It’s a cookbook with history, and it’s a history book with recipes.
“We call it a tourism cookbook,” said Jackie Kennedy, the Troup County-based freelance writer who led Diverse Power’s 21-month project that culminated in May with the release of “Place and Plate: Culture and Cooking in West Georgia.”
The 320-page hardback book, published by the Donning Company of Virginia Beach, Va., is suitable for more than the kitchen, looking like a coffee-table book in size and quality, complete with large color photos.
When the book debuted at Diverse Power’s annual meeting, attended by an estimated 2,000 folks May 11 in LaGrange, the response was overwhelmingly positive, Kennedy said.
“They just got a huge kick out it,” she said. “I mean, they were just beaming. They were so proud.”
A typical comment, she said, went something like this: “Oh, my God! Y’all did a real book! I thought it was going to be like a spiral-bound paperback church cookbook.”
Reader reaction has been gratifying for Kennedy.
“I have heard people say they learned things about their community that they didn’t know,” she said. “I got a note from someone yesterday, whose words were, ‘I read it all the way through like a novel.’”
Wayne Livingston, president and CEO of Diverse Power, called it “the best combination of a cookbook and a history book that I’ve read. We really hope it attracts people to come visit our area.”
Livingston praised Kennedy for leading the project from concept to reality.
“Jackie worked very hard for two years,” he said.
Kennedy praised Livingston for giving her the freedom to pursue the project. She said he told her, “Do as many pages as it takes to tell the story and do it right.”
Diverse Power, headquartered in LaGrange, is a rural electric cooperative, designated as Georgia’s 2016 Electric Membership Corporation of the Year. The 80-year-old, not-for-profit organization provides electricity and related services to families, farms and businesses in 13 west Georgia counties and one in east Alabama, totaling 26,500 members, 34,238 meters and 4,700 miles of power lines.
The coverage area, extending 150 miles from south to north and 45 miles from east to west, comprises Muscogee, Harris, Troup, Meriwether, Heard, Coweta and Chambers counties in the northern territory and Randolph, Clay, Calhoun, Quitman, Stewart, Terrell and Early counties in the Pataula District.
In 2011, Kennedy documented the company’s history in the book “Diverse Power: From Light Bulbs to Laptops, Building the Electric Co-Op.” After acquiring the Pataula District from Cobb EMC on Jan. 1, 2014, Diverse Power wanted to publish another book to update its history. This time, however, the company also wanted to include the histories and tourist information about the counties it serves, perhaps inspiring customers in the north and south territories to more often visit each other’s counties. Kennedy then took the proposal a step further when Lynn Walton, the project manager for Donning, reminded her that this would be a chance to compile the cookbook she had yearned to write.
“We merged the two ideas,” said Kennedy, 54, who graduated from Troup High in 1980 and Georgia College in 1985.
Diverse Power solicited recipes through the company’s monthly newsletter, to which Kennedy has contributed for 22 years and is published in Georgia Magazine. Twelve of the 14 recipe testers, a mix of Diverse Power employees and members, gathered last July in Kennedy’s kitchen and brought various samples. The recipe for Mobile Bay shrimp salad, submitted by Steve Scott of Columbus, was among the dishes Kennedy made.
“It was a hit,” Kennedy said.
Her son’s favorite recipe in the book also is from Scott, a Crockpot Brunswick stew. “My children tried a lot of these recipes,” said Kennedy, whose children are ages 28, 26 and 17.
Kennedy said another memorable recipe is the German chocolate pie from Barbara Stubbs of Pine Mountain.
“I grew up on German chocolate cake, but I was not familiar with German chocolate pie,” Kennedy said. “It’s new, it’s different, and it’s flippin’ good.”
Most of the recipes are accessible and appropriate for everyday cooking. But some exotic dishes also are included, such as Smokin’ Mo’s Gator Nuggets from Maurice Houston of LaGrange.
“They are unreal,” Kennedy said. “They are so good. … I got alligator meat here in LaGrange, believe it or not, at a place called The Stockyard. … I stood right here in my kitchen making alligator nuggets for about 2 hours while my children and nephews were just constantly giving me their plate and dipping them and eating them.”
Kennedy estimated she personally tested 60-70 recipes out of the 307 in the book and roughly 400 submitted. She and her crew tested the recipes “right up to the bloody end,” finishing March 14 to beat the March 15 deadline.
Kennedy also visited each of the 14 counties Diverse Power serves to compile information about their history and tourist sites. She relied on other published texts and repurposed pictures, but the book also includes her reporting and photographs.
All of which gave the Troup County native a new appreciation for the Chattahoochee Valley.
“You take it for granted sometimes when it’s in your own backyard,” she said. “… People love to talk about their place. Their place in this world is important to them.”
So is their plate. And the photo of the heaping plate of food on the book’s cover is “very special” to Kennedy.
The plate, a blue country design by Currier & Ives, is full of fried chicken tenders, macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes, creamed corn, mashed potatoes and green beans.
“Back in the day, I think those are the plates you got at the grocery store,” Kennedy said. “I think people will recognize that.”
She took the photo at the home of her father, Jack Smith, who was in failing health and had “some lovely ladies who were his caretakers.”
The recipe, Christella’s Fried Chicken, is in the book. Christella Tucker cooked that dish for Kennedy’s father every Tuesday for about 20 years, she said. Her father died at 86 in 2014 three months into Kennedy’s work on the book project.
“He would have loved it,” she said. “He would have loved this book.”
Where to buy the book
“Place and Plate: Culture and Cooking in West Georgia” by Jackie Kennedy is on sale for $34.95, with half the proceeds going to the sellers and the other half to Diverse Power’s tourism promotion. More than 2,000 copies have been distributed to the co-op’s members out of the 4,000 that were printed. The rest are available for sale at these locations throughout the Chattahoochee Valley:
Muscogee County: Columbus Museum, Columbus State University Bookstore at RiverPark, Dinglewood Pharmacy and the Springer Opera House.
Harris County: Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain and FDR State Park in Pine Mountain.
Troup County: Biblical History Center, Highland Marina Resort, Hills & Dales Estate, Legacy Museum/Troup County Archives, all in LaGrange, River’s Bend Winery and Vineyard in West Point and Roger’s Bar-B-Que in Hogansville.
Coweta County: Chattahoochee Bend State Park and Coweta County Convention & Visitors Bureau, both in Newnan, and the Touring Dead/Georgia Mercantile Company in Senoia.
Heard County: Heard County Chamber of Commerce in Franklin.
Meriwether County: Fitzgerald Fruit Farms in Woodbury and Roosevelt’s Little White House Historic Site in Warm Springs.
Calhoun County: Calhoun County Board of Commissioners in Morgan, Nothing Fancy Catfish House in Leary, Still Pond Vineyard in Arlington and West Foods Inc. in Edison.
Early County: White Oak Pastures in Bluffton.
Randolph County: Randolph County Welcome Center in Cuthbert.
Stewart County: Richland Rum Distilling Company in Richland, Providence Canyon Outdoor Recreation Area and Treasures From the Past, both in Lumpkin, and Florence Marina State Park and Omaha Brewing Company, both in Omaha.
Terrell County: The Farmhouse Restaurant and the Terrell County Chamber of Commerce, both in Dawson.
Webster County (not in Diverse Power’s territory): Merritt Pecan Company in Weston.