I grew up in western Pennsylvania, where the casserole is king, where most things can be seasoned with Heinz ketchup and Campbell’s condensed soup, and absolutely everything bakes at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

So, when I moved to the South after high school, I arrived unaware of things like roux, barbeque, collard greens, and the “meat and three.”  I still remember arriving at my first pig roast, and being completely shocked to see a dead, intact pig lying on the picnic table as if it was the most normal thing in the world.  I am still not entirely convinced that crawfish ought to be eaten by humans (we used to keep them as pets).

However, the South opened up my eyes to the joys of regional food, and made it possible for me to revisit western PA cuisine and see past the casseroles to the great, wide, wonderful world of bread and butter pickles, corn on the cob, Amish bakeries, and steak sandwiches piled high with cole slaw and fries.

Uncoincidentally, it was around this time that I began to collect Junior League cookbooks.

Since the publication of the first Junior League cookbook in 1943, hundreds of Leagues from Enid, Oklahoma to Mexico City have published their own collections and used the proceeds to fund outreach programs in their communities.

But they’re not just fundraising tools.  They’re also historical documents, tracing the culinary landscapes of America over the course of the 20th century.  Through aspics and microwaves and icebox cakes, the Junior League cookbook has been there.  Each book creates a record of what people liked to serve to their families, and how they liked to entertain company, and proves that there are as many different kinds of home cooking as there are home cooks.

Junior League cookbooks introduce us to ingredients and cooking styles outside our own regional experience.  They help keep alive dying crafts like pickling, canning, and baking from scratch.  They can teach you how to host a traditional Wisconsin fish fry, whip up a batch of Pipikaula for your luau, or roast a calf’s head with a side of chainey briar for Sunday dinner.

For the next year, I’ll be cooking and posting recipes from one Junior League cookbook a week, and taking a look at American regional foodways throughout the 20th century.

Some cookbooks are old, some new, and some call for ingredients and cooking techniques that I’ve never heard of.  That’s all part of the fun.

But for the record, I am not roasting a calf’s head.  A gal’s gotta have some limits.


5 Responses to “About”

  1. alex Says:

    How fun will it be to follow you through this culinary adventure?!! I just started a new journal, too (listed as my url)–we’ll have to keep each other inspired, and I am definitely going to include you in my posts as often as I can!!
    Love you! Come taste the delights of Eastern PA (scrapple, anyone?) when you get a chance–we’d love to have ya!

  2. Cari Says:

    Finding your blog was a happy accident! I love vintage cookbooks and my copies of “River Road Recipes” and “We Cook in Maracaibo!” that I inherited from my grandmother (with all of her handwriting) are some of my favorite books in my house.

    On the downside, I rarely have the time to track down ingredients or the patience to commit to cooking some of the really old-fashioned, elaborate recipes. I’ve had a blast cooking vicariously through your efforts, reading about the results and laughing at some of the unique dishes you’ve encountered. Thanks for doing this and blogging about the results. I look forward to each installment!

  3. Julie in NYC Says:

    Stumbled over your blog by accident, and I am so happy I did! I’m looking forward to following your culinary adventures. I am a member of the Junior League of the City of New York, and have a huge JL cookbook collection. People always ask me — which came first, the JL membership or the cookbooks? I have to admit — the cookbooks, and their incredibly interesting accounts of American regional cooking, came first.

  4. Martha Says:

    As a fellow Jr League Cookbook Collector, I found your site today and think it’s delightful. Jr League Cookbooks represent the best of regional American home cooking. It will be fun to check back and see what you are cooking.

  5. Cindy Says:

    Really enjoying your web site! As a member of the Junior League of Boston, I’d be happy to send along our more recent book, Boston Uncommon. I think you would really enjoy it. Just let me know where to send that along to.

    Happy Junior League cooking!

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