In an effort to reduce clutter last week, I boxed up my second string cookbooks and left only my essential favorites on the shelf. (One criteria meriting shelf survival is whether I have used the cookbook in question for more than one recipe.) On Tuesday I had lunch with a good friend who was also purging things in her apartment and offered me two grocery bags full of cookbooks to go through. She urged me to keep what I want and forward the rest on to others or donate somewhere. I didn’t hesitate, knowing I’d enjoy looking at more cookbooks, and one older book with a denim colored, library-style binding surprised and delighted me: The Fairmont Cookbook from the Fairmont Temple Sisterhood in Ohio. It was hardbound published in 1957.
I love cooking circle/privately put-together cookbooks. They are an animal I didn’t really experience until I got married and gained my husband’s family’s soft bound recipe collection dated from 1986. It has recipes from various branches of the extended family contributing recipes and attributing cooks from earlier generations. The family is Czech on his mother’s side and there are various Eastern European specialties like kolaches.
A kolache is sort of a cross between a filled donut and a bun, and while I’ve never tried one I have heard my brothers- and sisters-in-law sigh reverentially about their deliciousness.
Private cookbooks also often have a section in the back with household hints and home remedies, which both of these do. I am particularly intrigued by the notion that the best way to get coffee stains out of fabric is to pour boiling water on the stain from a height of 2-3 feet, then launder immediately in hot, sudsy water.
A trait that my family has in common with my husband’s is the tendency to discuss past glorious meals during the current family feast, and I recall my relatives in New York bemoaning the loss of Romanian dishes they knew by the name of ‘Red Russell’ or a version of stuffed peppers because the recipe had not been passed down or recorded. Having this Temple Sisterhood cookbook fall into my hands is like finding a treasure map. Will it have unearth some recipes thought to be forgotten? I am looking forward to finding out!
My husband looked over my shoulder just now to see that I am revealing the family’s kolaches recipe and he gasped at the thought of broadcasting it, wandering what angry spirits I might inadvertently let loose for exposing family secrets. I don’t think he need worry – a lot of these recipes, like the one for apple struedel, are quite complicated and will not immediately sweep the nation. He is an open source kind of guy and is just tweaking me I think. Though secret ingredient tactics may still be alive and well, I think the statute of limitations should run out every other generation.
Family and group cookbooks are a labor of love and a labor of pride. So if you have one languishing around the house, I urge you to dust it off and try cooking something from it or at least browse through its hand-crafted pages. It is endearing to see the embellishments, where we are told some great aunt won a special prize from a magazine or county fair. It’s also fun to laugh over some of the odder specimens and make old beloved recipes that will bring a smile to a loved one. We win when we honor our associations with each other and take pride in the cooking prowess our families took the time to record for future generations.
Vinny Grette aka Sharon said:
Family traditions – I love that!
Ok. You’ve hit close to home with this one. Beloved titles on my kitchen shelves are “Second Helpings Please,” published in 1968 (5728) by the Montreal chapter of B’nai B’rith women, which came to us from Mark’s mother. Who knew that so many Jewish dishes involve “tinned pineapple?” And then there’s the 1954 New Settlement cookbook, given to my mother by her mother on the eve of her wedding in 1959. What I love about this one is that the genesis of this book (1st ed. 1901) was teaching immigrants how to cook like Americans. So interesting…. Incidentally years ago (way before Julie and Julia), Will Pritchard cooked his way through one of his grandmother’s cookbooks and wrote about it in a piece for some food journal. Gastronomica? I’m going to see if I can find it on Google. Anyway, thanks for the memories…..
Actually not hard to find. Google sure is amazing. I think you might enjoy it. : )
Hi Sharon. Thanks so much for writing and for the link! I can’t wait to read Will’s journey into kreplach-land. He was ahead of his time, of course…
Thank goodness you only posted the first page of the Kolaches recipe – it was always known our grandmother would write her recipe on two pages – one in the book the other for the cook. The secret is still safe, thanks for keeping with tradition!
Ha! and Phew! Well I’m definitely not going to spend a day trying to make these then if you’re saying they will be sub-par. Apparently in Texas there’s a store called The Kolache Factory.
And my mom’s secret to her phenomenal chopped liver is raw onions along with the sauteed. I’ve tried to make it as well as she does but there’s something missing. A je ne sais quoi.
I had family by the name of Vavra, my dad was a Batka and his sister married a Vavra
Arla Vavra said:
I learned to make kolache in our Grandma Vavra’s kitchen as a young wife and am now the Grandma Vavra teaching my own children and grandchildren the art of kolache! 💕
Thank you for sharing this recipe!
Thank you for sharing that happy thread – the circle of life in the kitchen! May you inspire the new generation and continue to make wonderful kolaches in good health. 🙂 Janice
What a lovely coincidence and connection. So glad you found us! 😊 I know that this family of Vavra’s lived in Nebraska. If you have any tips to making excellent kolaches that you’d like to share, please do. Thanks for letting me know there is a Grandma Vavra out there making kolaches with family. All best, Janice
Saw this post and did a double take! I thought who put my Grandma Vavra’s kolache recipe on Pinterest? I will have to find my Grandma Vavra’s recipe and compare. Wisconsin Vavra’s loved her Kolache recipe the best!
That’s wild! Thanks for sharing that with me. One of these days I will have to try making them myself, but I understand it’s a big project.