Over the past several years, I find myself googling recipes to prepare my meals. Searching my Pinterest Board “Umm? Yum!” for that bread recipe, blender hollandaise sauce, or perfect no fail pickle brine that I thought I pinned? God bless the internet for all the things I didn’t know I needed to know. But I have an entire shelf (a shelf!) for cookbooks that I could “Julie and Julia” my way through for decades. Steven Raichlen expounds the virtues of grilling. Jamie Oliver explains “naked” foods. Lynne Rossetto Kasper sets her “Splendid Table”. Years’ worth of Chris Kimball’s “Cook’s Illustrated” are haphazardly shoved on the shelf. I could bake bread in five minutes, every day! Betty Crocker explains that if I’m “a good mathematician” I could multiply or even divide recipes. And, of course, there is the grandmamma of 20th century cookbooks, “The Household Searchlight Recipe Book” published in 1934 (my grandmother’s first). I’ve curated my shelf; each book is a favorite, except for the "High Times Cannabis Cookbook" I have no idea where that came from or why it’s on my shelf. But we live in Washington, so maybe everyone has one, now.
I love each dearly, but none compare to locally published cookbooks. Being from a small rural community lends itself to having groups publish cookbooks for fundraising activities. I’m sure you have one or two yourself. Each one is fascinating. Some are just local recipes with the submitter’s name attached, published purely for fundraising, often by church organizations. “Wheat’s Cookin’” is an entire book with recipes that contain flour and/or wheat ingredients put together by the Washington Association of Wheat Growers. One that is high on my list is “Küche Kochen” published by the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia which contains no less than nine (!) recipes for pickled watermelon. If you’ve never had pickled watermelon, you must. It is a sweet, sour, cold, crisp perfection.
I come from a family of cooks, both grandmothers and mother have been school cooks. My paternal grandmother introduced me to things like duck-liver pȃtè, saffron, and lobster on a Friday night. My maternal grandmother had an industrial sized mixer in her garage kitchen and not until I was a teenager did I realize that grandmothers don’t usually send Schwann’s ice cream tubs full of frozen cookie dough home to be thawed and baked off later. Our Thanksgivings were spent in that kitchen processing pork and making sausage, smoking it in the cinder smoker my grandfather built. Our gatherings revolved around food and in 1980 something strange happened, my grandmother published her very own cookbook full of recipes that she had gathered and created. Her first job was as a cook for a harvest crew, one that she fibbed her way into at the ripe old age of 13. From then on she gathered and perfected recipes for everything and she put all of that into this bright red, plastic-bound volume entitled “Kuster’s Kitchen Kooking” that she gave away to family and friends.
Old-Time Popcorn Balls? Got that. Dill ‘N Dumplings Soup? Yep. Elephant Stew? The 2 rabbits are optional. Eggplant Parmgiana? Absolutely. Kids Play Dough? Yeah. Feta Cheese? Why not?
With all of the food and drink she interspersed silly recipes like a "Super Turkey Dressing" which calls to stuff the turkey with unpopped popcorn and is “done when the corn pops and blows out the end of the turkey.” The handwritten notes at the bottom of pages include “Prepare your attitude every morning”, “There is nothing wrong with the younger generation that 20 years won’t cure”, and “Enjoy your own individual uniqueness”.
While I searched for her pickled beet recipe, I read “Kindness is the golden chain which society is bound together”. I’m fairly certain that the book itself is a recipe for life and for a while at least I’m going to focus on cooking from books rather than recipes I scroll past on Facebook. Where does one get an elephant?