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Down-home holiday

Agriculture.com Staff 12/15/2007 @ 11:00pm

I inherited a great collection of cookbooks from my mom and grandma, including the 1952 edition of Kate Smith Chooses Her 55 Favorite Cake Recipes. Add to this the other cookbooks that I've acquired from church groups and farm women, and it's obvious I need to spend more time in the kitchen.

Beyond the great recipes, these old cookbooks offer a window through time reflecting the values of an earlier generation.

Consider this 1950s message from Ruth Kerr in the Kerr Guide to Better Canning booklet: "In a little while, deep in the coming winter, you will pause at mealtime with those who love you most. And you will see, if you look for it, a passing parade of miracles . . . the plump, ripe peach of last year's half-forgotten harvest turn to light in a little boy's eyes . . . the redness of a tomato from a vine that has ceased to be will glow on the healthy cheeks about you . . . and laughter will come from the berry patch that now is drifted over with snow. Good health and happiness, energy and hearty strength, will be reaped bountifully from lifeless roots and leafless trees . . . when winter comes."

When was the last time you felt a personal connection to your food or the pride in serving it to your family?

Contrast this sentiment with the comment a few years later from Good Housekeeping magazine: "The bride who takes advantage of canned and frozen foods, packaged mixes too, need not apologize. She's smart."

In the tug-of-war to win the hearts and minds of homemakers, "smart brides" have become the prevailing norm. Women and their families have gained much from the global food system in terms of convenience and time. What is the trade-off?

Looking closely at the Kerr booklet cover, can you see the words, "Compliments of Ripple's Grocery, Hornick, Iowa"?

My hometown of Hornick, population 253, hasn't had a grocery store since Ripple's closed in the 1980s. Today you can't buy the ingredients there for the Nut Pumpkin Custard recipe in that cookbook or in many other towns across rural America.

We all know about the economies of scale leading to the loss of local grocers. Small towns like Dayton, Iowa, have invested in their own grocery stores. Viroqua, Wisconsin, has opened a food co-op. Some local growers sell produce and baked goods at year-round markets. Rural America hungers for these options.

In rural areas and inner cities, rising rates of childhood obesity may be tied to a lack of local grocers.

What about the poor and elderly? Studies show links between low-income and overweight households. It's hard to find nutritious food at a convenience store. (I have seen fresh fruit at a few chain stores.)

Most of us can -- and do -- shop out of town. If we're lucky enough to have a local grocer, why not celebrate by buying holiday ingredients there?

Then, let's fill our carts with food pantry or food basket items for less-fortunate neighbors.

I inherited a great collection of cookbooks from my mom and grandma, including the 1952 edition of Kate Smith Chooses Her 55 Favorite Cake Recipes. Add to this the other cookbooks that I've acquired from church groups and farm women, and it's obvious I need to spend more time in the kitchen.

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