Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Book Review: Cooking with Julia & Friends

A Book You Can Buy From Me...in real life. I can't guarantee that it'll be available online.

Book Title: Cooking with Julia & Friends

Author: Julia North

Author's recent YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tROWcqPYHM

Publisher: Looks like another Cookbook Publishers special, but the only contact information given is for The Redeemed Quartet (Rt. 4, Box 1435, Rogersville, Tennessee, 37857).

Date: Not shown, but the band members look considerably younger on the back cover than they do on YouTube. (They've been performing for thirty years.)

ISBN: none

Illustrations: photos of band members and food

Quote: "Many...friends in gospel music...were willing to reveal some of their cooking 'secrets.' Others I received from...family members and friends at home."

By "friends in gospel music" Julia North means "people you've seen if you watch the Southern Gospel music video channel on TV." The Bentons, the Spencers, the Primitive Quartet, The McGlothlins, The Singing Cookes, The McGees, Gospel Sounds, and the Chuck Wagon Gang are well represented in this book. It's practically a Who's Who of Southern Gospel bands; so if your church is able to get a big-name band to perform on a special occasion, you'll know what to feed them.

But only on special occasions, I have to warn you. People do not keep the ability to sing in public, and look and sound like the people on that YouTube video, after thirty years if they eat very much of these dishes. These recipes are for the kind of high-calorie food you let children whip up and take to a large gathering where a "serving" is the amount that can be scooped up on a toothpick and held on a paper napkin.

There are more desserts than main courses in Cooking with Julia & Friends. Looking at the dessert recipes, I think this is because the people who cook this kind of desserts are likely to think the main courses they serve are "just plain cooking." One ingredient per dish, either baked or fried or boiled, with a bit of seasoning. (Strawberries, cucumbers, and watermelon might be served raw with a bit of seasoning.) Bread would typically be either cornbread or biscuits, which every self-respecting Southern girl learned to bake before age ten, or "store-bought" sandwich bread. Desserts are the only thing on the table that seem to need a written-down recipe.

Several of the dessert recipes are the kind of "jokes" in which a gross-out name is applied to something yummy. Here are Baptist Pie (made with canned fruit and Cool Whip, as allegedly served by some Baptists), Turtle Cake (chocolate, nuts, and caramel, like once-popular "Turtles" candies), Dirt Cake (chocolate cookie crumb topping), Dump Cake (ingredients just dumped into the pan and baked without mixing), Hillbilly Cake (egg-free), Wasp Nest Cake (baked with butterscotch chips on top), Spiders (chow mein noodles stuck together with candy and baked), Sand Tarts (rich shortbread-like dough given a "sandy" texture with nut meal), and also Monkey Bread (bread dough rolled into small balls and stuck together with butter before baking, so that it can be pulled apart and held in both hands, monkey-style, while eating).

I miss Methodist Pie (for which I've never found a recipe), Possum Pie (an especially gooey, messy chocolate cream pie--possums are messy animals), and Dirty Rice (white rice "dirtied up" with lots of spices). If it included recipes for these treats, I think this book might be a complete collection of food treats with gross-out names.

Even recipes with straightforward names, in this collection, tend to be on the cheap-and-junky side. Lots of Jello salads, lots of canned condensed soup used as sauce, lots of desserts made by adding even more butter, sugar, and cream to a flavor base of candy bars or soda pop.

However, good news for those who really can't eat a certain food, even as a treat: quite a few of these recipes are dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, or "free" from other things someone you know may need to avoid. Lots of them do call for pre-processed foods that contain undesirable additives, but others are real oldfashioned recipes dating back further than the additives, and can be made with all-natural ingredients.

Although the selection is regional--most of these bands are based in the Blue Ridge or Smoky Mountains--this cookbook is just what thoughtful, frugal gourmets everywhere need if they want to serve something "different," "sinful," and popular at a large party. It's not--how many times should I repeat?--not a basic family-meal-planner collection, but it's great for annual reunions, camp meetings, the final day of an evangelistic crusade when new members are welcomed into a church, and generally the kind of special occasions for which a well-known band is likely to be hired.

Nobody else seems to be offering this souvenir book for sale online...so I can't promise to mail out any clean copies either. I doubt that even the Rogersville post office still uses rural route addresses, but imagine that the Rogersville post office would know the band's current address, and the best way to obtain a copy of this book would be to send them a postcard.