New & Now

Community Cookbooks Before the Internet

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Before there were internet recipe databases, food blogs, online magazines, and food sections in nearly every newspaper, there were community cookbooks. More than a collection of recipes, these books were a fundraiser, a means of articulating a political message, or just a historical account of a community's identity. 


This week, NPR's "The Salt" has a piece on the history of these books, and the roles they have played in communities for centuries. The first fundraising cookbook dates back to the Civil War. It was sold to subsidize the medical treatment of Union Soldiers. Its success inspired the publishing of nearly 3,000 (recorded) books by 1922 - most of which were published by religious organizations.

Community cookbooks, it seems, were never about sharing recipes, but rather about innocuously articulating a message. Food is universal, so intensely relatable that even the most progressive cause can fit neatly into the confines of a recipe, thereby making it more accessible. In a way, this spirit of politicizing cooking is not dead. Healthy food advocates, including Michelle Obama, regularly fit their directives into the lines or description of a recipe. The only difference is that nowadays, we are far more likely to find these recipes tweeted, posted, or pinned than bound in a spiral spine on the cookbook shelf in our kitchen. 

Long Before Social Networking, Community Cookbooks Ruled the Stove from NPR's The Salt