By Connie Denney

Editor’s note:  The essence of this column was first published June 3, 2008.

When I found the orange folder with the words “Erwin Presbyterian Cookbook” handwritten on the front and 8.5-by-11 sheets inside, I knew I wanted to look further. It was among offerings at the late Edythe Manfull estate sale.

Looking through the pages, I was taken particularly by the advertising, which featured local businesses I had not heard of, regional businesses and products by brand. I did recognize names including Erwin’s, A. R. Brown’s, Ewald’s from conversations in which folks, who have lived here longer than I, said things such as, “We could buy anything we needed in Erwin. We had really good stores.”

It seems things were really cookin’ in Erwin.   

I knew the cookbook had come out some time ago but I found no date. There was no copy of the book’s cover but the foreword says, “We, the Woman’s Missionary Society of the Erwin Presbyterian Church, wish to thank the ladies of Erwin and others who have so kindly contributed to our book, as well as those who have so generously advertised with us.” Finding a time frame became a quest.

Now, I feel I’m not going too far out on a limb to say it was done in the 1920s. That took some detective work.

Here’s what I learned: There is an ad in the cookbook for Allred Furniture Co., B. M. Allred, proprietor. It proclaims “everything for the home—stoves, ranges, Edison phonographs, records, floor coverings, kitchen cabinets, etc.” It adds the words “embalmers and undertakers.” Nancy Gentry, Fishery Loop, tells me that her father, Jack DeArmond, and her mother’s brother, Ferrell Boyd, bought that Union Street business around 1930. Therefore, the cookbook came out before that time. She noted that the purchase automatically put them in the undertaking business also, not uncommon at that time. The Boyd-DeArmond Funeral Home was located on Tennessee Road.

That stately building is once again a private home. The late Fannie May Parsley, who lived there, gave further indication of the cookbook’s age. Her father, E. B. Clark, worked during the 1920s at Ewald’s, which was at the Main Street location currently housing Market Square (location of Choo Choo Café). A cookbook ad for Ewald & Co., Inc. says they were “dealers in gents’ furnishings, ladies’ ready-to-wear, children’s clothing, shoes, millinery, furniture and house furnishing, musical instruments, groceries and fresh meats.” Mrs. Parsley remembered that Unaka Stores was in that location later.   

Another affirmation: The Erwin Magnet had an ad, also. It noted the newspaper was established in 1891 and was the “only daily newspaper in Unicoi County.” This, too, would have been in the 1920s, according to Mark Stevens, publisher in 2008.

The cookbook included recipes from Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, wife of the President of the United States and Mrs. Austin Peay, wife of the governor of Tennessee.  They were for coffee soufflé and charlotte russe (had to look that one up—it’s a cold molded dessert), respectively. Coolidge served 1923-1929, Peay, 1923 until his death in 1927.

A contributor that conjures up intriguing images for me is identified as “’Bob,’ Chef on Car 2.’” In this railroad town that must have had something to do with a dining car on a Clinichfield train. I feel another column coming on—there is so much material here!