Selma cookbook inducted into hall of fame

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Selma Times-Journal

When John T. Morgan Academy first published “Land of Cotton,” a 695-recipe community cookbook sold to raise funds for campus projects, the school sought to sell 5,000 copies.

That was 19 years – and 109,000 copies – ago.

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“The cookbook is virtually in every state,” said Gale Bedgood, Morgan Academy secretary. “We’ve shipped some to Russia, New Zealand, South America…”

“Land of Cotton’s” national and international fan base has earned the cookbook a place in the Walter S. McIlhenny Hall of Fame at the 17th annual Tabasco Community Cookbook Awards. The cookbook, touted as “a collection of southern recipes,” was selected for “providing a record of regional culinary culture and improves the quality of community life with the funds it generates,” the award certificate states.

Since the first edition published in 1988, “Land of Cotton” has been “very profitable” for Morgan Academy, Bedgood said. Earnings have been used to cement the campus quad, fund educational field trips, computerize the library, maintain campus technologies, light the athletic fields and purchase school vans. The cookbook’s cost is $19.95.

“Land of Cotton’s” success was at first due to word of mouth, but Bedgood said the cookbook made its national debut in 1990 on NBC’s “The Today Show.” The story is Selma residents on vacation in New York City bribed beloved media personality Willard Scott to plug the cookbook on air.

“Our person bribed NBC with toasted pecans,” Bedgood said laughing. “When Willard Scott put it on TV, people started calling from everywhere. It was amazing.”

“Land of Cotton” is also advertised regionally. Bedgood said Morgan Academy faculty travel to Atlanta to participate in wholesale markets to sell their product to interested buyers.

“We won the booth award there,” Bedgood exclaimed, “and it was against the professionals that do it for a full time living!”

Here in Selma, the cookbook is a popular wedding gift. Wendy Speed, also a Morgan Academy secretary, received a copy of “Land of Cotton” at her wedding more than a decade ago.

“I still use it to this day,” said Speed, who highly recommended the chocolate peanut butter squares recipe.

“The chocolate trifle is also very good,” added Bedgood. “It looks like you’ve worked on it for hours.”

Dr. Christopher de Buzna, who’s been headmaster at Morgan Academy for 22-and-a-half-years, can recall a time when “Land of Cotton” was only an idea.

He too is amazed by the cookbook’s success.

“It keeps chuggin’ like a train. It keeps going and going, which is good for us,” he said.

“Land of Cotton” Recipes

Chocolate Peanut Butter Squares

Yield: 4 dozen

1 cup margarine, melted

1 (18-ounce) jar crunchy peanut butter

1 1/2 cups graham crackers, finely crushed

1 (16-ounce) box powdered sugar

1/2 cup margarine

1 (12-ounce) package semi-sweet chocolate bits

Melt 1 cup margarine in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter. Gradually add graham crackers and sugar. Press into a jelly roll pan. Melt 1/2 cup margarine and chocolate bits and pour over top. Chill and cut into small squares to serve. Wonderful!

– Suzie Kirkpatrick, Rosemary Harris

Chocolate Trifle

Yield: 8 servings

1 (23 1/2-ounce) box family size brownie mix

1 (12 ounce) carton whipped topping

1 (4-ounce) can chocolate syrup

1/2 cup to 1 cup chopped nuts

Red cherries, with stems

Make brownies according to directions on package, omitting pecans. Slice into at least 24 pieces. Using a trifle bowl, layer brownies, whipped topping, drizzled chocolate syrup, and chopped nuts. Repeat layers 2 to 3 more times. Garnish with pecans and red cherries.

Note: Men and chocolate lovers adore this

– Joy Beers