Local author collects heirloom recipes from around the state for new book

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DSC_0035_modified_2015-02-13_smallNola McKey wants you to cook like your grandmother.

As much as she loves the way American food has matured over the past few decades, there’s something to be said about old recipes, even if they aren’t as new and shiny as what you might find all over the internet.

McKey, a former senior editor at Texas Highways magazine, has been collecting family recipes from all over Texas for her new book, “From Tea Cakes to Tamales: Third-Generation Texas Recipes” by Nola McKey (Texas A&M University, $29.95). McKey and several of her recipe contributors will be at BookPeople at 3 p.m. June 26 for a book signing and talk.

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Austin author Nola McKey

“Heirloom recipes have an amazing power to link us to past generations,” she says. She recalls a time when her son was in elementary school and, at 7:30 p.m. one weeknight, he announced that he needed a traditional family dish to take to school the next day. “My grandmother’s tea cake came to mind,” she says, but she hadn’t ever cooked it. She dug up the recipe from her collection, and as she started to prepare the cake, memories started coming back to her.

“When they came out of the oven and I tasted them, I could almost see my grandmother standing there in the kitchen, with her long braid coiled at the back of her neck, wearing a long-sleeve print dress and an apron. It was like bringing my grandma back,” she says.

Making those tea cakes 20 years ago prompted her to start collecting other heritage recipes from Texans of all ethnic backgrounds all over the state. When she retired from the magazine a few years ago, she started compiling those recipes and the stories that came with them in a book that not only preserves the more than 100 dishes but also inspires cooks to embrace their own culinary past.

She wants to encourage people to ask their relatives as many questions as possible about favorite family recipes so the dishes don’t get lost in time. In the book, she includes a chapter about what kinds of questions to ask and how to convert recipes that were written a century ago into language and measurements that make more sense today. (“Butter the size of an egg” is about 1/4 cup, for instance.)

“Recipes that have lasted this long are usually good recipes,” she says. “They usually have good stories associated with them, too.”

Grandmother’s Creamy-Sour Potato Salad

This potato salad recipe is from Alpha Mae McLendon Amerine Stone, who lived from 1889 to 1981 in Milam and Dallas counties. It was passed down to her granddaughter, Jan Pritchett Litvin. “Grandmother continuously told us that the recipe had been in the McLendon family for nine generations,” says Litvin, “all the way back to the late 1600s in (what became) Anson County, N.C., where our ancestor Dennis McLendon was a judge.” According to Litvin, the recipe originated with Dennis’ family and has been passed down through the generations.

McKey says that the timing is important when making this salad because once the potatoes are cooked, you have to work quickly. Make the sauce first, and be sure to have the pickles and onions chopped and the eggs boiled and peeled ahead of time, too. If you use commercial pickles, consider omitting the salt since they’re often saltier than homemade.

1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. prepared mustard
Dash of salt
Dash of pepper
5 lb. red potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 medium sour pickles, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 boiled eggs, peeled

Mix first six ingredients together to make the sauce and refrigerate.

Boil potatoes until fork-tender. Immediately drain and then mash potatoes thoroughly, using the same pot. Quickly stir in half of the refrigerated sauce while potatoes are still hot. Gradually add enough of the remaining sauce until mixture resembles a thick cake batter. (Discard any remaining sauce.) Stir in pickles and onions and pour mixture into a large bowl. Grate boiled eggs over the top. Refrigerate salad overnight, or at least 6 to 7 hours until thoroughly cooled. Salad will thicken as it cools. Makes 8 large servings.

— Contributed by Jan Pritchett Litvin and published in “From Tea Cakes to Tamales: Third-Generation Texas Recipes” by Nola McKey (Texas A&M University, $29.95)


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