June 15, 2009

Georgia sisters publish pair of cookbooks

By Roy Mitchell

Few country ladies lack a stack of cookbooks. Even so, some may still find it too tempting to resist the innocent purchase of quaint little recipe collections, benefiting a church, community club, or even their sister's niece's cousin's girls softball team. Chances are, they all end up in a cluttered collection in a corner cabinet.

The reluctantly published “Sisters Family Cookbook”, however, just may captivate the cook more than the myriad of other recipes. If the Sloppy Joe's nachos, salmon balls, or sweet and sour chicken wings don't inspire the Southern chef, the story behind the spatula most likely will.

It all started in 1986 when Shirley Williamson and her six sisters stayed at the Marriott at Times Square in New York City, compliments of a nephew who worked there. After the frills and fellowship, the sisters decided to make the sibling gathering a family tradition. Over the years, the country girls from Hogansville, Ga., trekked all over the United States on what their children began to label “The Sisters Convention.”

Among other venues, they visited Chicago, Dallas, and St. George Island. But in 2005, the ladies took a cruise that became the catalyst for a cookbook.

“We all love to cook,” Shirley Williamson explained. “While on our cruise one of my sisters suggested we do a cookbook with our children's favorite recipes, as well as ours, and so 'Sisters Family Cookbook' was born.”

Ranging in age from 50 to 67 at the time, the sisters found that accumulating favorite dishes of the entire clan -- their mother, children and grandchildren included -- proved no small task. Finally, the sisters finished their 300-recipe cookbook in time to distribute it at the 2006 family Christmas party.

“We had compiled it in an 8 x 10 black binder with a picture of us on the cruise on the front of the cookbook,” Williamson said. “It stopped the party.”

In spring 2007, a Newnan newspaper learned about the cookbook compilation and inquired about running an article. After perusing the sisters' cookbook, the newspaper reporter encouraged them to have it printed. They eventually ordered 300 copies for friends and extended family.

“They were sold before we got them,” Shirley said. “We ordered again and again. Since that time, we have ordered some 6,000 cookbooks. We have been featured in several newspapers as well as magazines and two local TV shows.”

In September 2006 the sisters were interviewed for a magazine.

“On Wednesday before the interview on Saturday, I learned I had to have a kidney transplant and had to go on dialysis,” Shirley said. “One of my sisters said, 'Well, now we know why we did the cookbook.'”

Since then, proceeds from “Sisters Family Cookbook” have gone to help finance Shirley's transplant, which she received in March 2008, and the resulting medical expenses.

“The cookbooks were just a blessing,” Shirley said. “It doesn't take long to deplete your checkbook with medical expenses.”

The sisters received numerous requests that they publish another cookbook, so soon came “Sisters Family Cookbook Second Helping”. Both cookbooks include stories, poems, and personalized notes about where the recipes originated.

“They are real down-to-earth, easy recipes -- good Southern cooking,” Shirley said. “Some are funny things. Some make you cry. They are things we picked up over the years. One lady told me, 'I don't cook, but I read that cookbook all the time.'”

The second cookbook taps into more of their children's and grandchildren's favorite dishes. Consequently, their second helping of recipes – 400 spread out over 205 pages -- is larger than the first book. As with the first book, profits go toward Shirley's continuing medical expenses.

The sisters sell the first cookbook for $10 and the second for $12. Cost for the set is $20, a seemingly affordable price for around 700 recipes. Shirley and her sisters don't have a web site or storage warehouses, so they take orders by phone at 770-683-1957.