Rusk County author preserves memories with recipes

Combining family history with a mixture of recipes and a dash of art cooked up a book idea for Rusk County resident Amanda Hancock.

While working toward her MSA at Goddard College in Vermont, the Tatum educator and artist was presented with an assignment of her own as part of her practicum, or project using her ‘practice’ to affect change in her community.

“Something that didn’t benefit me as much as it did my community,” Hancock said. “And one of my biggest passions is advocating sisterhood.”

Hancock didn’t have to look far to blend her passion with the project. The end result produced “Seven Strands of Pearl,” a visual cookbook.

While growing up, Hancock was all too familiar with her great-grandmother Pearl Jeanette Cooper Melton. Melton raised seven girls, including Hancock’s grandmother Tommie Jean Melton-Akin, near the Grandview and Minden communities in Rusk County.

“My cousin and I always talked about how we needed to collect all of their recipes,” Hancock said.

Hancock started the research and collection of the recipes – some handwritten on old First State Bank deposit slips — to scan in for the book along with old photos of the family. She asked her living great-aunts or their children to submit their “signature recipes.” Hancock’s own grandmother made a caramel pie that she’s never had from anyone else. Akin would brown the sugar to make it caramelized and include meringue.

“It’s an art,” Hancock said. “This cookbook came as a desire to preserve the memory of a beautiful bond between eight women. As it progressed, it became a reclaiming of the feminine and domestic arts.”

Along with the photos and recipes, Hancock incorporates narrative of memories from herself or family members of each sister and her own personal artwork. Hancock remembers eating new potatoes in a white cream sauce on a set of Blue Willow china at her great-grandmother’s home on Pine Street in Henderson. She drew on inspiration from the memory for a painting in the book to depict the recipe and china.

“And I did a painting for each sister dedicated to the domestic arts of East Texas,” Hancock said.

The art is on public display through Aug. 26 at the Longview Museum of Fine Arts. However, Hancock said it is not for sale and will be given to her remaining great-aunts or cousins to keep in the family.

“This is not a project about my artwork,” she said. “This is a project about these women. It’s my offering to them.”

She describes the cookbook as a dedication, commemoration and celebration of sisterhood.

“It’s about the empowerment of women too, but it’s not about feminism in the sense of let’s burn our bras and power to the women,” Hancock said. “It’s about how we all have a choice as a woman, and some of us choose to be housewives  and domestics, and that is okay; and that’s what these women wanted.”

From an early age, Hancock said the faithfulness, stories and bond shared among her aunts were exemplified to her. As for the “seven strands of Pearl,” Hancock’s grandmother Tommie Akin still resides in Rusk County, Patsy Lee and Francis Bertram still live in Henderson and Kathryn Richardson resides in Livingston.

Dorothy Akin, Mila Stokley and Betty Jarrell have since passed.

“Seven Strands of Pearl” can be purchased through Amazon.

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