A dog-eared copy of the local Junior League cookbook has long been a staple in Southern kitchens, and the reigning queen of League spiral-bounds is Charleston Receipts. First published in 1950 and chock full of Holy City classics such as benne seed wafers and Lady Baltimore Cake, it’s the oldest Junior League cookbook still in print. But a year before the now famous green-and-white tome came a little-known precursor that was the stuff of local legend. Even the South Carolina writer Josephine Humphreys wondered if her mother, who recalled editing the “red book,” was misremembering the 1949 edition’s existence. “There was no mention of it in Charleston Receipts,” Humphreys says. “We never saw a copy, and Mom was a good storyteller, so I honestly thought she could be making it up.”
Sure enough, though, after her mother’s death in 2009, Humphreys and her sisters found a tattered copy, called Charleston Recipes, stashed in the attic. A rustic woodcut illustration of a Charleston fish vendor graced its cherry-red cover. In 2016, for the first time, the Junior League of Charleston re-released the lost book in a limited run of 5,000 copies. “Only one year separates the two cookbooks, but they can almost be seen as representing different decades,” Humphreys writes in the new forward. A more frugal tome with echoes of the Depression and the war, the red book includes such on-a-budget dishes as Mistaken Cake (a fix for a ruined baking attempt) and humbler wild game recipes, including Humphreys’ father’s fried rabbit. Of the book’s 403 recipes, only 77 appeared again in Charleston Receipts. “The red book is a curiosity,” Humphreys says, “but also an encapsulation of regional history.”
You can order a copy online, but in the meantime, we’ve got a few vintage recipes from the book to give you a taste.
CRABMEAT AU GRATIN
4 T. butter 1 cup boiled shrimp
4 T. flour 1½ cups of crabmeat
½ pt. cream 4 T. sherry
Salt and pepper to taste
Make a cream sauce with butter, flour and cream. Add salt, pepper and sherry. Remove from fire and add crabmeat and shrimp. Just crabmeat may be used. Pour the mixture into a buttered casserole or individual baking dishes. Sprinkle with fine bread crumbs, dot with butter and brown in a hot oven.
Skin rabbit. Cut up and place in strong solution of salt water. Let stand 1 hour. Drain and place in second salt water solution for ½ hour. Wipe and dip each piece of rabbit in a combination of 1/3 flour and 2/3 corn meal. Fry in piping hot fat. Serve with gravy and baking powder biscuits.
W. W. HUMPHREYS
4 eggs 2 cups chopped apples (tart)
3 cups sugar 2 cups chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts)
8 tablespoons flour 2 teaspoons vanilla
5 teaspoons baking powder
Beat whole eggs in electric mixer or with rotary egg beater until very frothy and add other ingredients in above order. Pour into two well buttered baking pans about 8 inches by 12 inches. Bake in 350º oven about 45 minutes or until crusty and brown. Makes 16 servings.
To serve, scoop up with pancake turner and pile on large plate and cover with whipped cream and a sprinkling of the chopped nuts, or make individual servings.