Books: Cooking by Cuisine -> Cooking American
Mrs. Wilkes' Boardinghouse Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from Her Savannah Table
Edge, John T.
Boardinghouse, Mrs. Wilkes
Ten Speed Press
Published: June 1, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
Ninety-four year old Sema Wilkes has been running her boardinghouse in Savannah, Ga., since 1943, cooking up traditional Southern favorites biscuits, collard greens, hush puppies for a clientele of gentlemen farmers, Girl Scouts
and Yankee tourists. Indeed, the remembrances of Mrs. Wilkes and her family and friends are so entertaining that the book is best approached as a memoir/oral history interrupted by recipes for soups, casseroles, fried delights and desserts. The book
vividly portrays a few of the eatery's more irregular regulars, including one Spanish Civil War veteran who, always arriving via tricycle, ate there every weekday for three decades. Equally well-rendered are the strong women who have helped Mrs. Wilkes
in the kitchen throughout the years, including the late Mildred Capers, who judged the doneness of her fried chicken by the sound of the oil in the fryer. But it's not clear how some of these dishes would fare outside of Mrs. Wilkes's delightful
environs; the Fried Chicken recipe lists the needed ingredients: flour, evaporated milk, salt and pepper, but obviously, it is the context Southern hospitality, fresh ingredients and an experienced kitchen staff that make it special. Also, a few oddities
included in the book would have perhaps been best left on the boardinghouse table a Tango Salad, for instance, with lemon gelatin, canned pineapple and pimentos. Nevertheless, this is a delightful homage to Southern life. (May)Forecast: The continuing
interest in Southern food, along with an ecstatic blurb from Craig Claiborne, should help this book's sales.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
In 1943, a young and determined Sema Wilkes took over a
nondescript turn-of-the-century boardinghouse on a sun-dappled, brick street in historic downtown Savannah. Her goal was modest: to make a living by offering comfortable lodging and southern home cooking served family style in the downstairs dining room.
Mrs. Wilkes' reputation was strong and business was brisk from the beginning, but it was the coverage in Esquire and the New York Times, and even a profile on David Brinkley's evening news that brought southern food lovers from all over the world to her
doorstep. Sema is now 94 years old, and four generations of Wilkes help her keep the tables laden with platters of her legendary fried chicken, pork ribs, and biscuits, while friends and strangers pass bowls brimming with her sublime butterbeans, collard
greens, mashed sweet potatoes, and banana pudding. The line snakes out the front door and down the street, where along with the locals and visitors, it's not uncommon to find Jimmy Carter or Roy Junior Blount, among other familiar faces, waiting for
their turn at Mrs. Wilkes' table. With over 300 recipes and culinary historian John T. Edge's colorful telling of Mrs. Wilkes' contribution to Savannah and southern cuisine, the rich volume is a tribute to a way of cooking-and eating-that must not be
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