-the-Month Club books. 

Cross Creek Cookery

America was at war during the publication of Cross Creek. The armed forces published a special edition of the book also in 1942, which was sent to servicemen serving during WWII. The popularity of the book led to Marjorie being inundated with mail from servicemen all over the world. Marjorie tried to answer each and every letter. At the request of the many readers and servicemen who continued to write her, Cross Creek Cookery was "born." It's a beautiful book with each chapter heading illustrated by Florida painter Robert Camp Jr. There are also full page illustrations which are magnificent. Cross Creek was a melting pot of cultures, from African-American to classic "Florida Cracker" and many of the recipes reflect this diverseness. There are also many personal recipes belonging to Ms. Rawlings memories of her mother, grandmother and relatives.
"Florida Cracker" is used informally by some Floridians to indicate that their family has lived there for many generations; and/or that they were born and raised in the state of Florida. It is considered a source of pride to be descended from "frontier people who did not just live but flourished in a time before air conditioning, mosquito repellent, and screens."

Marj or Miz Rawlings, as everybody around called her, prided herself on her cooking as much as her writing. She was a passionate cook and an entertaining hostess often inviting guests to her farmhouse on the creek. Cross Creek Cookery is a compilation of recipes filled with anecdotes of central Florida life in the 1930s and 1940s. As a cook's companion to Cross Creek, it guides the reader through the rich culinary heritage of the deep south with a loving regard for the rituals of cooking and eating.

One of the chapters in Cross Creek, is titled Our Daily Bread. In it are vivid descriptions of the differences between cornbread, cornpone, and hoecakes. I suppose it just put our servicemen over the top when they read it.

I opened a letter this spring from an aviation cadet at Maxwell Field. The first sentence was startling.
"To preserve discipline in our armed forces, I demand that Cross Creek be banned in or near any encampment."
Of what dangerous influence was I guilty? I continued reading.
The chapters on foods, if read by many soldiers, will wreck the morale. Our food is good, but it is not that described in "Our Daily Bread." My stomach is just recovering from the torture it received as a result of matter over mind."

Another wrote, "Lady, I have never been through such agonies of frustration." Men write from Hawaii, the Philippines, Australia, Ireland, and even Egypt! She wrote, "Always there was a wistful comment on my talk of food." "Eight out of ten letters about Cross Creek ask for a recipe, or pass on a recipe, or speak of suffering over my chat of Cross Creek dishes." Although letter after letter arrived with one request or another, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings humbly denies that it is because of these letters that Cross Creek Cookery is written.

It would be inaccurate to say that I assembled this Cross Creek Cookery in response to widespread popular demand. I need only the slightest interest and curiosity to give me an excuse to pass on my better dishes. Some one wrote, "Scratch a cook and you get a recipe."

You can imagine how difficult it is to choose a few recipes to include today. I think I will leave out the breakfast section as it was also published in the November 1942 issue of the Woman's Home Companion. Not that anyone just happens to have an issue hanging around mind you. It's just so hard to pick just one recipe especially when there are so many filled with appetizing stories and memories. I hope you don't mind, I chose desserts!

Cross Creek Cookery Desserts
I have no intention of giving a comprehensive list of desserts. I offer only my specialties that I consider a little out of the ordinary, and over which friends at the Creek have proved enthusiastic. I myself have little taste for a rich dessert after a hearty meal. I like to sit down on a summer afternoon and eat a whole quart of Dora's ice cream. I like to sit by the open hearth-fire on a winter's day, about four in the afternoon, and eat a quarter of a devil's food cake, with a cup of tea or coffee. But "company" seldom refuses dessert, and I have been known to invite ten for dinner just because I was in the notion to make cake. (page 149.)
The most superb cake I have ever eaten in my life was Mother's almond cake. It made its appearance spectacularly for the Embroidery Club, at Thanksgiving, and on my birthday, when I was allowed to choose my own dinner menu. One of the regrets of my life is that I did not procure the recipe while Mother was alive. With all the recipes, added in her handwriting, to my childish cook book, I cannot understand how I failed to have her write down the recipe for this confection that makes all other cakes seem like sawdust. It took a day for the making. The almonds must be shelled, soaked in boiling water, the skins removed, the meats laid on a towel over the old-fashioned floor radiator to dry and blanch. They were chopped fine by hand in a chopping bowl-no heresy of the meat chopper for Mother, when she was making something special. The cake, as white as a virgin's breast, as tender as a mother's heart, was made in four layers. I can taste it still. I have never, from memory, duplicated it. The closest I come is as follows:
I think this is the most delicious pie I have ever eaten. The recipe from which I first made it was sent me by a generous correspondent, and originated at an old hotel in Louisiana. It seemed to me it could be no better. Then another correspondent sent me a recipe for Black Bottom Pie that varied in some details from the first one. Having tried both, I now combine the two to make a pie so delicate, so luscious, that I hope to be propped up on my dying bed and fed a generous portion. Then I think that I should refuse outright to die, for life would be too good to relinquish. The pie seems fussy to make, but once a cook gets the hang of it, it goes easily. (pg. 174)

