Five incredible desserts that celebrate two beloved things in the South.
Junior Leagues are fixtures of the Southern social and civic scene, throwing great parties and orchestrating some of the most formidable fund-raising endeavors in the country. For at least 50 years, one of the most effective methods of raising money was through the creation of a cookbook that cataloged and celebrated the food of a community.
Compared to a simple black-and-white, comb-bound paperback from a small-town volunteer fire department, a Junior League cookbook looks more like a bookstore best seller. With fetching hardback covers, tested recipes, edited text, and color photographs, some of these publications are as much at home on a coffee table as they are on a kitchen counter.
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Junior League cookbooks, especially the vintage volumes, memorialize a sense of time and place. The best ones enshrine these women and the worlds they lived in. If a cookbook hails from your hometown, it's a part of that community's history. If it has your mother's name in it, it's a family heirloom.
Of course, the recipes are usually fabulous, because what league member would deign to share a bland or boring dish? We combed through iconic Junior League cookbooks and chose five desserts that showcase this year's fresh crop of winter citrus. Like all of the other recipes featured in the pages of this magazine, they had to pass muster in our own Test Kitchen. Not surprisingly, each one earned rave reviews, although we couldn't resist adding a few of our own twists here and there.
A classic Junior League cookbook does plenty of good in ways beyond what we usually consider community service. It fills the gaps in our recollections and renditions of cherished dishes on our family tables, rekindling old culinary flames and reminding us to pass along our treasured food memories.
Florida Orange Grove Pie
The Gasparilla Cookbook
This is a great old-timey angel pie with a crust made of baked meringue instead of pastry. In a state where orange groves still cover miles of farmland, of course a cook would turn to citrus to pile atop the crisp candy-like crust. Originally published in 1961, The Gasparilla Cookbook exhibits the melding of Spanish, Italian, Greek, Cuban, and Southern influences on the recipes of the region. It appears in the McIlhenny Hall of Fame for community cookbooks that sell more than 100,000 copies.
Recipe: Florida Orange Grove Pie
Lemon-Orange Pound Cake
Stop and Smell the Rosemary
Stop and Smell the Rosemary was a sea change in community cookbooks, even among Junior League versions, raising the bar for self-published titles across the nation. Since it first appeared in 1996, it has received numerous awards and accolades for being one of the best community cookbooks in the country. It includes a recipe for Lemon-Orange Pound Cake, which is sublime in its simplicity, but we decided to fancy it up a bit with a Bundt pan and two contrasting icings.
Recipe: Lemon-Orange Pound Cake
Cold Lemon Soufflés with Wine Sauce
A Sterling Collection
Soufflés have always been an expression of elegant entertaining, but this one is chilled and held in place with a bit of gelatin, which means the hostess doesn't have to rush the quivering creation to the table before it collapses. A Sterling Collection is a compilation of favorite recipes gleaned from a number of cookbooks produced by the Memphis chapter. This soufflé also appeared in an anthology of best Junior League recipes in the country, so it's a keeper for sure.
Grand Marnier Cakes
Tea-Time at the Masters
Layer cakes might be the cover girls, but a pound cake holds sway in our kitchens. This recipe reflects the Southern practice of adding a bit of liqueur or other spirits to a cake to ensure it stays moist and delicious. Many cookbook collectors swear by this beloved book that debuted in 1977, suggesting that an Augusta tee time is prestigious but an Augusta teatime is priceless. While the original recipe called for the cake to be baked in a tube pan, we opted for mini Bundt pans for a tea party-worthy presentation.
Recipe: Grand Marnier Cakes
Shaker Lemon Pie
Charleston, West Virginia
This old-fashioned pie is made with thinly sliced whole lemons—peels and all. The recipe originated in Shaker communities in areas where the South meets New England and the Midwest. Shaker cooks considered lemons an important part of a healthy diet, even though they were expensive and hard to come by, so they devised this pie to make use of every bit of the fruit. The Charleston, West Virginia, Junior League included this Shaker Lemon Pie in its 1974 Mountain Measures cookbook, and it's been a favorite of bakers ever since.