Fremont County Iowa

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A View From The Attic

Week of January 9, 2012


Fremont County Historical Society

COOKBOOKS ARE FOR READING
By Evelyn Birkby


(Emily Bengtson's View from the Attic about the White House cookbook is prompting another Attic describing the Historical Society's interest in adding to its collection of local cookbooks.)


The origination of community cookbooks is a story as fascinating as any fairy tale. Not just for the beginning of such publications, but the way they have continued down through the years to be a constant way to share recipes and a way to raise money. Even more, those books have stories of cultures and changing traditions embedded in their pages.


I found the story of the first community-charity cookbooks in the book, "Recipes are for Reading" edited by Anne Bower. She says that in the 1860s, during the Civil War, medicine and caring helpers for the wounded were few and far between. Women who were near the fighting areas began going out to help care for the victims. In the process they discovered that medical supplies were in short supply in many battlefields. They decided to raise money to help buy supplies and came up with the idea of putting together a book of their favorite recipes, which they did, and they sold these and used the money they raised to buy needed items for the hurt soldiers. In such a simple way community-charity cookbooks began--the same kind that today are still being produced by groups as varied as YWCA, YMCA, Eastern Star, PEO, DAR, schools and churches of all denominations.


Community cookbooks focus on home cooking as well as local history. When I look through some of the church cookbooks on my shelf, I see many names of people I remember. The recipes bring back memories of church suppers, festivals, and Sunday school picnics. Food tells stories, they reflect history and the regions of the country where they're produced so much so that students writing special thesis or dissertations on an area often use charity and community cookbooks as resources.


Family cookbooks are also precious. They may include stories and pictures and family genealogy besides the recipes. I've seen some published in professional style as well as those mimeographed on typing paper.


When we planned the new research library center in the Fremont County Historical Museum it was suggested that we have a section for local cookbooks. Now the time has come to begin collecting those that people might like to donate.


I am thinking, for example, of the "Fremont Families Favorites" published by the Fremont County Farm Bureau. They published three, one green, one yellow, and one gray. What treasures. The museum certainly would like to have all three. Any local books are welcome. ("Emmy's Home Cooking" is another perfect example.)


At this time, the collection is being limited to Fremont County publications or from people who have roots in the county. We have placed a collection box inside the FREDCO-FCHS foyer so when you stop in for a meeting or at any time the space is open, you can drop books off. Be sure and put your name and address in the book so we can credit it as a gift from you. If the book has a history please include that also. Or you can leave books with Edna Eaton at the Eaton law office on the south side of the square. It will be most exciting to see what arrives