Six area authors are offering up six sweet or, depending on the ingredients, savory gifts just in time for Thanksgiving: An anthology of short stories shaped by – and ending with – treasured family recipes.
And the spirit of giving doesn’t stop there. Fully 100 percent of e-book royalties from “Love Around the Table” will benefit Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities.
As the title suggests, romance, friendship and family fill the half-dozen tales by Rachel Jones, Linda Joyce, Constance Gillam, Marilyn Baron, Melissa Klein and Ciara Knight, all members of the Atlanta chapter of Romance Writers of America.
For nearly a year, the women, authors of 60-plus books between them, met around tables at area restaurants to discuss myriad publishing details, chief among them the collection’s philanthropic objective.
“The project goal was always to give back to the community by donating all sales of the e-book to a local charity connected to children, families and food,” said Roswell’s Baron. “Although the anthology is launching around Thanksgiving and could be considered an early Christmas gift, it’s the gift that keeps on giving because Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities will always benefit from the e-book sales year-round and into the future.”
Receiving donations in the form of e-book purchases is a first for the organization, according to Beth Howell, ARMHC president and CEO. A recipe-filled anthology, however, complements the nonprofit’s mission of offering lodging and meals to families with ill and injured children receiving medical care nearby.
“Food is a central component of the comfort we provide here,” Howell said. “Food is about love, and I think that’s a lot of what this book is about.”
Indeed, “Love Around the Table” focuses on relationships shaped by recipes that reveal as much about the stories as they do the women who penned them.
In “Mississippi Catfish,” Gillam writes about a black girl and white boy who bond over fishing as they navigate the racial waters of 1930s rural Mississippi. Gillam said her mother, who was born and raised in a remote Mississippi area called D’Lo in the 1930s, adored fried catfish.
Eight decades later, her daughter ended her first short story with a recipe for fried catfish as “a sign of friendship and acceptance between a black girl and white boy during a turbulent time.”
In Joyce’s offering, “Layers of Love,” life catapults a pastry chef into a career change that reveals the depths of friendship and love with the help of a princess castle birthday cake. Joyce’s own award-winning recipe, Linda’s Carrot Cake with Orange Glaze, drives the plot.
“When I was 10 years old, my mother taught me to make this cake,” Joyce said. It would be a winner in her high school Future Homemakers of America cake contest. And, decades later, it’s still her go-to dessert that “brings back the fondest cooking memories I have with my mother.”
Similarly, Klein relies on a beloved recipe from her own childhood in “Table for Six.” The “sweet romance” involves Sam, a harried widower with four rambunctious daughters, and Jessica, an injured veteran who learns there’s room for one more around Sam’s table.
Chicken Squares, a simple family favorite Klein’s mother began making in the ’70s, is the dish Jessica teaches her young charge, Alice, to make. “At this point in the story,” Klein said, “Jessica doesn’t see a future with Sam and his girls, and she wants to leave Alice with some easy recipes she can cook.”
Baron’s offering, “No More Lonely Hearts,” features a caregiver son and an activities director at a senior living facility who discover the magical powers of love. Romance unfolds as the chef at Eternal Springs prepares the residents’ favorite dishes. “He feels food entices the memories of happier times and gives them a flavor of home,” Baron said.
The hero’s mother’s signature creation is Spaghetti alla Carbonara, the recipe for which Baron acquired from a chef in Florence, Italy, while studying abroad in the ’70s. In Baron’s family, as well as in her fiction, the pasta dish has since served as the centerpiece for decades of happy memories. “I’ve made it for my family and company countless times,” she said.
In “A Sister’s Quandary,” Jones uses a life-threatening diagnosis – and squash – to trigger forgiveness and healing between estranged twins. Reunited by medical necessity, the sisters in Jones’s story mend their relationship by recalling memories of their grandmother, including the squash casserole she taught them to make.
“This cooking recollection is the beginning of more good memories that aid in their healing process,” Jones said. The recipe – Rachel’s Summer Squash Casserole – made its real debut at the first solo Thanksgiving Jones prepared in 1984. As in her story, the recipe has since been passed down to a younger generation of family cooks.
Pot roast is a main character in Knight’s “Turning the Table on Love,” in which a lazy Susan disaster splatters the news of a famous baseball player reuniting with his small-town sweetheart.
After Avery Morgan’s parents die, Slow Cooker Pot Roast is the first recipe she learns to prepare. “It was perfect for a sister-turned-mom since it was quick and easy and provided a homey feeling to a broken family,” Knight said. In real life, Slow Cooker Pot Roast is one of her personal favorites because it’s quick and easy, leaving more time for family.
“Whether making recipes passed down from my grandmother, my mother-in-law, or my mother,” Knight said, “there is one common ingredient: family love.”