“At this stage of my life, I’m interested in preserving things for future generations, so whatever I write about, whether it’s food, folklore, or something else, it will probably have a preservation focus.”
A member of the Writers’ League of Texas since 2015, Nola McKey lives in Austin.
Scribe: In what genre(s) do you write?
Nola McKey: Nonfiction. My background is in magazine journalism (freelance writer, assistant foods editor with Southern Living, and senior editor with Texas Highways). While at Texas Highways, I edited Cooking with Texas Highways (University of Texas Press, 2005, 2007, 2014). Since my retirement from TH a few years ago, I’ve been working on my own cookbook—From Tea Cakes to Tamales: Third-Generation Texas Recipes—which was released earlier this month. It involves food, family traditions, and regional history.
Scribe: What authors would you like to have a drink with and what beverage?
NM: Nora Ephron comes to mind immediately. I was lucky enough to hear her speak at the Paramount a few years before her death, and she was terrific. The beverage? Probably iced tea; it wouldn’t matter. I actually had drinks with Studs Terkel sometime in the mid-1980s, when I was working in Birmingham. I’d gone with friends to hear him speak earlier that evening, and he happened to be at the bar we went to afterwards. He was sitting on a barstool by himself—we noticed his trademark red socks right away—so we asked him to join our table and he did. He was even more entertaining than he’d been on stage. He was the real deal, telling us story after story. I think he genuinely loved interacting with people.
Scribe: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you to keep you sane?
NM: I doubt that any book would keep me sane in that situation, but putting aside the obvious survival guides, I’d opt for something fat and dense like War and Peace so that I wouldn’t run out of reading material.
Scribe: What have you learned from your association with the Writers’ League?
NM: Several of the Third Thursday events have been really helpful. I was still researching my cookbook when I heard Stephen Harrigan speak on a panel several years ago. A comment he made about his obsession with his Czech grandmother’s kolaches led me to ask him for her recipe, which ended up in my book along with a nice intro from him. I also made some good contacts at a panel on food writing. And WLT’s recent program, “The Look of the Book” (on book design for authors), opened my eyes to the importance of a good cover design. Having that basic information helped me communicate with Texas A&M University Press when the staff was choosing a cover for my cookbook.
Scribe: Where do you see your writing taking you (or you taking it) in the future?
NM: That’s a good question—one I’m trying to answer for myself. I have at least one more cookbook in mind that involves recipes and stories, and lately, I’ve been thinking of a children’s book based on a series of tales I told my son as he was growing up. Generally, I hope my writing will involve traveling, talking to interesting people, and exploring new ideas. At this stage of my life, I’m interested in preserving things for future generations, so whatever I write about, whether it’s food, folklore, or something else, it will probably have a preservation focus.
Scribe: Here at the Writers’ League, we love sharing book recommendations. What’s one Texas-related book that has come out within the past year that you couldn’t put down?
NM: Right now I’m enjoying Sarah Bird’s new book, A Love Letter to Texas Women (University of Texas Press); it’s a fun read. I also like Jessica Dupuy’s United Tastes of Texas: Authentic Recipes from All Corners of the Lone Star State (Oxmoor House). It’s a beautiful cookbook, with a wealth of tantalizing recipes and well-written sidebars about all things Texas. Having worked at Southern Living, which is associated with Oxmoor House, I know the recipes in her book have been thoroughly tested, which isn’t a given with all cookbooks. When it comes to fiction, I recommend One Red Thread, a novel by Austin writer Ernie Wood that came out in late 2014. It’s about exploring family history and involves an interesting twist—time travel.
Scribe: Is there anything else about you that you would like to share with the world? An opportunity for blatant self-promotion!
NM: My new book, From Tea Cakes to Tamales: Third-Generation Texas Recipes (Texas A&M University Press), includes more than 100 third-generation (and older) recipes still being made by the contributors today. Recipes that have lasted that long are usually pretty good and often have interesting stories associated with them, and the recipes in my book bear this out. The book also includes photos of the ancestor cooks and watercolor illustrations of many of the dishes. More than a dozen ethnic groups are represented. In addition, there’s a chapter on preserving heirloom recipes. For ordering information, see www.nola-mckey.com.
I’ll be speaking at BookPeople on Sunday, June 26, from 3-4 p.m. The program features my interviewing three Austin-area recipe contributors and providing tips on unearthing and preserving heirloom recipes. I’m also speaking at the Castroville Conservation Society’s annual historic preservation workshop on Wednesday, August 24 (time pending). Details for each of these events can be found on their respective websites.