Out of my entire cookbook collection, my favorites are the ones created by a community. Some are from high school fundraisers, others created by a local church or community service group. I keep them around for one or two of the gems found in each one. Classroom Peanut Butter Cookies from David Lipscomb High School, The Yankee Pleaser from the Nashville Junior League Cookbook and Walnut Banana Bread from The Nashville Cookbook. But the one that stays in use the most is a collection of recipes from a northern Davidson County family, the McCools. The title of this navy blue plastic comb bound 152-page book is simply, The McCools Cook. And boy, did they ever.Hidden in the hills just north of Nashville is a farm that has been in my family for over 100 years. Just off McCool Road, you can still see a springhouse that stored the orchard’s harvest for a family of nine. My grandmother was one of them. The first few pages of this cherished book include a short history, a family tree and a dedication to two women, Francis, my grandmother and Elsie, her sister. It reads, “To their memory and to all the other “Aunt Franceses” and “Aunt Elsies” who can soothe away the troubles of the world with a little love and a chess or chocolate pie, we dedicate this book.”This book was quite the collaboration. Everyone in the family had a little part. My Aunt Nancy was the editor, my mother, Kay the illustrator and my Uncle Kenny the photographer. Though it was not officially mentioned in the credits, my father is always quality control when it comes to food. I know he tested my own submission, Peanut Butter and Jelly Roll Ups. It was even published it in my own handwriting. I was 7 when the book was published and they were distributed at our seventh annual family reunion.There are so many favorites in this book. Murrie’s Pancakes, Pop’s Fruitcake and Stevie’s Chess Pie are just a few. It has served as a primer for my southern cooking education. When my Aunt Nancy gave me my very own copy after college, she wrote a sweet note on the front page and lovingly took the time to star her favorites in the index and make notes by the recipes that needed a “revised edit”.
It’s been a while since our last McCool reunion. Every time I open that precious blue book, to find JoAnn McCool’s Chocolate Layered Dessert or Charlotte Lanham’s Chicken Enchiladas, it feels like we are all together again. Each one of us making our way back for seconds to see if we missed anything the first time around that long table littered with tin foil and half eaten covered dishes. We know who brought what, because we all use the same book.