Cooks’ Tour de Force

BY Bill Walsh

When it comes to civic and charitable institutions raising money the good folks of the North Carolina coast have demonstrated a highly developed tolerance for monotony.

Get a nice place serve dinner — heavy hors d’oeuvres at a minimum — and split the personal corporate and business donations of products and services into silent and live auctions. If you really want to put on the dog throw in some music maybe even dancing. The formula changes barely a whit between fundraisers; their continuing success gives testament to our generosity and community spirit.

The ladies of the New Hanover/Pender Medical Society Alliance however have been raising money for years the old fashioned way — they’ve earned it.

Twenty-five years ago this month the women published A Cook’s Tour of the Azalea Coast a labor of love whose benefits will live for years to come — in kitchens of course but more importantly in the hearts of the thousands of people who have stayed in the New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s Hospitality House. Cookbook money allowed its doors to open in the mid-1980s.

“My brother had cancer and was in a VA hospital in Augusta Georgia ” Maryann Robison says of the beginnings of the alliance’s crowning achievement. “When I went down to be with him I had to stay in a motel walk across four or five lanes of traffic then walk a long way more to get to the hospital. When I came back I said to our group we really ought to think about doing something like a Ronald McDonald house. The community is too small for that but we ought to think about doing something like it. There were two of us who started a study in 1983.”

Long story short the alliance raised and donated a hefty sum to buy a former doctor’s office across the street from the hospital and the Hospitality House opened in 1986. The money every penny came from the sale of the book.

“You can stay overnight ” Robison says “and you pay on a scale of what you can afford. The house is totally self-supporting and it has been added on to twice.” From eight or 10 beds when it opened the Hospitality House can now sleep 35 comfortably 40 in a pinch.

“It really has helped people and there is something psychologically comforting about being able to look over at the hospital and see that room that building where your loved one is as opposed to being miles away ” says Freda Wilkins a longtime alliance member and a major contributor to — and force behind — the book. “There is a nurturing feeling a sense that you’re over there in a way because you’re not that far away.”

Robison and Wilkins trace the book’s beginnings to “Taste and Tell” socials that the alliance hosted in the 70s. “We’d have them in the spring. Members would turn in recipes which we would make. People would buy tickets and get a little taste of everything then they got a packet of the recipes on the way out ” Robison says. “We did real well with those.”

Some years before Robison had helped put out a cookbook in Morganton with her church. “I got to thinking: Here are all these wonderful cooks why don’t we do a cookbook? At that point there was not any kind of big community cookbook in Wilmington. So in 1979 we formed a little study committee.”

The study committee green-lighted the project as did the larger alliance when the idea was formalized in 1980. “There were eight of us — Katherine Matthews Emily McCoy Teri Donahue Jane Maloy Sue Mobley Carolyn Morris Freda and me — and we had the best time for two years working on this cookbook ” Robison remembers.

The first year the cooks tested recipes on and with their families. Results were not always positive.

“My daughter was at Hoggard High School and she was on the beautification committee ” Robison says. “The teacher who was the sponsor was head of the home ec department and I went over and asked her if she would get some of her students to test some of these recipes. She thought it was a wonderful idea. Then I went out to Laney High School and got them to do the same thing.”

The originality of the recipes makes the book unique Wilkins notes. An overwhelming majority — 70 or 80 percent by her estimate — have been handed down from mother to daughter often for several generations. There was also a concerted effort to get local restaurateurs involved and to include celebrities’ recipes — as long as there was some Wilmington connection. Nancy Reagan and Bob Hope among others have inclusions in the text.

The alliance made a concerted effort to put a local stamp on its creation — thereby making it more attractive to souvenir-hunting tourists — by including Wilkins’ photographs by adding a selection of original sketches by other alliance members by calling on another member to augment the written word with calligraphy.

The book was an immediate critical and commercial success and was an R. T. French Co. Tastemaker Award nominee.

