“Cooks & books: Cookbook clubs mix love of reading and talking with tasting” (The Columbus Dispatch, June 19, 2013) was just the recipe I needed to bring my simmering plans to join the Westerville Public Library’s cookbook club to a boil. After I exchanged some tweets with author Susan Branch about the Fredericktown Community Library’s plans to discuss her cookbook, The Summer Book, I put the club’s September meeting on my calendar.
Cookbook clubs are a clever twist on the traditional library book discussion group. Interested home cooks borrow a copy of the chosen cookbook, pick a recipe to make, bring the dish to the club’s monthly meeting, sample the food, and talk about the recipes. Like other book discussion groups, a cookbook club encourages trying something new while offering camaraderie.
That’s exactly what I experienced earlier this week, when I joined 14 other ladies at the Westerville Public Library to test-drive Grandma’s Wartime Kitchen: World War II and the Way We Cooked, by Joanne Lamb Hayes.
Nieca Nowels, the library’s adult services manager and the club’s facilitator, chose the book in connection with the library’s One Book, One Community program. This month, Westerville community members are reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a novel set in post-World War II Europe, and sharing their thoughts about it in readings, group discussions and other events.
Besides presenting more than 150 recipes, Grandma’s Wartime Kitchen provides anecdotes about cooking during this period in America’s history and “Wartime Special” archival recipes, printed just the way they were published during the war. The book expanded my knowledge of wartime kitchens to include more than just my grandmother’s penchant for wax paper and the Victory Garden, information about which I harvested thoroughly when some Ohio Historical Society Archives/Library friends and I created Every Garden A Munitions Plant: War Gardens in Ohio, 1917-1945, a virtual and physical exhibit complementing the Ohio’s Garden Path: The Flowering of Our Landscape exhibit.
Since I’m always on the lookout for new things to pack for lunch, I decided to whip up Ham and Grated Carrot Salad for the club’s meeting.
As we made our way along the long tables set up in one of the library’s meeting rooms, we loaded our plates with Pork-U-Pines (rice-covered meatballs in a white sauce); Cheese Custards with Chives; Navy Bean Soup; Oat Sticks; and Squash Biscuits. The adventurous eaters among us tried a beef tongue sandwich. We enjoyed produce from two ladies’ 21st-century Victory Gardens, including home-grown tomatoes and home-canned dill pickles that won second place at the Delaware County Fair this week. For dessert, we sampled Peanut Butter Date Bread (peanut butter was frequently substituted for rationed fats in baked goods); Ribbon Cake, a frosted cake with chocolate, pink and almond layers; Icebox Cookies; “Sugarless” Brownies; Crumb Cake; and War Cake, an alternative to fruit cake. Two ladies confessed that their Rhubarb Pie and Ham Loaf with Molasses were still at home.
After we tried the dishes, we talked about what we had made, how the recipe turned out and how we might have adjusted it, and what we thought of the book as a whole. We discussed how easy many of the recipes were to make, and how helpful it was that we already had most of the ingredients in our pantries.
Reading Grandma’s Wartime Kitchen also afforded me the opportunity to apply my cookbook-reviewing skills. The next time you’d like to add a title to your kitchen bookshelf, consider the following. Does the book lay flat when it’s opened, so you can easily follow the steps of a recipe? Is the author a cooking expert? Are the ingredients called for in the recipes familiar and readily available? Are the instructions clear, with the steps listed in order? Are there helpful diagrams, step-by-step pictures and photographs to show how the dishes look? Do the recipes provide serving sizes and nutritional information? Is the type large enough so that you can read the fractions? Are there any printing errors that could affect how the recipes turn out?
The Westerville Public Library’s Cookbook Club meets from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday of the month. Future cookbooks to be discussed include The Tailgater’s Cookbook, by David Joachim (October 15), The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, by Marion Cunningham (November 19), and Entertaining Simple, by Matthew Mead (December 17).
There’s still time to participate in the library’s One Book, One Community events. On September 22 at 2:00 pm, come to the library to watch Millions Like Us (1943), a film about a girl who works in a factory making aircraft parts, and Listen to Britain (1942), a 19-minute propaganda documentary about the conditions of World War II in the United Kingdom. Drop by the library on September 25 from 7:00 to 8:30 pm to be entertained by “I’ll Be Seeing You: A World War II Readers Theatre,” which presents music, images and words of Westerville residents who served in World War II. Discuss The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society via Twitter using #1bkwesterville and @westervlibrary on September 26 from 7:00 to 9:00 pm and with others on September 28 from 10:30 to 11:30 am at the library. Share a picture a day inspired by The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society on Instagram (#guernsey30daychallenge) through September 30. Finally, join the community to hear Annie Barrows, author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, discuss her research, her partnership with Mary Ann Shaffer and her writing process on October 7 from 7:00 to 8:00 pm at Westerville Central High School. I can’t wait for that one!
If you stop by the library this month, don’t miss its exhibit of World War II artifacts. For more information about the library and any of these events, click here.
What was your favorite dish from your grandma’s wartime kitchen? Leave me a comment and let me know!