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Woodworking: Savoring from the wacko world of cookbooks

Our kitchen sports a rather large collection of cookbooks, featuring recipes from around the world.

At last count we owned 17 Italian cookbooks. And almost as many French tomes.

I must admit I don't use them, often preferring to get a hint from my Craig Claiborne New York Times Cookbook and then winging it the rest of the way.

But I do like to browse, especially in my collection of weird books ("White Trash Cooking" and "The Grits Cookbook") and my church cookbook collection, which is rather tasty, because we're heirs to a lot of blue-haired Christian ladies who liked to cook before they were dead.

People treasure these books, often mimeographed and spiral bound and splattered with sandbakkel grease.

When my father headed for the nursing home, he was furious to attend an auction in which his new Sears freezer brought $15 and his late wife's "Our Saviour's Lutheran Church Cookbook," dripping with fattigmand grease, but a rare 1948 edition, brought $20.

My stepmother, who was a restaurant cook and owner, never owned a cookbook that wasn't published by a church.

But she had a shelf full of those.

I liked to watch her drag down about five of them, plop them down on the kitchen table, then turn them all to, say, "Ice Box Cookies." She was an expert at gleaning the best advice from all five, which product would equal more than sum of the parts.

I wonder what she'd think of the cookbook I edited a few years back, and which reposes next to the 1980s edition of mother's copy of "Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church Cookbook, Independence, Wis."

I'm certain the woman who edited it at Walters Publishing in Waseca got a big bang out of it.

Walters is the outfit that specializes in church cookbooks and fraternal organizations, who want to raise money. She told me as she laughed over the first chapter I sent her that Walters gets very few saloons involved in their publishing activities.

The cookbook I edited was called "Dining with the Crowd at Johnnie's."

In case you haven't noticed, Johnnie's is not a church, but a tavern on Main Street in River Falls.

When I first sipped a libation at Johnnie's, it was not owned by a person named Johnnie, nor had it been for many years.

The owner when I came to town was Tim Linehan, a wonderful guy who knew more about River Falls than almost anyone. But he didn't call the place Tim's.

He kept the old name, Johnnie's, which was his father's name.

Tim was lots smarter than Macy's who gave Dayton's iconic department store a new name. They called it Macy's. What were they thinking?

When Tim died suddenly his wife Sandy took over and later sold to Dave and Cheryl Dintemann. They didn't change the bar's name either.

They didn't call it D-C's or Dintemann's Dive.

They stuck with Johnnie's because Johnnie's is more than just any old bar.

At Tim's funeral, Father Harris, his classmate, remembered Tim with affection and how Tim once told him that Johnnie's was "a full-service bar," which took care of its customers when they needed it.

The mourners nodded agreement.

You don't go to Johnnie's just to drink. You go to talk, to argue, to joke and -- to eat. There's always something to eat at Johnnie's.

Folks bring it. Dave and Cheryl provide it.

And so the denizens of Johnnie's got together and with help from Dave and Cheryl, we put out a cookbook with hopes of raising funds in Tim's honor.

That's how Walters Publishing got into the act.

I was leafing through my copy of this timeless tome and remembered the chuckles I heard on the phone from Waseca. And questions like, "Do you really want to print this?" or, "Are you sure that's what she means?"

Of course some of the recipes are excellent.

I still use Bill Smith's recipe for Tournedos de Boeuf with Brandy Cream Sauce and remember with relish Marrinan's cashew showered asparagus and Henzel's pickled fish.

But the recipes collected ranged from the sublime to the outrageous, just like the people who wrote them.

This book reflected the town's inclusivity, and if there were maybe too many recipes that called for Budweiser and Blatz, who could forget Rita's Chow Mein for people and cats -- "Brown hamburger. Pour grease into your kitty's bowl" -- and Jon's Fried Lake Pepin Diamondback Rattler.

Or John who contributed a very complicated recipe from his former wife's family cook book.

In a preface, John wrote that the recipe cost him $100,000. "She got the car, the furniture and the house, and I got the recipe."