Cheryl St.John: Those Church Ladies & Their Marvelous Cookbooks

I have a thing for cookbooks. And especially church cookbooks. And especially especially old ones. Those church ladies have always been able to cook, haven”t they? I also have a thing for interesting tidbits of American history and enjoy learning how things were done and imagining the people. In the 80s I participated in putting together a church cookbook, and I bought enough copies so that my daughter”s could all have one once they were married. The recipes have become such family favorites that they are staples at gatherings and even weekday meals. One of my daughters wore hers completely put until it fell apart.

Years ago a friend from a writer’s listserv sent me a copy of a cookbook her grandmother had given her. Little did she know that all these years and books later, I would still be gleaning helpful tidbits from a booklet titled COOK BOOK compiled by THE LADIES of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Eureka Kansas, 1896.

making scones

From this little gem, I have used names, recipes and tips, and created businesses for the fictional towns in my stories. Cookbooks are pieces of history, especially those put together by the women of those early towns and cities. The advertisers who paid for space and thereby funded the ladies’ project were a diverse group. Leedy’s Dry Goods and Clothing House for example boasts the lowest prices guaranteed and quality unexcelled. Their tag line: Good cooking is most appetizing on neat linens. We have them.

Chas. A. Leedy sold dry goods, boots and shoes, fancy goods, clothing, and men’s furnishing goods. I have no idea what a men’s furnishing good was, but I am confident Mr. Leedy sold only quality in that line.

Interesting that listed among the directors of the First National Bank was none other than C.A. Leedy. Seems men’s furnishings were making him a tidy profit.


H. C. Hendrick called himself a dealer in pure drugs—my how the times have changed. No one admits to being a drug dealer nowadays. H.C. sold medicines, chemicals, oils, varnishes, glass, putty, fine brushes (my husband swears a little putty and a fine brush can conceal anything; he must have descended from the Kendricks). They also sold a full and complete line of fancy toilet articles, fine stationary, choice perfumes, books, dye stuffs and all other articles usually kept in a first class Drug Store. Prescriptions were accurately compounded.

Then there was H.C. Zilley, dealer in hardware, stoves and tinware who sold agricultural implements and wagons, with sidelines of furniture and undertaking. Why not get into the undertaking business? He already had the shovel and wagon.

Lewis’ Art Studio did photography in all its branches; proofs are shown and all work guaranteed. VIEWING A SPECIALTY. I don’t know what that means either, I’m just telling you how their ad reads. YOUR PATRONAGE SOLICITED. Those printers liked their capitals, and they had all kinds of fancy fonts. This place was opposite the courthouse, FYI.

1874Now, Frank B. Gregg, he sold Fire,…Lightning and Tornado… Insurance – and he liked effusive punctuation. Okay, this was Kansas, so that tornado insurance probably came in handy. Suppose Aunty Em took out a policy with Frank?

A.Frazer’s Transfer and Bus Line: Meets all Trains, All Calls Carefully Attended

Your guess is as good as mine here.

Miss Nellie Smith was pianist, teacher of piano and organ and a pupil of Rudolf King, Kansas City. Her terms were moderate.

W.W. Morris was another dealer in pure drugs and medicines. Also advertised were paints, oils, varnishes school andmiscellaneous books, stationary, window shades, wall paper, musical merchandise, jewelry, fancy and toilet articles. “We manufacture the following specialties and guarantee them to be the BEST articles for the purposes recommended: Calla Cream, Castole,

Excelsior Compound.” They were located NO. 23 OPERA BLOCK.

The church ladies who contributed to this publication had wonderful names like Madella Smith, Eva Downard, Katie Addison, Olive Sample, Hattie Kelley, Lydia Thrall, Cornelia Newman, Mabel Mueller, Lulu Kendrick and Lizzie Bell.


A big percent of the recipes contain lard, and many of them, like biscuits and Boston brown bread, ginger cake and ginger snapsare items we could whip up in our kitchens today, with the exact ingredients and directions. Others—not so much. Like suet as an ingredient. I’ve only fed suet to the birds. And what is black mustard? It’d required to make cucumber catsup.

