Community Cookbooks

by Jeanne


“Everyone feels nourished and replenished, body and soul, no matter what else is going on in their lives. And in these moments they are reminded that food has always been–and will continue to be–the tie that binds people to the past, to the future and to each other.”

—pg. 308 Celebration Cookbook
Nancy Butcher, Saratoga Springs, NY

It’s not as intense as the annual wedding dress sale at Filene’s Boston. It does reach it’s own level of intensity. Be assured that here’s always someone looking in your cart or peering over your shoulder to see if you hold something that they desire at the annual book sale fundraiser for the Friends of the SF Public Libary. Readers can be an idiosyncratic bunch. My annual outing is primarily for one reason–the ongoing expansion of my personal cookbook library, which has been at about 300 assorted volumes.

As I walked the rows of old cookbooks I started to give some consideration to my collection and wondered if I could benefit with specialization. I need to be honest with myself; in this lifetime I am not going to collect every recipe and cookbook out there. Right?

Many serious collectors have bents to their efforts. Building libraries around Pillsbury Bake-Off cookbooks, corporate public relations cookbooklets, single subject cookbooks or cooking method like baking or braising or children’s cookbooks, just to name a few possibilities.

Another area, which seems vast, is the category of community cookbooks. Several of my new weekend additions included these fundraising recipe collections. The style of these bound recipes range from spiral bound and folksy looking to the more polished and professionally published and edited Junior League editions.

The cookbook fundraiser dates back to the Civil War, when the Ladies’ Aid Societies came together to raise money for military casualties and their families. After the war ended the beneficiaries of these efforts moved to hospitals, churches, orphanages and veterans’ groups. Compiled by nonprofit organizations such as Junior Leagues, art museums, religious groups, historical societies, service and charity leagues they reveal entertaining styles of the time and a living history of the community the fundraiser serves.

Today the princesses of community cookbook land are the numerous Junior League editions. Since their initial publication in the 1950s, more than 18 million copies of local chapter cookbooks have been sold, with proceeds supporting programs that further the organizational mission of improving social conditions, promoting volunteerism and developing the potential of women.

The Junior League founded in 1901 celebrated their 100th anniversary and 50 years of community cookbook leadership with The Junior League: Celebration Cookbook a collection of recipes from its 295 local chapters around the country. More than just a best of the best it is a strong presentation of the act of preserving regional food traditions and a recipe for community strength and growth through the many stories of how proceeds have literally changed the quality of life in each community.

The all time best-selling book in the collection is River Road Recipes produced by the Baton Rouge chapter. The most recent in the series called River Road Recipes IV, Warm Welcomes. The series, according to their website has sold more than 1.8 million books since late 1959.

What I particularly like about community collections is that the pages reflect the way people cook and eat regionally and stylistically rather than the way professionals think the home chef should actually cook. The recipes reflect simplicity and no fuss. That’s not to say that there’s not complexity. The older books reflect many recipes such as Bear Pot Roast and Veal Kidneys Flambé. The recipe below Thai Spicy Prawn Soup is not exactly up Rachel Ray’s alley either!

The recipes often lack number of servings, tips on technique and occasionally references such as ‘cook in the moderate heat of an oven.’ The more comfortable and experienced home chef can easily work through these small hurdles. A small price to pay in exchange for a treasured family recipe that is often the first time it has been written down.

This week I’m going to share recipes and stories from these new additions to my library that chronicle and preserve local culinary traditions–American Regional cooking at it’s best.


Most of the books I picked up are from Bay Area organizations. This first one, mentioned above is San Francisco Flavors by the Junior League of San Francisco. This book truly reflects the diversity of the Bay Area.

Thai Spicy Prawn Soup

San Francisco Flavors
Favorite Recipes From
Junior League of San Francisco

Serves 6

2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons peanut oil
6 cups Chicken Stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
1/2 cup jasmine rice
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
6 tablespoons Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
8 ounces crimini or white mushrooms, sliced
1 small onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper seeded, deveined, and cut into 1/4-inch strips
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 stalk lemongrass, white part only, cut into 1-inch pieces
5 fresh or dried kaffir lime leaves (optional)
1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Chopped green onions, including green portion, and cilantro for garnish

1. In a large heavy saucepan, combine the ginger, cayenne, and peanut oil. Cook over medium-high heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Add stock or broth, and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the rice, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the rice is tender.

2. Add the coconut milk, fish sauce, mushrooms, onion, pepper, cilantro, lemongrass, and lime leaves to the rice. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring once or twice. Add the shrimp and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until they have turned pink. Stir in the lime juice. Serve hot, garnished with green onions and cilantro.

Note: I used light coconut milk to save on the fat and the calories.