Amanuensis Monday: Parsonage Favorites 1976, Recipes from Pastors' Wives

Over the last few months, I've transcribed my grandmother's diaries from her time in the Belgian Congo in the late 1940s. After their time in Africa, they spent several years as missionaries in the Philippines. I hope to find a few things from that era, but for now, I'm going to jump forward to 1976 when she and my grandfather, Harry, lived in California. By this point, most of their children have left home, and my grandfather became the pastor of several Baptist churches in California.

One of the ways my grandmother, Vickie, spent her time was compiling recipes from other ministers' wives into cookbooks. My grandparents published the first one in 1976, and not only does it contain information about the food trends in the 1970s, it also tells me even more about my grandmother and her character. Never was she at a loss for words, and if she had something to say, she said it without a filter. Quirky, proud, and at times self righteous, my grandmother had a wealth of opinions about everything--even recipes. Some of her comments in this book are absolutely priceless. And I'm overjoyed to share them with you.

The series of cookbooks are called Parsonage Favorites: Choice Recipes of the Wives of the Pastors of the California Association of Regular Baptist Churches. In the introduction, she remarks:

"Last year at the Regular Baptist State Pastors' Wives Retreat as Asilomar some of us were talking in the dining room and exchanging recipes as women do. We were sharing recipes that were quick and easy to make, inexpensive, and delicious to eat. For women who do a lot of entertaining, these ideas were just what we needed. Someone suggested that we ought to make a cookbook so we could all have them.

I said that I would ask my husband to print the book. My offer was accepted, and thus I became the editor. I am sorry that many of our pastors' wives were not included, and some of them didn't even know about the project. I just didn't have the time to write to everyone, but I made a couple attempts to get the word out. If you didn't know about it, it is because you weren't at Asilomar last year, you weren't at the state conference at Santa Maria, and you didn't read the Regular Baptist Messenger last March.

I have also included some helpful hints. May this book be used to help us be better wives and hostesses and to help in the great work that our husbands are doing for their Lord and ours. What a privilege it is to be permitted to serve Him!

Vickie Buerer, February 1976"

As I was opening the cookbook to take a look, a letter fell out. The letter, dated May 1976, contains some additions and corrections as well as recommendations. My favorite part is the first paragraph:

"A few things have come to my attention that I thought you should know about. On page 44 in the recipe for Wacky Chocolate Cake, Mrs. Mann meant to put down baking soda instead of baking powder. You will want to change it. I made it with baking powder and it didn't rise."

In addition to the recipes, the cookbook has Bible verses and comments from my grandmother typed in red. My favorites:

Janet Jarvis, known for her pumpkin bread at Christmas time.

  • When you buy a bottle of grape juice for the communion service, do you wish you could keep the rest of it for the next month? You can. Pour it into an ice cube tray and freeze it. When frozen, put the cubes into a plastic bag and save them in the freezer. Take out just as many as you need and they thaw out fast. I got this idea from Janet Jarvis in Rohnert Park.
  • Before molding a gelatin salad, rub the mold with mayonnaise. When you are ready to unmold it, it will come out right.
  • I know from experience that this (a recipe for pumpkin bread) is really good. Mrs. Jarvis serves it at Christmas time and we have been invited to her home to sample the Christmas goodies when my husband was pastor in Rohnert Park. Now her husband is pastor and she can't invite the pastor and his family over.
  • Several times I have heard people say, "I didn't know Baptists ate devils' food cake." Maybe we shouldn't.
  • You will be tempted to pour some of the fruit juice in this batter to moisten it. Don't. (a comment regarding a fruit cocktail dessert.)

What I've decided to do is choose a recipe and post it every Friday for Family Recipe Friday. I will give my critique of the recipe, and I'm right now inclined to post only things that taste good and I think will be enjoyable by others. I believe the cookbooks go all the way to 1990, and once again, I have a wealth of information from the Buerers. Let's get cooking!

