“A shared recipe in the South is more precious than gold … and it always comes with a good story.”
— As seen on a tea towel
I am not someone who typically delights in spending quality time in the kitchen, but every now and then I do get an itch to bake. Add to that an inordinate love of really good biscuits — and really good stories — and Mary Martha Greene’s The Cheese Biscuit Queen Tells All may be my new favorite cookbook. A nod to her Aunt Mimi, designated “the Cheese Biscuit Queen of the world” both for her incredible recipe and striking resemblance to Queen Elizabeth II, this book contains the recipe for her famous and much sought-after cheese biscuits, as well as many other recipes from her kitchen and those of other talented women in Mary’s family. As she points out, food elicits powerful memories, and it reminds us who we are and from where we came.
She writes, “I want this cookbook to make you feel as if you are sitting down at the kitchen table with an old friend or family member, trading recipes and sharing stories.” The stories are so good in fact that for some, she includes the disclaimer that she changed some of the names and details to protect the guilty parties.
Regarding the titular cheese biscuits, Mary explains that they were both the cure-all remedy for any difficulty a friend or family member may be enduring as well as a celebratory treat to be pulled out for any occasion, be it company coming to call or something more festive. “Mimi, who loved to travel, grew up in a generation where you always brought something to share with your fellow travelers on the tour bus. Her cheese biscuits have gone with us to Ireland, Alaska, and China, so they literally traveled the world.” In a newspaper interview, Aunt Mimi once said that all obligations can be paid with cheese biscuits.
Like any good cookbook, it is organized into sectional types — Breakfast Baking; Hors d’Oeuvres; et cetera, happily culminating in Cookies, Bars, and Candies; Cakes, Pies, and Other Treats; and, lastly, Libations. Each recipe is given both cultural and personal context. “Mimi’s Mac and Cheese” is followed by “Momma’s Potato Salad,” each female family member receiving due credit and living on through the legacy of their recipes.
Mary also dedicates pages to sharing about local cultural icons that relate to cooking, such as “The Social Pig,” or for the uninitiated, the Piggly Wiggly on Devine Street, conveniently situated between the Heathwood and Shandon neighborhoods. Back in the day, it was a popular gathering place for matrons to run into friends from bridge club, garden club, or the Junior League. She writes,“They would shop the aisles in their shirtwaist dresses, pumps, and pearls, and catch up on all the neighborhood gossip. ‘Oh dahling, what a cute, cute frock that is!’ ‘Why, how are those preeeecious grandchildren of yours?’”
Ultimately, this book is a wonderful reminder of the importance of family and friends and the unique aspects of South Carolina culture we all share through food. Today, shirtwaist dresses are happily back in style and one of my wardrobe staples. However, I may skip the heels and pearls when I zip by the Social Pig to pick up a few things to make this treasured Southern recipe … one of these days!