Lately I’ve been thinking about church cookbooks. I’m not entirely sure why, although the thought might have been kick-started when I paused in front of the cookbook section at the second-hand store called Hidden Treasures in Tweed the other day. (As you’ve probably guessed by now, I like to check out the local second-hand stores fairly regularly in the interest of finding treasures from my past, like here.) I do love all kinds of vintage cookbooks (as I’ve written about here), but on this particular occasion I found myself hoping and looking for vintage church cookbooks from the area. Without success, I might add.
Do you know what I mean by “church cookbooks”? I know they are still being produced today as fundraisers at many churches all over North America and very probably beyond. But there was a particular era from about the mid-1960s to about the mid-1970s when the women’s group at every church you could think of produced a cookbook, and they all looked very much the same. I believe that was because they were all produced by the same company, a publisher based in Manitoba, if I’m not mistaken – though I’m going by memory, so don’t quote me on that. There’s an example of a typical one at the top of this post, and here are a few more; the photos will show you what I mean when I say they all looked very much alike:
Now, you will not be at all surprised to hear that the United Church Women of St. Andrew’s United Church here in Queensborough (or “Queensboro,” as it was spelled on the cover) produced one of those cookbooks. It was full of recipes from the women of the church, and my mother the minister’s wife used it – well, religiously. (Sorry; I couldn’t help myself.) She used it until practically every page was covered in dried-up cooking spatters and/or had burn marks from the stovetop on it, and until the pages started falling out. And as far as I know she still pulls it out and uses it to this day – along with all the other local church cookbooks in her rather extensive collection (being a minister’s wife and all). I covet that collection.
So that’s the kind of cookbook I was hoping I might find on the shelves of the second-hand store in Tweed. I would give my eye teeth (whatever those are) to get my hands on a “Queensboro” church cookbook, and I would give only a bit less to acquire some of the other church cookbooks from this region. And it’s not so much for the vintage recipes (though many of them were wonderful, as I well recall); it’s for the names.
You see, the name of the contributor was listed beside each recipe, and those names take me back to the Queensborough, and the Manse, of my youth. When I leaf through my mum’s battered copy I am reminded of so many contributors who are no longer alive, but who are fondly remembered – along with their recipes for baked beans and tuna casserole and squares.
I remember two things about the names. One was that the married women were always listed under their husband’s name; they were “Mrs. Kenneth Cassidy” or “Mrs. James Gordon.” Heaven forbid they should have had a first name of their own! Here’s an example of a recipe page (pickle recipes!) – it’s from a church cookbook in far-off Minnesota, but the principle is exactly the same:
And the second thing I remember is that there were always quite a lot of contributions from the young unmarried women in the congregation (who mercifully got to see their own first names in print). I rather suspect the idea was to show the community that, as a 17-year-old or so, you were a good cook and thus eligible marriage material. So quaint, and so sweet!
Speaking of quaint and sweet, the last thing I’ll mention is the presence in all the church cookbooks (the older ones, at least) of a recipe for “Scripture Cake.” Scripture Cake! I found the photo that follows on (of all places) a blog for atheists, where they took a rather dim view of it. I, on the other hand, find it quite charming:
Anyway. My point (and I do have one) is this: if any of my Queensborough-area readers (or even those farther afield) happen to have a copy of the St. Andrew’s Church Cookbook from the “Queensboro” of the late 1960s that they don’t need – it would be an extremely welcome addition to the Manse’s kitchen!