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Junior League Cookbooks: Crowdsourced Recipes, Old-School Style

NPR | April 14, 2013 9:03 a.m.

Contributed By:

Lydia Zuraw

The Masters Tournament — you think golf, we think food.

Well, now we think food because this week we were tipped off to a cookbook created for the storied tournament in Augusta, Ga.

The Junior League of Augusta, a women’s volunteer and civic organization, published Tea-Time at the Masters back in 1977, but it’s still in print.

The initial printing of 10,000 sold out within four weeks. It’s been reprinted 17 times, selling more that 350,000 copies.

That’s a lot of three-bean casserole, Spanish pork chops and zucchini bread — simple, classic recipes from PGA golfers and their wives.

But Tea-Time is far from the only Junior League cookbook. Groups across the country sell cookbooks filled with recipes from members and local chefs, selling them to support community outreach. They’ve been doing it since the 1920s. Think of it as crowdsourcing long before the age of Epicurious.com.

“These aren’t just your typical cookbooks. These are very grassroots-created,” says Susan Chavez, a communications consultant with the Association of Junior Leagues International. “The cookbooks became a way to sort of celebrate regional food cultures, and then use the proceeds from the cookbook sales to then give back to these very same communities.”

The first Junior League was founded in 1901 in New York City to promote women’s civic and community leadership. Today, there are 293 leagues in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the U.K.

“If you look back at the history, a lot of these women were educated, upper middle class, and there was this expectation that they stay out of the public sphere,” says Susan Chavez, a communications consultant with the association. So the cookbooks came from “what they had available to them.”

It was an example of women using their power behind the scenes, says Kimberly Voss, a food historian and associate professor at the University of Central Florida. But “in the ‘70s, there was a huge backlash against women’s groups that produced cookbooks as fundraisers because it was somehow reinforcing the tradition of the woman in the home.”

In recent years, she says, feminist researchers have reconsidered the role of these cookbooks, which required a lot of entrepreneurial muscle to publish. “Now it’s actually considered a feminist thing to do to create a cookbook,” she says.

There are more than 200 league cookbooks in print today. For the last 20 years, the international association has tried to collect a copy of every one that’s been published.

Crafting a cookbook can take years, but the effort is well worth it because they’re beloved. There are even online forums where people discuss their favorites.

Anita Blomme Pinther is a member of the Junior League of Raleigh; its cookbook You’re Invited Back is one of her favorites. Not only does it have great recipes like a chilled peach soup with amaretto, she says, but it also has beautiful pictures of the city and inspiration for table settings and food presentation.

When she travels, Pinther also picks up league cookbooks to give as gifts. “It gives people a taste of a community … and you’re able to give them something that gives back in the community you just visited.”

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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