Creating and sharing special food may be one of our oldest traditions. Special tastes, smells, and textures help calm, ground, and center many of us, especially during stressful times.
Soon after going into quarantine in March, I emailed book club friends and asked if any would like to share some favorite recipes. It didn’t take long to collect over 30 different recipes for hors’ d’oeuvres, soup, salads, veggies, meat, fish, poultry, and desserts.
The tradition of sharing food preparation is not new. American Cookery, a small book published in 1796, is attributed to an “orphan,” New England’s Amelia Simmons. It may be the first cookbook printed and distributed in the United States.
Between 1864 and 1922, over 3,000 community or charity cookbooks were published in the United States in which each group of creative cooks share a variety of their recipes in a single collection. The earliest were handmade and included poems, housekeeping hints, and photographs. For some, this may have been the only place these women could have seen their name in print.
The first charity cookbook created in the United States in 1864 was A Poetical Cookbook by Maria J. Moss to raise funds to help cover medical expenses for Union soldiers injured in the Civil War. Each included a rhyming verse with the recipes popular at the time such as “johnnycakes” and “hasty pudding.”
The Woman Suffrage Cookbook included titles such as “Mrs. Mary F. Curtiss’s Rebel Soup” and “Miss M.A. Hill’s Mother’s Election Cake” that was sold during the 1886 Boston Festival and Bazaar to raise funds for the suffrage campaign.
By 1901, Lizzie Kander was raising funds from the sale of The Settlement Cook Book for Milwaukee’s Jewish Settlement House to support recent immigrants and help them assimilate more quickly.
In the United States as many as 6,000 community cookbooks had been published by 1915. That number would rise dramatically throughout the 20th Century and beyond.
Charleston Receipts, the first cookbook created by any Junior League organization, was published in 1950 and is still in print today 70 years later. In addition to 750 recipes, it features Charleston artists’ sketches as well as verses purported to be in Gullah dialect. One recipe in this book reflects the food shortage occurring soon after the end of World War II—“Eggless, Milkless, Butterless Cake” which called for water and lard to replace the three hard-to-find ingredients in the name. A sequel to the original cookbook, Charleston Receipts Repeats, published in 1980, was inducted into the McIlhenny Hall of Fame almost immediately.
The Richland County Public Library has collected over 200 historic cook books from this area. Favorite Recipes and Directory published by Waverly Methodist Church members in 1928 is the oldest collection that includes a recipe for people on the “Typhoid Diet.”
Trinity Episcopal Church’s cookbook from 1952, Heathwood Hall Episcopal School Parent’s Guild’s Columbia Cooks for Fun and Flavor in 1960; Palmetto Pantry in 1983; and Food for the Soul in 2013 are also part of the library’s collection.
For something brand new, go online for Alicia Cohn’s Quarantine Recipe Club, a new culinary newsletter created for this specific point-in-time. It includes an online recipe spreadsheet with links for to photographs, recipes, and more.
“The people who give you their food give you their heart.”
Many years ago, soon after my mother’s death, I gathered her cookbooks and recipe cards and organized them into a small cookbook in her memory that I named Royal Party Secrets. It was a labor of love, completely handwritten as if on a large a deck of cards for the bridge games my mother had so enjoyed with her women friends and couples.
Perhaps you would like to create some special memories during this current moment? Stir up some of your own favorite recipes with a large helping of love for all the gifts received and shared throughout a lifetime.
“Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.”
Susan Hendricks leads personal writing groups and workshops approved by the S. C. Social Work Examiners Board for CEU credits for mental health counselors and is an instructor for the online Therapeutic Writing Institute. For all of her Columbia Star columns, visit www.susanhendricks.com/columbia-star-news.