Thursday, February 21, 2013

Reflections on Parish Cookbooks

Forgive me some stream of consciousness indulgence for a bit.

I don't know how I feel about church cookbooks. You know, the spiral bound collections that parishes sell for fundraisers, comprised of recipes from the ladies' altar society and all of their friends and distant relatives?

On the one hand, they're rather charming. Ostensibly, they're the collection of the greatest recipes from real cooks, many of whom you know personally. There can be some real recipe gems in there. "Meemaw's Creamy Eggnog," "Uncle Oswald's Secret Marinade," and "Aunt Lobelia's Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake" are all tried and true winners.

On the other hand, nobody screens the entries; if Aunt Maybelle submits a dud, it's still getting published.

I submit two "recipes" for your perusal that were recently espied in an old parish cookbook:

Festive Green Beans
Submitted by: Name withheld [truly, and not by me]

1 can green beans
1/4 cup chopped red pepper

Mix ingredients. Serves 4.
Sesame Chicken
Submitted by: Name withheld [I have my suspicions...]

1 chicken, cut to pieces
1/2 cup sesame seeds.

Cook chicken. At the end, top with sesame seeds. Serves 4-6.

You've got to give her points for brevity.

Another staple of parish cookbooks is the ubiquitous "Recipe for A Happy Life"... something saccharine about a dash of love, a sprinkle of giggles, a dollop of forgiveness, a pinch of humor, and a smidge of faith. That recipe, or slightly adapted, is in every volume I own.

When I want a new recipe, I rarely scan these cookbooks. Why?

1) There are no pictures. If I can't see it, it's hard to envision serving it.

2) My style of cooking is very different. I don't often go for "quick and easy" recipes, because I enjoy cooking and, at this stage in my life, I have plenty of time to do it. I don't buy refrigerated biscuits, Ranch dressing packets, cream of mushroom soup, or Lipton onion soup. Yes, I know how to replace all of those, but I'm usually turned off of a recipe if I have to do a lot of substituting.

3) There are often five or six versions of "Perfect Pineapple Fluff," each with slight but significant variations. The indecision of which "perfect" recipe to pick kills me. My attempts to amalgamate the best of each version often result in far less than perfect dishes.

And yet, these books still hog a whopping 2 feet of shelf space in my miniscule pantry.

And I can't part with them.

What are your own thoughts on the matter?


Jenna St.Hilaire said...

I have one... I use the spinach strawberry salad recipe, which is awesome.

But yeah, I don't really use the rest of it. Fannie Farmer is just about the only hardbound cookbook I ever use. The rest of the time, I rely on the internet. ;)

Tori Greene said...

I recently got rid of a bunch of cookbooks that I never use. There were a couple of those collections in there, but they came here with my husband so I had no personal attachment to them. I flipped through quick to see if there was anything worth saving, but the lack pictures & processed ingredients turned me off, too. So they are gone.

Christine Smith said...

I agree - they definitely hold a certain charm. I have a few similar books on my shelf. But as you say, when there's no picture to help get your mouth watering, the recipe very rarely gets tried.

allybillhorn said...

I agree there are usually some real duds in those cookbooks...but every once in awhile some jems too!

Farmer's City Wife said...

Fannie Farmer? That's the 17th time (or so, hehe) that I've heard that one recommended. I'm going to have to check it out at the library soon.

Farmer's City Wife said...

My sentiments exactly :-D. I had extra copies of some of them, too! I think I had been waiting for somebody to get married so I could unload them as a gift, but I ended up donating them somewhere, I think.

Farmer's City Wife said...

Honestly, the same thing happens in some of my older "real" cookbooks when there is only a picture every 30 pages... I make the ones with pictures but I have a hard time imagining the imageless ones.

Mrs. McDonald said...

For me it's a love/hate relationship with the books. I LOVE the old traditional recipes like "Slavenian Nut Rolls" and "Kipfele" that have turned out super yummy. And then there was the Magnificent brownies that two days of soaking couldn't get the mix out of the pan, so I gave up and bought a new pan.
My favorite cookbook is from the Lutheran Ladies of Red Wing Minnesota. They must have had a committee to prevent dud recipes. Everything I've made out of it has been tasty and there were no repeats.

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Jean Garcia said...

I pretty much agree with everything you said. I have two or three of such cookbooks in my pantry. Some gems, some way-less-than-desirable dishes. I often find that I glance through, try one or two things, resolve that the whole cookbook must be as lousy as the couple things I tried, and then into the cupboard it goes with the other pretty much unused cookbooks. Begs the question of why I keep any of the cookbooks up there? I only open that cupboard once a year when I add a small stack of books to it. Maybe it's time for a purge????

Farmer's City Wife said...

Oh goodness, Jean, I feel exactly like this! I hoard cookbooks even though I've declared some of them "losers." I think for the books that I only like one or two recipes, I should just copy those pages and give away the books... would save a lot of shelf space, that's for sure :).

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