Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, and many will be dusting off old cookbooks to whip up classic holiday recipes or an old family favorite. Here at LCHS, we have a rich collection of cookbooks and recipes preserved in our archives. These documents are wonderful representations of the region’s cultural history. Recipes can teach us about an ethnic group’s efforts to preserve the traditions of their ancestral home, while also demonstrating how groups adapted to American food ways. Cookbooks can also reflect what sorts of ingredients were abundant or scarce or in vogue. Often these collections include notes from the editor concerning the importance of the home cook’s efforts, and when recipes are attributed to a specific individual, we can see that kitchen skills were valued by peers and the community.
Family recipes are often handed down from generation to generation, and the preservation of such information ensures that future cooks will have access to the experiences of their ancestors in a real and tangible way. Alma Lauder Keeling’s reverence for her grandmother’s recipes is evident in the letter below. The most interesting passage, however, comes at the end of Alma’s cover letter. As she points out, historic recipes can also point to cultural norms that seem quite foreign to modern sensibilities.
“I have only the vaguest memories of her, but they are good. However her recipe for ‘Sun Cholera Mixture’ that calls for ‘tincture of Opium’ just threw me! What? My W.C.T.U. grandmother recommending opium? Oh well, it was for medicine. But I didn’t know until I read the recipe that there was such a thing! Maybe the druggist still has it. Anyway, I think that stuff really would discourage much activity from ‘summer complaint’ as we used to call it.”
Cookbooks were popular publications for community organizations. Groups such as the Latah County Pomona Grange, Genesee’s Catholic Daughters of America, Moscow’s Catholic Women’s League, and the Dry Creek Welfare Club all put out unique collections of recipes sourced largely from members.
This cookbook from the Swedish-American Housewives’ was printed in 1938. From the wonderfully decadent desserts to the curious salad dressings to the traditional Swedish dishes, this collection documents a piece of Latah County’s culture that might otherwise be lost to time. Historic advertisements are an added delight — note the two and three digit phone numbers!
We wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving — may your popovers rise and your turkey brown beautifully!