Three Many Cooks

One Mom, Two Daughters: Their Shared Stories of Food, Faith & Family

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When the women behind the popular blog Three Many Cooks gather in the busiest room in the house, there are never too many cooks in the kitchen. Now acclaimed cookbook author Pam Anderson and her daughters, Maggy Keet and Sharon Damelio, blend compelling reflections and well-loved recipes into one funny, candid, and irresistible book.
 
Together, Pam, Maggy, and Sharon reveal the challenging give-and-take between mothers and daughters, the passionate belief that food nourishes both body and soul, and the simple wonder that arises from good meals shared. Pam chronicles her epicurean journey, beginning at the apron hems of her grandmother and mother, and recounts how a cultural exchange to Provence led to twenty-five years of food and friendship. Firstborn Maggy rebelled against the family’s culinary ways but eventually found her inner chef as a newlywed faced with the terrifying reality of cooking dinner every night. Younger daughter Sharon fell in love with food by helping her mother work, lending her searing opinions and elbow grease to the grueling process of testing recipes for Pam’s bestselling cookbooks.
 
Three Many Cooks ladles out the highs and lows, the kitchen disasters and culinary triumphs, the bitter fights and lasting love. Of course, these stories would not be complete without a selection of treasured recipes that nurtured relationships, ended feuds, and expanded repertoires, recipes that evoke forgiveness, memory, passion, and perseverance: Pumpkin-Walnut Scones, baked by dueling sisters; Grilled Lemon Chicken, made legendary by Pam’s father at every backyard cookout; Chicken Vindaloo that Maggy whipped up in a boat galley in the Caribbean; Carrot Cake obsessively perfected by Sharon for the wedding of friends; and many more.
 
Sometimes irreverent, often moving, always honest, this collection illustrates three women’s  individual and shared search for a faith that confirms what they know to be true: The divine is often found hovering not over an altar but around the stove and kitchen table. So hop on a bar stool at the kitchen island and join them to commiserate, laugh, and, of course, eat!

Advance praise for Three Many Cooks
 
“This beautiful book is a stirring, candid, powerful celebration of mothers, daughters, and sisters, and of family, food, and faith. The stories are relatable and real, and are woven perfectly with the time-tested, mouthwatering recipes. I loved every page, every word, and am adding this to the very small pile of books in my life that I know I’ll pick up and read again and again.”—Ree Drummond, New York Times bestselling author of The Pioneer Woman Cooks
 
“As a little story about mac and cheese illustrates, when it comes to family, the trick is to make a masterpiece with the ingredients you’ve got. Three Many Cooks is the perfect encouragement to work with what we have: one another.”—Kelly Corrigan, New York Times bestselling author of Glitter and Glue
 
“Pam Anderson is the consummate test cook—smart, thorough, and curious. Her new book, Three Many Cooks, puts cooking in the context it ultimately belongs, at the center of friends and family.”—Christopher Kimball, founder and editor, America’s Test Kitchen
 
“A wonderful, honest account of food and family, Three Many Cooks deliciously reveals what I’ve suspected all along: Cooking for people you love pays back enormous dividends.”—Jenny Rosenstrach, New York Times bestselling author of Dinner: The Playbook


From the Hardcover edition.

Under the Cover

An excerpt from Three Many Cooks

1

History of a Cook

pam

As a veteran food writer and recipe developer, I am often asked how I learned to cook. My grandmother, mother, and aunt—all Southern women from the last century—were accomplished cooks and taught me to follow suit. But it was my father who taught me how to eat, how to relish a meal, how to savor friends and family, have one more helping, steal one last morsel. Oddly—or perhaps inevitably—it was my father, a recovering alcoholic since before I was born, who taught me how to drink. Not by ever offering me a glass of Cabernet with my steak, but by helping me to embrace a world of big, bold flavors around a rollicking table, so that my love of food and wine was assured.

