Jacob Starks
Jacob Starks
Not often smelled in a library is the aroma of fine cuisine, but the director of the Neshoba County Library is cooking up more than just great books.

After only six months on the job, Jacob Starks, director of the Neshoba County Library, has put his creative juices to work and developed a wide variety of programs now offered at the library, as well as, numerous activities planned for the coming months.

One of those programs began last month. Along with his library staff, Starks kicked off a delicious adventure called "The Library Gourmet."

On the fourth Tuesday of each month, library patrons can visit the library for a taste of something different. Foods ranging from Italian fare to German cuisine will be featured.

Drawing from his background in the culinary arts, Sparks is passionate about sharing his love of learning and food with Neshoba countians.

"We want to feature the fun of cooking. It's part instructional, part conversational and also a venture into different types of cuisine. The focus is on food and socializing," Starks said.

Italian cuisine was featured at the first Library Gourmet event. Participants were given a palate pleasing tour of Italy by sampling Greek spaghetti with kalamata olives, fresh tomatoes and garlic and bruschetta.

Starks said the turnout was good for the first event, but anticipates an even larger crowd for this week.

Spanish tapas is the featured cuisine for this coming Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. Spanish tapas cuisine is traditionally a wide variety of appetizers or snacks which may be served cold or hot.

Starks said the type of foods presented will be Spanish in origin with a Floridian influence. A ceviche, gazpacho and a Spanish style banana dessert will be demonstrated. Fresh ingredients like tomatoes, cucumbers, limes, cilantro and avocados will be just a few of the delicious items included in the preparation of the recipes.

"We want this to be a fun evening where people can sample a variety of foods, meet new people and learn exciting ideas for cooking. Cooking is about making people happy," added Starks.

While the library certainly houses its share of instructional books on cooking, as well as, recipe books, Starks said The Library Gourmet nights offer a different element to the traditional library visit.

"The library should be far more than a storage building for books. It's a place where people should be able to improve upon their learning and entertain themselves. We have really tried to incorporate a variety of different programs, so that everyone will find something of interest," said Starks.

Upcoming Library Gourmet themes are: September - American Colonial which will include Williamsburg smoked ham, sugar coated violets and apple pie with a shortbread crust; October - German Oktoberfest cuisine showcasing such items potato pancakes, sour kraut, bratwurst and hot slaw; November - Soul Food Thanksgiving featuring sweet potato pie, turkey and dressing and a variety of other foods served at Thanksgiving; December - Christmas accents featuring French themed Christmas fare such as fig pudding, sugar plums and other French Christmas cuisines.

In addition, Starks is already planning menus for the coming year which will include an Elvis theme in January, a murder mystery night and Fair food casseroles.

The Library Gourmet is just one of the many activities happening at the local library, and Starks has plans for many more.

"The support from this community has been amazing! We want this to be the best library in Mississippi," Starks said.

With activities planned like movies at the Ellis starting this Thursday, Outside the Book every Tuesday, an antiques roadshow, a haunted house and archaeological digs being just a few of the upcoming events, Starks and his staff are certainly well on their way to being the best.

Starks, a native of Cincinnati, and his wife, Heidi, enjoy entertaining friends at home with delicious culinary delights in their spare time. Additionally, Starks makes time for teeing up at the County Line Country Club golf course.

Being relatively new to the area, Starks said he and Heidi also enjoy spending time exploring Neshoba County.

Starks has shared some of his favorite recipes.

Homemade Ginger Ale

1 cup of fresh ginger - peeled and chopped finely

2 cups of water

1/2 cup of raw or white sugar

1 tablespoon of dark brown palm sugar (for a richer color and flavor)

1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves

Lime wedges

Soda water


Bring water and ginger to a boil in a small covered pot, cut the heat, and let steep for 30-60 minutes (depending on how strong you want the ginger flavor). Strain out chopped ginger, and return the ginger-spiced water to the pot. Stir in sugar and spices, bring mixture to a boil, then cut the heat. You can reuse the ginger for a second syrup, repeating the process. You will get a lighter syrup much similar to store-bought ginger ales. For an added touch, add any fruit juice or green teas to this second batch and it will really blow your hair back! Allow ginger syrup to cool. In a glass, add syrup (according to your taste) with ice, freshly squeezed lime juice, and soda water.

Library Gourmet Greek Spaghetti

This recipe comes from the oldest restaurant in Cincinnati. Most of the measurements are estimates and the ingredients can be modified to taste.

Olive Oil

1/4 cup of diced bacon or pancetta

1/4 cup kalamata or green olives

½ cup diced fresh tomatoes

1/4 cup diced fresh onion

1/4 cup of crumbled feta cheese

1/4 cup diced fresh green or red pepper

2 tablespoons of basil (pesto can substitute)

Salt, pepper, dry Italian herb mix to taste

1 clove of sliced or minced garlic

4 servings of plain spaghetti

Arrange your ingredients, prepare spaghetti, and set to the side.

Fry the chopped bacon with a little olive oil, drain half the grease.

