Chew On This

Weigl: Time travel with old cookbooks

aweigl@newsobserver.comNovember 27, 2012 

CHURCHCOOKBOOK.FE.112612.JEL

Andrea Weigl has a growing collection of community and church cookbooks.

JLEONARD@NEWSOBSERVER.COM — JULI LEONARD

I have a slight eBay habit at the moment. Please don’t tell my husband.

I’m supposed to be culling my cookbook collection to make more room in our 1,200-square-foot house. But I can’t stop bidding on community and church cookbooks.

The habit started earlier this year with a small book project that left me scouring old Southern cookbooks for pickles and preserves recipes.

It escalated during a trip to Tarboro to do research on Eastern North Carolina cheese biscuits. Those hours spent in the Tarboro public library looking through local cookbooks for cheese biscuit recipes reminded me what gems you can discover in their pages. Before I had left the city limits, I had purchased a cookbook from a Tarboro church: “Saint James United Methodist Cooks.”

Since then, I’ve been on a tear.

I now own a 1915 cookbook compiled by the Women’s Guild of the First Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn., which “contains many tested receipts.” (Receipts is an old word for recipes.)

I couldn’t pass up “The Buckeye Way Cook Book,” sold in 1913 for 50 cents by The Ladies’ Aid Society of the Methodist Church in Ruffin, a community in Rockingham County. The inscription on the third page is precious: “A collection of recipes and suggestions gathered by and from a group of women who have ever kept a firm grip upon the kitchen as the source from which they bring many joys of life, and at the same time, guide the outgo so that there is little strife between it and the income.”

A treasure from Garner

Despite those treasures, I think my favorite is “Garner’s Favorite Recipes,” published by the Women’s Society of Christian Service at Garner Methodist Church in 1956.

There are recipes that so capture that convenience food era, such as jiffy tuna casserole with cream of mushroom soup, canned tuna and canned peas. There are older recipes like pear relish and spoon bread. The recipes call for such ingredients as oleo, a #10 can of tomatoes and “a hen.”

As with many Southern community and church cookbooks, at least half of the pages are devoted to sweets: lemon chess pie, mock brownie pie, jam cake, coconut candy and three different recipes for pound cakes.

The best part about this book may be the advertisements.

I drive down Western Boulevard almost every day. I didn’t know it used to be home to Swain’s Chicken House and Art’s Sundry Shop “specializing in sandwiches, milk shakes and patented medicines.”

There are ads for Pine State dairy products, Jesse Jones Sausage Co., and a “W.R. Beasley, banana specialist.” There’s an ad for Poole’s Pie Shop on Glenwood Avenue with this slogan: “Particular People Perfer Poole’s Pies.” (I assume they meant “prefer,” but maybe not.)

What I love most about this book is the window it offers into a community I thought I knew pretty well. It turns out I have a lot to learn.

Weigl: 919-829-4848 or aweigl@newsobserver.com

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