Sugar Pie and Jelly Roll- Sweets from a Southern Kitchen
by Robbin Gourley

2000. 125 pages, 65 recipes


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"Where I come from, dessert is not only served after dinner. It can be breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I remember at one opulent family feast Aunt Bett pronouncing, 'Tonight, I'm having dessert first.'"


 Lemon Kisses


 Apricot Bread Pudding


 Mom's Cherry Pudding


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Ordinarily I don't even look at cookbooks that are just about desserts. Isn't life already filled with way too many high-fat temptations? Don't I already have more than enough irresistible dessert recipes in my own cookbooks and my recipe files? Don't I already have enough well-fed fat cells settled firmly in my hips and thighs? I need more dessert recipes like Bill Gates needs to build an addition onto his house.

It wasn't the title, Sugar Pie and Jelly Roll- Sweets from a Southern Kitchen, that captured my attention. This lovely little lavender clothbound book was so cute that I found myself flipping through it enjoying the luscious little watercolor sketches on almost every page. (Robbin Gourley is the book's author and artist.) Her paintbrush captures the loveliness of life's domestic details: a gathering of old spoons, a row of figs, a slice of pie, an old willow pattern teapot.

As I looked at the pictures I started noticing the recipes: peach pie, persimmon apple cake, apricot bread pudding, gumdrop cookies. These are the kind of unfussy, homey desserts I love. They're the kind that my grandmother, Nammie, used to make. She was a sly one. When she had us grandchildren over for dinner she would put the dessert on the kitchen counter beforehand and say: "Look what's for dessert…as long as finish your dinner ….including all your brussel sprouts." (or whatever dreaded vegetable was being served that night).

Many of Gourley's recipes are those culled from her grandmother, Mawmaw (how Southern is that?) and other relatives and neighbors from her Southern youth. Some are classicsof the South like Chess Pie and Praline. Some are accompanied by family anecdotes. Her cherry pudding recipe is preceded by her recollection of making this pudding with Mawmaw while Pawpaw (you guessed it: Mawmaw's husband) went for a ramble in the cherry orchard. He lay down in the shade of their cherry tree for a nice little nap…and never woke up. (We should all be so lucky to come to such a sanguine end!)

The source of the book's recipe for Lemon Kisses (they are actually lemon bars) was the milliner who worked in the only department store in Gourley's childhood town. Gourley writes, " Mrs. Ford's cookies were no less inspired than her hats." And her Lemon Kisses are truly inspiring. For years I have been on a quest for the perfect lemon bar. When I read the recipe it sounded a bit over the top: not only is there a sweet crust and a lemon curd-ish layer, but it's topped with a sweet lemon glaze. But being the questor that I am, I had to try them. I know that they say "Less is more". But sometimes "More is more" which turned out to be the case with these lemon bars. They are ridiculously sweet and ridiculously good.

Next on my to-try list was the recipe for pecan drops. I made the dough and carefully doled it out in spoonfuls onto the cookie sheet. When I opened the oven eight minutes later I was shocked to find that my little hillocks of dough had melted into the cookie equivalent of the Great Plains, merging into one giant flat cookie covering the entire cookie sheet. I re-read the directions to see what I had missed. No, I had done everything right. I did a pretty good save though. I let the giant cookie cool off and then cut it into squares. Even in their flattened state they were quite good. There were other cases of slightly malfuncional recipes (none as major as this one). The Pumpkin Mousse Pie needed not one but two packets of gelatin to change its consistency from sauce-like to mousse-like.

Okay. So some of the recipe writing leaves something to be desired in the clarity department. Nonetheless, Sugar Pie and Jelly Roll is a lovely little book with some lovely recipes …including that one perfect recipe that has ended my quest for the ultimate lemon bar. Now I can rest.