When the 100 or so members of the Junior League of Annapolis were looking for a project to raise funds for their charitable activities three years ago, they decided, with some trepidation, to create their first community cookbook.
"We were afraid we wouldn't get enough good recipes," said Victoria Ricketts, who was editor of the appetizer section of the book. "We were saying, bring in your recipes, bring in your friends' recipes, bring in your family's recipes."
A stunning 1,500 recipes later, committee members faced the formidable task of winnowing the collection down to the 400 that appear in the recently published book, "Of Tide & Thyme."
"We were hoping to have 300," said Sheila Shaffer, cookbook chair for 1995-1996. "But we had so many that were good, we ended up using more than we planned."
The real fun began when it came time to test the recipes.
It is a convention among Junior League chapters that all recipes in a cookbook must be triple-tested. That is, each recipe is sent to a tester, who tries it, reviews and revises it -- or rejects it as unworkable or not tasty enough. If the recipe gets through one tester, the revised version is sent to another tester, who repeats the process. It is then sent to a third tester.
League members tried to make the testing enjoyable. They packaged recipes, instructions, taste-test forms and other materials so members could create simple, follow-the-directions dinner parties, and at every league meeting for three years, there was some sort of food to try. "We ran contests," Ms. Shaffer said, "and one of the prizes was we'd make an entire meal [of test recipes] and take it to the person's house."
"At every chance, we foisted these things off on our friends, family, everyone," Ms. Ricketts said.
The hardest part of creating the book, Ms. Shaffer said, was turning a collection of mostly hand-written formulas into consistent, accurate, easy-to-follow recipes. "Lots of things were kind of vague," she said, "like, 'Mix it until it looks doughy.' We had to do a lot of translating."
As the process went on -- gathering recipes, selecting, testing and editing them, typing and sending material to the printer, marketing the book -- Junior League members discovered that they had entered into a major undertaking. "We didn't realize how big a business it was," Ms. Shaffer said.
Their marketing goal was to place every copy of the book with a sales source before the books even arrived from the printers, rounding up booksellers and specialty shops from Baltimore to Delaware. Their efforts were so successful that they have already sold out the first printing of 5,000 copies and ordered a second 5,000.
Initially, they had hoped only to cover printing and other start-up costs, but selling out the first printing allowed for a profit "which is very unusual," Ms. Shaffer said. "We were lucky."
"It's a major big deal" for a community cookbook to sell as quickly as this one has, said Lori Loper, sales promotion coordinator for Wimmer cookbook distribution in Memphis, Tenn. "Of Tide & Thyme" was one of about 40 new Junior League cookbooks published last year, Ms. Loper said. "They've done an excellent job of marketing. From a seller's standpoint, it's got something the others don't have -- there are a lot of fresh seafood recipes, and tips on how to stock a boat galley. It gives the consumer a reason to buy another cookbook," she said.
In addition, Wimmer put the book in a national catalog so besides being available regionally, the book may be picked up by booksellers across the country.
"Of Tide & Thyme" has been selling well at Baltimore-area Williams-Sonoma stores, according to Julie Santonicola Selby, cooking class instructor at the Owings Mills and Towson Town Center locations. "We find it has very practical recipes," she said. "In this type of book there are recipes that have been tested over and over by real people. There are local ingredients, you can get your hands on them easily. We've been recommending it highly."
Wimmer's role in the type of grass-roots cookbooks like the Annapolis Junior League's, where the project is used as a fund-raiser for community causes, is to help the organization produce a good-looking and appealing book, increasing the chances of its success against professionally produced volumes. "A lot of these groups are women donating their time and skills," Ms. Loper said. "We help them do a book that will go up against the mass-market cookbooks."
Consumers appreciate books like the Junior Leagues' because they know the recipes are proven to work. They also like the binding, which is usually a spiral type, "so it lays flat on the counter."
"Mass market books may look nice on a coffeetable or a shelf," Ms. Loper said, but when it comes to something you take into the kitchen, the spiral-bound books have more appeal.
