Mix equal parts poetry and prose by some of the state’s most celebrated poets with a dollop of down-home Texas flavor — that’s the recipe for a showcase cookbook edited by Lone Star College-University Park instructor Elizabeth Ethredge.
“Cooking with the Texas Poets Laureate” will be sold to benefit student scholarships during a special reading by 2012 Poet Laureate Jan Seale from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 19, at LSC-University Park, 20515 SH 249 (SH 249 and Louetta Road). The event takes place in Building 12 in the University Center area on the second floor. It is free and open to the public. Free parking is available in Garage 10.
Recipes in the 151-page spiral-bound book cover everything from breakfast to adult beverages, with several variations on Southern staples like cornbread and baby-back ribs and a couple of unexpected uses for bacon. One begins with a warning: “This is a dish that should be served with a defibrillator.”
Peppered throughout are poems about rattlesnake chili, fried green tomatoes and Texas-shaped waffles, and prose like the essay-style instructions on “How to Get the Most Mileage From Your Chicken.”
“It’s engaging; it’s got real cooking; it’s hilarious,” said Ethredge, an adjunct professor who teaches English and Developmental English.Working under the premise that creative writers must be creative in the kitchen as well, Ethredge and her classmates in a spring 2014 master’s level editing and publishing course at Sam Houston State University sought recipes from all the living writers honored as Texas Poets Laureate since 2000. The state’s 2009 Poet Laureate, Paul Ruffin, teaches the course and contributed several recipes. The book also includes 2011 Poet Laureate David Parsons, who teaches at LSC-Montgomery.
“From what I’ve heard from the poets laureate, this is historic that all of them are in one piece,” Ethredge said.
The 2007 Texas Poet Laureate, Stephen Fromholz, died in early 2014, but his family contributed on his behalf — including his handwritten recipe for Blackened Ginger Bread.
Ethredge, the editor-in-chief, took the lead on the project, including the book’s layout and design. She made every recipe and took photos — even after relocating to a hotel because lightning had struck her home. She finished the book in late 2014. Texas Review Press of Huntsville published it this year.
But after seeing the finished product about six months ago, Ethredge decided publication wasn’t enough.
“I thought how cool it would be to have all 11 poets sign a book,” she said. “It just took on a life of its own.”
In June, she and her husband embarked on a 4,000-mile journey to deliver copies and collect autographs. Instead of just one book, she asked the poets to sign 11.
“It seemed like all the poets were in the farthest corners of Texas,” Ethredge said. “Each one of them was so very different, like dynamically different.”
She tracked down three of the writers at a conference in Lubbock and met one at a restaurant in Grapevine, not realizing — until she strode in wearing shorts — that it was a fine-dining establishment. She also visited Alpine, San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley. She collected the final signature in Wichita Falls over Labor Day weekend.
“Gathering us up like this is probably the most inclusive and comprehensive of any of the projects that we’ve been in,” Seale said. “She’s done an almost impossible thing, especially in taking the cookbooks to us in all of our locations.”
Now Seale is returning the favor — travelling from McAllen to Houston at Ethredge’s request to visit LSC-University Park. Seale, whose cookbook contributions include Swooning-Dinner-Guests Roast, Papaya Mama Cobbler and Gringo Limeade, will read her poetry and share her recipes.
Seale has written eight volumes of poetry, two books of short fiction, three books of nonfiction and nine children’s books. A former university instructor, Seale said she believes the book will have broad appeal to the LSC-University Park community.
“People who like poetry can also enjoy the food and people who like food best can also enjoy the poetry,” she said. “[Students] may not realize that poetry is all around us all the time. If they listen to a song on the way to their class on their devices, a song is a poem to begin with, set to music. When they’re on the highway and they see ‘No text, no wrecks’ or ‘Click it or Ticket,’ those are tiny little poems to stick in their brain.”
Ethredge said she doesn’t think most people realize there’s a Texas Poet Laureate named each year or that Texas poetry is a “big deal.” Students may be surprised to find an award-winning poet is so down-to-earth, she said.
“They’re going to see somebody who’s really real,” Ethredge said. “I think students need to see that anybody could be a poet. You have to be able to find that essence and be able to believe in yourself.”
Copies of “Cooking with the Texas Poets Laureate” will be sold for $20 each, benefiting the Faculty Senate Student Scholarship Endowment. Faculty Senate President Paula Khalaf said she hopes to sell about 200 books.
“It’s a really cute book,” Khalaf said. “It makes a good gift.”
Khalaf, a full-time English professor, took the same publication course several years ago. She said Ethredge’s above-and-beyond dedication to the project did not surprise her.
“When the class was over, she didn’t have to travel around the state and get those signatures. She’s invested,” Khalaf said. “Elizabeth is like a dynamo anyway. She’s just this really energetic and enthusiastic person.”Although details have not been finalized, Ethredge said she hopes the signed books will be auctioned off next year to raise money for charities designated by each of the poets.