INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — What can a cookbook tell about Mormon life?
Kate Holbrook has studied the recipes and headings of Mormon Country Cooking and discussed how 20th-Century Mormon cuisine reflected a tension between flavor and frugality on Saturday afternoon at the Mormon History Association conference.
Holbrook also postulated that the cookbook illustrates that "LDS eating habits reflect Word of Wisdom standards to some extent," for instance the cookbook included a page of alcohol substitutions. But that it also emphasizes eating foods out of season and a heavy meat diet, going against the counsel in the Word of Wisdom.
Mormon Country Cooking was published in 1980 by Deseret Book as a compilation of recipes by then-food editor Winnifred C. Jardine.
Holbrook discussed the hallmarks of a Mormon pantry—powdered milk, canned milk, sugar, shortening, canned fruits and vegetables, wheat, pasta, rice, beans, flour—and how these reflect the frugality and food storage mentality of Mormons who want to have stores enough for uncertain future personal life events, national disasters or political upheavals. The recipes in Mormon Country Cooking often utilized pantry items or even produced storable items such as spice mixtures. Holbrook specifically focused on one recipe for Italian seasoning, explaining that was important to Mormon cooks to be able to flavor their pantry items.
Holbrook explained that recipes could convey values. She outlined the pros and cons of making recipes that used a lot of meat, explaining that Mormon cooks could on one hand rotate food storage items such as a freezer roast and be practical with their time by just sticking in the oven, all while producing a meal their family would eat. Contrast this with the problem of eating too much meat as mentioned in the Word of Wisdom as well as going harming the earth by using mass-produced meats.
Another recipe in Mormon Country Cooking Holbrook spotlighted was for Butterflake Rolls. This recipe (reproduced below) "takes the involved technique used to make French pastry, modifies it for expense, but does not decrease the labor involved. The French would spread each layer of dough with butter, but butter is too expensive, so Mormon Country Cooking alternates butter with shortening on every other layer. They cannot use all shortening, because they clearly value flavor."
In looking through the book as a whole, Holbrook realized that different values competed for priority. Her final list included "frugality, flavor, equality, environmental stewardship, watching over one another, celebration, economy-using every part, security, and limited meat consumption." And in the battle between frugality and flavor, she found in Mormon Country Cooking that "flavor most often wins" showing that "Mormonism has taught people that it is not only ok to be happy, but God wants people to be happy."
Holbrook concluded that in looking through the recipes, "that message people had heard in General Conference had filtered through the hierarchy. These recipes were not just about supplying the body with a grim fuel source, they were about social connection, personal care, and pleasure."
4 dozen rolls
2 packages (1 T. each) active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (115 degrees)
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/4 cups evaporated milk
3/4 cup hot water
5 to 7 cups flour, stirred and measured
1/2 cup (1 stick) soft butter or margarine
1/3 cup soft shortening
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