Community cookbooks of yesteryear

NPR’s food blog, The Salt, recently ran this piece from Jessica Stoller-Conrad on community cookbooks. As she describes,

Millions of users share recipes, DIY projects, and household tips on the social networking site Pinterest and myriad blogs and other sites. But over a century before pinboards were virtual and bookmarking had nothing to do with actual books, people shared their domestic prowess through community cookbooks. And these cookbooks (some historic covers are featured above in our slide show) were so much more than just a catalog of recipes — they were fundraisers, political pamphlets, and historical accounts of the communities they served.

As Michelle Green details in this article for Food & Wine,

What I like best about these amateur productions is that, aside from that caught-in-amber quality, they were a labor of love. And the recipes tend to justify the authors’ pride: “Most of the ones I tried worked very well,” says Marcia Kiesel, F&W’s test-kitchen director, who adapted recipes from seven cookbooks for this story. “They came from a time when women had to cook, when recipes were handed down like treasures.” The Key lime pie recipe in the Florida Keys Cooking pamphlet, published in 1946 by Patricia’s Notebook newsletter, seems almost too simple, with just three ingredients in the filling (the F&W version adds lime zest for extra flavor)—but it works beautifully. And the French dressing from A Cook’s Tour of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, published in 1949 by the Junior Auxiliary of the Memorial Hospital of Easton, Maryland, is a silky puree of celery, onion, mustard, vinegar and oil that bears no resemblance to the orange bottled dressings of today.

Check out the full NPR story for some great links, the Food & Wine article for eight recipes (including the two mentioned above), and this virtual exhibit from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for a slice of Americana. The introduction to latter notes that “The recipes include the ubiquitous Sunshine Cake, Aunt Sally’s corn bread as well as oddities for today’s taste such as calf’s head soup….” Finally, for some local flavor, pick up the recipe collection, Potluck! Home Cooking From Wisconsin’s Community Cookbooks, published by the Wisconsin Historical Society.

From the Culinary Collection of Hermilda Listeman at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In case you’re confused, “receipt” is an old-timey word for recipe.


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