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The Cracker Kitchen
By Janis Owens
ISBN: 1416594841
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: Feb. 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
List price: $25 
Type: Regional: Southern; Ethnic: Cracker
Sample recipe: Grannie's Chicken and Dumplings, Hush Puppies
Intended audience: novice advanced beginner good home cook gourmet professional
Apparent goal: stocking stuffer sampler comprehensive coffee-table Biblical stature
Competition: outclassed follower in the pack strong challenger likely champ
Variety: too little too much unusual nice mix just right
# of recipes: <50 <100 <200 <300 ≥300
Practical recipes: <20% <40% <60% <80% ≥80%
# of ingredients: ≤4 ≤7 ≤10 ≤12 >12
Ingredient hunt: 7-Eleven airfare required online pantry supermarket
Recipe complexity: too hard simple medium challenging professional
Instructions: inadequate verbose bare-bones full-figured educational
Time conscious: unconscious outright lies white lies realistic honorable
Cooking time: weekend project takes all day takes time ≥30 minutes <30 minutes
Added info: zip overwhelming scant balanced generous
Photos/drawings: none distracting decorative instructive glorious
Recipe results: ≤dorm food casual food family meals fancy food fit for royalty
Nutritional info: none overwhelming hit or miss adequate comprehensive
Format/Ease of Use
Layout: ugh cluttered fine considerate work of art
Legibility: unpleasant challenging tolerable clear brilliant
Production quality: cheesy dubious years of service gift quality stunning
Page numbers: non-existent hard-to-find spotty sufficient every page
Table of contents: AWOL frustrating passable useful excellent
Index quality: none tragic adequate good a treasure
Page flipping: upsetting tedious acceptable rare never
Writer: beginner food writer writing cook personality auteur
Cook: unknown self-taught chef teacher celebrity
Fulfills ambitions: falls short almost there satisfactory exceeds home run
Flavor delivered: sad inconsistent tasty delicious exceptional
Overall tone: sterile trying too hard straightforward best friend mom
Value: ouch! a little pricey worth splurging on the money a deal
Overall rating: skip it good very good excellent Ochef Top 100

Comments: The more cookbooks we read, the more homogeneous they all seem. This is not one of those cookbooks. This book celebrates Crackers – the poor white people of the American South – their history, culture, and decades of their cooking.

The book includes a sense of time, place, and family that you don't find in most cookbooks, and was written with heart, soul, and humor. The writer Pat Conroy, who wrote as good an introduction as we've seen, wonders why author Janis Owens, who also has three novels to her credit, isn't world famous. We wonder why, too, and why we don't live closer.

The recipes are arranged in menus relating to holidays and life's big events (baby showers, tailgate parties, poker night, etc.). There are recipes here you've never heard of and will probably never try – Strawberry Pretzel Salad, Velveeta Rocky Road Fudge, Sister Wilson's Marinated Cole Slaw (that isn't much more than cabbage and sugar), Little Smokies (cocktail wieners) in Grape Jelly, and a whole section on wild game (or road kill), including armadillo, possum, turtle, rattlesnake, and squirrel.

In fact, there are many recipes here at which many people will turn up their noses – they're not trendy or innovative, and certainly not nouvelle. They are old or traditional or evolving Southern recipes – some born of poverty, some of celebration, some including processed foods, some including, well, road kill – but there are wonderful recipes and sometimes multiple recipes for chicken and dumplings, fried chicken, biscuits, pecan pie, red beans and rice, grits, and every other Southern dish you've had a secret hankering for.

Quite possibly an editor, in his zeal for homogeneity or to avoid lawsuits, put in some extra canning directions, but put them in backwards (put the marmalade in the jars first, then process in boiling water), but it's one of very few flaws in an otherwise absolutely charming cookbook. We wish we could write a review that would do it justice….


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