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The Pick of the Crop is a cookbook published by my school when I was growing up. It was in 1978; the school was still fairly new; and this was a fundraiser. Everybody pitched in to make it work – teachers, parents, members of the community. It was a monumental effort. Everybody contributed recipes. Local artists Lenagene Waldrup and Peggy Walker (who also taught art classes at the school) did the artwork. Bern Keating, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, wrote the forward. Diane Rushing, the owner of a now shuttered local winery, wrote a section on wine.
Tasks for the cookbook were divided up. Ann Grittman, who was my first grade teacher, spearheaded the whole thing. She was the Chairman of the Cookbook Committee. Libby Patterson handled the special sections. And my mom, Helen Owen Ray, kept the books and ruled the finances with an iron hand. The Recipe Committee, the women in charge of collecting and testing each of the recipes contributed, was made up of Ann Cash, Barbara Edwards, Jean Eubanks, Gwen Evans, Bobbie DuBard, Terraseta Hodges, Lyle Holladay Ward, Arlas LaMastus, Jenelle Norwood, Helen Owen Ray, Jere Stansel, Laurie Ann Watts, Connie Weaver.
I remember the recipe testing phase really well. The recipes were divided up among the Cookbook Committee members for testing. We spent summers at the lake, so Mama packed her allotment of recipes to be tested, and off we went. Mama, Nanny, and Falba spent a lot of hours in the kitchen cooking through all the recipes. Some were really good. Some were less than memorable. That summer made a lasting impression on me. I find myself thinking back over it as I work on this food blog, remembering the endless hours of cooking, and the taste testing. It is very similar to what I do now, except these days I write, test, and tweak all my own recipes (with a lot of help from my neighbors in the taste testing department). It’s funny how life brings you back around to the things you remember most.
The Pick of the Crop turned out to be a very popular cookbook. (And why wouldn’t it be? Delta women are the best cooks in the world!) It went through several printings (I think the final total was around 50,000 printed). That’s quite an accomplishment! It is and always will be my favorite cookbook, and I know I’m not alone in that. Every time somebody mentions the Pick of the Crop on Facebook, comments come flooding in talking about how much they still love it! This cookbook has been such a huge part of my life, and I’m so excited now to be able to update/tweak my favorite recipes and share them with you!