Special To The Citizen
Forty years later, this timeless community cookbook still has a place on the shelf in countless Southern kitchens
P.G. Wodehouse famously advised, “To find a man’s true character, play golf with him.” When the city of Augusta plays the gentleman’s game, it has always done so with more pageantry, reverence, and tradition than any city in America. What Wodehouse may not have considered is that cookbook production can be equally revealing of character as golf. In fact, exactly 40 years ago, while the Augusta gentlemen were playing the game they had been playing for 40 years, the women of the Junior League of Augusta began a new tradition on their own, one involving equal amounts of business acumen, practicality, and the polite smacking of lips: Tea-Time at the Masters. Cuisine in the polite Augusta home and beyond has never been the same.
Back in 1974, the Junior League of Augusta had already been going strong for 50 years, making it 10 years older than the Masters Tournament itself. The Junior League consisted mainly of homemaking women who were active, civic minded, respectful of tradition, resourceful, and tireless. In short, this was ground zero for delicious food requiring skills, ambition, and good old-fashioned fondness for what tastes wonderful. Tea-Time at the Masters was the third cookbook to be published by the Augusta Junior League, but the first to be savvy enough to take full advantage of the yearly event that put Augusta on the map. The compilers even solicited recipes from the wives and mothers of golf champions, and made an italicized note to the effect under each recipe’s title (Cheese Puffs; Mrs. J. Cole, mother of Bobby Cole, South Africa). Perhaps it was the tie-in to the most important weekend in Augusta, or perhaps it was the Pineapple Skillet Upside Down Cake recipe from Mrs. Jack Nicklaus, but Tea-Time at the Masters sold out its first printing of 10,000 copies in just four weeks. The year was 1977.
As with all Junior League ventures, the true mission of Tea-Time at the Masters is philanthropic. The Junior League of Augusta has given more than $2 million dollars to support its community over the years, and does so by taking its projects very seriously. For the cookbook committee in the mid-70s, this was above all a true business venture. For many of the book’s original creators, this was a unique opportunity to produce something outside of their homes and families. The Cookbook Committee, named inside the front cover of the original printing, shows 40 women, all but one of whom are listed by their husbands’ names. Husbands’ names aside, it is clear that the cookbook itself belongs to the women. The initial volume took three years to compile. Recipes had to be tested and checked before submission. Printing costs had to be paid, and distribution managed. This concerted effort places the women who compiled Tea-Time at the Masters alongside many other community cookbook writers in America throughout its history. After all, an individual recipe for pork roast may seem small, but a collection of how families cooked and celebrated is a bountiful treasure.
Tea-Time at the Masters is a time capsule of real Southern recipes. The dishes described here were not invented for a book, but rather invented and prepared for real families. As Aimee Pickett Sanders, current Chair of Tea-Time, explains, the original cookbook committee “basically went around and got peoples’ recipes that they already used, that are tried and true.” The result is really the original kind of social network, containing the collective wisdom of countless women who knew their way around the kitchen. A few of these women just happened to be married to world famous golfers, or in the case of Rosalynn Carter, the President of the United States.
Tea-Time at the Masters is very much a product of its particular culinary moment, replete with stories that only the 1970s can tell. In particular, the ingredients conjure up a weekly grocery list that looks quite different from ours today. I doubt many of us could get away with serving Liver Supreme (calf liver, salt and pepper, paprika, garlic, butter, white wine, sour cream, and noodles) to our children after soccer practice. The book also hints at elaborate entertaining; the likes of
which we do not do in the era of chicken nuggets. You do not see Chipped Beef Dip (dried beef, cream cheese, milk, sour cream, onion, salt, green pepper, and sautéed pecans) on the buffet at a Super Bowl party these days. Likewise, Hot Clam Spread (minced clams, clam juice, lemon, onion, garlic, Italian seasoning, bread crumbs, Tabasco, and one stick of butter) makes few appearances in 2017. The recipe for Masters’ Saturday Morning Bloody Bull calls for a dash of MSG, and, quaintly, the recipe stands as written to this day. MSG makes at least one other appearance in the cookbook, as do many helpings of cream of chicken soup and lots of half and half (notably, these three unite in the Cold Avocado Soup). There is a fair amount of gelatin called for in salads, including a molded Tuna Mousse and a Mustard Ring, submitted by Byron Nelson. The world has changed a great deal since 1977, but things in Tea-Time at the Masters are as they always were. This is one of its secret weapons, and what makes it an undiluted piece of kitchen folklore as well as the perfect way to master Beef Bourguignon.