All of that came later, however. As a child, I learned to cook in three distinctly Southern kitchens—one on the Florida Panhandle and two in southern Alabama—at the elbow of those women, beginning with my mother. Mom didn’t love the kitchen, but she was a good Southern woman, which meant she cooked. Every day. Never a breakfast person herself, she ritually served up the Southern classic plate of bacon, eggs, grits, and toast for Dad and me every morning. For herself, she’d fold a piece of dry toast over a strip of bacon or sausage for what she called a “bend-over sandwich.” Her favorite breakfast was leftover garlic toast from one of Dad’s grilled dinners the night before. I was never sure whether she loved the garlic toast or just felt good about getting rid of something no one else wanted to eat.

Following in the farming tradition, where they serve their big meal midday, Mom started preparing lunch right after breakfast. “Dinner,” we called it. She didn’t quite have a set menu for each day of the week, but she definitely had her standard meat-and-three repertoire. Lots of chicken—with dressing, with dumplings. Plenty of fried—fish, pork chops, and more chicken. She slow cooked pot roast at least once a week.

Our vegetables, always wonderfully long-simmered and pork-flavored, rarely changed. On summer trips back from Mama Skipper and Grandaddy’s farm in Alabama, I’d sit in the front seat between Mom and Dad to make room for the sheet-covered backseat mounded with fresh field peas, corn, butterbeans, and okra, which we shelled and shucked and cut until we regretted our greediness. What we didn’t enjoy right away got put up in the Buick-sized chest freezer, which ate up half our patio. Throughout winter Mom would supplement our seasonal collards, mustard greens, rutabagas, and turnips with a package of summer’s treasures from the deep freeze.

There was a pan of hot corn bread at nearly every meal, and at least three times a week Mom made meringue pie, banana pudding, or one of her famous chocolate, coconut, or caramel cakes. When the homemade dessert ran out, there was always a carton of ice cream, which she and I would finish off together as a reward for defrosting the freezer.

Dad, who was the building inspector for our little town and never more than a ten-minute drive away, came home at noon. Before I started school, and then during summer breaks, the three of us sat down together for “dinner,” the sumptuous noon feast. Frequently Mom and Dad would entertain missionaries or an evangelist preaching at our church, and Dad would pick me up from school so I could share the meal with these honored guests. In our little-town version of Mayberry, we were fascinated by missionaries on furlough from Pakistan who could say, “Good morning” and quote John 3:16 in Urdu. This was about the only time my very practical mother ever bothered to set the table with a starched tablecloth and napkins, along with her china, crystal, and silver.

After the morning chore of getting the big meal on the table, Mom could relax a little. She might need to slice up some tomatoes or make another gallon of iced tea, but supper was simply warmed-up leftovers from the big meal.

People often define themselves as cooks or bakers. For Mom, there was no such distinction—it was all the same to her—but her cautious, methodical personality made her a fine baker. She was most content in the kitchen standing next to her whirring mixer, cake batter poised to pour into waxed paper–lined cake pans. Mom’s oldest sister, Juliaette, recognized her talent and often tasked her with baking cakes for our big family gatherings.

Mom was the youngest of ten siblings—five sisters, five brothers—who all lived in Alabama. For the holidays our little family of three, along with everyone else, gathered at the home of the family-appointed matriarch, Aunt Juliaette. She was queen of her bustling kitchen, and the younger sisters took orders, moving from duty in her kitchen to breaks around her table, a dance that started early morning and didn’t stop until we went to bed. We all squeezed in at the table for meals, but in between there was always a gathered cluster whispering family secrets or telling well-worn stories, nibbling on sweets and smoking cigarettes, always with a cup of coffee or glass of iced tea in hand.

