Community cookbooks – collections of recipes gathered by churches, women’s societies, rotary clubs, and other regional clubs and foundations – have been the foundation of home kitchens across America for decades. These collections often present an air of nostalgia, using old-fashioned techniques, offbeat ingredients, and occasionally include really great anecdotes. They are—in their best versions—a direct reflection of the region of their origin and an admirable labor of love. The recipes are seldom fancy, and most often highlight the kind of meal that is made in an average kitchen on an average evening by an average cook who finds an epiphany of enlightenment in a great recipe. Even more captivating is the community cookbook filled with family recipes passed down from prior generations and lovingly shared with the community at large.
Caxton Press in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania published what is believed to be the very first charity cookbook in 1864, during the time of the Civil War. This assortment, titled A Poetical Cook-Book, by Maria J. Moss, was filled with foods common to that era, like leg of mutton, mince pies, johnnycakes, and hasty pudding. The book was sold to provide funds for field hospitals and aid wounded soldiers.
Many, like the ones I was given by my mother, grandmothers, and aunts, are overflowing with sense memories of a location and an era. While similarities exist among the cookbooks, there are distinct differences between what the women of the Virginia Eastern Star were making in the 1920s and the dishes prepared by the late 1960s Junior League of Coastal Louisiana. Regardless of the when and the where, there is copious information on what the (mostly) women were like in each specific time and place. The ingredients tell a story of rural vs. urban landscape and wealthy vs. working class cooks. If a recipe called for a pinch or a handful, you might assume that the writer was a seasoned home cook who learned passed down recipes and perfected dishes by taste, not by measurement. If a recipe was “eggless” or “butterless”, you might suppose that it originated during wartime, when certain foods were rationed.
A few weeks ago, we wrote a review of Handmade Gatherings by Ashley English (and also picked Ashley’s brain for her best tips on communal entertaining).
As The Factory continues to grow and host events, we openly welcome her simple approaches to creating an experience through collective, potluck meals. Now, we want to share those inspirations and insights with one of our lucky readers.
“Where the Tennessee River, like a silver snake, winds her way through the red clay hills of Alabama, sits high on these hills my hometown, Florence.”
–W.C. Handy, Father of the Blues
We have written many times of our community’s rich musical legacy. The Shoals has a very notable place in modern music history; but, that history reaches much further back than many realize. William Christopher “W.C.” Handy was born and raised here in Florence in the late 19th century. Discovering a love of music at a young age, he took up the cornet and participated in acapella vocal lessons while attending grammar school. Later, after receiving his degree from the Teachers Agricultural and Mechanical College in Huntsville, Alabama, he became a teacher and briefly worked in a piping company before ultimately pursuing music as his true passion. His contributions in shaping the blues were influenced by the African-American musical folk traditions he experienced during his travels across the South, with “Memphis Blues” marking the beginning of his musical career.
For over 30 years, The Shoals community has hosted the W.C. Handy Music Festival. “Handy Fest,” as the locals call it, provides a few moments of unrivaled fun – in the middle of what can be a long, hot summer. Many of us anticipate the event all year and even the most confirmed homebodies spend multiple evenings out and about, listening to live music, visiting with friends, and exploring the community during festival week.
Doc Dailey is a longtime friend of Alabama Chanin and a talented musician making music right here in our community. He and his band mates weave together music that has a universal appeal, with the distinct flavor of Muscle Shoals. Below, he shares some of his favorite summertime pastimes and songs.
AC: When did you start playing music?
DD: Some of my earliest memories are of singing along to the radio and old 8-tracks; so, in a way, I’ve been playing around with music since I was a toddler. I started playing the saxophone in 5th grade and picked up the guitar and started writing songs in my teens.
Newsletter #18 notes special features on our website—like our ongoing Basics Highlights and our upcoming Summer Reading (+ more) event beginning July 14.
We also have new events on the calendar at The Factory, like our second “Friends of the Café” dinner on July 25. The dinner features chef Vivian Howard and is a benefit for the Southern Foodways Alliance.
Join our mailing list and stay up-to-date on all the happenings at Alabama Chanin.
Update your mailing subscription to include the newsletter (and Daily Journal) here.
xo Natalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin
Celebrate America, today and every day.
(You’ll find me at our yearly neighborhood parade with Maggie and friends…)
xoNatalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin
“We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.”
The Factory will be closed Friday, July 4th, that our staff can observe Independence Day.
(Please note, CSA boxes will be available for pick-up at Jack-o-Lantern Farm on Saturday morning.)
Here is what we have going on this week, Monday, June 30 – Thursday, July 3:
Come out to The Factory and browse our collection of Alabama Chanin @ Heath Ceramics dinnerware. These dishes are hand-etched, uniquely crafted, and heirloom-quality pieces that are perfect for any gathering.
Monday – Thursday, 9:00am – 5:00pm
Stop by any weekday at 2:00pm for a guided tour of our space, including The Factory, the Alabama Chanin production and design studio, and Building 14.
Stop by for lunch and enjoy some of our house favorites—including the classic Quiche Lorraine. Later this week we will feature a special menu celebrating Independence Day—more on that later.
This month, we launched our “Friends of the Café” Dinner Series with James Beard award-winning chef Chris Hastings. When searching for like-minded chefs and restaurants to collaborate with for our ongoing chef series in the café, Chris was one of the first people who came to mind. His dedication to locally-sourced ingredients is something we value highly here at Alabama Chanin, and it was wonderful to see (and sample) his work at The Factory.
A big hit of the evening was the Hot and Hot Tomato Salad, a fresh and colorful take on an old Southern favorite: succotash. Guests watched in awe as Chris and members of the Alabama Chanin team put together mouthwatering layers of the tomato salad. The special version of the salad presented at our dinner was topped with fresh Alabama Gulf shrimp (and bacon), and served with fried okra on the side.
Last week, we hosted our inaugural “Friends of the Café” Dinner, featuring chef Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club. Chris and his team came to The Factory for an evening of superb food, lively conversation, and support for the Alabama Gulf Seafood organization.
Alabama Chanin’s slow design ideals are deeply rooted in and inspired by the Slow Food Movement, whose tenets call for good, clean, and fair food for all. Local, organically sourced food echoes through the pages of the Hot and Hot Fish Club Cookbook by husband-and-wife team (and friends) Chris and Idie Hastings. In continuation of our Factory Café Chef Series, the café will feature recipes inspired by Chef Chris Hastings during the month of June. Additionally, we are proud to host Chris for our inaugural “Friends of the Café” Dinner Series on Thursday, June 12. He will also hold a brief discussion and sign copies of his book after the farm-to-table meal. A portion of ticket and book sales from the evening will benefit the Alabama Gulf Seafood organization.
Chris graduated from the Johnson & Wales Culinary School in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1984. After graduating, he began working for Frank Stitt, as Chef D’Cuisine of the Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Alabama. In the introduction to his cookbook, Chris describes how he and his wife later moved to California “with a trailer in tow, in 1989 journeyed three thousand miles from Birmingham, Alabama, to San Francisco—a hotbed of great food in America—in just two days.” In California, he helped Bradley Ogden launch the Lark Creek Inn in Larkspur, California, and witnessed the rise of the farm-to-table movement first hand.