I N T H E K I TC H E N
Nostalgia aside, we love small recipe
collections from real people so much
that we’re going to start our own.
WRIT TEN BY TIM MAZUREK
P H OTO G R A P H Y BY MART Y BALDWIN
BEFORE BLOGS OR ZINES (yes, there was
a before), there were community cookbooks—
printed compilations of recipes representing the
collective culinary achievements of home cooks.
Published cheaply and distributed locally since
the mid-1800s, the books were created by groups
of women to raise money for their social clubs,
churches, or charities of choice. If you grew up with
these books or have come across them in a resale
shop or garage sale, you’ve likely been charmed by
the eclectic collection of recipes and homemade
feel. But don’t let the spiral binding or hand-drawn
covers fool you—these books are more than kitsch.
They are useful kitchen resources and important
snapshots of the past. A quick flip through the
yellowed or stained pages will find familiar dishes,
such as Caesar salad and banana nut bread, as
well as eyebrow-raisers, such as Japanese Fruit Pie
(featuring nothing remotely Japanese) or American
Beauty Cake (which includes instant cocoa mix).
Each recipe speaks both to the era in which it was
enjoyed and the values, trends, and regional tastes
of the woman who wrote it.
More than just a great source of recipes, the
books are one of the few early forms of published
writing created by and for women. In times when
women lacked a strong voice outside the home and
had very little political power, the books provided
an opportunity to organize and create change.
Today the books have started being recognized as
both literary artifacts and culinary resources.
I approach each found book with a sense of
adventure. Some recipes include ingredients I’ve
never heard of (oleo?) or vague instructions like
“cook until done.” But get past all of that and these
recipes are the real deal: home-cook-tested and
family-picnic-approved. And sure, you might need
to have a little more faith in your own cooking
skills or call your grandmother to find out what
she thinks “moderate heat” means, but cooking
from the culinary root of our own blogs and apps
is pretty fascinating. Plus, the chance to make
7-Up Party Salad or Sky High Lemon Pie is reason
enough to find an old book and get cooking. RM
Submit Your Best Recipe
To learn how to be part of the ReadyMade Community
Cookbook, and to try some of Mazurek’s favorite recipes
from his collection of vintage books, visit readymade.com
or text “RM COOKBOOK” to 76477 (S-N-I-P-P).
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