Friday, September 24, 2010

Where Can I Find Community Cookbooks?

As with any new resource that you want to research for clues to your family history, the most important question is where to find that resource. Currently, community cookbooks are a little different than the majority of genealogical resources we typically use. They are not indexed in a database. They are not available on a subscription site. And because they are largely self-published, they are not part of  all library collections. So what's a researcher to do?

Well, that's when it's necessary to not mull over where they aren't but where they are. So start with considering the possibility that they are a home source. Does any family member have a community cookbook that might have recipes from family members? We often don't ask to see books that family members own, so it's not a source that those providing you with information would think of.  So ask.

Check out library catalogs.  There are some collections of community cookbooks housed in various libraries throughout the United States. A good example is the Los Angeles Public Library which has a large collection of cookbooks, including community cookbooks, going back to California's  first community cookbooks. There are a few places to find cookbooks online. I will be puttting together a list of these libraries and websites and adding it to the right hand side of the blog for reference.  Look for that being posted sometime next week.

I firmly believe that genealogy is everywhere. Use ebay to search for community cookbooks that are for sale. You can also save your searches so that ebay continues searching for those keywords and alerts you when they are found. I searched on ebay and found hits for searches on "charity cookbooks" "community cookbooks" "church cookbook", searching by the name of a religion and the word cookbook and searching on a city and the word cookbook.

I know it's much easier to go for the information that is easily found on a genealogy subscription site.  And there is no doubt that that is a great start to your research. But as you fill in the details to your female ancestor's life, consider taking extra time to hunt down community cookbooks that recreate a time and a place that your ancestor was part of.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Community Cookbook: Spirit Lake Cook Book

One of the oldest community cookbooks in my personal collection is the Spirit Lake Cook Book sponsored by Dorcas Circle of the Methodist Episcopal Church. 1937. Spirit Lake, Iowa.

This cookbook features recipes and advertising from local businesses. Including advertising was mutually beneficial, it allowed businesses to receive much needed exposure and helped to offset costs associated with the cookbook while helping the group raise much needed funds.  Not all cookbooks include this advertising but this specific one includes 12 pages of similar looking advertisements. Ads representing food type businesses like the local creamery, market, bakery, Coca-Cola bottling company and cafe are represented here.  There are also ads that would be of interest to genealogists like that for the  Donovan Funeral Home and Baumgardner's Furniture Store and Funeral Home. (Need to know what funeral homes existed in your ancestor's time?--Look in a community cookbook from that era!) Even a female attorney is found among the advertising section, Virginia Bedell, as well as a female Ph.D., Mary Price Roberts.

One of the great aspects of this advertising section is that in this small town, even small today with only a little over 4,000 in the 2000 Census according to Wikipedia (,_Iowa), has listings for probably almost every business, which could help one gain a sense of what occupational opportunities existed.

What about the recipes?  Well they run the gamut of protein dishes, vegetables, salads, desserts and pickles/relishes. Being the era of less wastefulness than our own, the meat dishes include different kinds of "meat loafs" including one made with ham and one made with jellied veal. There is Mock California Chicken that is made with noodles and tuna and lots of kinds of pickles which would have been great way to preserve foods. These pickles include both vegetable and fruit pickles.

The above image shows a recipe for Jellied Veal Loaf, among other things.  Curious what is in the Jellied Veal Loaf?

Jellied Veal Loaf
3 T. diced celery
2 T. gelatine (sic)
1c cold water
1 tsp. salt
1 bay leaf
3 T lemon juice
2 c meat stock
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T chopped onion
2 c cooked and ground meat
3 T chopped green pepper
3 hard boiled eggs

Soak gelatin in water, dissolve in hot meat stock, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. When mixture begins to thicken, add meat, onion, green pepper and eggs, cut in pieces. Put in a wet mold in which you have previously poured 1/4 inch hot gelatine (sic). Garnish with slices of egg and green pepper. Serves 10-12. (Recipe by Mrs. H. C. Bradfield).

Surnames included in this cookbook are: Belden, Tritle, Bradfield, Smith, Jahn, Haakenson, Bramblett, Titus, Hill, Furman, Schlotterbeck, Girg, Tott, Harker, Peterson, Brainard, Brown, Pillsbury, Rodawig, Sylvester, Baumgardner, Burt, Hughes, Maytum, Richards, Moore, Moreland, Flemming, Blair, Buck, Deibner, Edwards, Cornell, Lepley, Raebel, Willadsen, Snow, Smithers, LaFontaine, Rector, Clark, Baldy, Parsons. Maish, Arp, Wiegand, Farr, Ellis, Donovan, Klein, Salyards, Radcliff, Hinshaw, Schuneman, Webb, Miller, Peck, Bernholtz, LaDoux, Phippin, Dempsie, Jensen, Lewis, Jones, Osborn, Flemming, Anderson, Schneidawind, Martinson, Cother, Rienke, Narey, Frost, Swailes, Price, Gray, Grant, Gravatt, Welty, Kushe, Redington, Simmons, Fitch, Saupe, Rank, Sarazine, Roberts, Snow, Barlow, Marshall, Williams, O'Dea, McMahon, Redger, Yarnes, Blackert, Hanson, Walson, Jahr, Salyards, Carver, Gerkin, Pedersen, Rector, Fontaine, Steenburg, Fronk, Grove, Tintinger, Strong, Hill, Lindquist, Francis, Hornseth, Ilsley, Adams, Rank, Magnuson, Wherry, Dowden, Walter, McNall, Williamz, Thomas.

