Maintaining family history can be as easy as pie…or cake…or casseroles
By Shelley Powers, Sunnyhuckle Editor in Chief
To transport herself back to her childhood days in Pontotoc, MS, Jane Mapp needs only to pull a purple cookbook off the kitchen shelf and whip up some fried pies, jug chicken, homemade rolls, or a squash soufflé.
“Gran’s Gems – One Hundred Years of Southern Family Recipes” was written in 1998 by Jane’s mother, Jane “Gran” Rayburn Mapp Hardin, who earned her degree in home economics in 1956 from The University of Mississippi. The book took an entire year to compile, test, and write, but resulted in the publishing of nearly 400 tried-and-true recipes from relatives and family friends.
Today, Jane, who now lives in Brandon, MS, and works as an attorney for the state of Mississippi, pulls out her lovingly worn book at least twice a month to find just the right dish she needs to take her home again.
“I use it any time I want a recipe that I had when I was growing up,” she says. “I almost never make a dessert that isn’t in here.”
From how to boil an egg (included especially for Gran’s sister Angela, who needed some extra culinary tutelage as a young bride) to a recipe on cooking a three-day brisket (a time-consuming—but surprisingly easy—recipe from Jane’s great-uncle), the book is filled with a wide variety of recipes and dishes that not only accommodate cooks of all levels but that meet the demands of family members who would, otherwise, call Gran routinely to ask her to share her knowledge.
“Kids were always calling and asking Mama for recipes; so, she decided to write them down,” Jane says. “I love the fact that she [wrote it]. It’ll be great for my nieces and nephews and great nieces and nephews…’cause nobody cooks like Mama cooks.”
Gran started the cookbook by culling through her boxes of handwritten recipes and recalling recipes from her own memory that she had never written down. She sorted and compiled those that meant the most to her family and that would carry on traditions for generations to come, like the chicken and dressing recipe from Grandmother Elese Rayburn and the 75-year-old BBQ recipe from Grandfather T.H. “Doc” Rayburn (freely acknowledged as the best cook in the family). She also wasn’t too fussy with including only certain styles of food, which lead to a book that features comfort foods like fried green tomatoes as well as fancier fare like asparagus with toasted pine nuts and lemon. “Being the Southern lady that she is, [for my mother] it’s still the era of teas and dinner parties,” Jane says.
With its anecdotes, names, and dates, this collection of recipes not only gives the Mapp family a sense of its own history, but it preserves precious memories of close family friends like the late Estelle Beckley, who worked as a maid for Jane’s grandparents and as a cafeteria worker at Jane’s elementary school.
“Estelle made the best rolls and fried apple pies,” remembers Jane. “She would always give me two rolls when I was in line at the cafeteria…Mama finally learned how to make Estelle’s rolls, but no one can ever make the fried apple pies like Estelle.”
Today, the little book that began simply as a way to meet the demands of family recipe requests has had around 2,000 copies either purchased or given away as gifts. But an excerpt from Gran’s 1998 Forward reveals she may have anticipated the collection’s potential early on.
“Serendipity is a lovely word and one of my favorites. Hopefully, those who see this book will consider it “an unexpected pleasure.” We trust that our family, children, grandchildren, and friends will use this offering of love for many years to come. To all of you we dedicate this book.”
Now out of print, the handful of remaining copies have been lovingly set aside by Gran to give to younger family members once they establish their own homes. Jane says her entire family cooks from Gran’s Gems and that everyone has adopted specially assigned recipes to make for holidays and family gatherings, like the baked pineapple casserole that Jane’s sister, Anelese, is always expected to make.
Jane encourages other families to create cookbooks like Gran’s Gems. She suggests starting by organizing existing family recipes, choosing favorites, and asking for contributions. She says it’s also important to have designated folks test instructions and sample finished dishes to help eliminate errors, omissions, or vague instructions. Most of all, she says choose “recipes that bring people together…that’s what makes the book work.”
Blueberry Pound Cake
- 1 c. butter
- 2 1/4 c. sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 tsp. each vanilla, almond and lemon flavoring
- 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 3 c. flour
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 2 c. fresh blueberries
Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Stir in half of flour with salt and baking powder added. Add rest of flour. Mix well. Add vanilla, almond, and lemon flavorings. Fold in blueberries. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 to 1 1/4 hours. (Bailey’s Mother-in-law, Bettye Hayes, made this and sent it to us one summer. Everyone liked it so well that we had to have the recipe.)