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.