Family Bereavement Center cookbook honors Baltimore homicide victims

Favorite recipes, fond memories

May 01, 2007|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,sun reporter

Marlin Barnett Hopkins loved his mother's "party spaghetti," which was nothing more than a jar of Prego tossed with shrimp, smoked sausage and ground beef. Janice Letmate used to prepare a shrimp Creole that her children savored. And Steven R. Shores was partial to his sister's homemade Jewish apple cake.

Those recipes and dozens more have been collected in a 78-page cookbook that is being released today not by the Baltimore Culinary Institute, but, tellingly, by a part of the city state's attorney office. Called Tasty Treasures, the publication is meant not just as a compilation of simple culinary pleasures, but also as an elegy to a city in pain.

Each of the recipes was a favorite enjoyed by a Baltimore homicide victim.

"It's not just a cookbook. It makes people recognize that this touches all of us," said Lucy Long, an American culture studies professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio who has researched food traditions for 20 years.

She compared the cookbook to the well-known AIDS quilt. "It's very expressive - taking something that's usually innocuous, trivial and apolitical and putting something very powerful, very emotional and very political into that form."

Although unusual, there are other cookbooks that honor the dead.

Slices of Sunlight, recipes to remember children who have died, was published in 2000. About three years ago, the Maine chapter of Parents of Murdered Children put together Recipes, Remembrances. That book served as the inspiration for Baltimore's.

One of those Maine mothers, Yong Cha Jones, lost her only child, Laurence A. Jones Jr., to a murder in Baltimore in 1993. Jones sent a cookbook to Baltimore's Family Bereavement Center, which is overseen by the state's attorney's office.

As a food lover and caterer in addition to her role as director of the bereavement center, the cookbook idea was especially appealing to Kim V. Holmes. She kept it in her mind, waiting for the right opportunity.

Typically, relatives of homicide victims remember their loved ones with a quilt, Holmes said. But one recent group decided that the quilt - with its sewn-on photos and poems and personal details - would be too much. Holmes pitched them the cookbook proposal.

"Everyone said, `Now that's a good idea,'" she said. Holmes asked them to think of recipes that their relatives enjoyed and sent letters with a similar pitch to 800 other families of homicide victims.

About 60 families contributed recipes that range from gourmet to more abstract lists of ingredients. Most were submitted by grieving mothers.

Jason Crippins' mother, Ivon Carter, sent Holmes a letter saying her son loved fried chicken and fries and seafood. She said 18-year-old Jason, who was shot to death June 1, 2000, has a young son who eats just as his father did. Ivon Carter's recipe, a simple steamed-shrimp appetizer, is the first in the book.

On the other end of the spectrum, Giorgio Washington's mother, Maria Washington, mailed in her family's tiramisu recipe, but only after consulting her sister in Italy to make sure she had it just so.

This evening, the Family Bereavement Center will present the spiral-bound cookbooks to the contributing families. Other copies - about 300 in all - will be available through the center for a suggested donation of at least $5. Holmes said the money will go to Baltimore's victims' emergency fund.

Each recipe has a tagline saying who submitted it, to whom it is dedicated and when that person was killed. In the back of the book, just before the index, are color pictures of some of the victims.

The cookbook has no narratives, but the stories that silently underpin each recipe are complicated and moving.

A recipe submitted by Mary Heck honors of her son, Christopher Whitfield, who was killed in December. Before that, the 22-year-old served a short prison term on a second-degree murder conviction. Now the same office that prosecuted the suspected gang member has immortalized him with his favorite Swedish meatballs recipe.

Of that issue, Holmes said simply: "Whatever they did in their lives, no one deserves to be killed. They may have been a criminal, but they were still a person. They were still somebody's child."

Marlin Hopkins was a convicted drug dealer who was robbed and shot to death by people he thought to be his friends, his mother said.

He so loved her "party spaghetti," that he asked for it when he came home from prison, she said. She said her son was a follower, and he followed the wrong people into a gang lifestyle.

"I prayed every Sunday that he would wake up and see the light," said his mother, Sharon Shipley. "I, as a mother, was sick of my son, but I loved him dearly."

She said that submitting the recipe brought her happy memories, even as she held back tears.

Janice Letmate, 67, had worked for Tydings & Rosenberg, a city law firm, for 16 years. She was the 5-foot-tall woman, dressed to the nines, who sat at the front desk and greeted everyone with a smile.

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