The church cookbook: spiral-bound history
Church cookbooks may not be of high value monetarily, but they certainly are of high value sentimentally.
Every time I do a workshop on aprons or antiques and collectibles with church ladies, they have a cookbook to sell.
No other cookbook in the world is like these bound books, incredible heirlooms to pass down to future generations. Someday your children or grandchildren can use them to learn a bit of history of the area.
The American tradition of these cookbooks dates back to the late 18th and early 19th century, and it wasn’t until this time that these books began to look like what we have today. Up until the 18th century, women kept kitchen journals as a cookbook, a diary and a place to record kitchen notes, home-keeping and health tips — that's where I found my grandmother's famous chocolate chip cookie recipe.
The church cookbook was created by the women of the church congregation, with their favorite recipes, and very inexpensively compiled and produced as fundraisers to help with church repairs or supplies. You’ve probably seen them — they’re usually small, spiral-bound books.
Over the years, these books have become very popular, because the recipes come from real people with families, busy work schedules, realistic budgets for food, easy-to-prepare foods for a family of two or more, and now with added vegan and gluten-free recipes.
What are they worth? Must be something, since so many recipes from church cookbooks have been compiled into books such as “Church Suppers: 722 Favorite Recipes From Our Church Communities” by Barbara Greeman or my favorite, from Gooseberry Patch, “Best Church Suppers.”
Where to find a few
The value of these church cookbooks is more sentimental than monetary. Most can be found at thrift and consignment shops, garage or estate sales, and country auctions. There are over 1,000 church cookbooks for sale on Etsy at any given time, and on average, they sell for around $13.
Brenda Jannsen: “There are a few dealers at Treasures Under Sugar Loaf, Winona, who have church cookbooks, priced around $3-$5. One of the reasons I personally like church cookbooks from the surrounding area is because they use ingredients found in abundance locally, like rhubarb, apples, sweet corn and zucchini.”
Shayna Dais, of Rusty Bucket in downtown Winona: “We do have some church cookbooks, starting price at $5 and up. If you didn't get to our weekend sale on Nov. 7-8, come to our Holiday Open House Nov. 21-22.”
While in Winona, check out A-Z Collectibles on Third and Main Streets, where Neil Hunt said, “I have a couple hundred cookbooks, and a lot are church, and some are various local organizations, and priced right.”
Sarah Kieffer, of Sarah's Uniques & Jim's “MAN”tiques in St. Charles: “I have a ton of vintage cookbooks! A few are church cookbooks, and all do range from $1 to about $15, depending on how collectible they are. Old cookbooks have some of the best recipes, and you can find a way to make anything! Cooking with soup, casseroles, cookies, and many of the old-time favorites.”
Sandy Erdman is a Winona-based freelance writer and certified appraiser concentrating on vintage, antique and collectible items. Send comments and story suggestions to Sandy at firstname.lastname@example.org .