Another example:

Scrapple: Scrape and clean well a pig’s head as directed in pig’s head cheese, put on to boil in plenty of water, cook 4 or 5 hours, until the bones will slip readily from the meat :::are you shuddering yet?::: take out, remove meat, skim off the grease from the liquor in pot and return the chopped meat to it, season highly with salt and pepper and a little powdered sage if liked, and add corn meal till of the consistency of soft mush; cook slowly 1 hour or more, pour in pans and set in a cool place. This is nice sliced and fried for breakfast in winter and will answer in the place of meat on many occasions.

As you can see the Methodist Episcopal Church Ladies have given me plenty of material for my stories. Little did they know so long ago that their contributions and ads would

be research and fodder for imagination.


My newest venture is indie publishing, and I”ve just released three of my earliest books for Kindle and Nook. It was interesting to read over the stories I wrote so long ago, and it was great to have an opportunity to tweak things and bring them more up to date.

If you have a Kindle or Nook, you can start reading any or all of them within minutes by clicking on one of these links. If you”ve already read them or plan to, I would appreciate all reviews.

Land of Dreams

For Kindle:

On Nook:


In this tale of hope and love, too-tall spinster Thea Coulson wants to be a mother to a child who arrives in Nebraska on an orphan train. When Booker Hayes shows up to take his niece, a marriage of convenience suits them both. Thea’s dreams are filled with the tall, dark army major, but she guards her heart. Booker’s first taste of home and hearth has him longing for more, but first he must win the hearts of both of the females in his life.




Saint or Sinner

For Kindle:

On Nook:


Joshua McBride returns from the war a changed man, ready to put down roots and plant his feet in the community.  Prim and uptight Miss Adelaide Stapleton, leader of the Dorcas Society, doesn’t believe he’s changed—people are never what they seem.  But she has plenty of secrets of her own—among them the inescapable fact that Joshua sets her heart to pounding and makes her long for his disturbing kisses. How long can she keep her own past hidden—and resist temptation?



Heaven Can Wait

For Kindle:

On Nook:

Raised within the confines of a strict religious community, Lydia Beker longs for a simple touch, dreams of seeing more of the world. When handsome farmer, Jakob Neubauer and his family visit the bakery where she works, she is fascinated, but Outsiders are forbidden to her. Jakob is attracted to Lydia, as well, and she makes the difficult decision to leave everything she knows behind to marry him. He offers love and passion, but will she ever fit into his world?

Heaven Can Wait is one of the top ten January covers at in the Indie Cover Awards.

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17 thoughts on “Cheryl St.John: Those Church Ladies & Their Marvelous Cookbooks”

  1. Great post Cheryl – some of my favorite cookbooks are the ones put together by church ladies and booster clubs! There’s just something about those down to earth recipes. most of which can be made from ingredients already in the pantry and have a ‘comfort food’ feel about them.

  2. Cookbooks are soooo much fun! I’ve got some church and organization volumes, but none have the great info like yours.

    Love the book covers all lined up together!

  3. What beautiful covers, Cheryl–and beautiful stories to go with them. I used to see head cheese for sale in the store (along with pickled pigs feet) but never saw anyone making it. I guess it went along with the idea of not wasting anything that could be used.
    I don’t have anything as old as your source, but I do have an old cookbook from my mother’s church group. Great recipes that get more precious with the years, especially when I look at them and remember those wonderful ladies, all of them gone now.

  4. Love the new covers—loved the books.

    I,too, love these cookbooks and now have many that my mother-in-law had. as for the Scrabble……..I married a farm boy whose family did their own butchering every March as did most of their neighbors. I was about 3 month’s pregnant the first March I helped. When we arrived at his parents, I donned the large apron I was handed and asked what I was to do. Your directions left out the job I was given. I was to brush the animals teeth to prepare it for the gigantic pot where it would cook the rest of the day on a large wood cooking stove. I shudder yet!! I started but promptly lost my breakfast. Last time that was my job.

  5. Congrats on the e-books, Cher! I LOVE the covers. Very nice. Whoever did them knew their stuff. I envy you those old church cookbooks. I don’t have any old ones but you can bet if I ever run across any I’ll snatch them up. Great information you found in them. Who knew they had tornado insurance salesmen so long ago? And the pharmacist who sells drugs. Too funny. A very enjoyable blog.

  6. My mother in law, who died two years ago at age 92, had this old old recipe she’d get out to show us once in a while. I remember it didn’t have measurements. Apparently they didn’t have measuring cups … who ever wrote this down.
    One of the ingredients was Ball of Butter the size of an egg.

