Recipes and Community Blend Well in Book

By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 1, 2007

What is the first step when cooking a possum?

Plunge it into very hot water, hold it there for two minutes and scrape off all the fur, according to a cookbook detailing 300 years of cooking by African Americans in St. Mary's County.

The book, "300 Years of Black Cooking in St. Mary's County Maryland," was first published in 1975. But it has been enjoying a revival of sales since the St. Mary's County Library system reissued it in September 2005. After 1,000 copies sold out within a year, the library had a second 1,000 copies printed last fall and has sold about 200 of those.

And if the nearly 800 remaining copies sell out, more will be printed, said Kathleen Reif, library director.

"Since it's a pretty sure seller, we're not nervous about doing this," Reif said.

Part of the $6,000 profit that the library system received from sales in 2005 and 2006 has gone to support programming such as lectures by a children's author and a one-woman show about Harriet Tubman.

One of the people involved with the original publication said those uses are in line with the original intent for the book. Everlyn Holland, a member of the St. Mary's Library Board, said the book was published by a community group not only to preserve centuries of black recipes, but also to support a center for community services.

"It was a local, grass-roots group. They came together initially to look at the issue of poverty here in St. Mary's County," Holland said. "Their goals were housing, education, a credit union."

A different community group republished the book in 1983, adding artwork and a new purpose. That second edition was more about fundraising and promoting a political presence among African Americans in St. Mary's County, Holland said.

But the book included the same traditional recipes, such as dandelion wine, hog brains and eggs and, of course, possum.

"They're recipes that parents had, and grandparents had, that often the children didn't write down," said Janice Walthour, who lives in Lexington Park and wrote a poem for the book.

The book can be purchased for $15 at any St. Mary's County library, or online at

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