Thursday, April 03, 2008

The 1968 Junior League Cookbook

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.

Green Beans

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 (???)

Creamed Shrimp

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?"


Travis said...

Its amazing to me the number of times one of the mentioned recipes calls for 'canned' such and such. My how far we've come.

victoria said...

I actually have this cookbook too! It was my Grandmother's book complete with notations in the margins as to the fabulousness of some of those very crab dishes.... I just love how the addition of Velveeta and a perhaps (if one is feeling quite feisty) a can or two! of the fried onions is an instant Party! Great post!

RRR said...

My friend and I still make the cheese enchiladas from her mom's JL cookbook and we love them. Sometimes we add steamed spinach and they are just as amazing and we feel like we are getting vegetables. I've have only made one thing out of the 1996 book but have preordered the new one because of the promise of greatness! We'll see!

Anonymous said...

This won't be a comment about PEACE MEALS (I'm still pondering whether to purchase it) but about my mid-50s memories of food in Houston. I was a child then, but nevertheless I vividly remember...
Best crab: Luby's Cafeteria stuffed crab.
Best snack: FRITOS!! I still love them, esp. with chili.
Most-treasured food memory: 5-cup salad (or whatever it was called then)at Nieman-Marcus restaurant. I finally found the recipe, over 50 years later, on the internet and still adore this delicious treat.
Most memorable lunch dish at school: Short ribs swimming in grease; frightening to a little yankee from New England but oh how I'd like to taste some right now!

I have to laugh about those recipes made with canned soups and Velveeta that Travis mentions: I have a large collection of vintage cookbooks, most of whose one-dish recipes start with "canned mushroom soup" and include Velveeta. It was the formula of that time period, but hey, some of those old recipes are delicious even if perhaps not very good for us. Don't they represent that old category known as "smothered" foods? Yum.


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