'Hidden Kitchens': Stories, Recipes and More The new book by The Kitchen Sisters charts their ongoing series of reports exploring the world of street-corner cooking, colorful kitchen rituals and visionaries, legendary meals and eating traditions.
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'Hidden Kitchens': Stories, Recipes and More

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'Hidden Kitchens': Stories, Recipes and More

'Hidden Kitchens': Stories, Recipes and More

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(Soundbite of theme music for Hidden Kitchens)


Over the past year, these few notes have ushered us into Hidden Kitchens, our series on communities brought together over food.

(Soundbite of phone being dialed)

Unidentified Woman #1: I'm calling about a Friday night fish fry that's in my local community in Lake...

Unidentified Man: If you're looking for the ultimate hidden kitchen, it is our Meals On Wheels kitchen. You can't see it from the main street. There's no sign.

Unidentified Woman #2: I work as a contract cook for science expedition trips on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon...

MONTAGNE: To launch these stories we asked you to call a special hot line. Some of those tinny-voiced messages became full-blown stories on this program. The response to the series was so overwhelming that it grew into a book, "Hidden Kitchens." It's out on shelves now full of recipes and photos and many more voices from the hot line on CD. You'll hear a few of them in just a moment, but first the voices of The Kitchen Sisters, who produced the series and wrote the book. They are Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson.

Ms. NIKKI SILVA (The Kitchen Sisters): We thought about Hidden Kitchens from every imaginable angle, or so we thought. And then things would burst onto the line, like to me the ultimate hidden kitchen is the George Foreman Grill, because homeless people and new immigrants to the country living in apartments with no kitchens, this is the way they can get a hot meal. And we had no idea that the George Foreman Grill would be a clandestine kitchen and, actually, neither did George Foreman. And that was the reveal for us, were these phone calls from listeners all over the nation. Almost 1,000 people called in. And then once we moved into a book, a whole other tide of people came at us with their Hidden Kitchens stories, leading us to corners of the country that were a real surprise to us.

MONTAGNE: The book has--it starts from the stories that you did on the air. If you were to pick one that you--here was your chance to tell a part of the story that you couldn't tell, what would that be?

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. SILVA: One message that came in was from Chelsea Mertz, who's a radio producer.

(Soundbite from Hidden Kitchens)

Ms. CHELSEA MERTZ (Radio Producer): Hi. My name is Chelsea Mertz.

Ms. SILVA: She has a friend, a homeless man, named Matthew, and she occasionally talks with him and he sometimes house-sits for a friend. And the last time he was indoors Chelsea gave him a tape recorder so that he could make an audio diary of what it was like living indoors.

(Soundbite from Hidden Kitchens )

Ms. MERTZ: And after being indoors for 10 days he gave me the tape and in 10 days he made only one entry, the sound of him frying eggs. And he said as a homeless man, he misses nothing more than the sound of home cooking.

(Soundbite of eggs frying)

Ms. DAVIA NELSON (The Kitchen Sisters): And then there'd just be these wild images. Someone else called from an assembly line in Michigan in the car factories, and they talked about how one day they missed lunch and some guy on the line said, `Hey, over here.' And he led them down the line like he'd been a million times and suddenly, he opened up his tool box and his tool box had been refitted as a little grill and there were brats grilling, and buns.

(Soundbite from Hidden Kitchens)

Unidentified Man #2: And I pulled out a brat and put it on a bun and I bought it from him, and that was my lunch. Just hidden right there in the middle, right in front of everyone's eyes. But you couldn't tell it was there. Bye.

Ms. SILVA: The other--one thing that I don't think we mentioned was the--sort of the range of recipes in this book. I mean, it's kind of everything from ham balls, clam balls and speed balls that we collected at the NASCAR kitchens to these incredible wild fennel cakes that are made by Angelo, the Sicilian forager.

MONTAGNE: Nikki, let me just ask you. For your--for you, what was the oddest or most surprising food that you came across?

Ms. SILVA: Well, it wasn't that it was so odd. It was just that I was so surprised. You know, we were researching a lot of these recipes as we were putting them in the book. And one is for Georgia Gilmore's legendary sweet tea. And Georgia Gilmore had a secret civil rights kitchen in Montgomery, Alabama, during the bus boycott. And we have this recipe for sweet tea, and I called up her son and I said, `I don't think this is right. How can it be two cups of water and one cup of sugar?' And yes, indeed, that's what it is. And also, her recipe for the pound cake was our first understanding of why it's called a pound cake. A pound of butter, a pound of...

MONTAGNE: Sugar, a pound of...

Ms. SILVA: ...sugar, exactly.

MONTAGNE: You all end the book on a quote from writer Pat Conroy: "A recipe is just a story with a good meal at the end."

Ms. NELSON: We love that quote and it all comes back to community and pulling the family together across a table. And when we were interviewing Johnnie Rebecca Carr, who was a civil rights activist who's in her nineties now, she said, `You know, a lot of things have been solved over a little cup of coffee or cup of tea.' And I think that that's what this project has really told us.

MONTAGNE: Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson's new book is "Hidden Kitchens: Stories, Recipes and More From NPR's The Kitchen Sisters." You can find an excerpt plus the recipe for persimmon pudding at npr.org.

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