To judge by all the evidence amassed in her recently reissued classic cookbook from 1928, Mrs. S.R. Dull of Atlanta was anything but.
Mrs. Dull, whose 1964 obituary hailed her as author of "the standard by which regional cooks have been measured," comes across in her new-old book as lively indeed, a woman who knew well the labor of food but never let it stop being a labor of love."We had a devil of a time finding clean books to copy," says Cherokee Press president Ken Boyd. "Many pages were spattered with grease and food or wrinkled with use."
The current edition of "Southern Cooking" was assembled from two books borrowed from the Atlanta Historical Society and one from a private collection. At $18.95, Cherokee's first reprinting sold out within days, creating a delay as the book again went back to press.
History buffs may wish to know that Cherokee worked from the 1928 original put out by the long-defunct Ruralist Press. A 1941 version from New York's Grossett and Dunlap - 200,000 copies strong - simply was not antiquarian enough to satisfy Cherokee.
Antiquarian is certainly one way to describe "Southern Cooking," in the worst and best ways. Its 350 recipes come from the Golden Age of Home Ec, when home cooks were raised with a body of shared techniques that required little additional explanation.
Many of the recipes carry the explicit or implicit instructions, "Mix and cook until done the way you always do." Rather than being measured precisely in the modern manner, many ingredients carry the mandate to add until you've added "enough." Therefore, it takes a certain kitchen prowess to use the book to make meals.
By the same token, it takes no skill at all to bask in the warmth of Mrs. Dull's personality - not so much a writing style as a lifestyle. It shows the same unreconstructed zest as her recipes, all concocted before cooks started counting grams of fat, cholesterol or sodium.
Anyone, cook or otherwise, will get a kick out of Mrs. Dull's endless bits of advice, such as hints for a "seated wedding breakfast" built around "half a broiled chicken on toast" and "rice croquettes with green peas."
"The table," notes Mrs. Dull, "may have olives, mints and nuts. The linen, china and silver should be perfect."
("Southern Cooking" by Henrietta Stanley Dull. Cherokee Publishing, Box 1730, Marietta GA 30061) - John DeMers