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Mary Rea | The wonders of old community cookbooks

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How many ways are there to turn cream of mushroom soup into dinner? My guess is thousands.

This came to mind the other day when I was rummaging around the pantry and came across my copy of “A Book of Favorite Recipes” compiled by the Mazama Women’s Club in 1979.

The club was originally organized sometime in the 1920s for social purposes, but in the ’50s was changed into a county extension homemakers club. By the time I joined in 1976 it was called the How To Do Club, and we met once a month to learn crafts like macramé and how to crochet cute little pot holders.

A different member was in charge of “refreshments” each meeting, and one day somebody got the bright idea to compile all the recipes into a cookbook, which we would sell to raise money to repair the huge cast-iron wood stove that heated the building. It had been there since the place was a one-room school house and leaked so much smoke everybody left the meeting smelling like a campfire.

Here’s the shocking part for me: close to 80 women contributed to that cookbook, but only Mary Mika and I are left in Mazama. A half-dozen others now live in town. The rest have moved away or died.

The recipes in the cookbook show how times have changed. Many call for a can of this or that, no mention of size. That’s because the two local groceries, Evergreen and Hank’s, generally only carried one size. The directions are sometimes vague: a list of ingredients and a few words about how to combine them. It seems like everybody assumed everybody else knew how to cook, and there was no need to elaborate.

Of the six recipes I contributed, I still make lemon chicken and potato chip cookies fairly regularly. I rediscovered my Grandma Dot’s French Fried Onion Rings recipe in the cookbook, (it was one of her best). But the exotic shrimp and avocado fondue (cream of shrimp soup, Swiss cheese, 3 oranges and a large avocado) and the marinated mushroom sandwich (part of my short-lived vegetarian phase?) have long since left the recipe rotation.

Green bean casserole and tater tot hot dish do not appear in the first Mazama cookbook, but venison pot pie, rabbit in sherry and macaroni mousse do. I guess people go to the Internet to find those recipes now. 

Community cookbooks are spiral-bound treasuries of hometown family recipes. So many of the contributors are long gone from my life, but when I read their recipes in the Mazama cookbook I fondly remember them and the way we used to be.

Mary Rea of Mazama is the author of the novel “Ladies Night Out.” Her blog, which follows where her mind wanders, is at maryreabooks.com. She can be reached at m2rea@earthlink.net.