That Crazy Cookbook Guy – Can’t Argue With Fate


Yesterday was twenty-five cent sale day at my favorite used bookstore.  I bought quite a few new additions to share with you, but I’m starting with this one — Justin Wilson’s Homegrown Louisiana Cooking published in 1990.  Hard to believe this book is twenty-five years old.  This copy is in excellent condition, almost mint.

It has been just over fourteen years since Justin Wilson passed away.  I knew of him early on, for his comedy.  My dad was a fan and had several of his records, all comedic stories told in his wonderful Cajun accent.  I grew up listening to those records … and was quite surprised and pleased when his cooking shows started to get attention on the public television stations.

I’ve got his first two cookbooks.  I love them.  Or course I love Cajun food.  When I lived in Houston  I was close friends with a woman from Lake Charles.  To say we dated wouldn’t be accurate, but we were quite close and her family was totally Cajun on both sides.  She took me to her parents’ house a number of times.  The food was out of this world, but she, her sister, and her mother were all crazy.  They’d sit in the kitchen and argue about who knows what for hours on end, while her father, brother, and I would sit in the den watching football and eating gumbo (or jambalaya or etouffee or whatever was on the stove that day or hour).

Anyway, back to fate.  The bookstore is packed to the brim with books, but there is no organization beyond categories like Romance, History, Fiction, Biographies, Science Fiction … that sort of thing.  The place overflows with Cookbooks.  They have three separate sections due to the sheer numbers of cookbooks they get, but there is no organization … it is total anarchy.  It takes a long time to go through the books.  I’m fairly selective, but within that framework I have a number of “must buy” considerations.  Well, “must” is a strong word, but, in this case, it means I give certain books a greater consideration.  Yes, I primarily look for old and kooky, or books with unusual subjects or from unusual places. Anyway, among my priorities, like I said, old is the big one.  60’s on back are pretty much a sure thing.  Books from the seventies get a lot of consideration too, but I’ll let a few of those go by depending on how full my basket is.  Texas is a biggie.  I’m a native Texan and even though I’m living in North Carolina I love stuff from the old country.  A close cousin is Louisiana cooking, partially for reasons I’ve already explained.

The bookstore is hot in the summer and cold in the winter.  It is not well lit, and the skylights that augment the minimal lighting only serve to blind me when I’m trying to see what is on the top shelf.  September 19 still qualifies as Summer, so it was hot yesterday.   I’ve seen worse, but it was tiresome.  Ninety percent of the books I’d seen on the shelf before, but I was looking for the new shelvings and thought I had picked my way through the cookbook shelves pretty thoroughly.  I was  finished shopping.

I was tired.  I was hot.  I was sweaty.  My basket was full, so  I was making my way toward the counter.  Somehow I clipped a book that was sticking out a little at the end of one of the cookbook aisles.  A book fell, then another, then two more, then a domino-effect created an avalanche that emptied an entire shelf.  Dozens of books were on the floor.

I felt like yelling “Cleanup on Aisle One” but, my ages-old dormant retail experience kicked in.  I crouched down and started reshelving.  The third book I picked up was this one.  “How did I miss that?”  I asked myself and threw it on the top of my already full basket.  Justin Wilson+Louisiana+Cajun=must buy.
Fate, indeed.

It’s a nice book …published  later in his career but before he really started just knocking out book after book.   In looking through it I see retreads from his fist two books, but good retreads, updated with the times.  His first book is quite primitive in comparison, published in 1964.  Great recipes.  It doesn’t matter if you think he was put on, or simplistic … he was a true piece of Americana and heck, I’d buy all the books if I found them.  Well, for a quarter anyway.


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