Mama’s cookbook philosophy bears bits of wisdom
by Margaret Dabbs
Sep 07, 2011 | 3404 views | 0 0 comments | 44 44 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Margaret Dabbs
Margaret Dabbs
Several years ago when my brothers and I moved Mama from our family home to a retirement community, one of my tasks was to sort through her cookbooks and decide which ones to keep for her new, tiny kitchen.

Since the joy she found in the kitchen flowed right down to me, I relished the task. During the 30 years since I married, Mama’s corner of the kitchen counter devoted to cookbooks had grown into a custom-made bookshelf which spanned most of a kitchen wall.

As she amassed her cookbook collection, her philosophy remained staunch- if she found one recipe in a cookbook which brought pleasure to her family and friends, the book was a keeper and had essentially paid for itself.

After an energetic cousin and I completed the chore which actually turned into a project, we shook our heads in amazement that any one person could have collected so many cookbooks.

However, the next time I was hunting a recipe in my own kitchen, I laughed at myself when I opened the nine-shelf cabinet which houses my cookbooks. Subconsciously, I had acquired my mother’s philosophy. Many of my cookbooks have remained on the shelves because I found one recipe which I have used over and over again.

Those books became comfortable old friends whose well-worn covers give away their age and food-stained pages are the only bookmarks needed.

On my 26th birthday, my parents gave me one of these treasured cookbooks, Southern Sideboards, a 1978 product of the Junior League of Jackson, Miss. The plastic ring binding on its cardboard cover is loose and just barely attached at the top.

It basically opens itself to pages 312 and 313 where dried flour, now browned with age, dots the two recipes for apple cake made with fresh apples.

I used the cake recipe of one and the icing recipe of the other for my first fresh apple cake. Over the years I have made small adjustments with spice, nut, and apple amounts after making this cake numerous times and also trying a friend’s similar recipe. This uncomplicated recipe, which creates a scrumptious, moist cake, is mixed by hand and most of the ingredients are pantry staples.

Fresh Apple Cake with

Brown Sugar Icing

Cake Batter:

1 cup Canola oil

2 cups sugar

3 eggs- room temperature, well-beaten

2 and one half cups regular flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 Tablespoon vanilla

4 cups Gala apples- peeled and chopped

1 and one half cups chopped pecans

Brown Sugar Icing:

1 cup light brown sugar

One half cup butter

One fourth cup evaporated milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Toast the pecans at 350 degrees for about 8-10 minutes, until they are fragrant.

2. Combine the oil and sugar. Add the eggs.

3. Sift the dry ingredients together- flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir them into the batter.

4. Fold in the vanilla, apples, and pecans.

5. Pour into a greased and floured Bundt pan.

6. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 55-60 minutes.

7. Cool the cake for 15-20 minutes in the pan. Remove from the pan and cool completely.

8. While the cake cools, prepare the icing by bringing the brown sugar, butter and evaporated milk to a boil, stirring constantly.

9. Remove the icing from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

10. Beat the icing with a spoon until it is cooled down. Pour the icing over the cake and spread it with a knife.


• Use walnuts instead of pecans if you prefer them.

• Other varieties of apples will also work well in this recipe.

• Use a wire whisk to mix the dry ingredients rather than a sifter.

• This cake ages very well and tastes better a day or two after it is prepared.

As a dedicated reader of the Birmingham News Wednesday Food Section, I discovered Meet the Cookie Man. This cookbook was created in 1996 by Michael S. Pierce, the owner at that time of The Lattice Inn, a bed and breakfast just a short walk from the Governor’s Mansion in Montgomery.

Housed in an early 1900’s cottage in the Garden District, this inn thrives today under Jim Yeaman’s ownership after overcoming a variety of hurdles including Hurricane Ivan’s wrath, a flash flood, and nearly three years of empty darkness on the real estate market.

Jim has one carefully saved copy of Meet the Cookie Man which was sent to him by one of Michael’s frequent guests in the inn’s early years. Copies of the cookbook itself may be hard to find, but Jim has made it available online at the inn’s website,

This compact, less than 100 page prize has nine sections of recipes, but Gloria’s Dirt Pudding caught my eye years ago and became the hallmark dessert for Maddox Middle School and later Walker High School basketball and baseball suppers and pre-game meals.

