If you’re stuck for a wedding present, you could hardly go wrong with Cooking In The House Of Cash, a gift from one of the most dynamic marriages of our time. The June Carter and Johnny Cash household is the source and substance of this colorful collection of recipes, anecdotes and photos compiled by their housekeeper of more than 30 years, Peggy Knight.
She treats us to a cook’s tour of that lively place, full of friends, generosity, and the good china June collected on her many shopping junkets. Color snapshots of the Carters, Cashes and friends enliven the pages, and she’s loaded the book with tips nobody’s grandma teaches them anymore, like never use the same skillet for cornbread that you use for frying chicken, and when you put your biscuits into their greased baking pan, roll them around a little for golden tops.
The recipes are simple enough for the newest cooks. Most are even quick enough for those of us without housekeepers. A call out box on the contents page directs you to nineteen of June and Mother Maybelle’s own recipes, as well as Johnny’s personal chili creation, which uses, count ‘em, three different prepared chili seasoning mixes, one of them Jamaican.
The companion publications are less satisfying, covering mostly familiar ground. In My 33 Years Inside The House Of Cash, Knight doesn’t exactly follow the “butler tells all” model, but some of her ground-level insights seem uncomfortably personal, even while revealing little. The photo book, At Home With Johnny, June And Mother Maybelle, has the feel and charm of a family photo album; Knight took most of the 126 color pictures herself. Movie stars and country music legends are cheek by jowl with family and friends, at parties, at family gatherings, and often just at ease — at home, on the road, and at the Cashes’ Jamaican retreat.
It’s the cookbook, though, that sticks to your ribs, even the vegetables. Perhaps especially the vegetables. Knight says the Cashes were country people and as such were often content with meatless meals. Here’s the fried okra recipe that nobody in your family ever bothered to write down. Peggy’s Green Tomato Chow Chow was served with pinto beans and black-eyed peas. Mother Maybelle’s memorably named Kill The Lettuce involves green onions and bacon grease. And there’s Marty Stuart’s favorite macaroni and cheese (he was a frequent guest even before he moved next door). Sturdy meat dishes, irresistible desserts and intriguing salads (like spinach and strawberry) round out the menu. There are even instructions for roasting your own peanuts.
Knight did most of the cooking, at home and on the tour bus, but others pitched in. Besides June and Maybelle, Knight’s sister Betty often helped out, as did Billy Graham’s wife on their frequent visits. Still, Knight’s the star here, and she gives the Carter-Cash firmament special warmth, like a bright country kitchen with onions in the skillet.