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New library cookbook is a hot concoction

What do you get when you mix great home cooking, dedicated volunteers and a goal of raising thousands of dollars to build a new Clearwater Main Library?

Answer: a savory cookbook.

The greater Clearwater Public Library Foundation recently unveiled Clearwater Cooks for Books, a cookbook featuring the recipes of local residents.

Just two weeks after the books went on sale, only 375 of about 1,000 copies are left for purchase at city libraries, and the cookbook's editors predict the $15 cookbooks will sell out by Christmas.

"This little gathering of recipes has taken on a life of its own," said Judy Melges, who is in charge of grass roots, community activities for the library's fundraising campaign.

The cookbooks, illustrated by cartoonist Dean Young of Blondie and Dagwood fame, include recipes for hors d'oeuvres, snacks and desserts from about four-dozen residents who volunteered to cook their dishes and serve them at a recent cocktail party at which the cookbooks were unveiled.

Recipes are tasty, tried-and-true staples of local social gatherings, said Melges and the two other women instrumental in putting the cookbook together: Jackie Wice Orr and Nancy Eckerd Hart, the wife of Commissioner Ed Hart.

That's also the opinion of Joan Turner, whose family printing business published the books.

"What's great about it is that it has a lot of simple recipes that are very good and well tried," Turner said. "And because we've lived in Clearwater all these years, it means a lot to us because of the people who have given the recipes and written little notes about them that are in the book."

Recipes include smoked mullet spread, wonton wrappers filled with hot sausage and cheese, and a concoction called "white chocolate trash" made from clumps of cereals and nuts mixed into white chocolate. Plenty of recipes involve seafood, especially shrimp _ be it deviled, pickled, marinated or cooked on a cedar plank.

Some recipes have geographic ties. There are "swamp crabcakes," inspired by one family's trips to a cabin on the Chassahowitzka River, and "Vidalia onion cheese dip," which goes back to one local cook's Mississippi roots.

Other recipes are special to the families who donated them. There are several Eckerd family recipes, including one for hot crab dip served by the cook for the drugstore-founding family. And there is an old family recipe for spinach cheese squares that were sold for years at the former Val's Finer Foods store.

"It was one of the simpler things we made that everyone loved," said Suzanne Stahle, whose family ran the store.

Ruth duPont volunteered her late mother's recipe for "beer cheese spread," made with a flat beer, cream and cheddar cheeses, seasoning salts, tarragon vinegar, Tabasco, Worcestershire and dry mustard.

"I have no idea how she came up with it," duPont said. It was just something her family always had at family gatherings, "sort of a glue for the family," she said.

The idea for the cookbooks evolved as part of the recent "Last Night in the Stacks" cocktail party at the main library, which raised more than $40,000 for the new library's fundraising campaign. Party organizers _ Melges, Orr and Hart _ did not have a budget for the event, so they asked library supporters who were good cooks to prepare appetizers.

From there, Jackie Orr, who was in charge of food for the event, started working on creating a cookbook with all the recipes. Dean Young, a Clearwater resident, volunteered to illustrate the book. And other residents donated $200 to sponsor pages in the book, which paid for its printing.

At this point, the women don't think there will be a reprint of the book, although there may be a second edition someday with new recipes.

"They're a lot of great cooks still out there," said Nancy Hart.

So what's their favorite recipe? Orr says to turn to the cookbook's second page.

The title reads "Recipe for a Great Library." Ingredients include a city commitment to family, education and quality of life; and an enlightened community, giving generously of their time, talents and resources. Directions are to gently stir until fall 2003, when the new library will open. Then cut ribbon and enjoy. Yield: 90,000-square-foot, $20.2-million library. Serves: A community of 109,000.

"That's our favorite one," Orr said.

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