From My WindowIssue Date: October 14, 2021
Church Cookbook Kind of Day
By Jane Thibodeau Martin,
I arrived home from church on a fall day. It wasn't crisp autumn-like weather, but the calendar, at least, said it was time for fall comfort food. So I got out my collection of "church cookbooks" and started browsing.
Church cookbooks are typically fundraisers, with the recipes contributed by church members. "Church ladies" (an inappropriate term as many men are active participants in food-related activities at churches) are famous for their good, comfort-type food.
I have a small collection of them, ranging from one from 1985, the parish of Sacred Heart in Marinette, where Mike and I attended before we were married; to one from our parish in Oklahoma, St. Clements. Looking through them, I recognize so many names; many of the recipe contributors long gone on to their heavenly rewards. The books evoke a lot of memories of our lives, and I'd keep them for that value alone.
But I also prize them for their common-sense approach to cooking. No fancy utensils needed; I probably have the necessary ingredients on hand. They are heavy on Jello salads, (something I haven't had in at least 15 years,) and ingredients like canned cream of mushroom soup; cheese, butter, sour cream and mayonnaise. Not much in the way of the healthy eating habits we try to follow now, but awesome for a cold night nostalgic splurge. There is no reference to the term "pasta," just noodles, and those are always "buttered." The recipes even recommend buttering rice, something I can't even contemplate.
There are no microwave references in most of my cookbooks, those were not common when these recipes were recorded.
The book that I treasure most is from what is now our home parish, St. Patrick's of Halder. Our copy of their 1979 cookbook belonged to Mike when we married; and has his annotations on some recipes and some splashes of frosting on a few pages. The names of contributors are still family names in our little parish; Mike remembers nearly all the contributors, but some I only recognize from seeing grave markers in the small church cemetery.
Family farmers were heavily represented in the church parishioners at the time of the Halder book publication, and that influence is obvious. There are two pie dough recipes in the book; one makes six crusts and one five. Big families, I guess; if you were making pie one wouldn't be near enough.
There is a large section on home canning, including recipes for canned fish. There is a "sausage making" section, something you don't see in modern cookbooks, on trendy TV shows or in on-line cooking content. Included is the recipe for "blood sausage." Not for the faint of heart; you needed one "fresh hog head from a 225 pound hog, seven pounds of fresh hog skin, and six pounds of fresh blood." I just can't imagine hauling a pig head into my kitchen, but the dogs would think it was the greatest day ever. There are no directions for washing this head, or removing eyeballs and teeth or anything at all, because the people consulting the recipe apparently already knew how to deal with that part of the process.
The recipe for head cheese also calls for a similar sized hog head, plus "the snout if desired, the tongue and the heart." I picture myself polling the kids as I make the head cheese, "hey, do you want it with snout or without?"
And of course liver sausage, which only requires half a hog head (I imagine hacking a hog head in half and quickly banish the disturbing mental picture from my brain) along with "liver to taste." (Who knows how much that would be? Possibly none?) And a "handful" of marjoram.
The largest sections of the book are devoted to homemade bread, rolls and baked desserts; and soups and chili. It is a reflection of the diets of hard-working farm families ?? not much risk of putting on too many pounds when you labor from sunup to sundown to make a living.
There are also recipes for homemade soap and other household necessities that are not food. It was "technology" needed by farm wives; used to making do, not wasting anything, and caring for a large family while assisting with farm chores. Frequent trips to the store to pick things up didn't happen. You might not be able to afford to do so, either in time or in money.
This cookbook is where I got the recipe that has become one of my winter favorites, cabbage rolls. Long ago, I adapted the basic recipe in the book to my own tastes, adding sun-dried tomatoes, and substituting enchilada sauce for the canned tomato soup. But when I wanted to try making them for the first time 35 years ago or more, this cookbook is where I went. It is as essential to me as my old orange "Betty Crocker" bible, with its broken bindings and my notes.
The church cookbooks are a trip down memory lane; a reminder of church members who went before us; and a solid resource in cooking and baking some basics, as long as you have someone to show you how to deal with hog heads the first time you make sausage. These days you can "google" any recipe you want on your cell phone, and paper cookbooks are an endangered species. But not at my house.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.
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