Aunt Juliaette was both a forceful cook and a solid baker. Accordingly, she was bossy, opinionated, and a little prickly. She was the first to see the budding cook in me, and at a young age I made it into her culinary inner circle. For my first cooking lesson she handed me an onion and asked me to peel and chop it. As I tried carefully to slip off the paper-thin layer, I half expected her to bark at me for taking so long. Instead, she tenderly suggested it’d go much faster if I just pulled off the first layer of flesh along with the tissue-y skin. She was gently amused watching the tears stream down my cheeks as I chopped. She died before I got my first cooking job, but I think she would have been proud.

We shared our holiday time with Mama Skipper and Grandaddy, Dad’s parents who lived about thirty miles south of Montgomery in La Pine. Whereas Montgomery was Alabama’s second largest city, La Pine was a town of a hundred dirt farmers. My paternal grandparents lived in a shack that had been added on to and gussied up into a “house,” but it was still primitive. The electrical system was a spiderweb of extension cords over ceilings and uninsulated walls. A real bathroom had been added on, but my grandfather considered it a womanly concession to modernity and refused to use it. He shaved from a bowl on the back porch and did his business in the outhouse.

Visits to my grandmother’s simple kitchen were always memorable. Annie Skipper was a gifted country cook. Like Aunt Juliaette, Mama Skipper must have intuited a fellow cook because she patiently taught me how to pan-fry chicken in a cast-iron skillet that she covered with a borrowed glass lid from another pan, and how to make biscuits from the ready bowl of flour stored underneath the open counter. I watched as she mixed in lard and buttermilk by sight and feel. As she dropped the free-form balls of dough into the pan, it was my job to knuckle them into plump discs.

As a child I never understood why Mom called her mother-in-law “Mrs. Skipper.” Only later did I find out she was not Mama Skipper’s first choice for her son. Nevertheless, Mama Skipper ritually welcomed us with a batch of her fried apple or peach hand pies, which she knew my mother adored. On the few occasions she made them after we arrived, she let me fork-seal them before she slid them into the skillet.

My mother, my aunt, my grandmother, these were the women who taught me how to cook. For the first twenty years of my life in the food world, I was busy learning how to create not just the “simple” food of my Southern heritage, but—as I imagined—more sophisticated cuisines. My new teachers were masters like Child, Beard, and Claiborne. Instead of fried chicken and coconut cakes it was daubes and pâté brisée, but it was the same as standing beside Mom or Juliaette or Mama Skipper. I thought it was important to master recipes and techniques. I called my first book The Perfect Recipe, and three of my next six books all featured “perfect” somewhere in the title.

A little later in life I started caring less about how “good” my food was and more about how people enjoyed themselves at my table. In other words, I became less like my mother and more like my father, less of a cook and more of an eater. I knew I needed someone to teach me how to cook. Finding that teacher was easy. But when I wanted to learn how to eat, I was surprised to look inside and see within me a man in a sleeveless T-shirt, work pants, and suspenders, standing over a smoking grill.

- About the author -

New York Times bestseller and author of seven books, Pam Anderson is AARP’s official food expert and a Runner’s World contributing columnist. She is the former executive editor at Cook’s Illustrated. She and her two daughters, Maggy Keet and Sharon Damelio, are the voices behind the blog Three Many Cooks, featured in several national publications, including Woman’s Day and Redbook. Anderson lives in Connecticut with her husband.

More from Pam Anderson

Maggy Keet graduated from the University of Exeter with a degree in English literature and sociology. After several years in the social-work field, she went back to school, graduating with a master’s degree in globalization and international development from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. After living in Malawi and building a maternity clinic, she moved with her husband, Andy, to New York City where she now works fund-raising for Haiti.

More from Maggy Keet

Sharon Damelio graduated from Williams College with a degree in English and classics, and spent the next two years working at Fine Cooking magazine as assistant web editor. She recently graduated from Yale Divinity School with a master of divinity and now works at a nonprofit in Atlanta that provides programs and services to homeless and near-homeless individuals.

More from Sharon Damelio

Three Many Cooks

One Mom, Two Daughters: Their Shared Stories of Food, Faith & Family

Three Many Cooks

— Published by Ballantine Books —