  7. Howdy, Cher, great post. I have heard of scrapple, and yuck. But I’m also researching the Donners for a YA so I guess under the right circumstances, it would be yummy. Never been a lard person, unless you count my hips, but I know Gram used it for her amazing pie crust.

    I used a “taco soup” recipe from a church cookbook and won the chili-cook off our family holds each year for the Super Bowl!! Speaking of which, any good veggie chili recipes out there?

    Cher, I downloaded Land of Dreams. I can’t wait to start! xox

  8. That receipe book would be such fun for reading.. Have you read any of the Foxfire books… You’d find those very interesting also.
    Nearly 9 million copies in print, The Foxfire Book and its 11 companion volumes stand memorial to the people and the vanishing culture of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, brought to life for readers through the words of those who were born, lived their lives, and passed away there—words collected by high school students who wanted to be a part of their community and preserve their heritage

  9. I love Church cookbooks,Ibuy them from yard sales for cheap,they are fun to read an look at the old ads

  10. You are spot on, Winnie!

    *lizzie, I like the covers all together, too. 🙂

    Elizabeth, my mother-in-law used to make head cheese, but I stayed far away. I tasted it once, and it was okay. It’s not really cheese. It didn’t taste bad, but the thought of it is disgusting.

    Thank you, Natalie. xoxo

    Oh, Connie, that is AWFUL. I had no idea. But it does make sense. :::gag:::

  11. Thanks for the congrats, Linda. I purchased the photos and cropped them as an example, then Nina Paules at ebookprep took it from there and did the design. I do love them.

    Mary, I have a recipe like that, and it says the “size of a hen egg.” 🙂

    Tanya I LOVE taco soup! We’ve made it in big roasters for soup dinner at church. THANK YOU for getting a copy of land of Dreams. Hope you enjoy it. xoxo

    Cate, I’m fascinated by the info about the Foxfire books. Am going to check them out. Thanks.

    Spot on, Vickie. I spend every Thursday, barring rain, during the summer at garage sales.

  12. The American Heritage Cookbook With Historical Notes and Menus is a good source, with history that goes along with the ingredients and the recipes. I have one by my desk.

  13. Some of the better cookbooks are put together by ladies from church, I have a few. Also form different communities. I even have a cookbook that I got in high school so many years ago. Love the covers of your books and they sound great.

  14. I know the idea of “Head Cheese” is not very appealing to lots of people but there really is a lot of meat on a pig head. The texture is a lot like pressed chicken or some of the other sliced deli meats. Having said that, I don’t eat it but my husband and brother-in-law love it. So, two or three times a year I have a pig head cooking on my kitchen stove in a large (13 to 18 qt.) stainless bowl covered with foil,(if they are covered up I can’t see them). Unlike Connie, I never had to brush the teeth. We just soak the heads in a large tub changing the water two or three times before placing it in the cooking bowl. After that it’s pretty much the same as the 1890’s recipe–no cornmeal in the headcheese, though.
    I, too, have a number of Church and Community cookbooks. They are such fun to read even if you never try any of the recipes.

  15. I love cookbooks and really need to weed out my collection. I haven’t counted in several years, but it was close to 1,000 then. That includes the little pamphlet type. I have quite a few of the church or local organization cookbooks. They show so much of what the area is like. I started buying older cookbooks when I was looking for a recipe similar to my grandmother’s rice pudding recipe. I have a few that sound promising. Even with all those books, I find there are about 5 I always go back to. I got a Betty Crocker cookbook (1972 version) at my wedding shower. My daughter wanted one (the recipes were different in the newer versions) and it took some time to find one at a flea market. Another favorite is our Holly Hobby cookbook. Yes it is a children’s cookbook, but has some good recipes. I had to search flea markets for another copy of that one too to keep mine. I bought a Officers’ Wives’ Club compilation cookbook at our second base. There were many wonderful cooks in our club and the cookbook reflects it. The Better Homes and Gardens Heritage Cookbook is a go to favorite for foods from around the world. It is also a great history book. It chronicles immigration into America, highlighting the people and their food. It is a great book to just sit and read.

    When we travel, I often pick up a cookbook with regional specialties as my souvenir.

    I will have to check my box of older books to see if I have any of these. They sound good. If I don’t have them, my Kindle awaits.

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