Mary Starr Cookbook – Search for Local Foodie History

This is another story of serendipity where one interesting fact leads to a whole new adventure in pursuing local foodie history.  It all starts with a punch.

A few weeks ago I was offered some punch at a Holiday Home Tour in Old North Knoxville.  It was unusual in that it had Jell-O in it.  That’s when I first learned of Mary Starr — a local TV celebrity from the 50’s and 60’s — it was one of her recipes.

I am not a big cookbook collector, like some, but I  was determined to own one of hers because of its local history.  Ever since then, I’ve been asking local people about what they know of her and whether they personally own one of these cookbooks.  Nobody wanted to give theirs up.  I looked on eBay and there were none.  I looked on Amazon and there was only one priced at $60 — obviously a collector’s item, but more than I wanted to pay.

Well,  over the weekend, Jim and I decided to get in the car and visit Maryville, TN — a college town about 1.5 hours drive from Sharps Chapel.  They had an historic part of town.  There we stumbled upon a salvage business that had a treasure-trove of junk to be explored.  In addition to a pink metallic Christmas tree that I found for a friend, I did find a Mary Starr cookbook for only $25.  It was in great shape.  I bought it.

That’s when I started to I learn more about Mary Starr.  She actually was from Maryville, TN and her real name was Mary Walker.  She had the Homemakers Show with Mary Starr on WATE-TV in Knoxville.  The Starr Recipes from Greystone cookbook I bought has 632 recipes that Mary Starr cooked in her Homemaker kitchen on the TV show during the 15 years prior to 1970 when the cookbook was published.

I know what you are thinking… lots of recipes for mousse, fruit cocktail, aspics with gelatin, and casseroles and more casseroles.  Yes, yes, and more yes.  But don’t let that stop you from enjoying this time capsule back to the 50’s.  As I go through it, I see Vinegar Pie (that is still being served today at this restaurant), Grape Pie (that reminds me of my mother-in-law, Matilda, who was an excellent cook and once tried making Cantaloupe Pie), Scrapple (that reminds me of Goetta – a distinctly German breakfast sausage containing steel-cut oats), and bean soup — my healthy go-to soup at local festivals and mom and pop diners.

Mary Starr Bean Soup RecipeThe first recipe I tried from the cookbook was the Senate Bean Soup.  It was described as being “Served every single day in the Senate Restaurant.. Also the House of Representatives Restaurant.”  I assume this is for the TN state legislature.  It seemed like a typical recipe only that it called for 3 medium potatoes, cooked and mashed, to be added (obviously for thickening).

This is not how I make my bean soup.  I almost did not add it, thinking I would simply use my immersion blender and mash up some beans to thicken the soup, but I remained strong and stuck to the recipe.  It was delicious.

Life is an Adventure.