Wisconsin, late 1980s
Country Favorites is a plastic spiralbound recipe collection with from the St. Patrick (Catholic) Parish in Stephensville, Wisconsin, about forty-five minutes west of Green Bay. Stephensville is an unincorporated community contained within the town of Ellington. Founded in 1840 as not much more than a sawmill and general store, Ellington is now home to about 2500 people. Historical records mention a Catholic church in the area as early as 1870, but it’s not clear from available online resources when the St. Patrick Parish was founded. As of this writing, St. Patrick is one of two parishes serving the greater Ellington area.
St. Patrick Parish is best known in the community for their annual St. Patrick’s Round-Up. It is also the source of their fifteen minutes of internet fame (or notoriety). St. Patrick’s Round-Up is an annual multi-day community event with food, parades, and live music; a celebration of “the area’s heritage and respect for country Christian life.” From 1971 until 2015 the Round-Up included a popular event called the “Pig Rassle”, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Pig wrestling is common fixture of rodeos and county fairs, with variants ranging from catching a greased pig to forcing a pig into a pen or a barrel. St. Patrick’s version is more like mud wrestling with swine. Or it was until animal rights activists got involved. In 2015 there was a big to-do and protest that forced (bullied?) St Patrick’s into ending the forty-year tradition. Online activists have also review bombed the Church; as of this writing they have a paltry 1.3 star rating on Google, dominated by mean-spirited insinuations that the hog abuse is just the tip of the iceberg. I’m not sure why a tiny church in Wisconsin received so much attention while hog wrestling remains commonplace at larger venues and rodeos. Perhaps they were an easy mark.
Now the cookbook makes no mention of a Round-Up or a Pig Rassle or really anything else about the parish itself. There is an introduction thanking the cookbook committee and a dedication to home cooks, but they look like boilerplate sentiments from the cookbook publisher. There’s a copyright message to the tune of “all rights reserved” but no date whatsoever. I know the “where” but not the “when”, and only have a few clues to go by. First, there is a copyright message (1978) on the filler pagers and chapter dividers, which provide basic cooking tips and meal ideas. The second clue is the Tennessee address for cookbook publisher Fundcraft, who moved from rural Kansas to Tennessee in 1985.
Besides that the only real historical clue is a dessert recipe with the provocative title “Next Best Thing to Tom Selleck cake”. Now it’s possible that this recipe was written well past Mr. Selleck’s heyday by a woman reminiscing for better days, in the way that my mother thinks back fondly on Robert Redford or Paul Newman, but this seems unlikely. Tom Selleck is a heartthrob of a very particular era, and I’m comfortable dating this cookbook in the late 80s, early 90s. This would be late period Magnum P.I. but well in advance of the career-killing Quigley Down Under.
The recipe selection in Country Favorites is more or less run-of-the-mill for cookbooks of this era. Casseroles are well-represented but hardly dominant, and nearly half of the mains require ground beef. Aside from pastas and lasagnas and a few remnants of the area’s German roots there’s not much in the way of ‘ethnic’ food. The exception is a surprisingly competent teriyaki chicken recipe, which isn’t necessarily authentic but looks a lot more like teriyaki chicken than the archetypal “Oriental Casseroles”. Salads involve a lot of broccoli and mayonnaise but Jell-O is now reserved for desserts.
But there are a few outliers and oddities in Country Favorite that give it some character.
Garden Zucchini Pizza Casserole