Vintage recipes and traditions: finding the food of our ancestors

Last October, I wrote a post about finding the stack pie tradition in North Carolina.  The whole notion of stack pie is a wonderful thing to me.  It encompasses artistry, community, and family all in one dish.  But the only documentation I had of stack pie came from Cabins in the Laurel, a book my aunt gave me.  I knew I had to do more digging.

And I found some great things.  Amazing things.  But I didn't find them in the way I expected.  For instance, I realized discovering old (and sometimes forgotten) recipes can't really be done online.  Nowadays, we can do almost everything with a few clicks on our computer or phone.  But stack pie didn't really come up all that regularly for me, if at all.  So I dug some more.  And I've come up with some suggestions on how and where you can possibly come up with some great ideas for vintage food traditions and recipes.

  • Ask your relatives.  This almost seems too easy.  But our older relatives (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins) hold on to so much information.  And they'd probably love to talk about it.  Sit with them.  Jog their memory.  The most joyous of remembrances lie around food and family.  See what these people in your lives have to say.
  • Contact the local library in the area you're researching.  I cannot, cannot, cannot stress enough how valuable libraries are.  I really believe the majority of people in a town have no idea the wealth their libraries have to offer.  Yes, things are moving in a more electronic direction, like eBooks.  But the library not only holds old and rare books; these institutions provide family chronicles, newspapers, and other priceless documentation on the local history of the community.  Let me give you an example:  I walked into a library in Bakersville, NC, and asked the librarian at the front desk if they had any old local cookbooks or recipes.  She thought for a minute, and said, "Have you been in our North Carolina room?"  She then walked me into a room no bigger than a walk-in closet filled with books and articles about the local area.  Pulling a huge table out of the way, she got on her hands and knees and began to hand me small cookbooks from Mitchell County.  I was in heaven.  And after making much use of their photocopier, I took invaluable information about the local area.  Almost every library has either a local history room or several shelves dedicated to community archives.  I have to believe you won't walk away empty.
  • Use the library in your own area, even if it's miles away from the area you're researching.  The library in my town has been very good to me.  And I've become friends with the reference librarian.  Tell him/her what and where you're researching and what you're trying to look for.  He/she can pull books and other information you didn't even know existed.  My reference librarian got a book for me on Appalachian cooking I didn't even know existed.  I then tracked down the author and sent an email to him.  And he was very gracious and wrote me back (a lot of authors will.)
  • Go to library book sales.  I think you can tell by now how much I love the library.  Many people don't know that the library either has an ongoing book sale or has an enormous book sale once a year.  Go.  Go.  Go.  A library in the next town over has a huge one every year, and I wake up at 6:30am on a Saturday morning and pay $20 to get in before the public.  And it's so worth it.  The library will have local history and cookbooks, and I'll let in on a secret:  I've gotten old church cookbooks for free because no one else wants them.  These books have so many old recipes from churches in the area and all over the country.  I love to look at the recipes and who contributed them.  (Check out my friend Amber's post on her grandmother's cookbooks.  Lovely.)
  • Call the churches in the area.  For hundreds of years, the church has been one of the strongest pillars of a community.  These churches usually keep their history in their own libraries or designated rooms.  Quakers keep amazing minutes of their meetings that can provide so much information about a locale.  And if you've grown up in church, we all know how the congregation loves food.  My food-loving family came from a line of Baptists and Methodists, and the church in Bakersville where my family worshiped was the Bear Creek Baptist Church.  However, I didn't limit my contact with just them.  I decided I would call the other Baptist churches in the area to see if I could get any local food traditions.  Let me tell you something about that area:  Bakersville's population lies around a little more than 450.  In the Bakersville/Spruce Pine area, there are 22 Baptist churches.  And I called every single one of them.

So I've given you several ways to find those old forgotten recipes and traditions.  You'll find once you get started, the journey can be as joyful as the destination.  Off you go!

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