The Fire Island Pines Arts Project, a non-profit organization promoting the arts in the Fire Island gay summer community, just released its first-ever cookbook, Into the Pines Kitchen. The cookbook is filled with recipes from Pines residents, gay, straight, young, and old. The cookbook contains 200 recipes from over 100 contributors, including Pines notables Scott Bromley, Gilbert Parker, and Hal Rubinstein. As a nod to bygone days, the book features a posthumous contribution from John Whyte, one of the Pines' founders.
I'm a cookbook enthusiast (which, given my culinary background, should come as no surprise), especially when it comes to community cookbooks. Cookbooks are a terrific way at getting insight into cultural values. If we were to look at cookbooks from the 1700's and 1800's, we would see recipes for homeopathic remedies for everything from the common cold to abortifacients, right alongside recipes for jams, bread, and one-pot stews. That's because until the mid-1800's, women assumed the primary role for healing in their communities, and women passed their knowledge of herbs to one another via cookbooks and word of mouth. And although men have dominated the field of professional cooking since the early 1700's, it is women who have taken their place behind the hot stove in the home, ever since humans started to feed themselves all those eons ago.
I love reading community cookbooks from churches, local bridge groups, women's sewing circles or book groups, and yes . . . even Cub Scout den mothers. When I was younger, I loved making recipes from our church's cookbook. I could think of the different women who contributed their recipes and those dishes took on their personalities in a way. That particular cookbook was a project that raised money for a church member who couldn't afford chemotherapy. And even though I have broken ties with my church, decades later I still enjoy the fond memories of church socials whenever I open that cookbook.