Budget cuts and AWACS were left behind as some of Washington's most prestigious journalists gathered to devote their most serious attention to the subject of the day: Food.

As two or three hundred assorted journalists and what journalists call "political types" amassed at the Fauquier County farm of writers Nick and Mary Lynn Kotz yesterday afternoon, the purpose was food, the subject was food and the activity was food.

The occasion was the publishing of the "Great American Writers' Cookbook," edited by Dean Faulkner Wells, William Faulkner's niece and ward, whose Yoknapatawpha Press -- named after Faulkner's fictional county -- had invited hundreds of writers to submit recipes for the project. One hundred seventy-five of them did, and a dozen or two showed off their recipes on a tasting table at Sunday's reception bash. They competed for attention with barbecue imported from Kay's of Oxford, Miss., home of Yoknapatawpha Press.

It was, along the way, a Mississippi reunion. Former Carter state department spokesman Hodding Carter III was there on behalf of his father's barbecued shrimp recipe; writer Elliott Jones, lawyer/politician Wes Watkins and Mary Lynn Kotz were, between bites of barbecue, counting Mississippians. Rep. Martin Frost (D-Tex.) made the point that his daddy was from Mississippi. Rep. Beryl Anthony (D-Ark.) insisted, "I go right to the Mississippi River." But once people had been introduced as "good old Arkansas folks," "from Ole Miss," or as James J. Kilpatrick dissented, "I am at home in Rappahannock County, kiddo," the talk was of food.

Bureau chiefs and executive editors traded cooking tips and spun tales of their favorite breakfasts. Richard Valeriani of NBC and Paul Duke of PBS exchanged the address of a favorite Italian deli, right after Valeriani had revealed to another group his cold tomato sauce recipe. Eleanor Randolph and Jack Nelson, of the Los Angeles Times, were deep into the ethical problems of plugging a honey from North Carolina on network television. In fact, ethical questions continually cropped up. " Columnists Joe Kraft and Mark Childs are the only two people who 'fessed up' " in the book to using their wives' recipes, charged columnist Marquis Childs' wife, Jane. Her shad roe recipe has sent all of the Kotz's investigative faculties to finding the roe out of season. Jack Nelson belatedly admitted his wife's assistance on his contribution in an inscription he wrote in Randolph's copy. Author Chalmers Roberts muttered about the contributors' cooking credentials to a companion: "Listen, some of those people whose names are in there . . ."

"Frauds, total frauds," she agreed.

But Kilpatrick is so bona fide a cook of black-eyed peas that he issues certificates of membership to the Black-Eyed Pea Society of America. He spoke of pea patches and of the evils of putting sugar in black-eyed peas, then went off to taste the party's re-creation of his recipe, for which the cook had picked fresh peas from her garden. Someone was just about to throw the remains of the pot to the dogs, he reported, adding that the dogs "would have grown in strength and character."

Kilpatrick was the only guest in a suit, it was noted, though he had a good reason: another, more formal, gathering to repair to. More typical was playwright/author Larry L. King in jeans and denim vest with a pack of Kools in one pocket, Mores in the other. He had contributed three recipes to the book, the most intriguing being "Hormel Chili Improvement." Its ingredients were on display, not its finished product, because, as he put it, "Nick Kotz called me the other day and asked me to cook up a batch of it. I said, 'Nick, I wouldn't go near the damned thing, and wouldn't eat it if anybody else cooked it.' "

As guests ravaged the tasting table, leaving but dregs after the first hour, one noted, "Everything is caviar." Indeed, besides Nick Kotz's eggplant caviar and Marshall Mooney's Go-Fast caviar dip, there were Mary Lynn Kotz's caviar and egg ring and Art Buchwald's baked potatoes with caviar, not only made but defended by Ann Buchwald: "It's the Reagan influence."