“We originally printed 5 000 copies and the book came out in April ” Wilkins says. “By the middle of summer we realized that wasn’t enough and in August we did a second printing of 10 000 copies. The third printing came in August of 1985. Then we decided we wanted to do it again but the book needed to be updated so we added a new chapter that addressed healthier lifestyle issues and we put a new cover on it.”

Successful as it has been the book has almost completed its mission and there won’t be any additional printings when alliance members get the final few thousand volumes sold. These days recipes are a click away on the Internet and the book which now sells for less than $15 would have to command more than $30 to cover today’s printing costs. And the push that has always buoyed the book is beginning to fade.

“There is a whole new generation out there ” Robison says which needs to find its own projects its own resources. Until recently the alliance’s president-elect and treasurer young women both didn’t even know about the Hospitality House she says.

“The alliance has changed ” she says. “We were all mostly homemakers; there aren’t many homemakers anymore.”

But patients’ families in need of help remain and the mission of Hospitality House is far from done. Families are charged for overnight stays based on their ability to pay.

“Can you imagine staying a month in a hotel and eating out while a family member is in the hospital?” Wilkins wonders. Many don’t have to thanks to the alliance. It’s far more satisfying to imagine those folks cooking tonight’s dinner in the community kitchen perhaps even flipping through the pages of the book that made it possible.

All of the recipes on these pages can be found in A Cook’s Tour of the Azalea Coast. Visit their booth at the Azalea Festival or to order a copy send a check for $14.95 plus $3 each for tax postage and handling to:

A Cook’s Tour of the Azalea Coast
PO Box 5303
Wilmington NC 28403

Mock Boursin Cheese Spread (Web Only)

2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese

2 sticks butter or oleo

1 scant teaspoon ground garlic

1 teaspoon dill weed

½ teaspoon thyme

½ teaspoon marjoram

½ teaspoon sweet basil

1 teaspoon oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

Optional: fresh chopped parsley and/or chives to taste

Soften cream cheese and butter. Mix together until it is free of lumps and well blended. Add the garlic dill weed thyme marjoram sweet basil oregano salt pepper fresh parsley and/or chives. Fill a crock or wrap in Saran Wrap in a ball shape. Refrigerate. Serve with favorite cracker or Melba toast rounds. After the ball is firm it can be rolled in cracked peppercorns for those who like pepper boursin. — Diane Cashman

Mamoo’s Famous Rolls (Web Only)

1 cup lard or shortening

¾ cup sugar

1 cup boiling water

2 packages (or cakes) yeast

1 cup lukewarm water

2 eggs beaten

1 tesapoon salt

6 cups flour

½ teaspoon soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cream lard and sugar. Dissolve in boiling water. Cool. Soak yeast in lukewarm water. Add beaten eggs to lard mixture. Add yeast and salt. Beat in flour soda and baking powder. Let rise 2 hours. Add more flour if needed. Make into rolls and let rise 2 hours. Bake for 20 minutes. — Jean Poole

Queen’s Garden Party Punch

½ cup sugar

1-½ cups water

4 sticks cinnamon

12 cloves

1 (46-ounce) can pineapple juice

1 (12-ounce) can frozen orange juice

3 (12-ounce) cans water

1 (12-ounce) can frozen lemonade

3 (12-ounce) cans water

1 (28-ounce) bottle ginger ale

In a saucepan bring to a boil the sugar water cinnamon and cloves and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain out the cinnamon and cloves. In a large container mix together the sugar syrup pineapple juice orange juice lemonade and water. Add the ginger ale just before serving. Makes a little more than 1 gallon.

