Swapping recipes: popular community cookbooks keep African American culinary traditions alive.

Author:Johnson, Melissa Ewey
Position:The welcome table

How did we first learn how to cook? For most of us, our earliest memories of preparing meals come from sitting at the feet of our mothers and grandmothers. The recipes we grew to know and love were passed down through the generations, rarely written down and often improvised and adapted over the years.

That tradition of sharing recipes orally evolved into the swapping of recipe cards, and then, community cookbooks. What often began as crudely fashioned collections intended to keep the memory and traditions of family cuisine alive expanded to include recipes shared by neighbors, friends, and members of church groups and civic organizations. Along the way, these cookbooks also became an important source of revenue for nonprofit organizations, family reunions and other social events.

Part of the fun of community cookbooks is that you would be hard-pressed to find most of them in bookstores; many have to be ordered directly from the source. They're worth the extra effort. What sets them apart from mass-produced culinary tomes is their hometown charm and history. In most, you not only get an impressive collection of recipes, you also get a glimpse into the lives of the people who make their books not only tun to cook from but fun to read as well. The following cookbooks represent the most well-known and recent offerings.

Charleston Receipts by The Junior League of Charleston, Inc. Favorite Recipes Press, March 2002 $19.95, ISBN 0-960-78542-6

Perhaps the most successful of all community cookbooks, Charleston Receipts was originally published in 1950. Distinguished as the oldest Junior League cookbook in print and filled with low-country cuisine pioneered by local Gullah cooks of African descent, it has since been reprinted and spawned a sequel, Charleston Receipts Repeats (Favorite Recipes Press, 1986, $19.95, ISBN 0-960-78545-0) and an update of the original, Charleston Party Receipts (Workman Publishing Co., October 1993, $13.95, ISBN 0-945-57584-X). Many of the 750 historic low country recipes in Charleston Receipts, such as Jellied Chicken Loaf and Baked Calf's Head, will raise a few eyebrows among modern chefs, but the cookbook as a whole is an enjoyable and entertaining culinary resource. Two to try: Likker Pudding, Chicken Country Captain.

(To purchase: contact the Junior League of Charleston, Inc., 51 Folly Road, Charleston, SC, 29407, or call 843-763-5284.)

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