Local Cookbooks as a Cultural Indicator

By Marsha Fottler –

I think cultural anthropologists would agree, local cookbooks compiled for some charitable cause and put together by home cooks are pretty good indicators of the cultural life in that time period. Food is memory, history, social science, politics, religious observance and plenty more. What goes on at table is a microcosm for what goes on in life. Maybe that’s why I’m fascinated by cookbooks published over the years in small towns and big cities by the Junior League, church clubs, museums, schools, and the like.

Pick a time period, pick a locally produced cookbook and you can’t lose. Why? Because you get reliable kitchen-tested recipes. These cooks don’t sign their name to a recipe unless they are proud of it. You see what ingredients were popular during the era and what kinds of spices and herbs were readily available. You discover what kinds of ethnic cookery prevail in that town. You discern what was considered family food and what were the fancy company dishes. Cookbooks from the 1950s and 60s have whole chapters devoted to molds. Jello and sour cream figure prominently.

One of the most revealing things I’ve observed in these local cookbooks over the last decade is how many men contribute recipes. In some cases, the whole cookbook is produced by men. I’m thinking of a local one in my area put out by our fire department. Those men can really cook – and for a crowd too.

The next time you’re in a new town and want to get the true flavor of the place, search out cookbooks complied by local civic, social, arts and church groups. You’ll eat well, you’ll learn important things about the area and you’ll immediately feel right at home.


Orange Cake (pantespani portokali)

Orange Cake

(from The Grecian Gourmet by the Women of St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church, Hempstead, Long Island). 1961.

1 cup sugar

5 eggs, separated

½ pound butter, melted

1 orange, grated rind and juice of

1 cup flour

31/2 teaspoons baking powder

syrup (see below)


Mix sugar and egg yolks well. Stir in melted butter, rind and juice of the orange, flour and baking powder. Carefully fold in egg whites, stiffly beaten. Pour into a buttered 8×10-inch or 9×9-inch baking pan. Bake in a 3765-degree oven for 10 minutes, lover oven temperature to 350 and bake for 30 minutes longer or until cake tests done. Cool, then pour hot syrup over the cake, but into square serving pieces and serve.



2 cups water

1 cup sugar

2 jiggers orange curacao or 2 teaspoons orange extract


Combine water and sugar. Bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes. Add orange curacao or orange extract. Stir and pour over cake.


Cucumber Sauce

(from Sisterhood Cookbook, Temple Beth Shalom, Manchester, Connecticut. Recipe from Martha Radding.) 1962.


½ cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

½ cup sour cream

½ teaspoon scraped onion

½ teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon salt

dash of pepper

1 cup cucumbers, finely chopped

1 tablespoon chive (optional)


Combine mayonnaise and vinegar. Blend until smooth. Add cream and rest of ingredients. Mix well. Cover and chill. Excellent with fish or as a salad dressing.


Papaya Soup

(from Cooking Now and Then: Historic Spanish Point, Osprey, Florida). 1993.

Papaya Soup

1 clove garlic

2 shallots

2 pieces fresh, chopped ginger

4 tablespoons butter

3 cups green papaya, peeled, seeded and cubed

½ cup white wine

3 cups chicken broth

¼ teaspoon turmeric

grated coconut

mint sprigs


Saute garlic, shallots and ginger in butter. Add papaya, white wine, chicken broth and turmeric and cook until papaya is soft, about 20 minutes. Pour into a blender (or use an electric infuser) and process until smooth. Serve chilled with grated coconut and mint sprigs for garnish.



Tom’s Pine Island Grouper

(from The Educated Palate compiled by the Women’s Club of the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Recipe from Tom O’Neal). 2001.


3 pounds fresh grouper (or red snapper, monkfish, sea bass, even salmon)

2 bags fresh spinach

½ cup mayonnaise

Salt and pepper

Garlic powder

2 (8-ounce) packages mozzarella cheese


In a 9×13-inch baking dish, mound the spinachy. Place the fish on top. Season with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Generously spread mayonnaise on top of the fish. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes. Then, top with mozzarella cheese. Return to oven and continue baking until cheese is bubble and begins to brown. (You can put under the broiler.) Makes 4-6 servings.


Hot Swiss Bacon Dip

(from The Life of the Party: Junior League of Tampa, Florida. Feeds 12 as an appetizer). 2007.


8 ounces cream cheese, softened

½ cup mayonnaise

1 cup shredded Swiss cheese

2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions

8 slices bacon, crisp-cooked and crumbled

1 sleeve butter crackers, crushed

3 tablespoons melted butter


Combine the cream cheese, mayonnaise and Swiss cheese in a bowl and mix well. Stir in the green onions and bacon. Spread into a shallow baking dish. Top with the crushed crackers and drizzle with the melted butter. Bake at 350-degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Serve hot with assorted crackers or chips.


Brunch Frittata

(from Cardinal Mooney High School Cookbook, Sarasota, Florida. Recipe from Laura Tellor). 2007.

Brunch Frittata

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 summer squash, sliced

3 zucchini, sliced

2 cups grated Swiss cheese

1 red bell pepper, cut into strps

1 yellow bell pepper, cut into strips

1 green bell pepper, cut into strips

8 ounces fresh mushrooms

6 large fresh eggs

¼ cup heavy cream

2 cups stale French bread, ½-inch cubes

8 ounces cream cheese

Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat over to 350-degrees. Grease bottom and sides of a 9×15-inch pan. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or saute pan. Add all vegetables. Saute, stirring and tossing vegetables occasionally until crisp and tender. White vegetables are cooking, whisk eggs, cream and cream cheese in a large mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in bread and Swiss cheese. Add veggies to egg-cheese mixture and stir until well combined. Pour into pan; pack mixture tightly. Bake until firm, about 1 hour. If the top gets too brown, cover with foil.

1 thought on “Local Cookbooks as a Cultural Indicator”

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top