Halloween at Blackbird Cookbooks

Halloween at Blackbird Cookbooks

Are spooky, scary movies, community get-togethers, frightful costumes, and all treats appley and pumpkiny your happy place, too?  Well, then I've got the post for you.

Today we're taking a look at my Halloween-inspired cookbook collection.  And this isn't just a quick, flashy collection that you pull out of your spooky decorations box once a year to whip up your favorite witch finger cookies or Magic Potion cocktails.  We're highlighting the cultural traditions and the best of the best cookbooks from some of my favorite regions with a history of ghostly and ghoulish events and and wild celebrations of the undead.  


Southern Funeral Traditions

Food to Die For (Jessica Beamis Ward)

An unusual entry in the community cookbook category, Food to Die For is a historical guide into the comfort foods, stories, and peculiar beliefs and traditions of the Southern funeral tradition.  This fantastic cookbook was written in benefit the Old City Cemetery in Lynchburg, Virginia, one of the oldest municipal cemeteries in the United States.    



The Southern Sympathy Cookbook (Perre Colman Magness)

A fun little cookbook with a collection of Southern recipes that are excellent for gatherings and get-togethers of all varieties.  I've personally enjoyed many of these dishes in the past without having the necessity of bidding farewell to the dearly departed beforehand.  The additional stories, obituaries, and funeral culinary traditions maintain an excellent balance of light and dark humor and provide cultural insight into Southern funeral traditions.


Gullah Geechee Conjuring and Folk Traditions

Next we travel into the misty morning bogs and forests of the Southern Lowcountry.  In truth, there is no one Gullah religion but there are a number of spiritual practices that are an amalgamation of West African rituals, beliefs, religion that characterize the vibrant Black communities that formed along the Eastern Atlantic region of South Carolina and Georgia. 

The Gullah-Geechee people have been the focus of a lot of well-deserved media attention over the past few years - namely for their strong regional foodways tradition and role in Southern history.  Much of my early literary experience with this unique culture centered on spooky tales of medicine men, gris-gris, hoodoo curses, and mysterious late-night ceremonies intended to bend another's love in a particular direction.  Many traditions common to the South, such as "haint blue" porch ceilings, blue bottle trees, and face jugs are still tangible reminders of Gullah traditions intended to ward off evil spirits like boo hags and plat-eyes.


Gullah Geechee Home Cooking (Emily Meggett & Kayla Stewart)

Emily Meggett, the matriarch of Edisto Island, is the preeminent Gullah cook. At 89 years old, and with more than 50 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Meggett is a respected elder in the Gullah community of South Carolina.  Rich in both flavor and history, Meggett’s Gullah Geechee Home Cooking is a testament to the syncretism of West African and American cultures that makes her home of Edisto Island so unique.


A Real Southern Cook in Her Savannah Kitchen (Dora Charles)

Ms. Charles' process instructions and advice are spot on and the recipes feature the wholesome, fresh ingredients that folks who are native to the Lowcountry are famous for.  The photography of her community in Savannah, GA should be on exhibit.  Love and pride shine in Ms. Charles' cookbook - and rightfully so.


Charleston Receipts (The Junior League of Charleston, SC)

Charleston Receipts, first published in 1950, is the oldest Junior League cookbook still in print. By all accounts, it is the classic Southern cookbooks. Charleston Receipts is remarkable not only for the lasting quality of its recipes, which inspire new generations of cooks and celebrate the natural bounty of the region, but for embracing the closely woven culinary heritages of the elite Lowcountry aristocracy and the Gullah people, descendants of the slaves who worked on the rice plantations in South Carolina and Georgia.



New Orleans' Voodoo and the Gates of Guinee

Most folks know that spirits and Voodoo magic run deep within the culture and ethos of New Orleans.  In many Voodoo practices, the city is marked as the epicenter of important Voodoo/Hoodoo funeral rites.  It is even believed that New Orleans is actually where the souls of the dead can access a portion of the underworld known as Guinee and their guide to the great lake of the underworld, Baron Samedi, through a series of gates that are located within city cemeteries and around the French Quarter.  The Gates of Guinee are considered to be the most active around the traditional annual holidays of All Saints' Day, All Souls' Day, Christmas, and New Year.  

The Dooky Chase Cookbook (Leah Chase)

The unquestionable authority for New Orleans cuisine since 1941, Dooky Chase's owner and executive chef Leah Chase has created a collection of recipes from the menu and her personal files. Interspersed among the entries are anecdotes and recipe origins from the estimable Leah Chase herself. This cookbook features some two hundred recipes ranging from the traditional to the adventuresome.  (Psst...try the Gumbo Z'Herbes after you've had all that Halloween candy, it's good for the body and the soul.)


Recipes and Reminiscences of Old New Orleans (Parents Club of Ursuline Academy)

One of the classic Southern cookbooks, Recipes and Reminiscences of New Orleans is replete with generations of New Orleans dishes, a complete glossary of herbs and spices, cooking tips throughout, and sketches of historical culinary landmarks that were inspired by the Ursuline women.  The nuns who ran the Ursuline Academy since the 1700s have contributed so much to New Orleans cuisine, but their biggest claim to fame is that they are known for having invented the pecan praline. 


