Ashley Strickland is an associate producer with CNN.com. She likes tackling English toffee, sharing people-pleasin' pizza dip and green soup, cajoling recipes from athletes and studying up on food holidays.
It’s the cookbook we don’t have to pull off the shelf, because it’s already open on the counter, turned to the beginnings of the next awe-inspiring meal.
It is also the book that provides the Augusta hostess with a week of recipes for the Masters Tournament. But for golfers, restaurants, resorts and families all across Georgia, it’s a scrapbook of the dishes that bookmark our lives.
In January 1988, my Aunt Edna gifted Mom with the green, plastic spiral comb-bound cookbook compiled by the Junior League of Augusta, Georgia, in 1977, creatively titled “Tea-Time at the Masters.” My mother not only rediscovered her favorite squash casserole within its pages (once thought lost forever), but recipes to start and build a family with - apropos, because I was born just a few months later in April.
When she sent me off to college, a binder of my favorite recipes followed. Half of them have the telltale comb-binding imprint marching up the left side, and the shadows of stubborn splatters spray-paint the gray background.
Cheap beer, kettle chips and pimento cheese sandwiches come to mind when most people talk about food at the Masters, but I can’t help but think of the little green cookbook with a golf ball on the cover.
To fans, the recipes are a slice of regional culinary delight and mystery, and a valuable compilation of recipes from PGA golfers, their wives and resort chefs. The recipes submitted by Mrs. Jack Nicklaus, wife to the six-time winner of the Masters, are perennial favorites.
To families like mine, it’s life. My mom swears by the cheese straws, chicken divan, pound cake, bread and butter pickles, chili, and broccoli, rice and cheese casserole recipes within her sticky-note-tabbed, dog-eared and cooking-stained copy. She has lightened up the calorie count on the recipes over the years, but we still stay pretty true to the course.
In her words, “there are only two cookbooks I can completely trust: Julia Child’s, and ‘Tea-Time at the Masters.’” The recipes are successful every time, and like many junior league cookbooks, with good reason. No one wants their name printed under a recipe that doesn’t work.
“The thing that makes the cookbooks great is that all the recipes are tested by League members, so if you pull out a junior league cookbook, you know it’s going to be simple, easy and delicious and it’s been taste-tested,” said Kari Baker, a member of the Junior League of Augusta.
In fact, these cookbooks wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the Junior League of Augusta. They published the first cookbook, “Recipes from Southern Kitchens” in 1940 to support community programs. The other Junior Leagues followed suit.
When “Tea-Time” published in 1977, the initial run of 10,000 copies sold out in four weeks. Today, it has sold more than 350,000 copies, and created two additional follow-ups in its wake. The original is going into its 17th reprinting, and 35th anniversary this October.
It has everything you could ever imagine, from almost-forgotten vintage dishes to timeless favorites. Mrs. Jack Nicklaus’ crab casserole, Mrs. Arnold Palmer’s zucchini bread, Mrs. Tommy Aaron’s three-bean casserole and two-time Masters champion Byron Nelson’s Spanish pork chops and mustard ring are some of the recipes that contribute to its reputation for both Junior League and Georgia pride.
Mrs. Jack Nicklaus’ pineapple upside-down cake is the perfect complement to any dinner when the weather gets warm. The unique combination of sweet cherries and brown-sugar coated pineapple on top of a crispy edged cake that is feather-light on the inside makes it dessert perfection.
It’s no ticket to the exclusive rolling green hills of the Augusta National Golf Club during the Masters, but then again, it’s always “Tea-Time at the Masters” at my house.
Skillet Pineapple Upside Down Cake
Published with permission from the Junior League of Augusta
Printed in “Tea-Time at the Masters,” originally submitted by Mrs. Jack Nicklaus
1 stick of butter
1-1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
1 15 1/2 ounce can pineapple rings
Maraschino cherries (we added these)
2 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 cup sifted plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
3/8 cup hot water
Pinch of salt
Topping: In large iron skillet, melt butter and brown sugar together. Arrange pineapple rings on top of sugar mixture and cook until bubbly.
Cake: Beat egg yolks well. Add sugar gradually, then vanilla. Add hot water and mix well. Slowly add dry ingredients. Fold in beaten egg whites. Pour batter over topping in skillet. Bake in skillet at 325°:F for 50 minutes. Turn out on cake plate to serve and place cherries in the middle of the pineapple rings. May be topped with whipped cream. Serves 6-8.