I was thinning my accumulation of cookbooks recently. I never intended to become a cookbook archivist; they just collected in my kitchen like blown leaves do in flower beds. Every ladies’ auxiliary in the 50s and 60s was hawking a cookbook to support some worthy cause. I must admit, that as a young housewife, I was responsible for publishing several of those.
During my kitchen cleansing, I ran onto a cookbook first published in 1985 by the Junior League of Springfield. Every cook in South Missouri worth her salt had a copy of Sassafras!, the 400-page, spiral-backed classic. Copies showed up at every bridal shower in the region for years. In the League’s 10th Anniversary edition, it was noted that the 726 recipes included were pared down from more than 4,000 received by the cookbook committee. Each was double tested and individually evaluated at least 8 times.
I flipped the pages again and marveled at the layout that was still appealing despite having fewer pictures than many cookbooks today. The Best of the Best recipes were highlighted with a leaf, a sassafras leaf, of course. Such recipes as Alley Spring Apple Cake and Orange Pecans (with only 3 ingredients) bore the leaf icon. I paused at Sen. John Danforth’s chili recipe. It was leafless, but still looked noteworthy.
Even Martha Stewart put her stamp of approval on Sassafras!, calling the Blueberry Lemon Bread, the best she’d ever had. In his day, television comic, Willard Scott also gave a shout out to the Ozark anthology.
There’s no doubt about it. If ever there’s a Cookbook Hall of Fame, this ol’ favorite deserves inclusion. While there were many recipes from Sassafras! that I remember fondly, I noticed that some called for ingredients I prefer not to use much today. I try to avoid cooking with sour cream, mayonnaise, cream soups, or excessive amounts of sugar.
Even so, I put the volume back on the shelf, because I have a theory about cookbooks. If you find just one, good, everlasting, family-loving recipe in a cookbook, it’s worth the price you paid. I decided to keep Sassafras! and pass on the Blueberry Lemon Bread and the Orange Pecan recipes that gained so many followers.
Several years ago I composed my own Best of the Best recipes, that I’d gleaned from a mountain of cookbooks, dog-eared file cards, and notes scribbled on scrap paper. I now keep them neatly alphabetized on the computer and print out a recipe as needed. Still I have recipes bulging from file folders on my desk right now. I promised myself to sort through those the next time we have a snow day.
The Junior League of Springfield has recognized our new eating habits with a more current cookbook entitled: Women Who Can Dish It Out: the Lighter Side of the Ozarks. (Shown above) It includes 400, triple-tested recipes with a lighter touch, a bit of Ozark humor, and nutritional factoids.
Having tackled my condo cookbook collection with some degree of success, I’m ready to thin the herd at the farm–the herd of cookbooks, that is. It will be harder. More memories of menus past. Time and taste march on.