A few years ago, I came across a delightful bit of Americana in Hobart Book Village in the Catskills: Naomi’s Home Companion, a 1997 cookbook/ scrapbook from Naomi Judd, the late matriarch of the famous country music family. Because I’m not a country listener and I don’t eat a lot of meatloaf, I didn’t buy the book, its kitsch appeal notwithstanding. Nineties fashion may be back, but its nutritional standards are permanently out of style. Right?
I thought of that old Naomi Judd book when a new cookbook landed on the New York Times bestseller list: Y’all Eat Yet? Welcome to the Pretty B*tchin’ Kitchen by country music star Miranda Lambert. The book purports to share recipes from Lambert’s downhome roots and humble upbringing in East Texas. Though I was unfamiliar with Lambert’s music, I am a Texas transplant. It’s only right that I honor those who lived in this great state before me. So I queued up a Lambert playlist on Spotify, starting with the title track “Pretty Bitchin’,” and cracked the book.
The premise of Y’all Eat Yet? is similar to the old Judd book’s, though the hairstyles are lower and the tablescapes less gilded. Recipes for humble country food like chili and cornbread, with Tex-Mex additions like enchiladas and migas, mix with photos, memories and tips for entertaining. Lambert frames the book around her grandmother, “Nonny,” her mother, Bev, and her mother’s three best friends. Because Lambert herself “love[s] eating way more than cooking,” she lets her elders shine through fond anecdotes and featured recipes.
I made one of these recipes, Neicy’s Gumbo, an homage to Cajun transplants in East Texas, like my husband’s own family. Lambert describes the recipe as “honest-to-goodness Cajun magic! All that flavor, all that spice… We didn’t need to know how she did it.” I wish Lambert had been a bit more curious, though, because this recipe prescribes a mere quarter-teaspoon of cayenne and a tablespoon of Cajun seasoning to two quarts of gumbo. It’s downright mild.
For dessert, we tried Nonny’s Banana Pudding, a simple concoction of vanilla wafers, Jell-O pudding, sliced bananas and whipped topping. I hadn’t had instant pudding since I was a kid, so I was feeling as nostalgic as Lambert on the first bite. Then I read the label and realized that between the full cup of vegetable oil in the gumbo and the thick layer of Cool Whip on my dessert, my meal was basically made of reconstituted trans fat. We don’t need to be nostalgic for every part of the past.
Plenty of celebrities write cookbooks. But offerings from Chrissy Teigen, Gwyneth Paltrow and Reese Witherspoon are more concerned with, well, the food. Recipes for tuna salad and deviled eggs hardly justify a $35 hardcover. Lambert’s Texas lifestyle brand and winsome stories might be stronger on their own. I’ll never make the gumbo again, but her recipe for a blissful afternoon tubing on the Guadalupe River? That’s a keeper.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s August 2023 World edition.