Cookbook put out by league passes tests of Thyme RECIPE FOR SUCCESS

June 14, 1995|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Sun Staff Writer

When the 100 or so members of the Junior League of Annapolis were looking for a project to raise funds for their charitable activities three years ago, they decided, with some trepidation, to create their first community cookbook.

"We were afraid we wouldn't get enough good recipes," said Victoria Ricketts, who was editor of the appetizer section of the book. "We were saying, bring in your recipes, bring in your friends' recipes, bring in your family's recipes."

A stunning 1,500 recipes later, committee members faced the formidable task of winnowing the collection down to the 400 that appear in the recently published book, "Of Tide & Thyme."

"We were hoping to have 300," said Sheila Shaffer, cookbook chair for 1995-1996. "But we had so many that were good, we ended up using more than we planned."

The real fun began when it came time to test the recipes.

It is a convention among Junior League chapters that all recipes in a cookbook must be triple-tested. That is, each recipe is sent to a tester, who tries it, reviews and revises it -- or rejects it as unworkable or not tasty enough. If the recipe gets through one tester, the revised version is sent to another tester, who repeats the process. It is then sent to a third tester.

League members tried to make the testing enjoyable. They packaged recipes, instructions, taste-test forms and other materials so members could create simple, follow-the-directions dinner parties, and at every league meeting for three years, there was some sort of food to try. "We ran contests," Ms. Shaffer said, "and one of the prizes was we'd make an entire meal [of test recipes] and take it to the person's house."

"At every chance, we foisted these things off on our friends, family, everyone," Ms. Ricketts said.

The hardest part of creating the book, Ms. Shaffer said, was turning a collection of mostly hand-written formulas into consistent, accurate, easy-to-follow recipes. "Lots of things were kind of vague," she said, "like, 'Mix it until it looks doughy.' We had to do a lot of translating."

As the process went on -- gathering recipes, selecting, testing and editing them, typing and sending material to the printer, marketing the book -- Junior League members discovered that they had entered into a major undertaking. "We didn't realize how big a business it was," Ms. Shaffer said.

Their marketing goal was to place every copy of the book with a sales source before the books even arrived from the printers, rounding up booksellers and specialty shops from Baltimore to Delaware. Their efforts were so successful that they have already sold out the first printing of 5,000 copies and ordered a second 5,000.

Initially, they had hoped only to cover printing and other start-up costs, but selling out the first printing allowed for a profit "which is very unusual," Ms. Shaffer said. "We were lucky."

"It's a major big deal" for a community cookbook to sell as quickly as this one has, said Lori Loper, sales promotion coordinator for Wimmer cookbook distribution in Memphis, Tenn. "Of Tide & Thyme" was one of about 40 new Junior League cookbooks published last year, Ms. Loper said. "They've done an excellent job of marketing. From a seller's standpoint, it's got something the others don't have -- there are a lot of fresh seafood recipes, and tips on how to stock a boat galley. It gives the consumer a reason to buy another cookbook," she said.

In addition, Wimmer put the book in a national catalog so besides being available regionally, the book may be picked up by booksellers across the country.

"Of Tide & Thyme" has been selling well at Baltimore-area Williams-Sonoma stores, according to Julie Santonicola Selby, cooking class instructor at the Owings Mills and Towson Town Center locations. "We find it has very practical recipes," she said. "In this type of book there are recipes that have been tested over and over by real people. There are local ingredients, you can get your hands on them easily. We've been recommending it highly."

Wimmer's role in the type of grass-roots cookbooks like the Annapolis Junior League's, where the project is used as a fund-raiser for community causes, is to help the organization produce a good-looking and appealing book, increasing the chances of its success against professionally produced volumes. "A lot of these groups are women donating their time and skills," Ms. Loper said. "We help them do a book that will go up against the mass-market cookbooks."

Consumers appreciate books like the Junior Leagues' because they know the recipes are proven to work. They also like the binding, which is usually a spiral type, "so it lays flat on the counter."

"Mass market books may look nice on a coffeetable or a shelf," Ms. Loper said, but when it comes to something you take into the kitchen, the spiral-bound books have more appeal.

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