Mrs. Wilkes' Boardinghouse Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from Her Savannah Table

Mrs. Wilkes' Boardinghouse Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from Her Savannah Table

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by Sema Wilkes
     
 

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In 1943, a young and determined Sema Wilkes took over a nondescript turn-of-the-century boardinghouse on a sun-dappled brick street in historic downtown Savannah. Her goal was modest: to make a living by offering comfortable lodging and Southern home cooking served family style in the downstairs dining room. Mrs. Wilkes' reputation was strong and business was… See more details below

Overview

In 1943, a young and determined Sema Wilkes took over a nondescript turn-of-the-century boardinghouse on a sun-dappled brick street in historic downtown Savannah. Her goal was modest: to make a living by offering comfortable lodging and Southern home cooking served family style in the downstairs dining room. Mrs. Wilkes' reputation was strong and business was brisk from the beginning, but it was the coverage in Esquire and the New York Times, and even a profile on David Brinkley's evening news that brought Southern-food lovers from all over the world to her doorstep. Sema is now 95 years old, and four generations of Wilkeses help her keep the tables laden with platters of her legendary fried chicken, pork ribs, and biscuits, while friends and strangers pass bowls brimming with her sublime butterbeans, collard greens, mashed sweet potatoes, and banana pudding. The line snakes out the front door and down the street, where along with the locals and visitors, it's not uncommon to find Jimmy Carter or Roy Blount Jr. among other familiar faces waiting for their turn at Mrs. Wilkes' table. With over 300 recipes and culinary historian John T. Edge's colorful telling of Mrs. Wilkes' contribution to Savannah and Southern cuisine, this rich volume is a tribute to a way of cooking—and eating— that must not be forgotten.

• Recipient of Southern Living's Reader's Choice Award 2000.

• Mrs. Wilkes won the 1999 James Beard “America's Regional Classics” Award.

• Mrs. Wilkes' self-published recipe book, Famous Recipes, which became the foundation for MRS. WILKES' BOARDINGHOUSE COOKBOOK, has sold over 250,000 copies.

• Illustrated throughout with over 50 black-and-white photographs from Mrs. Wilkes' Boardinghouse and 25 color photos of her classic recipes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Captures the essence of Southern fare.” —Restaurant Hospitality “[Mrs. Wilkes' biscuits are] one of the greatest things, ever, to happen in my life.” —Craig Claiborne“[At Mrs. Wilkes'] the guests look in amazement as big platters of crisp, fried chicken and plenty of it, are set down on the white oilcloth. Then come feathery biscuits, generous squares of cornbread, tender okra simmered with tomatoes, pickled beets, candied yams, pitchers of sweetened ice tea.” —Boston Globe“Certainly down-home food is not news to regulars at such enduring American establishments as Mrs. Wilkes' Boardinghouse in Savannah, where guests sit at community lunch tables and help themselves from ten to twelve bowls and platters of meats, salads, and vegetables.” —Time“A meal at Mrs. Wilkes' is reminiscent of dinner at Grandma's.” —Esquire
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Ninety-four year old Sema Wilkes has been running her boardinghouse in Savannah, Ga., since 1943, cooking up traditional Southern favorites biscuits, collard greens, hush puppies for a clientele of gentlemen farmers, Girl Scouts and Yankee tourists. Indeed, the remembrances of Mrs. Wilkes and her family and friends are so entertaining that the book is best approached as a memoir/oral history interrupted by recipes for soups, casseroles, fried delights and desserts. The book vividly portrays a few of the eatery's more irregular regulars, including one Spanish Civil War veteran who, always arriving via tricycle, ate there every weekday for three decades. Equally well-rendered are the strong women who have helped Mrs. Wilkes in the kitchen throughout the years, including the late Mildred Capers, who judged the doneness of her fried chicken by the sound of the oil in the fryer. But it's not clear how some of these dishes would fare outside of Mrs. Wilkes's delightful environs; the Fried Chicken recipe lists the needed ingredients: flour, evaporated milk, salt and pepper, but obviously, it is the context Southern hospitality, fresh ingredients and an experienced kitchen staff that make it special. Also, a few oddities included in the book would have perhaps been best left on the boardinghouse table a Tango Salad, for instance, with lemon gelatin, canned pineapple and pimentos. Nevertheless, this is a delightful homage to Southern life. (May) Forecast: The continuing interest in Southern food, along with an ecstatic blurb from Craig Claiborne, should help this book's sales. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Sema Wilkes has presided over her Savannah, GA, dining room for 68 years. At age 94, she still tastes every dish before it comes out of the kitchen, but now there are three other generations of her family working in the restaurant. Although "Mrs. Wilkes' " was originally a typical boardinghouse, feeding only its dozen or so roomers, good food was always her focus, and it became a restaurant soon after she took over in the 1940s. Today, there are lines around the block of people waiting to taste her Southern food at least 13 different dishes at every meal and "the boardinghouse" has a national reputation. But the cooking is much as it always was (one of her cooks has been there since the1950s): Buttermilk Chicken, Corn Pudding, the biscuits that Craig Claiborne described as "one of the greatest things, ever, to happen" in his life. Coauthor Edge's readable text provides the history of the restaurant and the people involved in it. Recommended for all regional American cooking collections. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781580082570
Publisher:
Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony
Publication date:
05/28/2001
Pages:
176
Sales rank:
412,921
Product dimensions:
8.29(w) x 10.33(h) x 0.74(d)

Read an Excerpt


Excerpt


From Mrs. Wilkes' Boardinghouse Cookbook

"If the Colonel made it so good, he'd be a general." I said that on the TODAY show and made Bryant Gumbel laugh.


Fried Chicken

Serves 4 to 6

1 (2 1/2-pound) fryer, cut up Salt and pepper 2 tablespoons evaporated milk 2 tablespoons water All-purpose flour Vegetable oil

Sprinkle the fryer with salt and pepper. Pour the milk and water over the fryer and marinate for about 10 minutes. Dip in a bowl of all-purpose flour. Shake off the excess flour. Heat oil to 300° and deep-fry (or heat oil to medium and panfry) the chicken. Make sure the chicken is covered with oil at all times. Fry until golden brown.

Note: This recipe can be used for pork chops.


Excerpted from Mrs. Wilkes' Boardinghouse Cookbook by Sema Wilkes. Copyright © 2001 by Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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