Vintage cooking, church-style

Essex UCW cookbook

This 1967 cookbook from the United Church Women of Essex, Ont., is exactly typical of the church cookbooks that were produced everywhere in that era. (Photo from

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:

pickle recipes from a church cookbook

I don’t know how Olga Johnson got her own first name in there, but let me tell you, she was the exception to the rule, as you can see by “Mrs. Donald Floan” and “Mrs. Ervin J. Hegge.” That, my friends, is the way it was done in those vintage church cookbooks.

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:

Scripture Cake recipe

This recipe seemed to appear in all the church cookbooks of my youth. If it looks mysterious to you, just look up the Bible verses it refers to and you’ll get the idea: the first ingredient is flour, the second milk, and so on. (Photo from

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!

17 thoughts on “Vintage cooking, church-style

  1. Very interesting! Every now and then, those cookbooks surface. I remember seeing one in the Value Village in Belleville, but not for this part of the province. And guess what I have? Not a church cookbook, but I have a copy of a very similar book, plastic coil-bound as in your pics, and it is called, “The Art of Cooking in Tweed”. It was published by the Tweed and District Senior Club No. 399, Tweed, Ontario. The layout of the pages is identical to that of a church cookbook, with the contributor of the recipe having her name over on the right. At the end of each section, there is a blank page, and at the top it reads, “Write Extra Recipes Here:”.

    There are all kinds of ads by the local businesses of the day: Tweed IGA, Gateway Family Restaurant, Trudeau Motor Sales, Quinn’s of Tweed, Bush Furniture Ltd., Tweed Red & White (“for your baking requirements”) and on and on. Periodically, there is a banner that says, “Please patronize our advertisers.” The start of each section has a drawing of whatever the food in the section is about.

    At the back of the book, there is a section about oven temperatures, and how long to cook various types of food. There is a section about measurements, substitutions, herbs, slow crockery cooking and microwave cooking.

    • Hey Sash, that’s cool – that cookbook you have (what a find!) is exactly the same template as for all the church cookbooks in my memory, right down to “Please patronize our advertisers.” Is there any indication on it anywhere of the company that actually printed it for the Tweed and District Senior Club? I’m just wondering if I have it right about it having been a Manitoba company that produced all those zillions of midcentury cookbooks for all the churches and community groups all over Canada (and maybe the U.S. too).

      • At the bottom of the first page, there is “Litho in U.S.A.”. Then, on the next page, there is a Message from the Publisher, noting that they specialize in the publishing of cookbooks, recipe file books, crafts books, calendars, etc. “Your organization can make $375 to $3,500 with one of our projects … write to: Project Department, Women’s Clubs Publishing Co., Inc., 323 South Franklin Street, Chicago, Illinois 60606.”

        I’ve just noticed a hand-written recipe in the book, and I recognize this as my grandmother’s handwriting. So, this is a nice keepsake. I’m glad I have it, because I have a hunch that it was headed for the recycling bin, but I noticed it and rescued it.

        I mentioned that I’d seen another church cookbook in the Value Village in Belleville. That’s a great store to browse, because you never know what you’ll find. I also remember seeing a church commemorative plate (from around the Windsor area), to mark an anniversary of the church. So, it’s amazing what can be found in our second-hand shops.

      • Aha! So it was the Americans behind The Great Midcentury Community Cookbook Scheme! Well, good for them; we all got some excellent recipes (and community memories) our of the deal.

        You’ve mentioned the Belleville Value Village before, Sash, and now you have made me realize that I absolutely must check it out. (Fortunately I have an errand to run in that part of Belleville tomorrow anyway so: look out, Value Village!)

      • Thanks. Oh, I was hoping that the Arts Centre still allowed the suppers to take place. I’m sure the folks in the immediate area must miss it a great deal. But Queensborough is not that far! I remember being so impressed with the contribution of the United Church Women in their building at Madoc Fair, so I know that their suppers would be “not to be missed”.

        As for Value Village, I’m sure you’ll like browsing around. You’ll find the store to be very clean and well organized. For example, clothing is all nicely sorted according to side (unlike some thrift shops), and I seem to recall that clothing was also sub-sorted according to colour. Be sure to check out the knick-knacks, because that’s where you’ll find some gems, such as the church plate. V.V. used to give out cards that they would stamp based on one’s purchases. So many visits could mean something at a reduced price, or possibly a freebie. I’m not sure if they still have those cards, though.

      • Glad you mentioned the Queensborough UCW booth at the Madoc Fair, Sash – that was a wonderful tradition of very long standing. The St. Andrew’s women were famous for the food they turned out at the fair! It was only within the past five years or so that a diminished number of UCW members meant they had to give the booth up. Another church group has taken it over and they do a fine job (great pies), but it’s just not the same. Maybe we can come back someday!

      • I’m sorry to learn that there have been changes at the UCW building at the Fair, but I guess that’s the way things go. Hopefully, renewed interest will occur. I will never forget seeing a woman making tea there. She had a huge barrel of water on the boil and she ripped open a box of tea bags and tossed them all in. Then, she would take a dipper and dip tea into teapots. My mother always warned us not to eat food from travelling vendors. She would say to go to a reliable place and she would specifically name the UCW building. And the food was always sooooo good there!

        Do they still have contests at the fair (such as for the entering of food items — pickles, pies, jams, etc.)? That is one of the nicest things about going to a small fair, seeing the exhibits and contests, seeing who won a ribbon for this and that, etc.

  2. I treasure a Masonville Mennonite Church cookbook that we purchased eons ago in Lancaster Co. PA. (Don’t even know where Masonville is.) From it I have the best, bar none, baked bean recipe. We have used it for 15 years at every family event. Just like they used to serve at Hazzard’s fall suppers, without ever soaking a bean!.

  3. Speaking of church cookbooks, Tweed, etc., do you know if the old marble church in Actinolite still serves their Thanksgiving dinners? I can remember my grandparents raving about these wonderful dinners, with everything having been prepared by the local residents. For a very reasonable price, one would enjoy a wonderful feast. I’m told there was no shortage of any type of dessert pies that you could imagine, in addition to many lovely main course dishes. I hope this tradition hasn’t slipped away.

    • The marble church in Actinolite has ceased to be a (United) church, Sash, and is now the Marble Arts Centre, the home base for the Tweed & Area Arts Council. All kinds of good (arts-related) things are happening there, but not (as far as I know) turkey suppers. For that you will have to come to St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough next fall. The St. Andrew’s turkey supper is (and always has been) second to none, including in the pie department! (Not to mention the baked beans…)

  4. Katherine, I do have an extra Queensboro cookbook. It was my Mother–in-laws and she has written some extra recipes of her own it but it is in really good condition, not like mine, well used and a little worse for the wear. I also have something else that I got for a gift when Don and I were married that I think you might like to have (going to keep you guessing on that). I don’t know when we will get down to Queensborough, however if you are up Peterborough way at any time in your travels give me a call to make sure we will be home and you can stop by. Our phone number is 705-748-5363 Let me know if you would like the cook book, I would be really happy to give it to you.

    Barbara Martin (Sager)

    • Barb, I cannot even begin to tell you how pleased I am to get your comment, and how absolutely thrilled (and overwhelmed, actually) I am about your incredibly kind offer. Those Queensboro cookbooks are so rare! And oh my goodness, to think you have found something else that you think I might like (and I am certain that you are right) – this is just beyond lovely. Thank you!! Raymond and I do seem to get to Peterborough (the big city!) every couple of months or so, and so the next time we are planning an excursion I will be thrilled to call you and come see you and Don. Thank you again! Wow!

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