March 09, 2017

Cooking Up the Past

I’ve always loved a good cookbook.

A good cookbook can guide you to confidence and self-reliance, all while providing you with a slice of the author’s culinary life, whether it’s based on a type of cuisine or a preparation method.

I became more targeted in my cookbook searching in 2014 when I took a class on Southern foodways and realized that cookbooks aren’t just about food, they are a link to the past.

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Part of my old cookbook collection

As a seventh (check this) generation Lexington County native of German descent, it’s fascinating to me to look through cookbooks of the past and see the similarities in the food my mom and my grandfather made me as a child. It’s intriguing to thumb through the pages of a book printed in the 1930s and realize that something that I like to cook for myself in the 20-teens is something that people ate all that time ago, nearly a hundred years in the past.

My  oldest book, printed in 1934!

My oldest book, printed in 1934!

Because the subject is so engrossing, I am always on the lookout for special cookbooks, especially while thrifting. Since there are so many (literally every church that has existed prints one every few years it seems) I have really narrowed down my hunt to cookbooks from the greater Columbia metropolitan area with some outliers like Fairfield, the PeeDee area, the Lowcountry, Saluda and ones that were printed pre-1950s.

My prize book, Dutch Fork Cookery

My prize book, Dutch Fork Cookery

Why so specific?

Well, because that’s where my family is from- the Mütze (modernly Meetze) Germans on my mom’s side are primarily from Lexington County with some spread into Newberry and Saluda, and the probably English/Celtics from my dad’s side are primarily from the Florence area- the Coker patrilineage which I haven’t been able to trace as easily as I have my matrilineage.

I’m specific about the timeframe because starting around the 1950s is when convenience foods began popping up in people’s lives… and their cookbooks. It’s 2017, we all know about dumping a can of Campbell’s into a casserole. But back then that was some fancy cookery. However, the real true Southern food traditions begin well before the convenience foods and they are what make me feel that strong connection to my past and to South Carolina.

So as people throw out pieces of their past that they don’t realize the value of, I’m ready to scoop them up off of the shelves to research mine.

One Comment

  1. Your post struck a chord with me. With the passing of my grandparents this past year, I’m appreciating the value of the recipies and old cookbooks they passed down in a whole different light. So much more history and pleasure from those dishes than from a microwavable dinner. Thanks for putting into words what I’ve been thinking!

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