A recent Recipe Box (“Gathering Recipes,” March/April) focused on social cookbooks and the “receipts” included that put the past on the dining table. Our Comfort Foods article for July/August takes a closer look at the handwritten recipe cards found in so many recipe boxes and cherished by family cooks everywhere.
So it was quite interesting when a new book arrived on my desk this week. Pot Roast, Politics, and Ants in the Pantry by Carol and John Fisher is an insider’s look at Missouri’s cookbook heritage, and it’s an interesting read to boot.
The Fishers quickly draw a reader into the world of Missouri cookbooks, and, even with 10 pages of editions listed in the bibliography, I suspect they barely scratch the surface of cookbooks compiled and published in the Show-Me State. Organized by the producers of such tomes, the book begins with a quick look at the history of cookbooks in the state. Earlier books were published, mainly for the European market, with the first known American cookbooks printed in the mid- to late 1700s. In 1796, according to the Fishers, the first cookbook written by an American author for American cooks was published – American Cookery by Amelia Simmons. More American-specific books arrived in the next century, including The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, written by Fannie Farmer who was with the famous Boston Cooking School at the time.
Pot Roast details where Missouri was during this time, and then continues with some of the early publications of cookbooks in the state, including the Julia Clark Household Memoranda Book, which was reported to be written by the wife of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Researchers, however, have concluded that the true author of the cookbook was probably Clark himself.
Full of such tidbits, the first chapter moves quickly into more detailed chapters such as “Community Cookbooks,” “Missouri Cookbooks Record History,” “Company/Product Cookbooks,” and “Kitchen Medicine, Housekeeping Tips, and Cookbook Literature.”
The extremely popular Joy of Cooking is mentioned in the chapter, “Individually Authored and Edited Cookbooks.” First compiled by Irma Rombauer as a self-published project in 1931, the cookbook has become a phenomenon in its own right. The Fishers suggest that Joy of Cooking has been so popular because Rombauer’s personality shines through on each page. There are personal suggestions strewn throughout the book, and cooks are put at ease by Rombauer’s honesty.
My work reference library includes copies of Joy of Cooking and The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.
The same chapter mentions Barbecuing and Sausage-Making Secrets by Charlie and Ruthie Knote, written in 1992 in Cape Girardeau, but the majority of barbecue cookbooks – a popular style of cooking, particularly in Kansas City – are mentioned in the chapter titled Company/Product Cookbooks. These books were originally produced as advertising tools by companies as a way to market new products. Some of the include the Aristos Flour Cook Book (published in 1911 by the Southwestern Milling Co. in Kansas City), the Rival Crock-Pot Slow Electric Stoneware Cooker Cookbook (published in the 1970s by the Rival Co.), and the Pet Milk cookbooks (published through the years by the Pet Milk Company specifically to promote their brand of condensed milk).
Authors Carol Fisher and John Fisher know their way around Missouri. Carol’s the author of The American Cookbook: A History, and John wrote Catfish, Fiddles, Mules, and More: Missouri’s State Symbols. They live in Kennett, Missouri.
Chockfull of interesting tidbits, glimpses of life in centuries past, and tastes of old-fashioned cooking and philosophy, Pot Roast, Politics, and Ants in the Pantry is a delicious spread for any cookbook lover’s palate.
Pot Roast, Politics, and Ants in the Pantry: Missouri’s Cookbook Heritage, by Carol Fisher and John Fisher, 2008, University of Missouri Press.