Resources
1. Rawlings's Life: Biography
2. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Papers
3. "Rediscovering Rawlings, a River and Time"
4. Cross Creek Speak: A Glossary of Florida Vocabulary
5. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings National Historic Landmark
6. Cross Creek Kitchens (previous post)

16 comments:

  1. I find it amusing in this day and age as ahe describes the preparaton of the almonds. No cheating with meat grinder to make a fine cake. Cooks back then really has skills.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for visiting Courtney. She does write with quite a sense of humor and yet, determination.

    ReplyDelete
  3. What a great story, and again such a great example of how food, culture, community and place are so closely connected.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi T.W.
    Thanks for dropping by. I had to control myself. Her life and times were truly extraordinary. She loved food as much as writing. The connections are fascinating!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Cross Creek Cookery reminds me of "Babette's Feast," which describes in detail that when someone has the gift, their food nourishes more than just the body--I have to settle for the 1994 edition of CCC, which lost the original cover art, etc.--it's just not quite the same--

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Mammagrande,
    Thanks for visiting. You caught me off guard with this comment:) I'm in the middle of setting up for a Jell-O Week post this week and was surprised to see your comment. I Must Thankyou! I needed a break and yes, I sympathize with the Babette's Feast association. No, it isn't quite the same in the later editions. I truly treasure mine.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Small world, Louise -- Rawlings's home is very near my parents' house in Gainesville. Went there today -- took a bunch of pictures of the kitchen and outside, and will post them on my blog when I get back to Virginia next week. BTW, do you have any material on weddings during colonial times?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi Cindy,
    I can't wait to see the pictures. I've been thinking about taking the trip to Gainesville myself. Especially, since my sister is moving nearby in a few months:)

    I tried to email you about the colonial weddings but the address was no-reply. I will check your blog for an email address and send you what I have. Thanks, for visiting and asking:)

    ReplyDelete
  9. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


    Ruth

    http://muffinsnow.com

    ReplyDelete
  10. Welcome Ruth/Tessa,
    Thank you so much for introducing yourself. I love to know who stops in for a visit. I took a quick trip over to your Muffins Now blog and I'm liking what I'm reading. I'll be back!!!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Saw this on your sidebar and checked it out because awhile ago I got CCC at my local used cookbook bookstore. I flipped through it and decided I needed to read CC first to really appreciate it. Just received CC from Paperbackswap to I am looking forward to reading both. This post gave me a good background.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hi Rochelle,
    I'm glad this post was a bit of help. YOU are going to LOVE these books. I think you are so right to begin with CC first.

    Please be sure and let me know what you think of the books!!!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hello,

    In Cross Creek Cookery (pg. 174) Marjorie lists 2 squares melted chocolate. Is it sweetened or unsweetened chocolate? Also, is the use of "gelatine" the same as present day Knox gelatin?

    Thank you! Janine

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hi Janine, thanks for stopping by. I'm sure the chocolate in this recipe is for sweetened chocolate and yes, the gelatin would be the same as unflavored gelatin such as Knox. Have FUN!!! I do hope you will be sharing your creation. Louise

    ReplyDelete
  15. Nice article! Honestly, I had a great time reading your blog.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Ooo...I've been looking for a really good old-school almond cake.

    ReplyDelete

Through this wide opened gate,
none came to early,
none returned to late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise