Born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, Annie Franks grew up surrounded by good food.
“My mother, without a doubt, was the best Southern cook,” said Franks. “The first thing she wanted do when you came through the door was feed you.”
But her mother rarely used a recipe, so when Franks married, she learned to cook and bake on her own.
“The first thing I ever baked was a chocolate pound cake,” she recalled. “I saw a recipe and thought I could make it a little better.”
Thus began her lifelong passion for tinkering with recipes and giving them her own flourish.
Fixing food for her three sons kept her hopping, and when grandchildren came along, she had an even bigger appreciative audience.
Family meals were punctuated with Southern favorites like Pimento Cheese and Fried Corn, but Franks’ true passion is baking.
Her family devoured her Molasses Cookies and Southern Double Rum Cake and her mother’s Chocolate Pie.
“For years my five granddaughters would say, ‘Oma! You need to write a book!’ “ said Franks. “I said I would, but then I was always so busy.”
Indeed, even at 85, her calendar is full.
“I’m president of the Spokane Rose Society and of the Associated Floral Art Designers,” she said.
But then COVID-19 struck.
“We can’t meet,” Franks said. “I finally had time to write my book.”
She decided to focus on what she loves most, desserts.
“Cookies have been my downfall all my life. The only excuse I need for a cookie is to walk through the kitchen,” she said. “I’m liable to get up at 8 at night and bake a batch of cookies. It’s what I do.”
She’s thankful her husband, Warren, doesn’t mind being the cleanup committee.
“I can make the biggest mess you’ve ever seen, but Warren cleans it up, just like my daddy did for my mother.”
As she compiled “Annie’s Southern Family Favorites: 100+ Desserts and Sweets,” Franks included helpful tips and family anecdotes.
For instance, she learned long ago, the secret to her mother’s fabulous pie crust was that her mother had unusually cold hands.
“Now, before I make my pastry, I always wash my hands in cold, icy water, and that keeps the shortening from melting into the flour,” Franks said.
Proud of her Southern heritage, she included many sweet staples from the South, like Hummingbird Cake and Bourbon Balls.
In the recipe for Seven-Layer Cookies (Magic Bars), she wrote, “There are so many things that the South is famous for when it comes to food, but one that flies under the radar is the ‘Magic Bar.’ They rank right up there with catfish and country ham in my opinion.”
Though she adores cookies, her favorite dessert is Banana Pudding. She added extra Vanilla Wafers to her recipe at the behest of a granddaughter.
And if something doesn’t turn out perfectly, Franks said that’s all part of the process.
“I can’t count the number of disasters I’ve had. That’s how you learn,” she said.
One goof that stands out is the first time she made sponge cake.
“I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to grease the edges of the pan,” she recalled. “When you take it out it’s supposed to sink down. I didn’t know that, so I threw it away. I called my aunt and she said, ‘Annie it’s SUPPOSED to do that.’ ”
Franks started the cookbook in March, and in September it was published by Spokane’s Gray Dog Press. Her family is thrilled with it, and the “Annie’s Southern Family Favorites” is available online at her Etsy shop.
She’s already mulling a second volume, and thinking of including some cast iron skillet recipes, or perhaps the secrets to her delicious scones.
Her dearest wish is that more young people would embrace baking from scratch.
“It’s not that hard,” she insists. “All you have to do is measure accurately.”
She looked at her latest batch of cookies and pastries arrayed on her dining room table, and smiled.
“There’s just nothing like homemade,” she said.