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Zara St. block comes together over food with its own cookbook

Neighbors submit their favorite recipes to share


Last updated 5/31/2020 at 11:59am

An idea to bring their block together during the COVID-19 pandemic came from two long-time Knoxville women grew out of a simple question: What are our neighbors’ favorite recipes?

Julia Morris and Joan Smith, who have lived in the 400 block of Zara Street for more than a combined 100 years, came up with the idea for a neighborhood cookbook. They though it was a simple idea, that took off in an unexpected way for them.

“The COVID-19 virus has changed our lives in so many ways,” Mrs. Morris said in voice that revealed her southern upbringing. She and Mrs. Smith thought a cookbook with recipes from all their neighbors would help bring them together, in a socially distancing kind of way.

They pulled together a flyer explaining their project, along with a little popcorn and goodies, and had it distributed to all the homes on the block.

“Everyone wanted to contribute,” she laughed.

The interest in the cookbook shouldn’t have come as a big surprise on her “short block.” “The young people have sort of adopted us (Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Morris),” she said.

Mrs. Morris explains the block has always been diverse in race and age. When her children were young, “my house was called the ‘United Nations house’ because all the kids came here.”

Word spread quickly from parents to children who had left the neighborhood, and the children also wanted to contribute and the recipes from around the country began to come in.

The cookbook will include everything from soups and sandwiches to main dishes and desserts. She says it will be as diverse as the block is with Italian and Polish favorites among those submitted.

“We’re going to have Mrs. Dot’s fried chicken,” she said, remembering the fried chicken drumsticks all the neighborhood children would come around for. She hoped they would also be including Mrs. Smith’s sweet potato pie, “Mrs. Smith makes the best sweet potato pie.”

When asked about what her favorite recipes are, Mrs. Morris said she “cooks the way I grew up. I cook simple, I can cook gourmet, but I cook the way I grew up in the South.” She wasn’t sure what she was going to include at that point, but she was thinking about putting her recipes for collard greens, peach cobbler, her pound cake or maybe her mother’s Harvest Soup.

She recalled her mother’s Harvest Soup included all the different vegetables from their garden along with a beef bone for added flavor. She lamented not being able to have much of a garden now, because of the groundhogs.

Getting back to the cookbook, she said it will include a “Memorial” section with favorite dishes of friends and relatives who have passed away.

The neighborhood cookbook had more than 60 recipes when they decided it was time to stop taking submissions although Mrs. Morris said if more came in, they would do their best to include them. Last week, the recipes were going to be compiled and begin the process of printing out a copy for each of the residents on the block.


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