Simanaitis Says

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I’VE BEEN accumulating cookbooks since the early 1960s. Three of them surfaced recently as I looked up recipes. Talk about a diverse trio of cookbook authors! A black chef from Detroit, a boarding house owner from Savannah and an ex-Mafioso.


The Black Gourmet: Favorite Afro-American and Creole Recipes from Coast to Coast, by Joseph Stafford, Harlo Printing, completely revised and expanded, 1988. An link: Black Gourmet: Favorite Afro American Recipes from Coast to Coast

In the book’s dedication, Joe Stafford notes, “Just as the black musician injected his rhythm into traditional European music, the black gourmet injected new foods and a new flavor into traditional European cooking.” Recipes include traditional waste-not-want-not things like hog maws and pork chitterlings. However, my favorites are Stafford’s interpretations of fusion cuisine (though he didn’t call it that back in 1988). 


This one takes traditional Afro-American ingredients, okra, turnips and bacon drippings, and cooks them Chinese-style. (A wok is perfect for this). The recipe is also good adding other diced veggies, especially of the root variety, or meat.


There’s nothing particularly ethnic about Turkey in the Straw casserole. But it’s quick, easy and tasty.


Famous Recipes from Mrs. Wilkes’ Boarding House in Historic Savannah, by Sema M. Wilkes, Wimmer Brothers, 1989. An link: Famous Recipes from Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House in Historic Savannah

The title of Mrs. Wilkes’ cookbook says it all. The Wilkes Boarding House and Dining Room has been a Savannah, Georgia, attraction since 1943, yet it’s up to date too:

Indeed, there are still boarding house rooms available that also allow guests to jump the inevitable line, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday. Tables for ten are shared; family-style service; new choices daily; no reservations; cash only.


For my cookbook’s signing in 1991, Mrs. Wilkes asked me, “What’s the boss’s name?” She meant, of course, my wife.

The recipes are straightforward and southern, sized for families, not boarding houses.


We have this one every January 1 by tradition, thus ensuring good luck for the rest of the year. Wife Dottie is of southern descent and well versed in the efficacy of black-eyed peas. I add Tabasco Sauce.

Another of Mrs. Wilkes’ recipes is similar to one cited in an old-time ad on Sirius XM’s Radio Classics channel. I’ve made Barbecued Corn with beef, with shrimp or vegetarian. By the way, Mrs. Wilkes mentions celery in the technique, but forgets it in the recipe listing. No big deal; your call.


I suspect “Joe Dogs” Iannuzzi is the only one of these three authors in a federal Witness Protection Program. He also wrote Joe Dogs: The Life & Crimes of a Mobster.


The Mafia Cookbook, by Joseph “Joe Dogs” Iannuzzi, Simon & Schuster, 1993. An link: The Mafia Cookbook: Revised and Expanded

This cookbook is a hoot, with perfectly workable recipes wrapped around Mafia memories of Tony Agro (aka T.A.) for whom Iannuzzi cooked, Dominick (Little Dom) Cataldo and, later in the book, various F.B.I agents.


This recipe is classic and simple. The story accompanying it is not. Notes Iannuzzi in celebrating a horserace fix: “We’d cleared 83 large…. I didn’t know what I liked better, being a crook or being a cook.”


This one is pan-Italian; orecchietti (“little ears”) are typical pasta of southern Italy; prosciutto is dry-cured ham from northern regions.


Joe Dogs and friends (at the time). Image from The Mafia Cookbook.

After getting beat up by Mafia colleagues, Iannuzzi got his revenge by changing sides. Between 1982 and 1991 he testified in a dozen trials putting away other Mafiosi.

“And now I’m stuck in the Witness Protection Program, being taken to dinner out in the middle of wahoo land by U.S. Marshals in joints that advertise ‘Italian Night’ and then serve ____ing macaroni and ketchup instead of pasta. I guess it serves me right. Capisci? ” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2014

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