For very cold punch substitute an equal amount of ice for part of the water. — Freda Wilkins

Pecan Orange Slaw

4 small oranges peeled and cut into small pieces

1 small head cabbage shredded

½ cup pecans chopped

¾ cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon honey

½ teaspoon salt

Combine shredded cabbage chopped pecans and orange pieces. Combine mayonnaise lemon juice honey and salt. Pour mixture over vegetables. Toss lightly. Cover and refrigerate one hour. Serves 6 to 8. — Katherine Matthews

Hot Crab Meat Puffs

2 egg whites stiffly beaten

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup crab meat flaked

1 teaspoon lemon juice

½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

¼ teaspoon Tabasco sauce

Toast rounds


Combine egg whites mayonnaise and crab meat. Add lemon juice Worcestershire sauce Tabasco sauce. Spoon onto toast rounds. Sprinkle with paprika and broil until bubbly. Makes 3 to 4 dozen. — Sue Mobley

Curried Shrimp Rice

1½ cups Minute Rice

1½ cups boiling water

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup French dressing

¾ cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon onion minced

¾ teaspoon curry powder (or more to taste)

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

½ teaspoon dry mustard

½ cup celery diced

1 pound shrimp cooked and cleaned

Combine rice water and salt and cook according to instant rice package directions. When cooked cool and toss in the French dressing. Blend mayonnaise onion curry powder salt pepper mustard and celery. Stir into the rice. Refrigerate. Combine with shrimp when ready to serve. Serve cold. Serves 6 to 8. — Margaret Brown

French Bean Salad

1 cup sugar

1 cup vinegar

1½ cups water

2 tablespoons oil

2 (1-pound) cans French-style green beans drained

2 Italian red onions sliced thinly

½ cup sliced ripe olives

Put sugar vinegar water and oil in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cool. Combine green beans onions and olives. Pour cooled vinegar mixture over bean mixture. Chill. Yields 8 servings. — Emily McCoy

Mom’s Lima Bean Casserole

2½ ‑cups small lima beans cooked (reserve liquid)

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon flour

½ cup liquid from the beans

1 tablespoon brown sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

2 teaspoons dry mustard

2 teaspoons lemon juice

½ c‑up buttered bread crumbs

½ cup grated Cheddar cheese

4-6 strips of bacon uncooked

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drain beans and reserve the liquid. Place beans in a greased 8×8-inch casserole. Heat butter over low heat. Add flour and stir until well blended. Slowly add ½ cup of bean liquid stirring until smooth and thickened. Add brown sugar salt pepper mustard and lemon juice. Pour sauce over the beans. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and grated cheese. Arrange bacon strips over the top. Bake for 25-35 minutes until bacon becomes crisp and brown. Serves 6. — Freda Wilkins

Celebration Chicken Salad

2 cups celery sliced ¼ inch thick diagonally

½ cup water

5 cups cooked chicken breast diced

¾ cup mayonnaise

½ cup sour cream

½ teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dill

½ cup almonds slivered

Cook celery until tender-crisp in ½ cup water in a covered saucepan (may be cooked in a microwave oven). Combine chicken with celery mayonnaise sour cream onion powder and salt. Serve on a bed of lettuce. Garnish with dill and almonds. Serves 6 to 8. — Katherine Matthews

French Silk Chocolate Pie

½ cup butter

3/4 cup sugar

2 squares semi-sweet chocolate melted and cooled

1 baked graham-cracker crust 8-inch or 9-inch

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 eggs

1 pint whipping cream

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla or almond flavoring

Chocolate curls

Combine cream butter and sugar. Blend in chocolate. Add vanilla. Add eggs one at a time beating for five minutes after each addition. Pour into baked pie shell. Chill thoroughly. Whip whipping cream with sugar and flavoring and spread on top of chilled chocolate. Sprinkle chocolate curls made from sweet milk chocolate on top. — Harriette Taylor

Bonnie’s Spinach Stuffed Tomatoes

4 medium tomatoes

¼ teaspoon salt

1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach

½ cup bread crumbs

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1½ green onions chopped

1 egg slightly beaten

1½ tablespoons butter melted

¼ teaspoon thyme

¼ teaspoon Accent

1/8 teaspoon garlic salt

Dash Tabasco sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cut tops from tomatoes and remove pulp. Sprinkle insides with salt and invert to drain. Cook spinach according to directions and drain well. Combine spinach with bread crumbs cheese onions egg butter thyme Accent garlic salt Tabasco sauce salt and pepper. Stuff tomatoes with mixture. Bake 30 minutes. Serves 4. — Carolyn Morris