Community's flavor is in the recipes in local cookbooks


October 04, 1992|By ROB KASPER

They aren't a new idea. They rarely are glitzy. Instead o flashy advertising and author appearances on talk shows to sell books, they rely on word of mouth and good will. They are community cookbooks, collections of recipes from local folks. Often they are sold to raise funds for a community cause.

After talking with the people who put them out, I learned that benefit cookbooks are a steady, if not spectacular, source of revenue. And they are a lot of work to organize.

Take the new, $10, spiral-bound, "Villa Julie Cookbook," for instance. As the recipes poured into the school's campus in Stevenson, Lynn Shapiro, alumni director at the college, found herself functioning as a cookbook editor.

She and her staff translated the vague "pinch" of salt in handwritten recipes into a universally understood, and typed, " 1/8 teaspoon" of salt. Then she worried about pages getting lost in the mail as the book was sent off to the publisher, Fundcraft Publishing Inc., in Collierville, Tenn., one of a handful of )( operations that specialize in such cookbooks.

Now that the books are published, Ms. Shapiro has switched from being a harassed editor to becoming a "move-'em-out marketer." Her goal, she said, is to sell enough of the books to raise $3,000 for the school's scholarship fund and to clear her office of 500 cookbooks.

Over in Owings Mills, the cookbook committee of St. Thomas' Church divided the work of putting out its "Two and Company" book into a cooking crew and a selling crew.

Susan Baxter, who worked on the cooking side of the operation, said that potluck church suppers were used to test some of the book's recipes. It has received plaudits from Good Housekeeping magazine and Cookbooks of America, a cookbook newsletter published in Anchorage, Alaska. It is in its second printing. But if she had to do it over again, one thing Ms. Baxter would do differently is to require all the recipes to be typed. Handwritten recipes drive printers crazy.

Since the $17 book came out three years ago, its sales of 7,000 copies have translated into $12,600 of aid for local hunger groups, said Joan E. Buck, head of the marketing part of the "Two and Company" operation.

Whether to reprint or revise a community cookbook is always a big question. The Junior League of Baltimore may do both.

Its 1985 edition of "Hunt to Harbor," the 400-page collection of Baltimore area recipes, has sold out its 15,000 copies. Another printing will be out in time for Christmas, said Lisa McIntire, a league spokeswoman. And, she said, plans are in the works for a revised edition to be printed the following year. Proceeds from sales of the cookbook, which Ms. McIntire put at $116,000, have gone to community projects of the Junior League.

Some community cookbooks take pride in their refusal to revise.

"A Cook's Tour of the Eastern Shore," for instance, was published in 1948 and is in its 8th printing without changing. Tidewater Publishers, which didn't take the book over until six years after its first appearance, reports that it has sold over 38,000 copies since 1954.

Ties are strong between the book's readers and the cooks, said Maggie Ferree, of Easton Memorial Hospital's Junior Auxiliary, the organization responsible for the book.

Eliminating recipes would, she said, be akin to slighting a friend. "I lived here [in Easton] 25 years. And I knew most of those cooks, or knew of them," said Ms. Ferree. In discussing one recipe in the book -- Crab Evergreen -- she recalled serving it at the launching of the boat "Easy Going" in 1964 in Oxford. Both the boat and the crab dish, which mixed crab with macaroni, "couldn't be beat," she said.

One afternoon I walked down to Books for Cooks, a store in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, and thumbed through some of these ** cookbooks and talked with Arlene Gillis, the co-owner of the store.

We talked about the limits of community cookbooks.

They don't have many color photos. Their indexing is uneven. They rarely have fancy features, like the nutritional analysis found in commercial cookbooks.

But they are reasonably priced, rarely costing more than $20. They convey a sense of place. Where else would you find recipes for muskrat? And the folks who buy the books, Ms. Gillis said, know "that local women made these dishes in their own kitchens, not in some New York test kitchen."

And that, we agreed, counts for a lot.

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