The kids nicknamed this Oreo cookie dessert “Dirt” and since one recipe was never enough, a group of other mothers faithfully joined me in making this ultra-sweet, light in texture treat.


1-16 ounce package Oreo cookies

2- 3.4 ounce packages French Vanilla instant pudding

3 cups whole milk

One half stick of butter

1-8 ounce package cream cheese

1 cup sugar

1-16 ounce Cool Whip

1. Put the Oreos in a Ziploc bag and crush them.

2. Spread one half of the crushed cookies in the bottom of a 9”x13” glass dish.

3. Combine the pudding mix with the milk and refrigerate for a few minutes until

the pudding slightly thickens.

4. Thoroughly mix the butter and cream cheese.

5. Add the sugar and mix well.

6. Gently blend in the Cool Whip and thickened pudding.

7. Pour this mixture over the Oreos in the dish.

8. Refrigerate overnight.

9. Sprinkle the remainder of the crushed Oreos over the top just before serving.


•This dessert is creamier if you use a mixer.

•Take the butter and the cream cheese out of the refrigerator several hours before preparing this recipe so they can soften.

•For a nice touch, after you spread the crushed Oreos in the dish, make a layer of the mixture, then a layer of crushed Oreos, and finally a top layer of the mixture. Save just a handful of the crushed Oreos to sprinkle over the top.

Jasper’s Crescent Junior Study Club published several cookbooks to raise funds for a variety of community projects and each edition handily showcased wonderful recipes from the kitchens of local folks who invite you for meals you wish would never end.

This club’s 1988 Crescent Collection included Quick Chicken Pie which easily became a family dinner favorite for us when my sons were little guys.

In recent years the family dinner became a hot topic for family counselors, mental health experts, journalists, authors, talk show hosts, and others who are eager to share their opinions. Research has clearly demonstrated the benefits of sharing dinner together on a regular basis and this habit often creates the perfect setting for a family story.

I grew up in a home where we had dinner together most week nights and the table was always set with cloth napkins, regardless of the nature of the menu. This custom started after the youngest of my three older brothers held up a huge, perfectly ironed cloth napkin at the Tuscaloosa Country Club’s somewhat formal, incredible Sunday dinner buffet, and in his loudest 6-year-old voice asked Mama, “What is this?”

A close friend shared her story of the family dinner where her father knocked over her sister’s brimming full milk glass. When his wife and three daughters looked at him with incredulity, he simply stated, “Now that we have that out of the way, let’s eat dinner.” As my younger son craftily devised ways to feed his dreaded vegetables from the table to one of our dogs, he rarely found a willing accomplice, but generated laughter amidst stern warnings during dinner. Napkin escapades, spilled milk, and detested vegetables aside, the family dinner remains a high priority in many homes as it provides important, easy time together during days when our lives can be so hectic.

This chicken pot pie, described as “melt in your mouth,” will hold its own at any family dinner table.

Quick Chicken Pie

3 to 4 cups cooked chicken- cubed

1- 10.5 ounce can cream of chicken soup

1- 10.5 ounce can chicken broth

One half teaspoon dried tarragon

1 and one half cups self-rising flour

1 and one half cups buttermilk

One half cup melted butter

1. Place the chicken in a lightly greased 9”x13” baking dish.

2. Mix the soup, broth, and tarragon. Pour this mixture over the chicken.

3. Combine the flour, buttermilk, and butter. Pour evenly over the entire dish.

4. Bake the pie uncovered at 350 for about one hour or until the crust rises to

the top and turns golden brown.


•You can add a package of frozen mixed vegetables or left over fresh

vegetables to this recipe to make it a complete meal.

•Use Herbes de Provence or any mixture of dried herbs in place of the tarragon.

Mama’s recent move to a smaller apartment and the need to once again downsize her cookbook collection brought back the memories of her cookbook philosophy. While our mamas are charged with teaching us so many of life’s crucial lessons, we quietly observe their simplest practices, appreciate and share their resulting pleasure, and ultimately happily adopt them ourselves.

Margaret Dabbs is a freelance columnist who resides in Jasper. Her column appears every other Wednesday in the Lifestyles section. Comments and suggestions are welcomed by contacting Dabbs at 387-2890.