Over my time as an aspiring home chef, I’ve amassed a small collection of ‘amateur’ cookbooks spanning several decades. Most are cookbooks compiled by clubs or churches, usually for fundraising purposes. For some I have a personal connection. Others are happenstance finds at used bookstores or online. They lack the polish and thoroughly-kitchen-testedness of ‘real’ cookbooks, but they’re still some of my favorites.
These recipe collections present a snapshot of a community in a particular time and place. They represent the values and budgets and daily realities of the participants, as well as the food preferences of the community at large. There is no unifying theme or cuisine that binds them together, just a willingness to share good food with other like-minded people.
I find myself trying to understand the motivations for sharing particular recipes. Some recipes are shared as ‘life hacks’ – easy, weeknight meals that will be practical for other community members. This is especially true in older cookbooks, which are primarily women sharing recipes that reflect Good Household Management. Some recipes are shared to show off, either with expensive ingredients or exotic cuisine. And some are personal statements, sharing treasured family recipes or documenting sentimental favorites in print.
As for the recipes themselves, the joy of these cookbooks is the thrill of the hunt. Amid the myriad casseroles and monkey bread recipes there are a few gems: thoughtful, inspired recipes on par with any professionally-prepared cookbook. There are a few recipes that are rough around the edges or need a makeover to align with the twenty-first century palate.
And then there’s the weird ones. Those are the most fun.
Enjoy my collection:
Vintage Church Cookbooks:
Ascension Family Celebrates from Ascension Lutheran Church, Green Bay, Wisconsin (1989)
A Book of Favorite Recipes from St. Casimir Catholic Church, Krakow, Wisconsin (1988)
Brookhaven’s Favorite Recipes from Brookhaven Methodist Church, Brookhaven, Georgia (early 1960s)
Country Favorites from St. Patrick Parish, Stephensville, Wisconsin (late 1980s)
Favorite Recipes of Thorn Grove Baptist Church, Strawberry Plains, Tennessee (1978)
Recipes from the Heart (Oregon, 2008)
St. Andrew’s Bingo Cookbook from St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church, Merrillville, Indiana (1984)
Treasured Recipes from Mt. Zion United Methodist Church and Community, Kenton, Ohio (1993)
Vintage Community Cookbooks:
“The Best in Cooking” in Round Head, Round Head VFW Auxiliary No. 8823, Round Head, Ohio (probably early 1960s)
A Book of Favorite Recipes, Order of the Eastern Star Hebron Chapter 119 (1992)
Buen Provecho: 500 Years of Hispanic Cuisine, Hispanic Association of AT&T Employees, New Jersey Chapter (1995)
Christmas Convoys, Cupplers-Hesse Corporation, St. Louis (1952)
The High School Cookbook, Stevens Point High School, Wisconsin (around 1940)