Favorite Recipes of Thorn Grove Baptist Church
Favorite Recipes is yet another simple, spiralbound volume of recipes prepared by the Thorn Grove Baptist Church in Strawberry Plains, Tennessee. Strawberry Plains is small community of a few thousand people twenty minutes’ east of Knoxville. Thorn Grove Baptist was founded in 1917 and met for a time in the local schoolhouse. The building on the cover of the 1978 cookbook is the same building they meet in today.
In terms of production values this is a charming amateur affair top to bottom. There’s no copyright notice or third party publishing partner. The cover is a simple, sepia-toned photo of the church, and the contents are hand-typed and entirely in black and white. Chapter divisions are hand-lettered and illustrated by a member of the congregation. White space is filled with scriptures, inspirational poems, and pithy quotes. (My favorite quote: “after the fling — wait for the sting”) As a historical document there’s precious little beyond a list of current members and regular “attenders”, suggesting a community of two hundred or so individuals and families.
Unlike most collections, which are compiled by a women’s auxiliary, Favorite Recipes was prepared by the Young Married Sunday School Class. It contains submissions primarily from women but also a few men, which is unusual for the era. (Although not as many men as I originally thought – prolific contributor Marvin L. is, according to public records, a mother of five.)
It is also one of the few church cookbooks I own with advertisements. Plenty of them. At the same time, it’s not clear to me that this was part of a fundraising effort. Some of the introductory comments that suggest this was a gift from the Young Married Sunday School to the congregation at large. The ads were probably just a means to defray the cost of publication.
In researching the congregation I learned that this cookbook was published just a few years before a tragic murder that took place in the pastor’s home. The pastor was not the murderer nor the victim, nor were any of his congregation directly involved, but I imagine this had significant repercussions for both the pastor and the community. I often like to try and picture what it was like to attend the churches I write about in their particular time and place, but in this case I feel as though I know too much.
Now this obviously isn’t a true crime site. I’d much rather talk about their recipes than a forty year old tragedy – this is one of the better cookbooks in my collection. If you must know more I’ve chronicled the details on a separate page.
The recipe collection is more varied than I would have expected for the rural South. There’s a healthy helping of casserole and stew recipes, but also a few variants of tamales and tamale pie plus some extravagantly sauced meats and pork chops. The “vegetables” section contains a half-dozen variants of scalloped potatoes, but also a bright pickled tomato recipe and a citrus-ginger glazed carrots. And as always there’s a nearly endless array of sweets and pies. I would have loved to enjoy a potluck with these folks.