Jambalaya (Junior League of New Orleans)

Jambalaya, a jazzy rice dish filled with sausage, seafood, and chicken, can be compared to New Orleans. Both contain a little bit of the best of everything. The food that seduces millions of visitors to this city by the Mississippi River has been touched by French, Spanish, Creole, Acadian, Indian, African, and other ethnic cultures to produce a cuisine that is unique in America.



A Cathlolic-Creole Three Day Celebration in Cajun Country

Meanwhile, a little bit farther up into Louisiana, Catholic Creole traditions are still alive and well.  Folks in Cajun country lead off a three day celebration with Halloween (Oct 31) followed by All Saints' Day (Nov 1) and All Souls' Day or La Toussaint (Nov 2). 

Halloween is the night when the dead return to visit and when folks "treat" the spirits with candies and other goodies to celebrate their arrival.  During All Saints' Day folks visit cemeteries for grave-cleaning ceremonies, wreath laying, and candlelight vigils in preparation for All Souls' Day, a traditional Catholic feast day of prayer where the living offer prayers and devotions to those who have passed.  While not as well observed today, folks used these times as a way to commune and be closer to loved ones who have passed and help ensure that souls in purgatory had a bit of a boost as they awaited for their departure into heaven. 


Eula Mae's Cajun Kitchen (Eula Mae Dore & Marcelle R. Bienvenue)

Eula Mae Dor has been cooking Cajun food on Avery Island, home of the McIlhenny family and their Tabasco pepper sauce, for more than half a century.  Cajun cooking is the country cooking of Louisiana, the spicy intersection of French and Southern culinary traditions.  Eula Mae's Cajun Kitchen is organized into menus reflecting the rhythm of life on Avery Island, such as Mardi Gras, The Trapper's Camp, A Spring Luncheon, A Summer Fishing Trip, and Halloween Bonfire. More than 100 traditional Cajun dishes are complemented with Eula Mae's reminiscences of her family and her years on Avery Island.



The Mothman of Southern Ohio and West Virginia

Urban legends and scary stories were the highlight of summer campfires and Halloween adventures when I was growing up in Southern Ohio.  And one of my favorites was the story of the 8 ft. tall, red-eyed, hairy-chested Mothman that prowled upon couples driving home from late night makeout sessions and acted as a portent of a tragic bridge collapse.

Mountain Measures (The Junior League of Charleston, WV)

First published only five years after the first sighting of the Mothman in nearby Point Pleasant, West Virginia, Mountain Measures is a wonderful Appalachian regional cookbook that features a wide variety of cuisines brought to the area by immigrant families. 


Smoke, Roots, Mountain Harvest (Lauren Angelucci McDuffie)

Showcasing the flavors and modern cooking techniques of Appalachia and the Blue Ridge Mountains: Smoke, Roots, Mountain, Harvest is an evocative cookbook rooted in Appalachian ingredients and flavors that takes readers and cooks deep into the heart and soul of America.  This is a beautifully-designed cookbook with plenty of pictures of misty mountain hollows and rolling landscapes that lend and aura of mystery and beauty to the region.



Mexican Day of the Dead

How could I end this post without an entry on the Mexican Day of the Dead on November 1st?  Whereas, in the United States Halloween is more of a community and commercial event, in Mexico it's a much more spiritual celebration of family and friends where loved ones to have passed can "visit" and even enjoy a "meal" with the living.  Graves are cleaned and decorated, altars are built and lit, and...with every year older I get, the more lovely of a holiday it seems.  Whenever I make a dish or remember the treats that my deceased friends and relatives enjoyed, it's almost like they are there with me and we are both celebrating in the moment.  Food memories are just beautiful like that.  


Mi Cocina (Rick Martinez)

In Mi Cocina, Rick shares deeply personal recipes as he re-creates the dishes and specialties he tasted throughout his journey throughout Mexico. Inspired by his travels, the recipes are based on his taste memories and experiences. True to his spirit and reflective of his deep connections with people and places, these dishes will revitalize your pantry and transform your cooking repertoire.


The Food of Oaxaca (Alejandro Ruiz & Carla Altesor)

In The Food of Oaxaca, acclaimed chef Alejandro Ruiz shares the cuisine of Mexico’s culinary capital through fifty recipes both traditional and original. Divided into three parts, the book covers the classic dishes of the region, the cuisine of the coast, and the food Ruiz serves today at his beloved restaurant, Casa Oaxaca. Here are recipes for making your own tortillas, and for preparing tamales, salsas, and moles, as well as Ruiz’s own creations, such as Duck Tacos with Coloradito

And there we are!  Happy Halloween!  Joyeux La Toussaint!   Feliz Día de los Muertos!

...however you celebrate, I hope you eat well and have a wonderful time.

To view the entire collection, click here.