[A COMMUNITY COOKBOOK STORY]

One of the most used cookbooks in my collection of over 100 does not have beautiful color photographs or a famous author. Its dog-eared, food-splattered pages are full of recipes, simply printed, covered with notes I have scribbled over the years since it was published in 2001—less sugar here, more spices there…

The recipes fill 99 pages, favorites from a few dozen contributors who were, like me, mostly parents of pre-schoolers at Gan Hayeled (literally meaning “children’s garden”) of Adas Israel Congregation. In extra bold white letters on the bright blue cover, the title announces: the Gan really cooks! (Why ever did we use just that one capital letter?)

I had long been a fan of community cookbooks when I agreed to chair the Gan cookbook committee. A go-to book on my shelf for years, Cooking the Sephardic Way, was completed in 1971 by the Sephardic Sisterhood of Temple Tifereth Israel in Los Angeles and is still one of the best compilations of Sephardic recipes I have ever seen.

In 1987, the Cookbook Committee of the Columbus Jewish Ladies Aid Society produced A Little of This & That – Some of Our Favorite R ● E ● C ● I ● P ● E ● S. (Yes, that’s how they wrote the title, and it’s Columbus, Georgia, by the way.) That cookbook includes at least 15 recipes using (gasp!) shrimp, crabmeat, lobster, scallops or some combination of those rather un-kosher ingredients.

I have community cookbooks from schools, synagogues, churches, junior leagues, sports teams, community centers and more from all over the US. Some were gifts, other purchases and still more found at yard sales or second-hand bookstores.

Community cookbooks are nearly always created as fundraisers, but their enduring value is far greater. Each of these books represents a picture in time, an expression of a caring community and a way of preserving heritage and traditions.

Dishes like Chicken Oriental featuring potato-chip encrusted chicken pieces or recipes using Bisquik, Jell-O and Tang might not be popular anymore, but I am thankful they are preserved along with classics like Apricot Chicken that uses simply Russian dressing, apricot preserves and onion soup mix. Add a cut up chicken and bake, and you have the recipe. Many of us have passed this popular and easy dish onto our children!

The Gan cookbook includes the usual Shabbat and holiday classics—blintzes, challah, chopped liver, mock chopped liver, apple cake, honey cake, matzah balls and more kugels than you can imagine. (We’ve got three of them with this story.) But unlike any others in my collection, nearly every recipe in the Gan pages has a little story at the beginning—something about where the recipe came from, when it’s usually made and who in the contributor’s family loves it. Sometimes the older community cookbooks fail to include even the contributor’s name.

None of us could predict that the contributor of our Mother’s Day Heart Layer Cakes, Paula Shoyer, would go on to become a well known cookbook author and pastry chef, or that Debbi Minkoff Miller, contributor of Aunt Lala’s Charoset, would start her own food company, Banana Love Muffins.

I don’t know if the Gan cookbook ever made much money for the school, but recipes like the ones with this story by contributors Suzin Bobeck, Sue Cohn and Laura Ginns are among the many that have become staples in other people’s homes. And every time someone comes up to me—as people still do—and tells me how they still make a certain recipe from the book…every time I read those stories…I am reminded that what we did endures, grease stained and tattered as it may look.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. Luckily there’s a recipe in the book for that, too, the “only recipe I know how to follow” wrote synagogue director Glenn Easton. Let’s see…Boil 1 cup water and pour into a cup. Dip tea bag into cup of water. Drink.