“Some people think that caring about ‘silly’ things like cooking or fashion is mutually exclusive with ‘serious’ politics. But my mother and grandmother and their friends taught me that finding pleasure at home — whether in a family dinner or a book club or a backyard barbecue—can give us the strength to go out into the world and do incredible things.”
By Carrie Gress
The last time our family made the trek to the beach, it was a crowded August day in 2017 with people vying for parking spots both on the road and the sand. When my children bemoaned the fact that I hadn’t taken them to the beach in over a year, I figured a late September day would be perfect. And actually, shockingly, it was.
No one around (except for a few expectant seagulls), 78 degrees, no clouds, gentle breeze, no humidity. Amazing for Virginia. The mother in me thought, “It won’t last. Enjoy it while you can.” It lasted so long that my skepticism led only to a sunburn and long leisurely afternoon.
With the children having reached that magical age where I don’t have to worry about them tumbling into tides or eating rocks, I made myself a nice nest to pull out beach reading: Reese Witherspoon’s new book Whiskey in a Teacup.
Other than watching Legally Blonde — a requirement of friendship with my sister-in-law who is a beautiful blond lawyer in Washington, D.C. — and Walk the Line, I haven’t followed Witherspoon’s career with much attention. But I’ve been watching with one eye her growing fashion empire, Draper James, which has swelled well beyond the initial modest brick and mortar store in Nashville.
A transplant to the South from the Pacific Northwest, I’ve enjoyed soaking up the culture of my adopted state. I’ve been charmed by the pages of Garden & Gun for over a decade, but there is something to be learned about the South from a quintessentially southern belle.
Whiskey in a Teacup: What Growing Up in the South Taught Me about Life, Love, and Baking Biscuits is — as one might expect — a great window into what it means to be a southern lady. The title, Witherspoon explains, came from her grandmother, Dorothea, who exemplified a Southern lady. “Dorothea always said it was a combination of beauty and strength that make southern women ‘whiskey in a teacup.’ We may be delicate and ornamental on the outside, she said, but inside we’re strong and fiery.” The book has the feeling of capturing old heirlooms that have been lovingly restored and given fresh life again.
Lavishly illustrated, the book is lighthearted and fun, a mix of recipes, reminiscing, and high octane entertaining. She offers entertaining serving schedules, music play lists, and even a visual map for both informal and formal table settings. I love the story of the couple who came for brunch and didn’t leave until Witherspoon’s husband “cracked” and announced he was going to bed at 11:30. Who does that? Well, you can imagine in our celebrity culture that these two guests just couldn’t pull themselves away.
I loved the chapter “If it moves, monogram it.” I guess I didn’t realize just how important monogramming is in the South, but I have now found a new esteem for it and will try to make up for lost years. Witherspoon graciously offers unique ideas for monogrammed gifts, but also a few nonmonogrammed gift ideas (if you must).
Other topics include memories of her grandfather’s garden, why southern ladies love celebrating holidays, the beauty of female friendships, bluegrass music, the magic of sweet tea, and Dolly Parton.
Whiskey also has a lot of surprising tips. I have never given a second thought to using hair rollers, but the way she lays it out, I am seriously considering it. And she has a great idea for her go-to wedding gift: a cake plate. “Because you know what? Cake plates remind you of fun times and good things. No one is depressed when they see a cake plate. A cake is happiness. With frosting on top.”
The bevy of recipes span an array of southern cuisine, including okra, corn salads, cassaroles, pecan pie, mint julips, and of course, the all important biscuit recipes. I think “Confetti Betty’s Champagne and Ginger Ale Cocktail” will be the first one I try.
Perhaps my favorite part of the whole book, however, is a little entry that could easily be skimmed past, but it captures the why behind such a book. A first glance, Reese Witherspoon’s project seems quite superficial, but the closer one looks, the hidden depths emerge. She writes: “Some people think that caring about ‘silly’ things like cooking or fashion is mutually exclusive with ‘serious’ politics. But my mother and grandmother and their friends taught me that finding pleasure at home — whether in a family dinner or a book club or a backyard barbecue—can give us the strength to go out into the world and do incredible things.”