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9 Cooking Tips We Learned from Vintage Church Cookbooks

Our favorite cooking tips come with a dash of faith and frivolity.

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Nostalgic, comforting and filled with spirited wisdom, fewer throwback books will give you a better bang for your buck than a vintage church cookbook (with unforgettable recipes like these). Those worn pages marked by stains and handwritten notes in the margins are a charming piece of history.

They are also filled with cooking tips as relevant in now as they were decades ago. These congregants knew a thing or two about how to feed the flock!

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One-dish dining isn’t just for dinner

In Loaves and Fishes a collection from the members of Galilee Episcopal Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia, the one-dish meal featured prominently. This section kicks off with a poem to tease all the goodness that lies in the pages ahead:

“Let’s pour some happy spirit

In a great big mixing bowl

Then add a few ingredients

And lo! A casserole!”

It includes congregant Douglas Barnes’ recipe for breakfast sausage and fried apples, a Tidewater region favorite. For a modern take on the savory-sweet treat, we love this spicy sausage and apple overnight casserole. Easy prep makes it even better!

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Meatless mains can be hearty

In 1963, Saint Martha’s Altar Society of Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church of Oregon published Food Fashions. Meatless mains—in a section called “Spellbinding Suppers”—take center stage with hearty pastas. As the cookbook reads: “A well seasoned, well cooked main dish can be as interesting and satisfying as a good steak.”

We agree! Try these Meatless Monday dinners for a veggie take on dinner.

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Cumin is the secret to perfectly seasoned chili

Lady Bird Johnson should know. The East Texas native loved it in her Pedernales River Chili, published in the 1960s cookbook Our Fair Lady, a collection from the Associated Women for Christian Education. We think she’d approve of this cumin-infused church supper chili.

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Not all cakes need to be frosted

There’s a story from the 1930s Lutheran Church Basement Women cookbook: An elderly parishioner made an apple cake every year for a church supper. Unfrosted, the cake was deemed unworthy of a prime spot on the serving table. For years, clever children passed along word of this secret cake, sneaking off with several slices at a time when folks were busy eyeing up the prime real estate dishes.

However, a well-meaning Ladies’ Aid member covertly covered this cake in sour cream frosting hoping to rescue it from the back of the table. That apple cake—much like this one—suddenly became more popular. However, some folks prefer the plain version.

When only a frosted cake will do, we’ve got you covered. Check out these cakes for frosting lovers and then get your bake on!

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A meringue shell makes the pie

The secret to First Lady Pat Nixon’s angel pie? A homemade meringue shell, made with finely chopped walnuts. This confection was one of 792 (wow!) in Our Fair Lady, a cookbook published by the Associated Women for Christian Education throughout the ’60s.

You can make your own angel pie at home with this recipe—just add some finely chopped nuts to the meringue if you want to make it like the church cookbook.

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Chop onions with a piece of bread on the tip of your knife

The ladies of Saint Martha’s Altar Society loved their kitchen hacks. Had we been privy, we’d gladly have dished on the kitchen hacks we wished we’d known earlier.

In Food Fashions, the Altar Society members revealed what is perhaps the most practical kitchen hack of all, welcome to everyone anywhere who has ever dreaded the task of chopping onions: “Spear a one-inch chunk of bread on the point of your knife before peeling [as] bread absorbs those tear-jerking fumes!”

We tried these other ways to cut an onion without crying. Find out which onion-chopping trick prevailed.

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A stack of chocolate chip cookies on a plate.Taste of Home

Use cake flour for chewy cookies

Love chewy cookies? One parishioner included a tip in her submission to Sharing Our Best, a cookbook from St. Mary’s Church in East Dubuque, Illinois. Her recipe for chewy chocolate chip cookies calls for cake flour, though she warns that substituting all-purpose flour will render the treats flat and less chewy (good for crispy cookie fans!). Try this recipe both ways and see how you like them!

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For bread baking success, scald the milk

In the Ukrainian Daughters’ Cookbook, artistic bread takes on many forms. It’s fitting, given Ukraine’s rich soil and abundant grains, shaping the region’s reputation as the “bread basket of the world.” From paska to babka and kolach to korovai, these celebrated holy breads all start with a component as critical as the yeast: scalded milk. It’s also what gives these twice baked rolls their light and springy texture.

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Taste of Home

Nuts add flair to sweet treats

There are two kinds of people. Those who like nuts in their sweets, and those who don’t. Mamie Eisenhower was a fan of them and we love her for it. They figure prominently in her uncooked fudge, one of several First Ladies with recipes featured in Our Fair Lady. If you can’t get your hands on a copy of that, try these FLOTUS-favored foods.

Rebecca Walden
Rebecca C. Walden is a freelance writer with Deep South roots - an Alabama native now living in north Texas. Her writing has appeared in Reader's Digest, the Huffington Post, Southern Living, and many other regional publications, focusing on everything from health and wellness to parenting, family, and women's interests. Walden also provides freelance writing to corporate clients in finance, government, healthcare, and higher education. Check out her latest work @rebeccacwalden.com.
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