Tasteful Tales

Cookbook author Roberts to speak at final History Center Dinner

Roberts to discuss her book, ‘Classic Kentucky Meals’

LA GRANGE, Ky. (October 2017) – Kentucky-grown ingredients are first on Rona Roberts’ list of what makes the perfect classic Kentucky meal.
As a food writer, Roberts knows what it takes to whip up a tasty meal and has put together a compilation of ideas in her book, “Classic Kentucky Meals: Stories, Ingredients & Recipes from the Traditional Bluegrass Kitchen.”

Book cover of Rona Roberts' book, "Classic Kentucky Meals."

“A classic Kentucky meal for me starts with whatever people have grown in the backyard or on the farm, what a neighbor has left on the front porch recently, or what’s in the freezer or pantry,” said Roberts, who grew up in Monticello in Wayne County, Ky.
Roberts will present a program based on “Classic Kentucky Meals: Stories, Ingredients & Recipes from the Traditional Bluegrass Kitchen” at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19. The program will begin with a meal and cash bar, followed by Robert’s presentation. It will be held in the Rob Morris Educational Chapel, 207 W. Jefferson St. in La Grange, Ky.
Her earliest memories are of meals on a screened-in side porch in summer, eating the vegetables and meats from the family farm, and of sorghum-making. These were “days made special by smells, tastes, and happy visitors.”
Roberts said her parents, Ruth Hale and Lisle Vickery Roberts, farmed and grew vast gardens of vegetables and flowers. Her father was a vocational agriculture teacher and her mother a school librarian.
The idea for “Classic Kentucky Meals” grew out of a sorghum-themed meal Roberts cooked and served in an historic Mercer County house for the county’s local arts council. “That meal included 17 ingredients from Kentucky farms, including the braised shoulder of a lamb grown just a few fields away,” she said.

Photo provided

Author Rona Roberts draws on her farming roots of growing up in rural Wayne County, Ky.

As she carried food into the house, Roberts “had the strong sense that the meal I was about to share with these new friends was not so different from what cooks might have been preparing on that same site 200 years before. It struck me that if we have good fortune, these wonderful foods will still be cooked in Kentucky 200 years into the future.” 
She felt such meals were timeless and began writing about this for her blog, “Savoring Kentucky.” Roberts explored the idea “that our land has always been good for some kinds of crops and not so good for others.” Coincidently, a book publisher approached her and asked Roberts for a book proposal related to her blog.
“I realized that I could build on the Mercer County beginning and make a book based on a series of Kentucky meals. That is where it all began.”
Writing a Kentucky-themed cookbook greatly appealed to her. She has a great love and respect for many Kentucky food writers such as Cissy Gregg, Marion Flexner, Lillian Marshall and Stella Parks.
Stories in the book contain profiles of 10 Kentucky farmers and producers who inspired Roberts, such as the sixth generation of Bells who own Elmwood Stock Farm in Scott County, Ky. Another family is Mac and Phil Weisenberger, a father and son operation in Midway, Ky., who constitute the fifth and sixth generation of Weisenbergers who have used the power of South Elkhorn Creek to grind corn and wheat.
Roberts also includes some family stories in the recipe headnotes about her mother and Aunt Bea. “Along with quite a few more aunts, (they) taught me to cook from Kentucky’s bounty and influenced how I think about food, farms, farmers, and cooking – all of which show up in the book.”
A classic Kentucky meal for her includes flavor, temperature and texture contrasts. “Vegetables play a starring role. Homemade jellies, jams, sorghum and pickles will likely be on the table. For most full-fledged Kentucky meals, some delicious homemade bread will appear: yeast rolls, biscuits, cornbread, spoon bread, or perhaps a loaf of whole wheat goodness,” she said.
For Roberts, a Kentucky kitchen is practical and so well stocked that a dozen strangers could show up and not make a dent in the supplies on hand. It is a place where cooks know how to make flavors out of scraps (bacon grease) and technique (browning butter).
The kitchen is supposed to be “a noisy, warm place where people enjoy cooking together. These days, the cooks in Kentucky kitchens are men as well as women.”
Her favorite meal consists of wilted salad with home-cured, hickory smoked bacon; pan-fried, cracker-breaded oysters; fresh English peas cooked with a tiny bit of onion and cream; sautéed morel mushrooms, and sour cherry pie with homemade whipped half-sour cream. Topped off with a glass of light sparkling wine, water from the spring where she grew up and after-dinner coffee made with that same water.
In 2011 Roberts wrote “Sweet, Sweet Sorghum: Kentucky’s Golden Wonder.” She is currently working on a new book about how to make the most of everyday meetings. It is a result of her day job as a researcher and adviser to organizations and community change efforts.
Roberts’ presentation in October will be the last program in the 2017 History Dinner Series, sponsored by the Oldham County Historical Society. Roberts will have copies of her book for sale.

• Price for the program is $20 for society members and $22 for non-members. Reservations can be made by calling (502) 222-0826.

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