This cookbook came to me in kind of a roundabout way. The first time I had ever heard of Beta Sigma Phi was in one of my old vintage church cookbooks. A lovely Apple Pudding Bread recipe casually bragged that it was selected for the Beta Sigma Phi International Dessert Cookbook. The recipe itself was exquisite, or at least as exquisite as a dessert bread can be, so I started poking around at my usual online booksellers. Tracking down that specific dessert cookbook has proved challenging, but The Best of Beta Sigma Phi Cookbook (1991) was readily available from a local seller. As you may discern from the title, this is a sampling of the “best of the best” from prior publications with recipes stretching back to the 1960s. The Apple Pudding Bread didn’t make the cut, but there are eleven hundred recipes that did.
The cookbook offers very little information about the organization itself. From my first readthrough I came away with the impression that Beta Sigma Phi consists of women who like to hold fancy parties. The introductory chapters include instructions and menus for elaborate themed parties, such as the following:
This elegant but easy menu was served at an afternoon buffet on the lawn of a home on the river. Guests, dressed in white, arrived in limousines and vintage cars. The earlier part of the afternoon was spent playing croquet on the lawn as we watched boats sail by and refreshed ourselves with limeade and lemon sorbet…
And, well, you get the idea. To be fair, the rest of the party suggestions are nowhere near as bourgeois, but my impression of the Beta Sigma Phi wasn’t actually that far off base. They are an international non-academic sorority – think Freemasons, not Animal House – with a few hundred thousand members spread across thirty or so countries. From reading their newsletters their primary goal is companionship and sisterhood, achieved by monthly social gatherings and sponsoring community events. Membership dues are quite modest and I suspect that the scale and grandeur of these gatherings vary from community to community. There is also an emphasis on service and charitable giving; a portion of membership dues are diverted to breast cancer research, and the parent organization donates several hundred thousand dollars annually to targeted charities.
The Best of Beta Sigma Phi Cookbook collects selected recipes from prior years’ recipe books, which were usually focused on a particular cuisine or type of food. Themes range from “money-saving casseroles” to “cooking light” to “gourmet”, and as such the selection of recipes is widely varied and comes across as a little bit disjointed. Recipes for Salmon in Champagne Cream Sauce sit side by side with a thousand-island-dressing-drenched Reuben Casserole and a weeknight Stroganoff. All of the recipes appear to be vetted, tested, and judged but the varied themes mean that what counts as a winner one year might not even be eligible the next. But for me variety is the spice of life and on this front The Best of Beta Sigma Phi delivers. Want a selection of handy weeknight meals? Authentic international dishes? Weird Jell-O salads? This book has a little bit of everything. Because these were submitted and judged the recipes themselves are generally high quality, both in terms of the meal and the writing. Instructions are lucid and thorough, and while there’s little in the way of illustration or technique a novice home cook ought to be able to manage most of these recipes without issue.
I traditionally append a single recipe to my cookbook reviews to capture the “spirit” of the cookbook and here I’m at a loss. When I’ve got African stews, etouffee, and ham loaf in the same cookbook it’s difficult to choose. If you want to get a better feel for The Best of Beta Sigma Phi Cookbook I’ve compiled a short list of my favorites at this link. You can also usually find used copies at Amazon or elsewhere. But since the review seems naked without a recipe I’ve chosen “the one” – a simple and elegant side dish – and added it below.
Maple Apple Carrot Mélange is a quick and delicious side that seems to encapsulate the fancy dinner party spirit of The Best of Beta Sigma Phi Cookbook. It is colorful, flavorful, and the unique combination of carrots and apples will communicate your sophisticated tastes to whoever you are trying to impress.
All kidding aside, what initially drew me to this recipe was that I didn’t have to peel the apples before I cooked them. Peeling apples is a pain in the neck and almost never worth the trouble, and I feel like it takes a lot of flavor, not to mention color and fiber, along with it. I’ve been known to leave the skin on my apples when making apple pie. Carrots, on the other hand, are a vegetable that I like much better raw. I’ve learned to tolerate cooked carrots as I’ve gotten older, but they’ve got to be done properly. And Maple Apple Carrot Mélange does them properly. The maple syrup and apples add back some of their sweetness that’s lost in the cook. The key to getting this right is to choose fresh, tart apples and cook them just long enough to heat them through. Overcooked, old apples will get a little bit mealy. I’ve reduced the cooking time for the apples to prevent this from happening, but if you start with mealy apples they’re only going to get mealier.
Now maybe I’m brainwashed by breakfast foods, but maple syrup seems to be a natural fit for pork products. Pair Maple Apple Carrot Mélange alongside or on top of a pan-seared pork chop, pork tenderloin, or a thick slice of ham, plus a starch and a green vegetable. Enjoy!
- Core each apple and slice into 8-10 thin wedges. DO NOT REMOVE THE PEELS.
- Peel carrots and slice diagonally, about ¾ inch to an inch thick. Peel onions and slice into very thin rings.
- Heat a saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Melt butter and saute carrots 5 minutes until they begin to get soft. Add onions and stir for another minute or two until they start to soften. Add maple syrup and salt - stir to combine. Cover and simmer on low heat for another 10 minutes.
- Add apples and stir to combine. Cover and simmer another 5 minutes until carrots are cooked through.
- Toss well before serving.