Friday, September 3, 2010

What Did Your Family Eat During World War II?

World War II ushered in an era of necessity that changed the way Americans, and those in other nations, ate. This era included such experiences as food rationing, victory gardens and introductions to different types of food. All families would have been affected as their choices at the grocery store were diminished and women were encouraged to make substitutions for well known favorites and to make what they did have last longer.


Not just food was rationed during the war years. I remember a story from my own family history about a great-great grandmother who passed away; no family members went to her funeral because gas was rationed and they lived too far away. Rationing affected more than just what food you could buy and how much gas you could purchase it affected your access to some durable goods.

So what food was rationed? Sugar, meat, coffee, processed foods, cheese, canned milk and fats. To see a list of rationed items and the dates they were rationed, check out this website on World War II rationing.

Families were issued ration books with coupons that were used to purchase food. Ration book covers include the name of the person who it was issued to and their address. These books often are a home source that may be archived by a family member and can be used by the genealogist to add interest to your family history. I have also seen these books at antique stores and on eBay. GenealogyToday’s databases include one with 9,800 names from War Ration books. This unique database provides another way to find family members. While these books provide little information, it does place your ancestor in a specific place in time.

We’re Eating What For Dinner???

In some cases, Americans were encouraged to substitute different food stuffs for what was familiar due to rationing or limited quantities. One of my older relatives lived with my family for a time and refused to eat any ground beef. This refusal stemmed from World War II when horse meat was provided as a substitute for beef. Even after more than 45 years, she was convinced the government was slipping horse meat into packages of ground beef.

Other meat substitutes both animal and plant based were also suggested. Tricks to making food last longer were encouraged. Your family may have changed their diet considerably in order to comply with shortages. Patriotic propaganda that came in the form of posters and cookbooks that told women how to shop and what to cook.

Victory Gardens

When you think about it, it makes sense to encourage the masses to plant gardens when food is at a premium. A little self sufficiency makes it possible to spread the wealth so to speak. One way our families were encouraged to help with the war effort was to plant a victory garden. The May 3, 1943 issue of Life magazine (p. 29) includes a pictorial of gardens in all kinds of places in the United States including at a prison. The caption to that picture notes that prisoners aren’t allowed to plant corn, lest it be used to hide from the guards.

So Now What?

What may seem like everyday, ordinary life to older family members can add interest to your family history narrative. Interview older family members about what they ate, how they sacrificed and did without during the war years. If you are that older family member, write down your experiences. History is made up of the experiences of individuals and history is lost when we neglect to tell our stories and our experiences.

Want to learn more about eating during World War II? The book Manly Meals and Mom's Home Cooking: Cookbooks and Gender in Modern America by Jessamyn Neuhaus includes a few chapters on the subject.   Portions of the book are available as a preview on Google Books.

So what did your family eat during World War II?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Introduction: Community Cookbook Detective

By Madaleine J. Laird
I'm good at finding things, always have been. My life improved dramatically after I found Gena Philibert-Ortega on Facebook. Long story short, I sent her a friend request, she accepted, we met in person at a Family History Expo, and now I inhabit her guest bedroom on a fairly regular basis. We've apparently formed what my mother would call a mutual admiration society. Gena introduced me to the fascinating notion of community cookbooks as an untapped source of genealogical information, and somehow I've managed to impress her with my detective skills . . . at least I think I have.
One of my contributions to Food.Family.Ephemera is the Community Cookbook Detective series, in which I'll report on my efforts to identify the people, places, organizations, and events associated with community cookbooks. I'm sure this isn't big news to anyone who's into genealogy the way Gena and I are, but sometimes those pesky details cannot be found within the cookbooks themselves. Uncovering the details—as well as the big picture—requires digging a little deeper. I'd like to believe I'm up to the challenge!
Staying sharp requires practice, however, and I'm hoping that readers of Food.Family.Ephemera can provide me with some cases to work on. Do you own a community cookbook whose origins are a bit mysterious? If so, you're not the only one. I've come across several that contain no hint of where, when, or why they were published. Many community cookbooks were created as fundraisers for churches, schools, and other community organizations, so it's not surprising that compilers were more focused on immediate concerns than on the cookbooks' future value as informational artifacts.
If you have a mystery cookbook stuffed inside a kitchen cabinet, let me take a look at it! Tell me as much as you remember about how it came to be in your possession. Who gave it to you? Where did you buy it? How long have you owned it? Scan or photograph the cover and the first few pages of the book, then send the images to, and please put "Community Cookbook Detective" in the subject line of your email. I hope we can solve a few mysteries together, or at least have fun trying!