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From the bench to the bookshelf

After years of hearing defendants proclaim they’re not guilty, St. Louis County Municipal Judge Renee Hardin-Tammons admits she is guilty of enjoying great soul food. The weight of the evidence leans in that direction, as she wrote a book on the topic.

The cookbook, titled “I’m Guilty of Loving Southern Cooking, A Soul Food Cookbook,” is due out in early December.

Hardin-Tammons was appointed municipal judge for the county’s north division by Buzz Westfall in 2003. Previously, she was municipal judge for Berkeley. She also is a lawyer with the Dubail Judge law firm in Creve Coeur.

But Hardin-Tammons, 44, said she had always hoped to be a writer. She expected her first book might be a children’s book, honed from years of telling stories to her son, C.J., who just turned 10. Instead, it’s a soul food cookbook.

“I thought that I was going to be a writer in college. I just never have had a chance,” she said in a recent interview.

She said the idea has been in her heart since she was a child, observing as her parents and grandmother cooked. But she has been actually assembling the cookbook over the past year or so.

Hardin-Tammons said the book should help those who, like her, loved a meal at a relative’s house but never got the specific ingredients and instructions on how to make it.

“I started getting frustrated. I have family members that cook very well. I’d say ‘what’s in it,’ they’d say ‘I don’t know, it’s a little bit of this, little bit of that,'” she recalled. “I said if something happens to you, how are we ever going to be able to duplicate this recipe?”

So, between her days at the law firm and evenings on the bench, presiding over issues from traffic and domestic violence cases to petty crimes, Hardin-Tammons worked to compile a collection of recipes from her grandmother, parents, husband Charles’ parents, “old ladies from church” and her own creations, including a butter rum bread pudding.

She plans to hold a book signing event at Lane Tabernacle CME Church in St. Louis on the morning of Dec. 15 and later that day at RSI Kitchen and Bath in Rock Hill.

Hardin-Tammons said she was still working out where the book would be available for sale, but hoped at local bookstores as well as places she has ties to, such as the University of Missouri-St. Louis bookstore and RSI. She earned her bachelor’s degree at UMSL and her law degree from University of Missouri-Columbia.

People also can place orders through the Web site,

Hardin-Tammons also hopes to expand her culinary pursuits. In writing the cookbook, she created a recipe for wing sauce. But instead of including it in the book, she decided to try to get it bottled and sold in stores.