Backstories, RWSA’s academic cookbook

Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook is available as a FREE download and for sale in hard copy.

Hard copy sales shipped within USA benefit RWSA’s Jensen-Neth Fund. Global sales available via Amazon.

In this post, Backstories co-editor Maureen S. Thompson reflects on the making of RWSA’s new “academic cookbook.”

“An academic cookbook?” my perplexed peers, friends, and family questioned whenever I described the passion project that engaged me and coeditor, Cynthia Prescott, over the past few years. I ultimately explained Backstories: The Kitchen Table Cookbook as the perfect amalgamation of scholarly articles juxtaposed with heartwarming family memories associated with particular foods, and yes, plenty of recipes. There’s even a section on the pandemic, an event no one saw lurking around the corner when this project was first conceived at the 2018 Triennial Rural Women’s Studies Conference hosted by Ohio University.

Since the inception of Home Economics, recipes have become scientific, standardized, and frankly, rather clinical in nature. We don’t remember exact measurements or cooking times associated with recipes, but we do remember the experience of making pizzelles with Nona for the neighborhood cookie swap or the disappointment of a failed souffle concocted for International Night at the local high school. The cultural values and memories humans covey upon food, and its preparation, are integral to our perception of the world at large.

Essays contained within this volume cover a range of topics, including teaching foodways, the origins of cookbooks, immigration stories, and contemporary celebrity chefs. We encounter stories relating hunger experienced by westward-bound pioneers and how they exhibited hospitality with limited resources, cooking contests, and how the 2020 pandemic modified Passover ingredients and rituals.  Readers will discover the amount of time and effort required for crafting homemade tamales, venison mincemeat, and sauerbraten. Lastly, Backstories emulates some early cookbooks that contained “receipts,” as recipes were formerly termed, for home health remedies.

Every recipe, organization, and person possess a backstory. Cindy and I hoped to include an updated history of the Rural Women’s Studies Association. As one of the founding members, Joan Jensen penned the original version in 2003, but subsequent details were housed primarily in people’s memories instead of writing. I contacted Joan and Cindy approached longtime members to compile an accurate and up-to date account which is included in this book. Although only the coeditors’ names appear on the cover, this cookbook was a collaborative venture and I thank every RWSA member who contributed. We literally could not have produced this book without your submissions. Special thanks to Cindy, who oversaw the project and mentored me throughout. I would also like to thank Bill Caraher at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota for his assistance producing this book.

Similar to church ladies or members of women’s auxiliaries of the past, we compiled this cookbook as a fundraiser for our organization, but RWSA contributors also provided scholarly analysis addressing history, gender, race, class, political, and economic issues associated with food production and consumption.  In kindred spirit with our foremothers, we present Backstories: The Kitchen Table Cookbook.  I hope this volume conveys a greater understanding of food history, and that readers develop a deeper appreciation for foodstuffs, the people who grow, harvest, and deliver sustenance, and for the efforts of those who create new dishes, and prepare and serve meals on a daily basis. Bon appetite!

Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook is available now. Hard copy sales shipped within USA benefit RWSA’s Jensen-Neth Fund. Global sales available via Amazon.

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