Dear Irene Hayes—With My Deepest Apology

Dear Irene Hayes,

Although you left this world in 2007, your presence and impact remain, particularly in Kentucky. My 1970 edition of What's Cooking in Kentucky, the invaluable cookbook you first assembled from many Kentuckians' recipes in 1965, still stands at attention with the select few actual print cookbooks I use in these days of lightning-fast e-search for imagined foods like "cornmeal plum tarte tatin" or something to make with what's on hand: "cardamom, red pepper, mango juice, rutabaga, pork belly."

Your cookbook presents home cooking in Kentucky, just how good it is ("Mother's Gritted Corn Bread," page 14), and occasionally, how unusual (I nominate "Prune Aspic," p. 105, for one, although aspics are having a nicely deserved comeback these days.)

I was proud of the fact that somehow my mother placed at least one recipe in this book: "My Favorite Chocolate Cake," p. 201.

Sidenote: Mother's recipe is far from my favorite now. For this kind of cake, the much-shared "Western Kentucky Chocolate Sheet Cake" is better, and includes an impossibly sweet pour-on icing as well.

I loved that our family and our belief in the powers of growing and cooking real food appeared alongside so many other Kentucky cooks' best offerings, and all of it helped pay for a church bus, a new roof and other repairs to the Hueysville Church of Christ. I love the recipes for six types of cornbread, seven different biscuits (including Sweet Potato Biscuits, p. 3) and all TEN recipes for yeast rolls, not one of which matched the ingredients in our family's weekly roll dough.

So how could I get your name wrong when intending to honor you in Classic Kentucky Meals? I have no excuse, and no explanation. I sat with your book in my lap when I wrote the headnote for the CKM "Kentucky Angel Flake Biscuits," which I had adapted from Ruby Yates's recipe for "Mother's Angel Flake Biscuits," page 2 of What's Cooking

I renamed you Irene Hughes, a name that stuck through my four rounds of proof-reading and through the publisher's copy-editing. Your new name stayed in place, unnoticed, until the very first person reviewed Classic Kentucky Meals on I read that review with sinking, pounding heart. What a doozie of a mistake.

I am sorry from the bottom of that same heart. The publisher will correct this mistake if my book goes into a second printing. I hope for that, inspired by the countless printings of What's Cooking In Kentucky since 1965, enough to sell more than 200,000 copies!

The only good thing that has come from this nasty mistake is my discovery of a bit more about your story, particularly this lovely article Chuck Martin wrote for The Cincinnati Enquirer in 2002, when you were 86. You gave him hands-on guidance and an eventual critique as he worked to make your splendid butterscotch meringue pie. Thanks to his article, and your permission, that recipe is now available on the internets for anyone with a passion for a combination of brown sugar/butterscotch and "burnt" sugar/caramel flavors in a luscious, thick, custardy-pudding inside a homemade crust and underneath a pile of meringue. I did not find this article when working on Classic Kentucky Meals, but I am such a fan of butterscotch and caramel that I developed a recipe for Butterscotch-Bourbon Pudding with Kentucky Black Walnuts for the Dressed-Up version of Meal 4.

I used the internets myself this morning to locate a copy of your second book, What's Cooking for the Holidays. I'm looking for some Kentucky-rooted dishes for events coming up with family and friends. I expect to find wonders in this second book of yours.

I close with my deepest respect as well as my most abject apology.

One of your most enduring fans -

Rona Roberts


Rona RobertsComment