Potluck Paradise is part history lesson, part cookbook. Opening the book is like opening a time capsule from the middle of the 20th century.
The cover is colorful and inviting, and the pages have old-fashioned designs on the edges with charming pictures, all in a pale olive-toned green. The book is introduced by the authors, Rae Katherine Eighmey and Debbie Miller, with a foreword by David Wood. These are interesting personal reflections, but the real history lesson lies in the recipes themselves. Each recipe has a preface describing its origins or the authors’ memories of the dish.
|potluck paradise: favorite fare from church and community cookbooks by rae katherine eighmey and debbie miller. published by the minnesota historical society press (2008). $16.95.|
“It must be a rule, if not a commandment. Lutheran church cookbooks must have at least one recipe for Swedish meatballs. Deb and I expected to find recipes for cream-sauce simmered pork and beef meatballs in the cookbooks from Lutheran churches up and down the state and across the Midwest. But we were astounded to find how far their influence had spread.”
In order to review a cookbook, it is imperative to test some recipes. I was more than up to the challenge. The first one, “Pizza Pie,” was not entirely old-fashioned, but something traditional I could see myself making for parties or for a fun dinner…and I had every ingredient in my kitchen. Propping the book open with a flour container on one side and a bottle of wine on the other I managed quite well. The pizza was simple to make and tasted delicious.
I also chose a timeless recipe, “Streusel Coffee Cake,” to make for our Easter dinner. The aroma of cinnamon and sugar when it was baking was mouth-watering and the final verdict was praise all around. (One recipe modification: I used peanuts, since I had them on hand, but though the recipe recommends pecans, I feel walnuts would be my choice in the future.)
The book’s only shortcoming is how clumsy and inappropriate it is to work with. The pages are thin and papery, and you need to prop them open to read the recipe. This is ironic, since Miller raves about how classic cookbooks are put together in her introduction section. She loves the sturdy pages and the spiral bound books that lay flat and are easy to cook with.
“My very favorites, though, are the ‘home-made’ cookbooks, typed and mimeographed or thermofaxed, cut into pages with a paper cutter, covered with oilcloth or wallpaper samples cut out with a pinking shears, two or three holes punched in each page and cover and finally ‘bound’ with pipecleaners, yarn, or little gold-colored brads.”
As a coffee table book, Potluck Paradise is not that impressive. As a cookbook, though, it’s great! I only hope it will survive long enough for me to try all the recipes.
Melissa Slachetka (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Minneapolis and contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.