Cookbook Serves Up Delicious Memories
Updated: Oct 28
By Sally Kirby Hartman
Twenty-five years ago during one of the busiest times of my life, I created the Austin Family Cookbook, featuring four generations of Ozark cooking from my late mother’s side of the family.
You can tell by the dog-eared corners and brown food splatters that I treasure my copy of this 65-page, spiral-bound cookbook.
Sometimes I wonder how I made this cookbook while working, caring for a 9-year-old son, and volunteering with the PTA and a weekly soup kitchen. But, I am thankful I created this labor of love before 130+ family recipes disappeared.
My mother, Eunice Austin Kirby, was born in Gravette, Arkansas in 1912 as the fifth of eight children of rural mail carrier John Austin and his wife, Ollie, a fantastic cook. The Austin offspring prided themselves on their casseroles, side dishes and desserts. They loved trying new recipes in Arkansas, Texas, Georgia, Alabama and California where they settled after living in other states and three foreign countries. Over the decades, the siblings kept connected through letters that often included recipes scribbled on notecards or scraps of paper.
By the time we had a family reunion in 1997, my grandparents and five of their children had passed away, including my mom. That left my uncle, John, and aunts, Nina and Katherine, at the helm of our family. At the reunion, they recruited me, a writer and editor, to capture our family’s culinary legacy.
My love of cooking plus memories of Grandma Austin’s banana layer cake, Aunt Beula’s hot green tomato relish, and other culinary delicacies motivated me to tackle this project. I wrote all living relatives enlisting their help and was thrilled when they sent recipes, stories about what made them special, family history and vintage Austin photos.
After months of testing and organizing recipes, writing and editing, I got the cookbook printed and mailed to relatives in 1998. Since then, my uncle, two aunts and a few cousins have passed away leaving me, my sister and cousins as the family elders.
I think of my family often as I cook their special dishes and see them pictured in cookbook photos. Recently, in a flurry of home decluttering, I discovered a big envelope stuffed with handwritten recipes relatives sent me for the cookbook. This treasure trove made me wish I could once again sit around a table soaking up family tales and enjoying meals like grandma made.
Instead, I will honor my family by donning an apron, cooking Austin recipes for my adult son and serving them with a side dish of family lore. I also will encourage him to pull out his Austin Family Cookbook and use it.
Here are three Austin recipes for you to enjoy as you ponder creating your own family cookbook to share with future generations.
Beula Austin Hoback Davis’ Hot Green Tomato Relish
2 gallons green tomatoes
1 gallon white onions
½ gallon mixed hot peppers
½ gallon vinegar
5 cups sugar
1 cup salt
Measure tomatoes, onions and peppers after slicing. Bring to a boil with vinegar, sugar and salt. Turn off stove once the mixture boils. Put into sterilized jars and seal.
Note: Small tomatoes work best. The amount of hot peppers you use depends on how hot you like relish. Cook half a recipe at a time to avoid having such a large amount that it cooks too long by the time it boils.
Ollie Austin’s Banana Layer Cake
2 cups flour
1 tsp each of baking powder, soda and salt
½ cup shortening
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup mashed bananas
¾ cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
Icing (see recipe)
Sift flour, baking powder, soda and salt. Set aside. Cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs and bananas. Beat well before adding flour mixture and milk -- a small amount at a time. Add vanilla. Pour into two greased round pans and bake at 375 degrees for 24 minutes. Cool on rack and then frost with icing.
1 stick butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 box powdered sugar
¾ cup pecans, chopped
1 tsp vanilla
Eunice Austin Kirby’s Coffee Cake
2 ½ cup flour
1 cup sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
1 tsp nutmeg
¾ cup. Oil
½ tsp salt
1 T cinnamon
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 egg, beaten
1 cup buttermilk (or soured milk)
1 tsp soda
Mix flour, sugars and nutmeg. Add oil Mix well. Remove ½ cup of the mixture (packed). Add nuts and cinnamon to what you remove and save for the frosting.
To the original mixture, add egg, milk and soda. Pour into a greased 9 x 13 pan. Top with frosting mixture and cut it in with a knife. Bale at 375 degrees for 35 minutes
Bio: Sally Kirby Hartman lives in Norfolk, Virginia. She was born in Texas and grew up there and in Northwest Arkansas where her family roots date to the early 1800s. She is a journalist and communications professional who graduated from the University of Arkansas and spent her career writing and editing for newspapers, magazines and a community foundation. In high school she won the Betty Crocker Homemaker of Tomorrow Award and felt victorious a few years ago when her oatmeal cookies took first prize in the The Virginian-Pilot’s cooking baking contest.
Sally enjoys baking and has lots of hobbies that include playing pickleball and mah jongg, traveling, swimming, reading, taking fiction writing classes, and working out at the gym. She is active in Norfolk Master Gardeners, the Rotary Club of Norfolk, Great Bridge Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Monday Club, Larchmont Book Club, and the Old Dominion University’s Monarch Community Alliance.