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Grolier Club Exhibitions

Mary P. McElveen

Over the years, I have collected many things, but, long ago, my FAVORITE items to collect were my Pennsylvania grandmother’s sugar cakes, which were always in plentiful supply; always in a big metal can, always in a lower cupboard accessible to grandchildren.

My grandmother passed on when I was in college, but the memory of those sugar cakes remained: palm-sized, mini-cakes, edges slightly brown, and tops crackling with sugar crystals. Think of a homely madeleine: no delicate shell shape, but just as delicious.

When I was old enough to want to re-create memories, I started looking for the recipe. I began with community cookbooks, which is where the best recipes hide. Collections from churches, from schools, from Junior Leagues... I discovered that regional cookbooks were best—so, I narrowed my focus to Pennsylvania Dutch communities. Here I found my ‘grandma food’—everything from chicken corn soup to the cakes and pies from family reunions. And sugar cakes: one book had 6 versions labeled with Roman numerals!

I didn’t stop. I kept collecting. Each cookbook, each community, stakes its claim to history, memorializes events, honors its members with its special recipes. And I am part of that tradition.

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Das Kochbuch.

Houck, Pat (editor). Penryn, PA: St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1993. (4th revised printing)

A church founded in 1752 is bound to have a few interesting recipes. The book’s value is confirmed by the fact that this is its 4th printing. Das Kochbuch encompasses the major ingredients of a community cookbook: group history, homeopathic remedies, and recipes that have been passed from generation to generation. It features everything from everyday fare to recipes fit for entertaining—and some recipes unheard of in modern times. “Bupper Schpitzhel”, anyone?

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200th Anniversary Celebration Cookbook—Rogersville Presbyterian Church.

Holcomb, Barbara (editor). Lenexa, KS: Cookbook Publishers, Inc., 2005. 

A prime example of community cookbooks is the anniversary cookbook—and churches are the chief contributors to the genre. This is my husband’s home church in Tennessee, and the book is a source for many remembered dishes from cooks who are immortalized along with their special recipes.


The Household Searchlight Recipe Book.

Migliaro, Ida, Zorada Z.Titus, Harriet Allard and Irene Nunemaker, (editors). Topeka, KS: The Household Magazine, 1945.

Designed for every type of homemaker—from total novice to experienced cook—this book was produced by The Household Magazine, a publication similar to Good Housekeeping, both popular in the early 20th century. The book collected and tested recipes submitted by readers, as well as those provided by manufacturers of food products who wished to popularize their brands.