Community recipes – reflecting how people eat

Food is about sharing, whether that is the family at meal times, extended family and friend to mark a special occasion or communities getting together to cement community spirit.

Sharing recipes has been the way to pass on everything from family heirloom recipes and regional specialities to teaching new cooks how to master that basic arts since people started to cook.

I have been looking through some of the community cookery books I have. These are a bit of a favourite of mine and I love how they reflect not only the communities, the countries and regions of origin but the times in which they were produced. Even more than cookery books they reflect exactly how ordinary people cook in good times and lean, using the ingredients that come to hand locally. I love the (and I hate to sound stuffy) amateur and spontaneous approach, which comes from real people producing something. Such as the  booklet produced by Charlestown School (I have no idea where Charlestown is) with illustrations by children at the school and recipes from parents and friends and some celebrities they had written to, with recipes like Mushrooms Tuscan Style from Sally Brigham (obviously a family favourite).

Many of them are also used to raise money for local causes like schools and hospitals and some to raise money for global needs. A special book is Fare-ye-Well with Ladies of the Realm, a book produced during WW2 to collect money for Comforts and Medical Supplies for the Children of Soviet Russia with recipes from titled and ‘well-connected’ ladies of the time including Springtime Vegetable Pastry from Lady Beverage (or her cook?) 

Some are a bit unusual – The Alcatraz Women’s Club Cook Book produced by the wives of guards at the prison who also found themselves and their families ‘imprisoned’ and isolated. Or the Jim Collin Congressional Cookbook produced to fund the republican candidate for congress in 1962 with recipes from members of congress and their wives including Congressional Bean Soup. 

Some are produced by recognised community groups. I have one from a group local to where I live, the West Sussex Women’s Institute, from 1972 and What’s Cooking in the City produced by the City of London Red Cross with recipes from the Court of Aldermen and the Livery Guild of the City of London. I learned a lot about how many guild and trades there. It included such delights as Consomme Beluga from The Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, who knew about them?

So from around the world, Cherokee Cooklore produced by the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, to the close to home but much older Samaritan’s Cookery Book from Edinburgh these books are a delight and a real spotlight on local social history. Along with a chance of learning some new recipes from real people (or at least their cooks).  

Find some from your neighbourhood at local fairs, fetes and sales where they usually end up. They are a bit of a local treasure.

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