Doldrums is a mariner’s term for windless conditions that becalm sailing vessels. For many, icy Januaries trigger a metaphorical emotional state. To help the winter-bound outlast every new year’s first two months, weather-induced blahs require creative solutions.
A friend inadvertently brightened this normally dreary season when she gifted me a copy of our church’s 1971 cookbook. Afterwards, I spent hours examining old recipes and familiarizing myself with cooking preferences of women I’ve recently met as well as their mother’s who’ve passed. In short time, wimpy spirits vanished. Instead of longing for spring, exploring new ingredients and ways to cook familiar ones energized me.
Decades ago, churchwomen in Meade gave me my very first hometown cookbook as a shower gift. Sorting through it to plan meals for my new husband taught me much about these friends’ culinary practices. In addition to following their instructions to bake irresistible breads and savory casseroles, I discovered a sour cream blackberry pie so delicious family still requests it at holidays.
Over time, my collection multiplied. Favorites include worn books with spidery handwriting noting someone’s Aunt Gertie’s favorite meatloaf and similar comments. Despite loving these tried and true treasures, I don’t ignore brand new editions full of gastronomic delights.
I find amazing batter-spattered texts while attending garage sales and auctions. Online ads offer the best avenue to seek specific titles. It took patience to find an out-of-print People Chow copy, but one eventually turned up. Newspaper ads and church bulletins highlight newcomers hot off the press.
Local collections display favorite regional foods with recipes unique to ethnic settlements. Area books frequently include instructions for making homemade sauerkraut, pickled chicken feet, blood sausage, or bean and noodle soup. A treasure I bought in Wilson contains familiar bierock recipes but also suggests a half-dozen ways to make kolaches and tomato noodles unique to Bohemian cooks.
A New Mexico purchase intrigued me with recipes requiring beef stomach as well as 1000 uses for red and green chilies. An addition from a mining town in Idaho offers pasty (not pastry) recipes to make meat pies that miners carried to work inside the nearby mountain. It’s also clear that huckleberries are the fruit of choice for jelly and pie makers in that town.
Speaking of fruits, few prairie cookbooks fail to include more than one way to make sandhill plum and chokecherry jellies or fruit leathers. Cooks can also find guidelines to prepare pheasant, venison, and occasionally raccoon, possum, or rattlesnake. Good local cookbooks explain how to make indigenous ingredients edible.
Ironically, recipe ingredients may be the same from one town to another, but titles can vary. A nearby village listed the same ingredients and instructions for concocting a dish residents called party potatoes. A burg down the road labeled the same item funeral potatoes. Guess it relates to when you eat it.
For a month that began uninspired, it’s a wonderland of possibility now. More than a dozen new recipes beckon. First, I’ll explore a locally favorite butterhorn roll formula. The tidy note written next to a previous owner’s favorite promises “A delicious batter for sweet rolls as well as dinner rolls.” I can’t wait to find out.