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

September 4, 2010 · Posted in Bestselling Cooking Books 

Product Description
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 … More >>

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

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5 Responses to “Mrs. Wilkes’ Boardinghouse Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from Her Savannah Table”

  1. Beverly Jewell on September 4th, 2010 6:06 pm

    I have had the pleasure of eating at Mrs. Wilkes’ Boardinghouse several times, but the last time I was in Savannah, the lines were so long waiting to get in, we finally gave up! Years ago, she signed her first cookbook for me, and I have used it many times. I now have this new book, and find the instructions simple and easy to follow. This is the food most people in the South grew up eating, but recipes vary, and sometimes are not pasted down to a new generation. I treasure this book, and highly recommend it to new, and also to experienced cooks! Indeed, it is home style cooking made easier! B Jewell
    Rating: 5 / 5

  2. Anonymous on September 4th, 2010 8:45 pm

    I have over 100 cookbooks in my collection, so it is rare that I will sit down and read a new one cover-to-cover — but that’s exactly what I did last night with Mrs. Wilkes. Setting aside the recipes for a moment, her description of life in the South in my parents’ era is priceless. Now for the food: also priceless! I’ve been searching for years for my great-aunt’s recipe for Coconut Cake — Mrs. Wilkes has it. My Mother never fixed Creamed Corn from scratch – but Mrs. Wilkes does. All those dishes you remember fondly from family reunions and favorite aunts – they’re here! Mrs. Wilkes has them! Hurrah!
    Rating: 5 / 5

  3. James Bentley on September 4th, 2010 10:20 pm

    This is the best money I have ever spent! The most delicious and easy recipes I have ever seen. I have hundreds of cookbooks and this is the one that stays out all the time. I cannot recommend this one enough. This lady can cook!!!!! You cannot go wrong with this one!
    Rating: 5 / 5

  4. B. Marold on September 4th, 2010 11:32 pm

    `Mrs. Wilkes’ Boardinghouse Cookbook’ is a collection of recipes attributed to Sema Wilkes of dishes served at her famous Savannah boarding house (which no longer takes in boarders). The recipes are augmented by a series of articles on the history of the Wilkes family and the restaurant by John T. Edge, a widely and favorably recognized writer on southern culinary matters.

    The most interesting aspect of the recipes in this book is that they are as much an interest as an historical record as they are a basis of culinary inspiration. The most interesting books with which to compare this work may be, for example, `Rome, at Home’ by Suzanne Dunaway and the books on Sicilian cookery by writer/actor Vincent Schiavelli. The most similar book I have seen is Ms. Sally Ann Robinson’s charming little book, `Gullah Home Cooking the Daufuskie Way’. A non-culinary comparison may be to a manual on how to do decorative painting in the style of the Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs. I say this only to enhance the value you can anticipate from this notable book.

    This volume contains recipes for `Comfort Food Central’. Ask a hundred second generation Americans to name their top five favorite dishes and recipes for virtually all these dishes will be in this book. Main dishes include fried chicken, chicken cacciatore, roast beef, beef bourguignonne, meatballs, meatloaf, chop suey, corned beef and cabbage, and chili. This is the typical collection of both classic Southern dishes mixed with Americanizations of famous foreign dishes. All other types of dishes show a similar selection of favorites. The dessert chapter stays just a bit closer to home by featuring primarily cakes, such as pound cake, red velvet cake, carrot cake, and fruitcake and pies (and cobblers) such as lemon meringue pie, sweet potato pie, pecan pie, peach pie, and blackberry pie.

    Many of the savory recipes are simply `dump and heat’, where the procedure could hardly be any simpler. Recipes for chili and beef bourguignonne which in some hands take on epic dimensions are so simple in this book that you need to look twice to be sure this is the dish being made. This simplicity is achieved in many cases by using one or more classic darlings of 1950’s cooking, canned, condensed soup, canned mushrooms, bouillon cubes, French dressing, and bottled mayonnaise. This doesn’t mean the results of these recipes are not tasty, it only means the dishes may be a lot different than what you may be expecting. This is definitely not Julia Child’s beef bourguignonne. Even such staples of Southern cooking such as fried chicken are done in a highly abbreviated way with no brining and no buttermilk marinade.

    Another caution with these recipes is that many have not been scaled down from boarding room proportions to suit a family of four. Still another concern is that like a lot of recipes in `Gullah Home Cooking the Daufuskie Way’, there is a certain sameness in a lot of recipes. All the potato and macaroni and chicken and egg salads are about the same except for the star ingredient. Again, this doesn’t mean they are poor recipes, it just means they all reflect a time when supermarkets didn’t have radicchio, fennel, Belgian endive, celery root, and leeks. So, lots of recipes had to depend on celery, onions, and carrots.

    Since this oversized book with lots of excellent pictures and really interesting text lists at only $29.95, the quality of these pictures and text and the `archeological’ interest of the recipes is more than enough to make this book a worthy addition to your cookbook collection. If you want to make pies, read Nick Malgieri. If you want to bake cakes, read Maida Heatter. If you want to make meatballs, read Marcella Hazan. If you want to make barbecue, read Steve Raichlen. If you want classic Southern cooking, read Edna Lewis. If you want to make beef bourguignonne, for heavens sake, read Julia Child, Tony Bourdain, or Thomas Keller. But, if you want a taste of Savannah boardinghouse cooking, this is your book.

    Aside from supporting recipes for preparations such as meringue, sauces, dressings, and piecrusts, there are virtually no cooking instructions here. Even the index fails now and then in that there are prepared ingredients mentioned in some recipes for which there are no entries in the index. So, I have no clue to how to make a `Kitchen Bouquet’ mentioned as an ingredient in several recipes. And, I suspect a great part of the quality of the food at Mrs. Wilkes boardinghouse can be attributed to the skill of the staff and to the quality of the ingredients rather than to the excellence of the recipes.

    As long as you buy this book for the right reasons, you will not be disappointed.

    Rating: 5 / 5

  5. Brooke Whigham on September 5th, 2010 2:08 am

    In short – EXCELLENT! This cookbook is only outdown by the real thing. The pictures and stories accompanying the recipes lend to the feeling of being there and experiencing southern cooking with its history. Better than reading the book is visiting Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House. My husband and I just visited Savannah (May 2001), and we ate lunch at Mrs. Wilkes every day. The Pennsylvania Dutch-like atmosphere provided ample oppoturnity to meet people from all over the country – and the world – and see what brought them to Savannah. No eating experience compares to Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House, and I look forward to testing out her receipes, namely, her lima beans, mashed potatoes, biscuits, macaroni and cheese, and fried chicken. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I do.
    Rating: 5 / 5

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