A Book of Favorite Recipes, St. Casimir Catholic Church
A Book of Favorite Recipes is a spiral-bound fundraising cookbook from St. Casimir Catholic Church in Krakow, Wisconsin. Krakow is a tiny agricultural community of a few hundred people about thirty minutes outside of Green Bay. Mass was first held in Krakow on November 7th, 1892 under the direction of the Franciscan Fathers of Pulacki. The St. Casimir Congregation was organized in 1898. The current church building, an elaborate red brick church with a copper spire, was built in 1903 concurrent with the “legal incorporat[ion]” of the congregation. A hundred and something years later and Krakow isn’t much bigger than it was at the turn of the century, and yet St. Casimir remains home to an active and thriving congregation.
Many of the parishioners at St. Casimir are descended from Polish immigrants, who came to Wisconsin en masse in the mid- to late- nineteenth century. The modern church still bears the Polish inscription “Kościół św Kazimierza” (i.e. Church of St. Casimir), and many of the parishioners named in the cookbook have Polish surnames. St. Casimir himself was a fifteenth century Polish royal who died young and was beatified, in part, for his generosity.
The cover and interior feature art by Ardi Hansen, a name that few will recognize but whose style will be instantly recognizable to anyone who visited a craft store in the late 1980s. Ardi was the author of a popular series of arts and crafts books, mostly on tole painting. She had a distinctive “country” style that’s kind of a cross between Norman Rockwell and a mid-century comic strip, and would have been at the height of her popularity when the cookbook was published in 1988. She has no affiliation with St. Casimir – her art was licensed by the cookbook publisher – but many other contemporary church cookbooks feature her art.
The recipes are fairly typical of a contemporary mid-Western cookbook. There are plenty of casseroles and stews and more cookies than I can count. Salads are largely of the potluck variety; 1988 is past “peak Jell-O” but there are still plenty of crazy sweet dessert salads in proportions to feed a small army. There’s also a chapter of international recipes titled “Around the World”, which seems to be from the cookbook publisher rather than the parishioners. The recipe selection is not particularly authentic – one of the Indian food entries is a casserole of fruit cocktail and curry powder – but it lends a little bit of flair to the overall collection.
And, if you know what you’re looking for, you can find the influence of St. Casimir’s heritage. There might be a little bit more cabbage than usual in the main dish chapter, and the beef roulade recipe looks a lot like a Polish zrazy. There are a couple of different recipes for Kolacky, which the internet tells me is Czech, but which seems generally popular in Eastern European circles. But the real hidden gem are the Polish cheesecakes, which use dense sponge cake for a crust instead of the more traditional (American) buttered graham crackers. None of them are labeled as “Polish”, but around half of the dozen cheesecake recipes have a yellow-cake or flour-based crust.
Polish Cherry Cheesecake