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Do not go gentle into that good night, church cookbooks. We need your Cool Whip-enriched salads like never before.

Will church cookbooks survive?

This was the question posed to me when a friend emailed an article from Christianity Today on the matter. I bet you didn’t know that was a question on anyone’s lips on the eve of World War III and hyperinflation. Considering the latter, though, perhaps we need church cookbooks more than ever since they aren’t full of long lists of fancy ingredients I can’t quite figure out.

“I don’t know what that is, but I bet sour cream would suffice.”

“Huh. Sounds sort of like an onion of some kind. I’ll just use that.”

“Meh, I’ll just use garlic.”

This is how I cook. (As you know from the podcast.) Every complicated ingredient I stumble upon in today’s “easy home meals” cookbooks are pared down to the basic ingredients I have on hand in a fairly normal kitchen and my Philistine palette can’t tell the difference anyway. No wonder so many cookbooks promise you’ll lose weight if you follow their recipes; they’re so complicated no one actually makes them and you’ll starve.

I have several church cookbooks, and I love them very much, particularly the ones with my grandma’s notes in them. For a sweet lady, she pulled no punches in her review of a recipe. I will note that in the church cookbooks, there seems to be an era that was distinctly obsessed with putting Cool Whip in everything, but if you can get past that, there are some delightful casseroles, soups, and breads.

Only in a church cookbook will you find three versions of the pizza hot dish recipe, with one noting that a similar recipe was submitted by someone else so as to make sure no one’s toes were stepped on. (See photo above)

According to this article, however, these helpful cookbooks of actually affordable recipes not clogged with photos and long whispy, beige memories that modern cookbooks seem infatuated with are soon to join the dodo and become extinct.

After reading the article, I responded to my friend’s email:

1. Christianity Today is barely Christian.

2. My favorite cookbooks are the church cookbooks I have.

He responded:

Our last cookbook back home was in 1979 or so. I like seeing the names of the church folk who submitted recipes. Good memories.

That was back in the day when the recipes were by Mrs. James Walrude and Mrs. Franklin Heinlein. Nowadays they'd be taken for genderfluiders.

I about spit out my tea on my computer screen when I read that last line. Indeed.

But when my laughter had subsided, I got to thinking about the disappearance of the church cookbook. More importantly, the disappearance of people going to church in the first place.

Combined with reduced church attendance and the move to larger and larger churches where the fellowship dinner—which is what we called a potluck dinner, because we weren’t supposed to use the word “luck”—is segmented according to demographics, according to the groups or activities you’re in, or farmed out in small groups to homes and restaurants, I wondered if that wasn’t unwittingly killing the generational passing forward of the Cool Whip torch.

It’s hard, if you’re a church of 2000, to have a fellowship dinner in your church basement.

That’s a lot of hotdish. Casserole. Whatever you want to call it.


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