Reese Witherspoon's first book, Whiskey in a Teacup, is a delightful hybrid of memoir, cookbook, and Southern lifestyle guide. Reading it feels as if Witherspoon is talking directly to you, discussing her love of quilts and great parties, sharing anecdotes about her grandmother Dorothea, and passing along trusted recipes.
Witherspoon's down-to-earth style and straightforward approach comes across in the pages, and the eclectic mix of chapter topics, including Wicker & Wallpaper, My Grandfather's Garden, and The Perfect Book Club, is engaging and fun. After I read the chapter on monograms (If It's Not Moving, Monogram It), I had a new appreciation for the decorative touch couple of initials can make. Witherspoon's book clearly has the same inspirational mojo as the author herself, and Whiskey in a Teacup is a book I think many of us will give to friends this year.
I caught up with Witherspoon via email to ask about the book, family traditions, and spreading the gospel of Southern living:
Seira Wilson: Spreading the gospel of Southern living is not a new thing for you, so what made you decide to write Whiskey in a Teacup now?
Reese Witherspoon: I’m so proud of where I come from, and some of my happiest memories are from growing up in Nashville: attending an all girls’ school where I learned so much about being a strong woman, dancing the night away to bluegrass music, cooking with my grandmother, gardening with my grandfather, and so much more. To me, the South is just the best place in the world--it’s all about spending time with family and eating good food, impromptu backyard get togethers, and kids running around the lawn in their pajamas on Easter morning.
My kids are getting older, and I wanted to write a book that they can look back on someday and get some insight into who I am and where I came from (as well as plenty of crazy stories about our family!). If I can also help readers recreate the wonderful feelings inspired by Southern hospitality and tradition that I was lucky enough to experience, even better.
Tradition plays an important role in Southern families and in the book you talk about a couple of traditions from your life that you maintain—what is your favorite new tradition that you’ve begun with your family?
Christmas caroling is a big part of the holiday season in Nashville. We used to go around the neighborhoods in roving bands of carolers and raise money for charity. Now in Los Angeles I host an annual caroling party, which is just so much fun. We have a simple but delicious dinner of honey baked ham and biscuits, and then everyone gathers around the piano and starts singing. I have lyric books made up for anyone who needs them, and we just sing and sing until we’re hoarse.
How did you choose which of your favorite recipes to include? If you were to add one more themed menu what would it be?
It was so hard to narrow it down for the book. I tried to think of all the recipes I'd made with my mother and grandmother growing up, and then all the recipes that I make today when I’m hosting a dinner party. I love to entertain, and now it’ll be wonderful to have all my favorite recipes in one place instead of on recipe cards and old scraps of paper tucked all over my kitchen!
If I were to add one more themed menu, it would probably be a Halloween party. I love a good Halloween costume, especially if it requires a full makeup transformation. I also love decorating for Halloween—last year I had a bunch of hay bales and forty-seven pumpkins in the yard outside my house. Yes, forty-seven! I kind of went overboard. It took me a while to figure out what to do with all of them—my family threatened to kick me out if I made pumpkin bread one more time. So…maybe an all-pumpkin menu would be a better idea?!
Which of your grandmother Dorothea’s recipes do you think you’ve made most often over the years?
Probably the Mississippi Mud Pie Trifle. If you put it in an elegant glass, it looks like something you'd order at a 5 star restaurant--you'll never have to tell anyone how simple it is to make!
What’s the number one thing no Southern lady would be without?
Definitely a whole closet full of monogrammed home goods. A monogram says: “Hi, there. I’m southern.” Or maybe: “Don’t steal my stuff.” Pillowcases, hand towels, barware, baby rattles, throw blankets, dog collars--nothing is finished without a few colorful initials stitched on there. In my book I talk all about the differences between casual monograms and formal monograms, the nuances of the font… fascinating, right!? I know . . . I’m weird!
In the book you mention that in the South “good manners are kind of a passport” – it feels like many children today aren't taught the importance of manners like they were in the past or in the South—what do you think has changed?
I can't speak for all children and all families, but I can say that I am so grateful that I was raised to look people in the eye and say hello, and I've tried to raise my children the same way. Good manners take very little effort, I always tell them--and I truly think that these small acts of kindness can make our communities a better place and bring us all a bit closer together.
What book did you read as a young person that you think was a catalyst for turning you into a lifelong reader or that gave you a love for a certain genre?
My grandmother always read me The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. My brother and would sit in her lap and she would read in all the different voices and accents--it was almost like watching a play! She never knew it, but listening to her read that book probably inspired me to become an actor. But her love of all books, and fiction in particular, certainly played a huge role in me becoming such a reader.