Cross Creek Cookery
By Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
A Cookbook Collector Review by Fred Glynn
Tom and Pearlee Glisson could not help but hear, one quiet, dark night in the early spring of 1933, as their next-door neighbors’ voices grew louder and louder. Clearly, they had been drinking heavily. But in the five years since their neighbors had come to Cross Creek, it had never been this bad. And so the Glissons understood when, the next morning, Charles and Marjorie Rawlings stopped by to tell them that Charles was taking the train that day to Tampa. While Charles would never return, Marjorie chose to stay on.
It had been a long time coming. Fourteen years before, the rice had hardly been swept off the church steps when the trouble began: Charles discovered that his bride was not the fine cook her mother was and hurled a plate of tomato mayonnaise salad at her. There was nothing wrong with the salad but everything else, as Marjorie would later concede, was inedible. After spending a week-long visit to see for herself, Charles’ mother sent Marjorie a copy of Fannie Farmer’s The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.
Far from being offended, Marjorie was grateful because Fannie Farmer’s instructions were so clear, the measurements so precise, that she could now cook the same dishes her mother had cooked, the dishes which had so impressed Charles. But, alas, becoming a great cook would not be enough; Charles would find other things to complain about.
In 1928, Marjorie had taken part of an inheritance to buy a seventy-two acre orange grove in Cross Creek, an isolated hamlet in rural north central Florida so that she and Charles could quit their jobs as newspaper reporters and pursue careers “writing.” But even this was not sufficient to please Charles who, while he continued to talk about writing, was happier going fishing and hunting with Tom Glisson.
Marjorie was pleased when Charles sold a story to the Atlantic Monthly—“he’ll have to stop beating me now,” Marjorie wrote her friend Ellen Beebe in 1932. Charles was embarrassed by his wife’s success—she had sold two stories and a novel—and felt further humiliated when Scribner’s assigned Maxwell Perkins—who had worked with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Tom Wolfe—to be Marjorie’s editor as well.
After Charles’ departure, Marjorie’s star continued to climb, with Golden Apples in 1935, Pulitzer Prize-winning The Yearling in 1938, and When The Whipporwill in 1940. In 1941, pressed by her friend, Julia Scribner, for yet another book, Marjorie asked the Glissons whether they would object to Scribner’s publishing her journal about life at Cross Creek—a journal in which none of the names had been changed. “Times is hard,” Tom Glisson advised, “If you can sell it, you better do it while you can.”
The result, Cross Creek, was a great success. When people all over the world wrote asking for recipes for the many unusual, regional dishes Marjorie had described in a chapter called “Our Daily Bread,” Julia Scribner suggested a sequel, a cookbook, Cross Creek Cookery. Marjorie and her maid, Idella Parker, spent the spring, summer, and early fall of 1942 testing recipes. This was real work. As Idella put it, “You don’t know what hot is until you’ve fired up a wood stove on a 100-degree Florida August day!”
The recipe below for Mango Ice Cream was one which Idella tested; it is extraordinarily rich. Since it calls for Boiled Custard, for which there is no recipe in Cross Creek Cookery, I have included a recipe for it from a 1919 edition of Fannie Farmer, identical to the one which Anne Rawlings had given her son’s new bride so long ago.
Mango Ice Cream
from Cross Creek Cookery, First Edition, 1942
3 cups sieved mangos Juice of 1 to 1 ½ lemons
1 cup chilled boiled custard 2 cups Dora’s cream
¾ cup sugar
Peel the mangos and put through a sieve. It takes about four large Haden mangos to make three cups of pulp. Stir in the sugar and the lemon juice. Blend with the custard. Stir in well the heavy cream. Taste for sweetness and acidity, adding more sugar or lemon juice to taste, remembering that cream will be less sweet after freezing. Freeze in a hand-freezer, using three parts ice to one part salt. Drain off salt water, remove dasher, licking, and repack with fresh ice and salt. Let stand one to two hours before serving, to mellow. When hurried I have made this and other ice creams with three cups of Dora’s cream, eliminating the custard, but I find that the custard gives a desirable body and texture to the ice cream.
from Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cook Book, Third Edition, 1919
2 cups scalded milk ¼ cup sugar
Yolks 3 eggs 1/8th teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla
Beat eggs slightly, add sugar and salt; stir constantly while adding gradually hot milk. Cook in double boiler, continue stirring until mixture thickens and a coating is formed on the spoon, strain immediately; chill and flavor. If cooked too long, the custard will curdle; should this happen, by using an egg-beater it may be restored to a smooth consistency, but custard will not be as thick. Eggs should be beaten slightly for custard, that it may be of smooth, thick consistency. To prevent scum from forming, cover with a perforated tin. When eggs are scarce, use yolks two eggs and one-half tablespoon cornstarch.
Availability . . . recently www.abebooks.com listed 219 copies of Cross Creek Cookery, ranging from a $3.29 reprint to $1,575 for a first edition signed by both Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and the illustrator, Robert Camp. You should be able to find a very good first edition with an equally good dust-jacket for around $75.