By Gina Malone
Jessi Baker discovered a way to combine the family business, Ole Smoky Moonshine, and her love of home cooking. Her new cookbook, Shining: Ole Smoky Moonshine Family Cookbook, contains more than 65 family recipes such as Kickin’ Buffalo Chicken Dip, Moonshine Chili, Tennessee Whiskey Burger and Hangover French Toast. “Not every recipe has moonshine in it,” she says. “Although I guess you could add it to everything, I only added it where I believe it enhances the flavor. All the other recipes are things that we cook often at home or things that are traditional and important to our family.”
A Tennessee native, Baker called Asheville home for years and still owns a home there. She grew up in Gatlinburg, where her grandparents established Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen in 1950. Her grandmother, Peggy Dych, called DiDi, inspired a love of food and entertaining in her from a young age, Baker says. “She also taught me that kindness matters, manners are extremely important and hard work defines your character. To this day the Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen makes fudge from scratch for millions of Gatlinburg visitors.”
Ten years ago, after Baker had left her job as a prosecutor for the state of Tennessee and after the birth of her third child, her husband Joe came home with the idea of starting a moonshine distillery. Tennessee law on the distribution of moonshine changed in 2009, and Ole Smoky Moonshine was born. “My initial job was developing the moonshine flavors and our moonshine food items,” Baker says. “This book aims to take that concept a step further, and I found ways to use our moonshine and whiskey to enhance flavors in homes and kitchens across the nation.” With the book, she also wanted to create something tangible for her children, she says, “to show them that you’re never too old to pursue a passion in a new way.”
Baker stresses that she is not a chef. “I’ve studied art and law in a classroom,” she says, “but my education with food has been mostly self-propelled in my own kitchen.” A week of boot camp at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, helped further her interest. “I’m a good cook who enjoys making simple, great-tasting food,” she says. “The recipes in this book should reflect that, as well as the idea that you don’t have to be a classically trained chef to make excellent food.”
Today, Ole Smoky Moonshine is sold in all 50 states and in 53 countries, and last year the distillery welcomed more than 4 million visitors. Baker wants readers to think of moonshine as being as American as apple pie. “Some people think of moonshine and they think of mountain folks turning out a rough, unrefined product,” she says, “but the reality is that moonshine is a true American spirit with long-lasting cultural relevancy.”
Find Shining: Ole Smoky Moonshine Family Cookbook locally at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café. To learn more, visit OleSmoky.com.