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!