On a family visit to Olbrich Botanical Gardens this past weekend, I picked up Apple Betty & Sloppy Joe by Susan Sanvidge, Diane Sanvidge Seckar, Jean Sanvidge Wouters, and Julie Sanvidge Florence. Yes, another cookbook.As I told my students today, some people read mystery novels or romances when they’re busy at work; I read cookbooks.
This cookbook, published by the Wisconsin Historical Society is the work of four sisters, who were raised in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in the 1950s. If you can imagine your stereotype of how a Midwestern middle-class family ate in 1955, you will likely imagine some of the dishes the Sandvidge sisters describe: jellied salad appears, as do various preparations for canned vegetables and pot roast. Many of the recipes in the book aren’t recipes at all, rather good-natured self-mockery on the part of the authors. Nobody actually needs to know how to make the disgusting midnight snacks cooked up by the youngest sister, but that is not the point. The point is remembering: the author’s remembering her eating of those concoctions in bed, curled up with a flashlight and a novel, and the reader’s remembering of similar moments connected with special foods and food rituals.
In its focus on these rituals, on regional ingredients and family stories, the book shares some of the goals, if not the tone, of The Homesick Texan. More surprisingly, the two books share concerns for the use of whole unprocessed foods, and for the perpetuation of ethnic cooking heritage (in the Sandvidge’s case, this heritage is German, including grandparents who made their own sauerkraut in their garage). Convenience foods certainly appear – not least breakfast cereal, which the sisters seem to have consumed in truly monumental quantities – but their role is not as prominent as one might expect.
Would I actually cook anything from this book? I was not tempted by many of the main dish recipes, although some of the German specialties made me bemoan my household’s current vegetarianism. But I don’t need another recipe for sauerbraten and potato dumplings, or for baked beans with bacon. The baking section, on the other, hand, does include several recipes that I would like to try, for coffee cakes, donuts, muffins, and cookies that seem like they would be both delicious and quick to make, and introduce me to some new tastes.
On the whole, though, this is not a cookbook for cooking, it’s a cookbook for reading, and I don’t mind that. It introduced me to some of the specialties and traditions of the area in which I now find myself living, and gave me a few good laughs, and a few good grimaces at the authors’ corny humor. And I’ll definitely pull it out at Christmas when I need to find some more ways to use some of the good Wisconsin butter!