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At The Parsonage
cookbook reviewscompany at the parsonage
Company at the Parsonage
by Mary M. Scott
Price From $14.95

Reviewed by Andrew Watson

Click Here to Buy It On Line!
January 2003
When a young reader asks if he can write a review on his grandmother's cookbook, how could we say no?

Some years ago my maternal grandmother, Mary Mackenzie Scott, published a cookbook. The title is Company at the Parsonage and book's cover contains a sketch of the Parsonage, a charming Victorian house, white, square, fronted with one of those whole-family porches and sided with a bay window.

Mary M. Scott is the wife to the Reverend Allen Scott, and together they served the Flanders Baptist and Community Church of East Lyme, Connecticut for 37 years. The church is in an old-fashioned one-room-chapel and is a short walk down the road from the Parsonage. Her cookbook grew out of diaries that my grandmother had kept most of her married life, but also includes some memories from her childhood in next-door Waterford, CT. She was raised along with her sister and brother on a dairy farm, the daughter of a migrated Scotsman and the former schoolmistress he seduced away from public education. According to my grandmother, her grandfather, Mr. Mackenzie ran down to the barn at three a.m. to milk the cows, generally bouncing a soccer ball on his head as he went. The book relaxedly (as opposed to rigidly following a format) moves from summer to summer, and the recipes (as well as a few craft-ideas and general hints) along with the accompanying anecdotes, reconstruct bits and pieces from a whole life into a year long tale of holidays, church groups and church and private dinners and the people who gave life to these occasions.

The forty-or-so chapters tend to follow a general pattern. A short paragraph to a page introduces the topic with relative memories from her life and sometimes a little general historical or culinary information. Then comes the recipes and little blurbs about how she got the recipe or who liked it, etc. For example, early in the book comes the segment on Blueberries. On the opposite side is a drawing of blueberries in a pint (my Uncle Mac, who drew a perfect apple at age 3 did all the illustrations), and under the heading of "Blueberries" the authoress describes how they used to go blueberry picking when she was a girl with sunbonnets and straw hats and Crisco cans with a cord run through them. Then come recipes for Blueberry pie, Blueberry Slump, and Andrew's Favorite Blueberry Muffins. I am the only grandkid to have a recipe named for him - but I'm the oldest, so that's the sort of thing that happens. There are a few words about "when Margaret and the children came to visit…" but except in this unexplained recipe title, the names of grandchildren are generally omitted, as the main emphasis is on earlier times and people. Other Chapters are about "Soups and Chowders", "Rummage Sales", "Hattie and Bob Cooper"(one-time members of the church), "The Priest to dinner", that great sea "Christmas," has a lot of subsidiary chapters under it, and "The Clergy is Coming… The Clergy is Coming" has three.

There are a few hundred recipes in this book, of everything from what they generally ate to what they served at church sales to what she made for some theme nights (they had a few of these at the Parsonage over the years - a 'Victorian night' once, and a 'night in Italy' and etc.). The food is mostly standard New England fare, generally boiled, not spicy. East Lyme lays next to the ocean and so the fried flounder and clam chowder recipes have a little bit of added authority and I mention them to show how the recipes are a dynamic part of the book's narrative, flushing out a picture of this town and the life that went with it. Using and/or reading Company at the Parsonage transports one to a magical (yet real) world, where people are always giving and receiving little gifts (typically of food), helping each other and the community and participating in wholesome dinners and church sales, a fairy land where you don't drink or gamble or swear but you don't put down those who do either. The cookbook is a cookbook, a history, and also a wholesome perspective on life. Wholesomeness is hard to pull off, it is tempting to drift into indulging some kind of smugness, and it is in having done a pretty good job of avoiding smugness that my grandmother's particular genius lays - her positive, honest perspective is captured by the book.

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