Add the onions, tomatoes, green olives, peppers, basil and sauté until the ingredients begin to sweat, add seasoning and herbs to taste. Add feta at the last minute.

Toss sauté mix with spaghetti until thoroughly mixed. Add olive oil as needed to keep spaghetti from sticking together.

Serve in bowls or plate with a good Italian bread and enjoy!

Mashed Sweet Potatoes

This simple recipe was originally vetted and printed in Cooks Illustrated in the early 2000s. By adding Chinese Five Spice (star anise, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, fennel seeds) it gets a great flavor. You will have to stay on top of this dish as it cooks. The trick is to keep the sweet potatoes from burning or sticking while they cook.

4 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into pieces

2 tablespoon heavy cream (more should be used depending on desired consistency)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 lbs sweet potatoes (2 large or 3 medium), peeled, quartered lengthwise, and cut crosswise into 1/4 inch thick slices

Chinese Five Spice to taste

Combine everything in saucepan. Cook covered over low (to medium) heat, stirring occasionally until potatoes fall apart when poked with fork, 35 to 45 minutes. Off heat, mash potatoes, add cream to desired consistency and Chinese Five Spice to taste. Serve and enjoy.

What-The Burger

This recipe is about as easy as it gets, but you may have to do some looking to find the kimchi (a spicy, pickled cabbage that can usually be found in jars in the produce section of grocery stores). A variation of this is served at a restaurant in Houston, Texas called Down House. Excellent place, excellent burger.

Ground beef or ground sirloin burgers

1 tablespoon apple butter


Cabot Sharp Cheddar Cheese

One egg per burger

King's Hawaiian Buns


Cook your burger patties to desired temperature and fry your eggs sunny-side up. Toast buns and spread thin layer of mayonnaise on top bun, then add about a spoon full of apple butter. Place your cooked patty on the bottom bun, top with a slice of Cabot or other quality sharp cheddar cheese. Top with a fried egg and then a layer of kimchi. Add the top bun and serve with potato wedges or a small salad of field greens.

Cincinnati Chili

Cincinnati Chili is an acquired taste. I was 23 years old before I knew that the rest of America put their chili on rice instead of spaghetti. Rice! It still makes no sense to me. However, you can use this chili in some amazing dips, Fritos pies, cheese coneys, baked potatoes and this traditional serving system:

1-way: just the chili (the only time I've ever seen this is when you find yourself eating it out of the pot); 2-way: chili served over spaghetti (rarely seen); 3-way: chili, spaghetti, and grated Cheddar cheese (most preferred version); 4-way: chili, spaghetti, cheese, and onions; 5-way: chili, spaghetti, cheese, onions, and beans

All "ways" are served with oyster crackers (when you finish the spaghetti, you crush in your remaining oyster crackers to sop up the chili).

It is my sincerest belief that if I can get enough people in Mississippi to try Cincinnati Chili, the Bengals may finally win a Super Bowl playoff game.

Serves 6

1 quart cold water

2 pounds ground beef

2 cups crushed tomato

2 yellow onions, diced

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa

1/4 cup chili powder

1 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 whole bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1-1/2 teaspoon salt

Cook spaghetti to serve chili over, optional

Shredded mild Wisconsin cheddar cheese

Add beef and water to a 4-quart pot. Bring to a simmer while stirring until the ground beef is in very small pieces. Simmer for 30 minutes and add all the rest of the ingredients.

Simmer on low, uncovered, for 3 hours. Add water as needed if the chili becomes too thick.

Refrigerate the chili overnight, and the next day remove the layer of fat from top before reheating and serving over spaghetti and topping with shredded mild cheddar cheese. For a vegetarian version, substitute an equal amount of black beans for the ground beef.

Oyster Stew

This dish will most likely be included in our Christmas Library Gourmet program. I make it every year at Christmas and it has pleased crowds in Ohio, Florida, and Texas. With this stew, the secret is to never let it bubble while heating.

2 pints (approximately 32 ounces) small to medium-sized raw shucked oysters with their liquid

4 tablespoons butter

3 cups half & half 1 or 2 dashes Tabasco

3 minced cloves of Garlic

Salt and pepper to taste

3 tablespoons of diced onions or shallots

3 tablespoons of finely chopped celery

1 tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar

2 whole cloves

1 - 2 bay leaves

2 potatoes diced

One loaf of French or Sourdough Bread

In a large pot over medium heat, melt butter and add onions, garlic, celery, potato, cloves, bay leaves, and vinegar.

Sweat these ingredients, salting to taste.

Add the oysters and continue to cook until the potatoes become soft. Once the potatoes are soft, add the half and half. Stir occasionally and heat below boiling. Do not let the stew simmer or boil because this will break the cream. The potatoes will slowly dissolve and thicken the stew. Some small bites will remain. Season with Tabasco, salt and pepper. I will usually sit the stew in the refrigerator overnight and warm and serve the next day. Remove from heat.

Serve in warm soup bowls with warm bread.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.