Not only are the dishes coming straight from Augusta kitchens of the 70s, but the recipe names themselves can paint a charming picture. Some cooks are called out by name, as in Daisy’s Fried Shrimp, or Lindsey’s Barbecued Spareribs. It is as though the name is handwritten across a recipe card from a favorite aunt. Some are plain spoken. If a recipe calls for green noodles, it may carry the name Chicken-Green Noodle Casserole, and that’s that. Many are simple names for family staples (Baked Tomatoes and Corn), but there are many others that catch the eye and tempt the palate. For every Hot Clam Spread, there is at least one Golden Dream (Galliano, Triple Sec, orange juice, and cream). For every Stuffed Flounder there is a Jezebel Sauce (apple jelly, pineapple preserves, horseradish, and mustard). These names capture the fancy. What, one wonders, is the miracle of Miracle Cake? And how could “Sock it to me” Cake come from any other era but the 1970s? If a person were somehow to resist Emerald Salad, there is a Perfection Salad two pages later that is begging to be tried. Some recipes in Tea-Time at the Masters sell themselves, as in Pork Chop Quickie (pork chops, garlic salt, butter, pancake syrup) and Dinner Party Chicken (chicken, vermouth, tarragon, lemon, butter, curry, and cream). In a few cases, there is no choice but to try the dish immediately, as in the case of Chicken Hmmmmmm (you will have to buy a copy). The home cook who came up with Turkey Delight (think smoked turkey, apples, Swiss cheese, and walnuts) clearly knew her way around a sandwich as well as a sandwich name. I am also willing to bet that the women who invented and named Delicious Bars, Yummies, and Love Notes knew a little something about marketing and about making people hungry.
As much fun as it is to explore and contemplate the retro recipes in this cookbook, most of its recipes are old friends who still live next door to us. In 2017, home cooks still rely upon it to prepare the classic foods that truly fuel Southern culture. Cheese Straws, for example, have not gone out of style for one second since the first book was published. They never will. The recipe in this book with make the world beat a path to your door. In fact, it is virtually impossible that there are not several batches of this delicacy resting in airtight containers in Augusta kitchens as we speak (the recipe notes, next to a tiny golf tee, explain that, “these freeze beautifully”). We all could use reliable instruction on the preparation of roast tenderloin, lasagna, and peach cobbler. As Sanders says, “maybe it’s not the fanciest…it is not necessarily basic, but it is homespun, and above all it is quintessentially Southern.” This is where real old-fashioned Squash Casserole happens, as well as the Zucchini Bread you serve to houseguests or bring to a new neighbor. This book knows how to make Sausage Balls, and it also knows how to mix a Mint Julep. These favorites can be relied upon to feed a crowd and leave it with a smile on its face. Of course we might add a bit of ourselves to recipes like these, but it is awfully nice to know where to begin.
Tea-Time at the Masters also indicates that we as a generation have not in fact invented interesting food. The women who compiled this collection had the basics down pat, but also moved far beyond those basics. I, for one, have never tasted Grape Ice Cream or Peppermint Sauce, but these women knew how to prepare them. Leafing through Tea-Time at the Masters will tell you that Green Goddess dressing has been around much longer than we realize, and that some women in Augusta aspired to prepare Korean food in 1977. These women may have had a love affair with French cuisine, but they also liked curry, and they knew how to use it.
Here in the middle of the current farm-to-table movement, amidst cakes spiced with cardamom, and with nary an unsalted caramel in sight, we may sometimes forget that we ourselves are merely eating in a specific moment in time that will itself pass by. Our culinary moment is cooler in some respects to the moments that came before it, but it also lacks something important that a trip back in time can provide. The recipes served up by our collective past have a unique power to stir up cozy feelings of comfort and belonging. And a little MSG or cream of chicken soup in a recipe is not the end of the world. In fact, aren’t we all secretly looking for an opportunity to make something just plain fun and delicious once in a while?
Tea-Time at the Masters is on its fourteenth printing this year. The cover art and the prices change from edition to edition, but the recipes inside are exactly the same as in 1977. Tea-Time at the Masters still resides in a handy place on countless kitchen counters in Georgia and beyond because, not in spite of, this fact. Those whose copies are tinged with Sweet Potato Pie do not call this volume by its full title, but instead say “Tea-Time,” as in, “I have my Tea-Time right here.” It is the book that people turn to for comfort and for basics. It’s the cookbook people actually use. “Mine is filthy,” Sanders says. “It has all kinds of stains because it sits on my counter. Lots of peoples’ Tea-Times look like this. That’s the selling point.”
Sanders calls this a “famous new daughter-in-law present,” and a clear path by which a young cook can find her, or his, own Southern specialty. “My husband is from Augusta, but in this family you have to be good at something,” she says. “I make these brownies, the original recipe is from this cookbook, and if I don’t make them they get angry.”
Tea-Time at the Masters is still going strong because the Tea-Time Committee is still doing its job. As with all positions in the Junior League, the job of reprinting, selling, and distributing the cookbook is strictly voluntary. As Committee Chair, Sanders put it in an interview from her law office at Hull Barrett PC, The cookbooks reach buyers and retailers “in cars and heels.” And, while the committee members are much more likely to be attorneys or nurses, and much less likely to go by their husbands’ names than before, the women involved make time for this project because they believe in it.
In the end, it all comes back to the kitchen for all of us. Anyone with a family knows that they seem to want for dinner every night, and we need all the help we can get. Why not have some fun and some history with your dinner and dessert? After all, there is something magical about the way the Skillet Pineapple Upside Down Cake slides from its pan and lands in a perfect dome on the cake stand. The top of the cake, only visible at the very end of preparation, is a pleasant surprise, kind of like this cookbook. As I made this cake for my own family, I felt connected to the woman who wrote the recipe down, knowing that her cake slid out nicely onto a plate in her kitchen 40 years ago. As Sanders told me, “Times change, but some things don’t change…family, food, camaraderie, don’t change.”