My favorite hobby is eating. Growing up, our family talked about what we were having for lunch at breakfast, and dinner’s menu, during lunch.
On a recent gloomy February morning, the kind of day where the lights need to be on from the moment you get out of bed, I grabbed a handful of cookbooks to peruse.
If you love eating, you most likely love cooking and therefore, have a collection of cookbooks. Mine runs the gamut of The Jimmy Carter Family Favorites Cookbook to The Elixir of Life by Lisa Dahl with everything in between. However, my favorites tend to be those Community Cookbooks published by church groups, schools, garden clubs and hospital auxiliaries.
This morning was Community Cookbook Day. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, just reading for pleasure since I had just finished a jigsaw puzzle and the “Book Club” book. Of course a hardcover Junior League Cookbook from San Francisco would have a whole different recipe collection than a spiral bound paperback from St. Mary’s Church in a small town in Iowa.
Do I ever actually cook something from these Community Cookbooks? Sometimes, but it does make for a cultural, regional, and American food history lesson. Following is a recent discovery exactly as it appears in print:
1 egg, beaten
1 C milk (use liquid from salmon)
Mix 6 to 8 soda crackers, broken into buttered baking dish. Flake salmon and another 6-8 crackers crumbled on top. Pour liquid mixture over all and bake 35 to 45 minutes.
That’s it. Sounds delicious? No, not really. I described this recipe to my friend Linda and she thought it sounded more like a salmon croquette. But no mention of a croquette here, it’s definitely a casserole by the title and baking dish. When I told my friend Wendy I would make this for her at a future dinner party, she replied, “I already know I will have plans that night, sorry.”
Here is another:
2 heaping Tbs. oleo
3 white onions, sliced
½ sliced green pepper
½ lb. hamburger
1 large can Franco American spaghetti
½ can tomato soup
Salt & paprika
1 Tbs. sugar
1 small can mushrooms
Brown onions and green peppers in oleo. Remove from skillet and brown the hamburger. Add onion, peppers, Franco American spaghetti, tomato soup, salt, paprika, sugar and mushrooms. Top with sharp cheese or Parmesan cheese.
Why I love reading these Community Cookbooks is because they reflect the era, location, resources and tastes of the home cook. Many small towns had one grocery store and the choices were quite limited. Freshness was a luxury. You couldn’t get fresh blueberries from Mexico in February or tomatoes on the vine, grown from a greenhouse in Wisconsin, all year long.
We often laugh that when we were children, all vegetables came in a can with the exception of iceberg lettuce wrapped tightly in plastic. Canned fruit cocktail was a staple in our home. Friday fish dinners came in the shape of a stick. An avocado never set foot in the town I grew up in. Yet, now they are advertised on the Super Bowl!
The American palate has become so sophisticated and we have grocery options that were unheard even thirty years ago. Our grocery stores now stock endless, colorful, fresh produce, fresh herbs, meats, fish, pastries, artisanal cheeses and breads, and freshness is king. Eating from a can would be rare and not the norm.
I salute these home cooks for preparing these recipes, with the ingredients that were available to them at the time. After all, the real purpose was trying to raise money for their organizations by contributing their tried and true favorites to these cookbooks. Back in the day, these may have been delicious and even exotic meals.
But we know better now how to eat healthier, and thanks to a plethora of grocery options, competition, improved commerce and economics, our food resources have improved vastly.
So with deep gratitude, I will grill my salmon with olive oil, herbs, lemon and capers and make angel hair pasta with Arrabbiata sauce when I have a taste for spaghetti. Aren’t we lucky! Bon Appétit!