Annette Eckert has led a very public life as a retired St. Clair County circuit judge and wife of a former congressman. Now she’s opening up about her private challenges in the kitchen.
Eckert has co-authored a cookbook with Suzanne Boyle, former food editor at the Belleville News-Democrat. It includes tried-and-true recipes, but also funny personal stories with titles such as “Dinner with First Responders” and “Cupcakes with a Surprise Inside.”
“Fire is a major theme, and there have been other disasters,” said Eckert, 67, of Belleville.
Like the Easter when her cat, Tony, ate the head off a lamb-shaped cake that was cooling on the counter; the Thanksgiving when she ordered turkey, dressing and mashed potatoes from a store that turned out to be closed that day; and the Christmas when decorative fabric lampshades caught fire on the chandelier above the dining-room table.
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The cupcake “surprise” was a wad of bubble gum that Eckert dropped in a bowl of batter when she was in grade school. She and her friend decided to bake the batch anyway, thinking the gum would dissolve. It didn’t, as her father discovered the hard way.
“I think (Annette is) a good cook,” said Boyle, 66, of Belleville. “”She’s just a little accident-prone.”
The 67-page cookbook, called “Kitchen’s Open,” sells for $15. In addition to stories, it contains recipes for appetizers, beverages, soups, salads, vegetables, main dishes, breads, rolls and desserts.
Even Eckert’s husband, former U.S. Rep. William Enyart, got into the act by including his recipe for “Bill’s Breakfast Bonanza.”
“You will never again want to eat a fast-food breakfast sandwich!” the description reads.
Boyle also contributed a few recipes and stories, some relating to her 21 years as BND food editor. She worked at the newspaper 34 years before retiring in 2017.
One of Boyle’s stories is called, “Sister Act: How to Make a Popcorn Volcano.” She recalls writing a column on her attempt to make a Christmas tree out of green popcorn and marshmallows. Her husband, Jim Haverstick, thought it was a volcano, and a reader, who happened to be a nun, sent her a photo of how the edible tree was actually supposed to look.
“If I’m going to be one-upped on a recipe by a nun, I should be nice enough to confess that she was right,” Boyle writes in the cookbook.
Eckert and Boyle met in 1996, when Eckert officiated at her wedding. They later became friends while serving on the Old Town Farmers’ Market board.
For years, Eckert collected stories about her crazy kitchen adventures. When she decided to self-publish a book, Boyle seemed the perfect person to serve as editor. Originally a book of stories, it evolved into a cookbook with recipes from friends and family.
“It benefits both our special interests, and we had a good time doing it,” Eckert said.
By “special interests,” she means charities. All proceeds from cookbook sales will go to Linus Blankets of Southwestern Illinois and the Teen Court Foundation of St. Clair County. Purchases are tax-deductible.
Linus Blankets delivers handmade blankets to more than 20 hospitals and agencies that help sick and traumatized children in St. Louis and the metro-east. Boyle is its volunteer program coordinator. Teen Court holds first-time, non-violent youth offenders accountable through remedies imposed by juries of their peers.
“It’s a wonderful way to have an early intervention and keep young people out of the criminal-justice system,” Eckert said. “It gives them a second chance.”
Retailers that are selling “Kitchen’s Open” include Don Rodgers Ltd., Grimm & Gorly and Pour @ 322 Coffee, Eckert Florist, Ben’s, Vintage Tea Room, Cheesekeeper, The Abbey, Blanquart Jewelers, Abe’s Gourmet Popcorn, Toots Cake and Candy Supply, Keil’s Antiques and Gifts and Cosmic Comics in Belleville; Fezziwig’s in O’Fallon and Lebanon; Minerva Boutique in Lebanon; and Market on Main in Red Bud.
For more information, contact Boyle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-514-5585.
“I think this cookbook combines the best of both worlds,” she said. “I know people who don’t cook, but they like cookbooks. They just like to read them, and this one has some great stories in it. But for people who like to cook, it’s also got some great recipes.”