Cookin’ up some humor

By KATIE HURST/ Staff Writer

CALERA — While typing her family’s favorite recipes into a self-made cookbook, Barbara Gray of Calera discovered one ingredient she didn’t want to include — boredom.

The cookbook she was working on was for her oldest son as he graduated high school, so she decided to spice up the recipes with a little fiction and a lot of humor.

Gray’s final product became her published cookbook, “Ma Cantrell’s Famous Fixins,” which is now available in Shelby County.

The cookbook features simple recipes that anyone can make, Gray said.

“They’re just regular cupboard pantry-style recipes, nothing fancy,” she said.

The distinguishing parts of the book are the funny stories that accompany each recipe. Gray said she knew she’d have to make the book entertaining for her three sons to read it, so she made up stories to go with each one.

“I thought ‘What if I had this family in the Ozarks that all the recipes came from?’” Gray said. “I made up this story where I’m in my mom’s kitchen and come across this file box with all these recipes with stories on the cards.”

This is how the Cantrell family was born, she said. Gray used the fictional family’s hillbilly roots as a theme for the whole cookbook, adding humor through the titles of recipes and the dialect of the stories.

“I made up a family history,” Gray said. “We don’t have hillbilly relatives. The funny thing would be if we really did.”

The recipes are actually family recipes the Grays have used for years. Gray said most were created by her or her husband.

After printing the cookbook for her son, Gray decided to get it published. She currently sells the book herself along with a few independent bookstores in Shelby County.

Her goal is to sell a high volume regionally in the hopes that a larger publishing company will pick it up to be sold nationally.

“The only bad thing about coming up with a cookbook is when you have friends over, they all expect you to be the cook,” Gray said.

Gray is already planning a second cookbook featuring Ma Cantrell’s family and friends’ recipes. For this book, Gray is collecting recipes from her own family and friends and letting them make up hillbilly relatives, too. Gray said she only has one stipulation.

“It has to be something that Ma would fix,” she said.

At the end of the day, the cookbook still fulfills its original purpose, to pass on Gray’s recipes to her three sons. Gray said she doesn’t think her oldest son has made any of the recipes yet, but she knows he’ll have it when he needs it.

“He’ll make more than waffles someday because he’ll have the cookbook,” she said.