With the temperature of my kitchen running in the mid-to-high 90s, I have been taking a hiatus from the podcast for a few weeks. Until the temperature breaks and it’s cool enough to start up season 2, I decided to start posting reviews of some of my many cookbooks. With the help of my siblings, I have collected over 150 cookbooks/pamphlets/recipe card indexes and my collection continues to grow. At the current rate, it will take 3-4 years to discuss all of these books, so I figured that I could do reviews of the books between episodes.
I’m going to start with a relatively recent acquisition: Kmart Klassics. This pamphlet was purchased at a St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in Wisconsin by my sister April for only $1.00. It is an 80-page pamphlet published by The K-Mart Good News Cookbook Committee in the mid-1980s. The pages are the size of a half-sheet of paper and it is held together with plastic comb binding. This style of cookbook was popular as a fundraiser because it could be inexpensively assembled in large quantities, and it has the added bonus that it lays flat on a counter or cookbook stand.
As context for those who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting one, K-Mart is the third largest discount chain store in North America after Walmart and Target. Its wares include standard household items: small/medium kitchen appliances, some furniture, clothing, baby items, health & beauty, linens, shoes, electronics, packaged food, etc.
The pamphlet Kmart Klassics (which is dangerously close to having too many K’s in its title) was assembled by The K-Mart Good News Committee of Racine, WI in the mid-1980s. The committee was made up of Deb Stublaski, Michelle Sadowski, Joyce Dockey, Cheryl Langel, and Nancy Smith. The book describes The K-Mart Good News Committee as “a national organization of volunteer K-Mart employees who are actively involved in year-round out-reach programs in the communities surrounding their K-Mart stores.” The programs were recognized by Ronald Reagan for their work. At the time the cookbook was created, each K-Mart had the opportunity to create their own committee which raised funds to help local organizations. The Good News Committee of Racine, WI fundraised with bake sales, bowl-a-tons, and other activities. They raised money for the United Way and helped a local family raise money to get a van with a wheelchair lift. It seems as though these store volunteer groups have mostly died off. I was able to find a few references to Good News Committees using a Google News search but most were from my mid-1990s.
As is typical for this type of fundraising cookbook, the recipes were submitted by the community and curated by the K-Mart Good News Cookbook Committee. The names of the people who submitted the recipes are included following the individual recipes but no additional information is given. In other examples of these books, the neighborhood or city of the contributor was included, but in this book they were not, which leads me to believe that they were either people from Racine, WI or (more likely) employees from that K-Mart store.
The book is organized into seven sections: appetizers; bread, rolls, pastries; meats, seafood, main dishes; cakes, cookies, desserts; soup, salads, vegetables; candy, jelly, preserves; beverages, miscellaneous. Each of these sections are divided by a sky blue page with the section name on the front and some tips on the back. For example, the appetizers section has a list of simple appetizers which don’t need recipes like lobster tail moistened with lemon juice and sardine slices topped with chopped olives. The meats section divider has a roasting guide on the back, and the candy/jelly/preserves section has a guide for temperature tests for candy making. The pamphlet also includes a handy index divided by section and organized by page number rather than in alphabetical order.
The recipes are delightfully 1980s and charmingly Midwestern. There are 27 different casseroles of various types (some are not called casseroles, but fall into the category by dint of the cooking method and ingredients – slow cooked in an oven and containing starch, vegetable, and protein). Many of the recipes are also combinations of processed foods. Canned soup, cake mix, Jello pudding/gelatin desserts, mini-marshmallows, and Cool Whip all make multiple appearances.
My favorite part of the pamphlet is the “Favorite Recipes” page at the beginning of the book. On this page, the home cook can list the recipes that they particularly enjoy along with the page number upon which the recipe can be found. Unlike many of the books that I’ve seen with this feature, each line is lovingly filled with a slightly shaky cursive that reminds me of my grandmother’s writing in her later years.
The previous owner’s favorite recipes were heavy on desserts and sweet salads, including Heavenly fruit salad, grasshopper pie, peanut butter torte, pistachio salad, puppy chow, millionaire’s salad, poppy seed torte, crème de menthe cake, and banana bread. On the savory side, she liked potato soup, Nancy’s French dressing, cole slaw, baked beans, easy freezer pickles, and bread stuffing.
The heavenly fruit salad was apparently a special favorite of the cookbook’s previous owner as the page was marked with an old receipt with “Heavenly Fruit Salad” written on the top (none of the ingredients were purchased as part of the transaction on the receipt, unfortunately). This salad combines lemon Jello pudding, fruit cocktail, pineapple tidbits, mini-marshmallows, and whipped cream or Cool Whip.
Below are some other pages from this cookbook. You can see the name of the person who submitted each recipe under the individual recipes. If anyone reading this happens to know any of these people, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear more about the cookbook.