“Old Southern Cookery” Brings History to Your Plate

New cookbook revives historic recipes, raises funds for Davenport House expansion
Updated: Jun. 13, 2020 at 3:26 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Anyone who loves food can tell you that a meal can take you on a journey. One new cookbook by a GSU Armstrong history professor and his mother takes you on a journey to the past to help preserve Savannah’s history.

The Hendricks family is full of history buffs.

“Having been married many many years to a historian and raising one, I sort of got the bug too,”mother and author Sue Hendricks said.

So much so that Sue Hendricks even cooks from history. Her husband presented her with a historic cookbook, “The Virginia Housewife” by Mary Randolph, as a gift in the 1970s.

“When it was published in 1824, ‘The Virginia Housewife’ really was the first true American Cookbook,” son, author and history professor Chris Hendricks said. "It reflects recipe traditions that date back to the 18th century, so museums across the country, especially across the Southeast, use it for their historical interpretations. "

Sue treated the book as a living document, not just an artifact. She spent three summers testing out and converting the book’s recipes for modern times. She had to conduct research just to measure ingredients.

“Because almost every recipe had something that you needed the size of an egg. Ultimately after trying every time I bought eggs for several months, I would look at them and measure them," Sue remembered. "I came up with a quarter of a cup being the average.”

Chris says over time the historic recipes became part of their family's history.

“Something called Cabbage A La Creme. When we had cookouts she would grill these things, and we just thought it was wonderful," Chris said. "I was really quite surprised a couple decades later when I was working on this to find out it was one of Mary Randolph’s recipes that she had translated.”

So when he came across the cookbook and translated recipes during a move years later, he knew what to do.

“Decided that I would research Mary Randolph and the history of cookbooks and sort of wrote an introduction to it. And then we would include some of mothers recipes and Mary Randolph’s versions together," Chris said. "So that is what I gave mother for Christmas is a manuscript of the introduction and the transcribed pages that she had done in the 1970s. And started looking around for various people to publish it.”

He found a perfect match in the Davenport House and Historic Savannah Foundation. The museum was looking for a fundraiser to help their expansion, and also happens to use “The Virginia Housewife” in their cooking demonstrations.

Sue is amazed to see the final product in hand.

“I always thought I would believe it when I hold it in my hand," Sue said. "It’s the most beautiful book I’ve ever owned. I’m just delighted with it.”

This decades long journey has taught Chris about the power of a gift, and he hopes “Old Southern Cookery” keeps on giving.

“It started as a present from my dad to my mom, and it has continued to be a series of gifts," Chris said. I think Mary Randolph would be happy that her recipes are still working to make people enjoy food.”

All the proceeds of “Old Southern Cookery” will go to the Davenport House to help fund their expansion of the Kennedy Pharmacy. The meals you see in the book were plated on the Davenport House’s china collection. That’s because “The Virginia Housewife” and the china are both from the 1820s.

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