Several months ago, I wrote a post about the oldest Blacksburg community cookbook currently in the History of Food and Drink Collection. It also has a nice introduction to what we mean as “community cookbooks” and the region in which we focus. This week, I’ve pulled two more of the town organization community cookbooks from our shelves to share. On the surface, they may not have much in common, but at the core, they share something very important…which we’ll come back to after our image gallery interruption. 🙂
The first is Blacksburg’s Best, published by the Blackburg Junior Woman’s Club in 1968.
The second one is Bread of Life, published by the Blacksburg Christian School in 1996.
Okay, so what do these have in common? Like many community cookbooks, they are in a similar format–in many cases, books like this came from the same publishing house. However, with nearly 30 years between them, there are some changes in how the sections are named. But it’s the “local” nature of them that I think is far more important. These books include recipes from our community and as a result, they raise all kinds of questions: What are the recipes that contributors feel are important? Do they use local or regional foods/ingredients? Are they family recipes or something new? Can you find multiple variations of traditional recipes, and if so, what do those changes reflect?
While we can’t always answer these questions as users and preservers of these books, we can still begin to find stories (or at least threads of stories) that tell us about the community in which we live. In this case, it’s Blacksburg, but if I had selected different books this morning, it could be Roanoke, Fincastle, or a number of other Southwest Virginia towns. The 1996 book might reflect a more diverse set of recipes that include global influences, but you can’t go more than 4 pages into either publication without finding a recipe for a cheese ball. Look further and you’ll find cheese biscuits, barbecue chicken, meat loaf, sweet potato casserole, and sour cream cake appear in both of these (and a myriad of other) books, among other recipes. Which brings us back to my earlier comment: At their core, these books fulfill an important common role–they serve to document communities (and yes, fundraising, I know that part matters, too!). They show us the recipes that are the continuing favorites of our families and friends, that span generations, that remind us of being in the kitchen with people love, and that take us back to our roots and help us establish new roots as we go forward. Plus, they’re usually just filled with really good recipes!