Warm memories and sweet soul food

swetsPatty Pinner, author of Sweety Pies: An Uncommon Collection of Womanish Observations, with Pie, revisits the sweet desserts of her childhood in her first book Sweets, along with memories of growing up in Saginaw and of her family from Mississippi. The book is graced with vintage black-and-white snapshots of the author and her family (she has the most captivating, confident smile as a little girl) that illustrate the many down-home, Southern soul food staples: puddings, cobblers, pies, rich cakes, homemade candy, cookies, and ice cream. But the stories nearly upstage the desserts: tales of fanatically clean relatives, childhood birthday parties, the mysterious lives of grownups, and the lives of various family members intertwine with the comforting desserts of a Southern legacy (pecans, molasses, coconut and brown sugar all have starring roles).

Some of the more unusual offerings include a Dr. Pepper cake (there’s Dr. Pepper in both the cake and the frosting; it adds moistness, similar to a Coca-Cola cake), a sweet potato cheesecake, a lemon rum cake, and recipes born from thrift, such as butter bean pie, mashed potato and bean fudges, and little of nothing pie (milk, sugar, flour, vanilla, butter and cinnamon).

The ingredients are items that are probably sitting in your pantry or cabinets right now, so there’s no reason not to give some of these wonderful heirloom recipes a try; why not sample some old-fashioned walnut-raisin pie, black walnut brittle, old-fashioned sweet potato pone, or a slice of walnut wonder cake? If you like homemade candy, there are many recipes for nut brittles (black walnut, cashew, peanut), peanut butter candy, and pralines. Ditto on homemade ice cream: you’ll find soothing favorites such as banana, an intense lemon, peach, strawberry, and vanilla ice creams, along with some tantalizing sauces (rum sauce, caramel wine syrup).

Honestly, even if you never try a single recipe, this is a beautiful tribute to family, soul food, and a snapshot of Saginaw in the 1950s-60s. Pinner’s writing style is engaging and friendly, and you’ll find yourself happily crowded around her family’s dinner table swapping gossip with her various female relatives as you try to decide which dessert to sample first.

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