A New Junior League Cookbook
The Junior League of Houston will soon publish its fourth cookbook. The name will be, "Peace Meals: A Book of Recipes for Cooking and Connecting." In other words, "Kumbayah Cooking."
If you have never seen a JL Cookbook, it is a collection of recipes submitted by the local ladies who are members. It is the successor to the East Texas tradition of church cookbooks, collections of recipes by parishioners sold to raise money.
Some may question whether Houston needs another JL Cookbook. In the last cookbook from 1996, many recipes were good, but few were cutting edge. Plus, today, most home cooks don't need their neighbor's recipes because the internet gives them access to vast databases of gourmet recipes. So is there any reason to buy a JL Cookbook?
Absolutely. For me, the real value of a JL Cookbook is as a local historical artifact. Each of the JL Cookbooks is a snapshot of the foods that Houstonians were eating at home in a particular era.
The Original 1968 JL Cookbook
In my large cookbook collection, one of my favorites is the original, 1968 Houston Junior League Cook Book. In 1968, Houston home chefs were beginning to break out and explore the wide world of international cuisine.
Take, for instance, green beans. The 1968 book included two versions of the favorite East Texas recipe, Green Been Casserole. You probably know the dish: one can green beans, one can cream of mushroom soup, plus canned fried onion rings.
But in 1968, sophisticated Houstonians were beginning to give green beans the international treatment:
Green Beans Canton - frozen green beans with canned water chestnuts, canned bean sprouts, mushrooms, cream sauce, American cheese, plus canned fried onion rings
Party Green Beans - canned green beans, canned cream of mushroom soup, 2 cups grated cheese "Velveeta, preferably," plus canned fried onion rings
Creole Green Beans -- frozen green beans with bacon, a can of tomatoes, "Dash Tabasco", and an onion (for making fried onion rings).
In 1968, as now, Houstonians' favorite high cuisine was crab. The 1968 JL Cookbook has 32 crab recipes. Among these gourmet delights are:
Crabmeat Quickie -- a pound of crabmeat mixed with canned cream of mushroom soup, canned cheese soup, plus a lot of Cheddar cheese
Crab Burger -- includes one cup mayonnaise, plus one cup Cheddar cheese
Crab Elegante -- no canned cream of muhroom soup here; this fancy recipe uses "1 1/2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced" and "2 cups thick cream sauce."
An Essential Cultural Artifact
Other dishes from the 1968 Cookbook are classic, just from their title alone:
Fanny's Potato Icebox Rolls
Snappy Cheese Bake
Frosted Green Bean Salad (???)
Cucumber Ring Mold.
The 1968 JL Cookbook reminds us how much cream we ate in 1968. And it reminds us of the many ways we can use a can of cream of mushroom soup.
Even if you have no other reason to buy the new JL Cookbook, buy a copy for your grandchildren. Forty years from now, you can tell them, this is what we all cooked at home in Houston way back in 2008.
Then you can grin as they respond, "Eeeeuw, did you guys really eat that?"