The joy of cooking with a church cookbook

May 31, 2017


Laura Jean was asked to chair the new cookbook committee for her church in Prattville, and she’s beyond thrilled. She took the words out of my mouth when she said, “I thought with the availability of recipes on the internet these days, we’d never see another church cookbook again.” Everyone in the South knows the best recipes come from church cookbooks. The Junior League comes close, but with the church books, you also get a little dose of morality thrown in with the salt and pepper.

My mother once submitted a recipe to our church cookbook for, “Watergate Cake” and the ladies on the dessert committee called to ask if it was okay for them to change the name to, “Pistachio Pudding Cake” because Watergate was such a, “terrible time in our history.” No matter that the cake was named after the hotel restaurant’s featured dessert, not the unfortunate political incident.

The biggest scandal to ever hit Magnolia Grove Baptist Church was when the scandalous recipe for, “Saucy Cocktail Balls” showed up. The committee couldn’t decide which was worse. “Saucy,” “Cocktail,” or “Balls,” and the rumor is, they finally threw their hands up in disgust and included it. After all, it was the pastor’s wife who submitted the recipe in the first place (but they drew the line at, “Polynesian Breasts”).

The older cookbooks, printed before the 90's, were full of healthy salad recipes, and when I say healthy, let's just admit it, they were really desserts, containing ingredients like cream cheese, brown sugar and Ritz Crackers. One Cherry Salad recipe, submitted by Mrs. John Fishembacker, of the Gadsden Fishembackers, included 1 can of cherry pie filling, condensed milk, Cool-Whip, marshmallows and a can of pineapple.

The newer books published in the 80's, gave a nod to foreign missions by including exotic recipes like, "Oriental Salad and Enchilada Casserole, which somehow managed to incorporate a can of cream of mushroom and cream of chicken soup, along with Velveeta. Totally authentic Mexican food, right? The newer books also modernized the contributor's names and instead of the old-fashioned, "Mrs. John Smith," they came a long way baby, and were listed as, "Mrs. John Smith (Vera)."

Always thirsty, but mindful of those who are "weak for the drink," there were 24 different punch recipes, all of them including a different flavor of Jell-O so you could color-coordinate with the bridesmaid's dresses.

Of course, the best section of all church cookbooks is, "Casseroles." Church folk instinctively know how to make a casserole, and wisely stock cases of creamed soups in their pantries, ready to go in case there's a death, birth or illness. Three versions of "Company Casserole" are listed in one of my books. One, topped with crushed Cornflakes, one with crushed saltines, and the third with Chinese noodles, once again, giving a nod to the memory of dear Lottie Moon.

The joy of cooking from a church cookbook may not be the actual recipes, although there are some big winners in those pages, but the true happiness found is seeing the names of those who took the time to share their favorite recipes you've eaten for years at covered dish luncheons and dinner on the grounds. A former Sunday School teacher, or someone who taught you in Vacation Bible School. The church organist or the librarian who let you check out five books at once, even though she knew you were going to read them during church. Certainly in heaven, there will be a cookbook committee.  They'll be non-judgemental and accepting of everyone, so there will be a smorgasboard of international recipes, and no one will blink an eye at the most popular dessert, "Watergate Cake," submitted by Mrs. R. Nixon (Patricia).

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  1. I still use the church cookbook from the Baptist church I grew up in! Just about the only place one can find a good Jello salad anymore. Actually made Strawberry Pretzel Salad a few weeks ago. Of course, it’s more dessert than salad, but nobody complained!

    One of the things I love about my church cookbook is that I can look at the name beside a recipe and know if it’s good or not. Sone of the best southern cooks in the world have recipes in that book, and while they might not be very healthy by today’s standards, they are comforting and bring back great memories of growing up in a church that nurtured me physically and spiritually.

  2. Hilarious! Some people might think you’re making some of this up to be funny but I figure they’re funny because they’re true. Lots of church cookbooks in my collection–my own recipes are even in one!

    The other terrific spiral bound cookbooks are junior league ones. My most used cookbook is Southern Sideboards from one of your neighbor states’ junior league.

    I wish Laura Jean good luck on chairing her church’s cookbook and guarantee the job won’t be a picnic!

    1. Thanks Dewena! I actually found 100% of these recipes and tidbits of knowledge in two church cookbooks I have! I swear there was the “saucy cocktail balls” and “Polynesian breasts” in there! I couldn’t make this stuff up!!!!

  3. Oh. Leslie Anne, this is just to good! So funny, if it’s not true it’s a great tale! I have my name on a lot of recipes in church cookbooks throughout the state. I’ve owned enough to open a bookstore. Hate to say it but space issues won out an most were donated to good will. Other that the great recipes in these books it was wonderful flipping the pages and recognizing names of years past. They bring back wonderful memories. Thanks for the chuckles……..

  4. I have many in my collection and southern ladies do treasure these. They have the best recipes. We did learn from great church ladies how to cook. I hope our younger girls don’t throw all these treasures in the trash one day for Pinterest, because even if we can’t eat these recipes daily, what holiday would be complete without them.

  5. I loved this post and identify with it. Church cookbooks are the very best and you must load up your pantry with every cream of soup made. Actually there are some wonderful old Southern recipes to be enjoyed. Thanks for the laughs and the memories!

  6. ? You are so right, the best recipes do come from church cookbooks!!! Yes, those good ole healthy Southern salads, know wonder everyone calls everyone Sugah!! So fun Leslie Anne!

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