I have to admit I have a bit of an addiction – to collecting cookbooks. I find that reading cookbooks can sometimes take me away from the stress and aggravations that surround me. I really enjoy community cookbooks because they offer insights into how people in different parts of the country cook and entertain.

There are also certain patterns I’ve noticed. Older cookbooks tend to be a bit more regional. I’ve noticed that since the 1990s many community cookbooks are a bit more generic and less regional. You’re as likely to find recipes for Asian dishes in a Texas community cookbook as you are to find barbecue recipes. The late 1960s-1980s offered community cookbooks filled with “dump & pour” recipes relying on convenience foods.

Some community cookbooks are filled with information about the community such as sites of interest or historical tidbits. Others offer blurbs by the recipe’s contributor that give some info about where or how it originated. Some of the recipes are very down-home style whiles others are more sophisticated or gourmet.

One of my favorite collections is called America’s Best Recipes. This collection was published annually by Oxmoor House from 1988-2003. It collected what the editors considered the best recipes from various community cookbooks submitted for consideration. McIlhenny Tabasco also sponsored annual awards from 1990 to 2009 for the best community cookbooks from each region and the top three nationwide. They also had a Hall of Fame where the best selling community cookbooks of all time are memorialized (this list includes such classics as Savannah Style, Charleston Receipts and Pirate’s Pantry).

Reading these community cookbooks gives me a sense of connection to the people who created these recipes. Across time and space I can make their recipes and keep their memory alive. It makes me feel like a bit of a food historian. This is important to me because the women in my family were not very domesticated (I may have mentioned this before). We don’t have family recipes that were handed down. My ancestress’ primary mode of feeding the family was very plain, inexpensive and filling and tended to involved some type of convenience food. We might not have gone hungry but no one was clamoring for those recipes.

Food is a spiritual medium for connecting with our family, our past and those who have gone before. It’s interesting and enlightening to learn why certain dishes developed the way they did or why certain foods were popular in specific regions. In recent years America is losing some of its regional diversity. In some ways this is very good but when it comes to food I think it means some of each region’s unique foodways might be lost. So read a community cookbook today and connect with the past; keep those memories alive in spirit and honor their contributions.