Feb. 10, 2010
Newsletter #2
Close By Home
By Bill Holland

The DC area is buried in snow after two major storms that dumped a total of
20 to 40 or more inches of snow on us. We are inside and warm and count
ourselves lucky we have power (and a gas range!). To pass the time
pleasantly for a few minutes, we found ourselves reviewing our collection of
local cookbooks. so we decided to send you out a “Snow Shorty” newsletter
about them. Here goes.

Although vintage community and fundraiser cookbooks from the DC-MD-VA area a
small part of our inventory, they occupy a large part of our curiosity and
interest, since we grew up here, and in a way, they are our unofficial
history books as to who cooked what here, when, where and why.

They are our time machines into the kitchens, the dinner tables and, in some
cases, the dinner parties of our area. Some are offered by groups connected
to the old-money society of the past (called “cliff dwellers” here). Others
were put together by the civic-works-minded wives of power brokers in
Congress or one administration or the other. And others were published by
everyday cooks in church groups throughout the city or by neighborhood
housewives of surrounding communities.

Some of the fancier ones show an almost self-conscious cosmopolitan flair,
putting forward or even flaunting a well-traveled, cultured life that
included haute cuisine. Others, more modest, make it clear that the DC metro
area had its culinary roots in the south, particularly the adjacent states
of Maryland and Virginia.

Yet others show that standard American grub, Fannie Farmer style, and the
fare produced by German, Italian, Greek and Eastern European immigrants who
settled in this area, reverberated here in the suburbs long after the quiet
fine food revolution of James Beard, Craig Claiborne and Julia Child with
its basis in French cuisine, began to catch on. And a few others hint at the
new foods – more common now -- brought to this country by newer immigrants
from Asia, India and Latin America.

So, if you’re in the mind to search around cookbookbazaar.com, we urge you
to go to the DC-MD-VA section of our Fundraiser-Community-Orgs category and
read at your leisure. Especially if it’s snowing to beat the band.

You’ll find not only the recipes of First Ladies and Famous Georgetown
Hostesses and Orchestra Conductors but cooks from more modest backgrounds
and neighborhoods who knew the secrets of preparing succulent fried oysters,
stuffed ham and other well-prepared dishes that fed the discerning bellies
of the working stiffs.

To us, the older ones from the ‘40s and ‘50s and even the pre-counterculture
‘60s are the most revealing and informative (the older ones are nearly
impossible to find). They are recipes our neighbor forbearers cooked and
enjoyed, whether they were grand dames or pioneer working reporters at the
Women’s National Press Club or talented church ladies in downtown churches.
They were recipes all of our families enjoyed, prepared by our mothers,
grandmothers, great-grandmothers (and the occasional male), who luckily
wrote them down for a spiral or comb binding local cookbook back when that
have somehow has survived.

Yes, they’re some nostalgia involved, but they also remind us that there
were many, many good cooks around here before we were even a twinkle in our
parents’ eyes.