The rain was coming down in buckets, pounding the tin siding of the quonset hut I lived in like a thousand little hammers. Nearly an inch a minute, completely deafening those of us who lived there. The water rising toward the floors set nearly three feet off the ground. The neighbors on Achiu Lane who had houses set on the ground had already been evacuated by the Hawaii National Guard, hauled away in huge canvas topped trucks to the nearby Haleiwa Recreation Center. No electricity; so with nothing for light but a kerosene lantern, the only thing to do was to ask my neighbor Jim Kraus to come over for something to eat and then…… [Pause: Fanfare with trumpets.] Ta Ta Ta Da.
Whip out Recipe Roundup, the little cookbook my mother and her friends had written and published in 1953 which I have carried with me wherever in the world I have lived. Not only for the recipes in it but for the pure pleasure of sitting down with it and reading the names of the people from my little town who made it. A reminder of home and the people who once lived there. For there is much more to little books like this than just the paper, the type and binding.
Cookbooks have been written in almost every literate society. One of the most famous is the Banquet of the Sophists, written in the 2nd century BC by Athenaeus, a well known Greek gourmet. It contains the first known recipes for cheesecake, or rather many cheesecakes, which seems great to me. It also has one which which is still a staple of the Greek diet, stuffed grape leaves. The Important Things to Know About Eating and Drinking was written by Huou, the master chef of the imperial court of Kublai Khan 1215-94. Marco Polo may have partaken of the soups made from it when he lived at the Great Khans court.
One of the first French books was called the Menagier de Paris, and, not surprisingly had recipes for frogs and snails. The first printed cookbook, 1485, was written by an Italian, Bartolomeo Scappi. It had recipes for Marzipan and many other types of Italian sweets. One of the most successful and famous cookbooks ever written was published in 1896 by Fannie Merrit Farmer, the editor of the Boston Cooking-School cook book, which, was the first to introduce standardized measurements and methods which guaranteed reliable results to its readers.
Recipe Roundup is a community cookbook, still a popular type in America. They are unique in that they focus on home cooking, documenting regional, ethnic, family, and societal traditions and local history. Conceived as a fundraiser, the Women’s Club worked on it for two years, collecting recipes, not only from members but friends and families. They used recipes from other cookbooks too, such as the ones below.
My grandmothers Minerva Club 1951, my great-grandmothers church 1901
According to my mother, one of the most difficult thing to do was to write down recipes that had been passed from one generation to another. Most of the women prepared their tried and true dishes from scratch. What exactly is a pinch of salt, or a dash of baking soda? She had to cook each of her recipes several times to get the amounts correct. You can imagine how difficult this sometimes was, just look at how vague some recipes are. You can try and make my mothers biscuits or pie crust but if she didn’t show you how wet the dough needed to be or how to cut in the Crisco, you will fail as often as not. Note: substitute butter. If you are making strawberry short cakes, there are none better. MMM MM.
When you look a the list of names above you might notice something curious. All of the names feature the given name of the husband and not the name of the wife. Kids like me never called a woman by any other name than Mrs or Miss, a habit that seems quaint today. If she was a close friend of the family you could use her first name if you knew it but in church or school it was formal. Miss Holland and Mrs Brown, Elizabeth and Edyth taught us at Branch. Mrs Harloe, Margaret or Maggie to her closest friends, at Arroyo Grande Elementary and Miss Walker, later Mrs Sullivan, who taught elementary also, was Gladys. Even widows still used the late husband’s name. It worked the opposite way for men. There was Ace Porter, Toots Porter, Hooky DaLessi , Beanie English, Mutt Anderson and I had no idea that Buster Loomis’ real name was Clinton. This didn’t mean that the women were walking three paces behind their husbands because they certainly weren’t. Some owned and ran their own businesses. Louise Ralph, Peggy Porter, and Marylee Baxter owned their own stores. Hazel Talley was bookkeeper for Oliver’s farm. My grandmother did all the business end for my grandfather on their dairy. Edna Rowe was a school librarian, Gladys Loomis and Frankie Campbell were teachers. Most of these recipes came from families where both husband and wife worked. As with today, working families had no time for elaborate meals.
Just putting a recipe together was different. Moms kitchen was small, just and old dry sink with a wooden countertop and a tall cabinet at each end. The sink had been fitted for hot and cold water in the 20’s. There were just two drawers for utensils and to the side an enameled metal cabinet that had been inherited from my grandmother Shannon. We had a shiny sunbeam toaster and a Mixmaster that sat on top with her cookbooks. Basically everything else was done by her hand, or my brothers and I.
Mom didn’t buy hamburger, she made it. Cole Slaw was made at home too and carrots were grated by hand for carrot salad. We used the sifter below, she didn’t use pre -sifted flour and the nut grinder is still in use today because it’s easier than using and cleaning the Cuisinart.
Few of the recipes she used would make Sunset Magazine but she and many mothers like her fed their families on simple fare and everybody grew up OK.
Grind the clams with this and tenderize them with this.
Above is my grandfathers recipe for clam soup. What I remember most about it is having to beat the clam’s tongue to death with a homemade two pound hammer to make it soft enough to eat. Good though. The most interesting thing about this recipe is the fact that its even in the book. Jack Shannon is the only man who has a recipe in it. I asked my mother why this was and she told me that he was highly respected by woman for his kindness. She said he genuinely cared for people and was one of the last of the “Old School,” gentleman. He would always tip his hat to women when he saw them, a certain graciousness that is long gone from our society. Quite a compliment.
As you may have noticed, the illustrations were all done by my mother. She sat at our kitchen table and worked on them for many, many hours, carefully sketching with pencil and then finishing them with pen and ink, a medium that is notoriously difficult.
As with many of the best things, it was a true community effort and is still used and cherished today. If you have one you are fortunate, there aren’t any available anymore and you must inherit one, which is kind of a nice thing. So, if you have one, look through it and remember the people who made it, it will make you smile.
P S: I have heard that the Arroyo Grande Women’s Club is considering reprinting the book. You can contact them at P O Box 313, Arroyo Grande, CA 93421, or google womensclubof arroyogrande.com. The president is Karen Lujan. Email is womensclubof firstname.lastname@example.org
P P S: The recipe for the best mayonnaise cake ever! My favorite.