The first sign of Southern originality in Bless Your Heart: Saving the World One Covered Dish At A Time comes right in the table of contents. Authors Patsy Caldwell and Amy Lyles Wilson haven’t created chapters based upon the course or the main ingredient, as most cookbooks are arranged. Rather, chapters are drawn from everyday life experiences because there truly is a proper type of dish for every occasion. Consider Chapter Three, “Tending the Sick: Food for What Ails You.” From Pecan Pie Muffins to Potato Cheese Soup, the recipes here are designed for the home cook to share with the recuperating and their caregivers. But in Chapter Seven,”Party Time: It’s My Party and I’ll Fry If I Want To,” recipes are geared toward gathering chairs around a table (and adding a few more on the back porch) and entertaining loved ones. From book-club meetings to family reunions, the two authors provide a wealth of Southern standby recipes for the home cook to enjoy and, more importantly, to share. Caldwell and Wilson took the time to answer a few questions from Chapter 16 about their first collaboration.
Chapter 16: The recipes in this book were handed down, often through generations. As a well-known cook, you must hear often from others, “I just don’t have the time to cook like my mother or grandmother did.” How do you respond?
Wilson: I’m not the well-known cook that my co-author, Patsy Caldwell, is and I’ve sighed more than once about not having enough time. But I find that when I do prepare a home-cooked meal—whether for my family or friends—it affords me the opportunity to slow down a bit and enjoy the process and savor the ingredients, as well as appreciate the contentment that comes from sharing a bit of myself with people I love.
Caldwell: Most of us grew up with a stay-at-home Mom who did cook seven days a week. I tell people to choose two nights a week to cook and have a family meal. It also may work out to cook something that could be used another night.
Chapter 16: Do you have a cookbook in your collection that’s a go-to cookbook which you would recommend to any home cook?
Wilson: Again and again I turn to Southern Sideboards, which was produced by the Junior League in my hometown of Jackson, Mississippi. I think just about every Mississippi kitchen contains a copy of it, and it’s good for all occasions. A sequel, Come On In, also has my handwritten notes, not to mention a variety of food stains, all over it.
Caldwell: The go-to cookbook in my collection is a Helen Corbitt book that was given to me in 1974 by my great friend Mary Buckner. I also have one by her called Helen Corbitt’s Collection that is held together with duct tape.
Chapter 16: Thank you for including a whole chapter called “Tending the Sick,” with recipes convenient for transporting by the cook and re-heating by the convalescent. Do you have a favorite, always-appreciated dish for these occasions?
Wilson: Chicken divan. It was one of the first dishes I learned to make, and it made me feel very grown up to serve it. Some twenty years later, I still think it’s perfect comfort food. And I don’t think you can go wrong with sour cream pound cake. Can you?!
Caldwell: When I have a sick friend I usually do a soup, either the chicken and dumplin’ soup or the potato and cheese soup.
Chapter 16: Would you share with us your first food memory?
Wilson: One of my first food memories involves my mother, cake batter, a mixer, and the childhood me. I licked the wooden spoon after Mother scraped the bowl in between turns of the mixer. Yummy. When I went to put the spoon back into the batter, she ever so gently but firmly let me know that was not how it’s done—that I could have, with one swipe of my tongue, sickened the entire family. Now whenever I bake, I wait until after I’ve poured the batter from bowl to pan before scooping up what remains with my finger.
Caldwell: My first food memory was the meal left on the table from dinner. When I grew up dinner was served at noon and the leftovers were placed on the table with a linen cloth spread over them. That was always a welcomed sight to lift the cloth and see the bounty of the day, after a long bus ride, and that was supper.
Chapter 16: The holidays are upon us again. What’s the one dish that it won’t seem like the holidays unless you have it?
Wilson: Sorry to be so predictable, but I have to have sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top. Preferably the little ones, and plenty of them. They should be browned but not charred. And for the record, I make a mean cornbread (and French bread) dressing, now a family holiday favorite in my household of three.
Caldwell: The one dish that makes it seem like the holiday season is coconut cake served either with ambrosia or boiled custard. I know that’s two, but it hard to say one word without the other.