I thought I was seeing double when Jeannie Zokan brought me a club cookbook that included an easy gumbo recipe. I almost said “I have that cookbook,” but stopped short. I realized this wasn’t the cookbook from the Gulf Breeze Mom’s Club. This one was from Pensacola’s Montessori moms. The covers are identical –except for a single box of text.
Jeannie, a fellow writer, understands my plight in collecting 300 gumbo recipes to celebrate New Orleans’ 300 years. Because of my respect for copyright law (the journalist in me) and fear of plagiarizing (the English teacher in me), I’ve only published 26 of 300 so far. I adapt gumbo recipes to support an enlightening (hopefully) narrative. And there’s no way I’m using a recipe unless I know the source.
The identical cover cookbooks are both printed by Morris Cookbooks of Kearney, Nebraska. I have two other cookbooks printed by Morris, but I also own club, school and church cookbooks published by their rivals in the cookbook-fundraiser business. These printers provide software and online sites complete with covers, dividers, helpful hints, measurement tables, sales and marketing tips, and anything else a cookbook editor could desire, including more recipes. Morris was the first such publisher in 1933, and still exists. You can even tour the plant or “buy cookbooks from some random family. “ Morris was followed by Fundcraft, which originated in eastern Kansas in 1940, but now prints books in Tennessee. The third big one, Cookbook Publishers, started in 1947 in Lenexa, Kansas.
I don’t know why Midwesterners cornered the market on printing cookbooks as fundraisers, unless they were inspired by the success of the “Receipt Book” compiled by the Ladies of the Congregational Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1873 or the “76 Cook Book” published by the Ladies of Plymouth Church in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1876. These church cookbooks are the two oldest cookbooks in the Library of Congress database, so it seems fitting that Fundcraft’s first fundraising cookbook was for their local Methodist congregation in Pleasanton, Kansas. Grammar lovers take note: recipes were once called receipts (from the Latin recipere) and cookbook was once two words – cook book.
The Library of Congress’ Guide to American Church, Club and Community Cookbooks is a fascinating look at the development of cookbooks as fundraisers. Just reading the list of century-old titles brings back memories of covered dish Lenten suppers at the Christ Episcopal Church in Tyler, Texas – tables laden with creamy casseroles, Jell-O salads and family favorites. Our oldest son claims the chicken and dumplings were the best he’s ever eaten –massive dumplings with only a little chicken. His two brothers remember the cheesy chicken spaghetti, pancake dinners, and fruit punch. Me? The plum puddings at Christmas provided my favorite cake recipe. It’s no wonder churches, their pews packed with great cooks, chose cookbooks as a traditional fundraiser.
The eighty-two churchwomen in the pews of St. Francis Street Methodist Episcopal Church South in Mobile, Alabama, might not have realized they were preserving 1878 history when they collected more than 300 pages of recipes for Gulf City Cook Book. Blackberry jelly, watermelon preserves, turtle soup, scuppernong wine, pickled peaches and oyster recipes tell us what Mobile residents harvested as well as what they served. The chapters “Comforts for the Sick” and “Medicinal” also remind me of a few ailments modern medicine has cured. Even though three gumbo recipes are in the food chapters, any of them would comfort the sick.
The Women’s Parsonage and Home Mission Society published their New Orleans Cook Book in 1898. Before the advent of fundraiser cookbook printers, groups like this one often sold advertising to defray printing costs. The New Orleans Cook Book carries ads for Turkish baths, steamships, druggists, dentist and the Great Atlantic & Pacific Team Company, aka the A & P grocery. The ads alone tell a mercantile history.
While attending Christ Episcopal Church, I volunteered as a proofreader for Blessings, the church cookbook. My job was to prepare specific recipes to ensure the ingredients, proportions and instructions worked. Hopefully, all other churches, clubs and schools use the same process for compiling cookbooks. After all, they’ve had nearly 150 years to get the process right. Though I didn’t proofread the following three recipes, I feel confident in reprinting them – I know the cooks.
And here’s the Fast and Easy Gumbo Jeannie delivered and Morris Cookbooks printed in 2003. I trust the recipe because the Montessori moms seem to have it all together with the help of Morris.
Continuing my quest for 300 gumbo recipes, I clicked on Fundcraft’s online free one-million recipe database and, much to my surprise, they have exactly 300 gumbo recipes. If you can’t wait for my 300, click here, search “gumbo” and sing Happy Birthday to New Orleans.