One of the Annapolis group's goals for its cookbook -- which is indeed spiral bound -- was to tailor it to the local audience. "What we tried to do was concentrate on things we thought were unique to Maryland, to boating, and to the Chesapeake Bay area," Ms. Shaffer said.
Nautical terms abound -- the section on vegetables is called "First Mates," and a section on "Seafood and a Guide to Maryland Crabs" is called "On the Tide." One section of the book, called "On the Go," is described as "A provisioning guide for boating, camping and vacations." It includes planning and food safety tips, as well as supply checklists.
Each section of the book has an introduction about some aspect of life in Annapolis and around the bay. There are notes about the U.S. Naval Academy, Maryland agriculture, Colonial preservation, and the Chesapeake Bay and its watermen.
In addition, the editors asked league members for their "food memories" -- "You know, how food and smells can trigger a memory," Ms. Ricketts said -- and scattered these recollections throughout the book. A sample from the seafood section: "An irascible crab is a torment to the unwary cook. My husband once attempted to put live crabs in the pot without gloves. One angry fellow promptly bit him on almost every finger! After a raucous battle, my husband shook him loose, whereupon the crab raced around the deck scattering our shrieking guests."
Proceeds from the book benefit a range of charitable activities in which the league is involved, including Kiva House, a temporary shelter for teens with family problems.
All the recipes in the book are rated according to level of difficulty and it is noted if they can be made ahead. Of the ones presented here, the Green Beans Vinaigrette is rated "average," and the Marina Cay Salmon Spread, Baked Lime Chicken and Baked Orange-Cardamom Apples are "easy." The beans and the salmon spread can be made ahead.
Marina Cay Salmon Spread
1 7.5-ounce can pink salmon
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
2 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 teaspoon dried dill or 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh dill
hot pepper sauce
Remove any bones and skin from salmon. Cream salmon with cream cheese until mixed. Squeeze lime and blend into cream cheese mixture. Stir in dill and hot pepper sauce (about 6 drops for mild).
Serve with a sturdy cracker.
Baked Lime Chicken
2 to 4 limes
3 1/2 pounds broiler fryer parts or breasts
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 14-ounce can chicken broth
1 tablespoon grated lime peel
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grate lime peel. Squeeze 2 tablespoons lime juice and toss with chicken pieces. In 9- by 13-inch roasting pan, melt butter in oven. Mix flour, salt and pepper. Dip chicken in flour then dip in butter. Arrange chicken pieces skin side down in pan.
Mix lime peel and brown sugar and sprinkle over chicken.
Pour broth and remaining lime juice into pan and bake, uncovered, 50 minutes, basting occasionally. Use one-half can of chicken broth for boneless breasts. Add more lime if desired.
Green Beans Vinaigrette
Serves 10 to 12
3 pounds fresh green beans
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
Steam beans 7 to 8 minutes or to taste. Drain; pat dry. In a large bowl, mix remaining ingredients, except onions, into a vinaigrette.
Add red onion slices. Add beans and toss to coat. Serve immediately or refrigerate and serve cold.
Baked Orange-Cardamom Apples
3 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, quartered, cored and cut into half-inch slices
2 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground cardamom
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Arrange apples in an overlapping circle in a greased 9-inch pie pan.
Stir together honey, orange concentrate and cardamom. Pour over apples and dot with butter.
Bake, basting once with pan juices, for 25 to 30 minutes, or until tender.
Besides Williams-Sonoma stores in Baltimore, the book is available in Annapolis at Barnes & Noble bookstore, plus a number of stores on Main Street. It's also available at shops on the Eastern Shore and in Delaware. Or order from the Junior League. Call, write or fax the Junior League of Annapolis Inc., 19 Loretta Ave., Annapolis 21401. Phone is (410) 573-9235; fax is (410) 573-9236. The book costs $18.95 plus $3 postage and handling.
The cover of the book is a watercolor by noted Annapolis artist Jennifer Heyd Wharton. The league is selling limited-edition prints of the picture, of crabs and black-eyed susans on a table with a marina and Annapolis in the background, for $50. For $90, the artist will "remark" a print, that is, add a tiny, individual drawing to the margin.