Community cookbooks – collections of recipes gathered by churches, women’s societies, rotary clubs, and other regional clubs and foundations – have been the foundation of home kitchens across America for decades. These collections often present an air of nostalgia, using old-fashioned techniques, offbeat ingredients, and occasionally include really great anecdotes. They are—in their best versions—a direct reflection of the region of their origin and an admirable labor of love. The recipes are seldom fancy, and most often highlight the kind of meal that is made in an average kitchen on an average evening by an average cook who finds an epiphany of enlightenment in a great recipe. Even more captivating is the community cookbook filled with family recipes passed down from prior generations and lovingly shared with the community at large.
Caxton Press in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania published what is believed to be the very first charity cookbook in 1864, during the time of the Civil War. This assortment, titled A Poetical Cook-Book, by Maria J. Moss, was filled with foods common to that era, like leg of mutton, mince pies, johnnycakes, and hasty pudding. The book was sold to provide funds for field hospitals and aid wounded soldiers.
Many, like the ones I was given by my mother, grandmothers, and aunts, are overflowing with sense memories of a location and an era. While similarities exist among the cookbooks, there are distinct differences between what the women of the Virginia Eastern Star were making in the 1920s and the dishes prepared by the late 1960s Junior League of Coastal Louisiana. Regardless of the when and the where, there is copious information on what the (mostly) women were like in each specific time and place. The ingredients tell a story of rural vs. urban landscape and wealthy vs. working class cooks. If a recipe called for a pinch or a handful, you might assume that the writer was a seasoned home cook who learned passed down recipes and perfected dishes by taste, not by measurement. If a recipe was “eggless” or “butterless”, you might suppose that it originated during wartime, when certain foods were rationed.
A few weeks ago, we wrote a review of Handmade Gatherings by Ashley English (and also picked Ashley’s brain for her best tips on communal entertaining).
As The Factory continues to grow and host events, we openly welcome her simple approaches to creating an experience through collective, potluck meals. Now, we want to share those inspirations and insights with one of our lucky readers.
The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read. –Abraham Lincoln
Here is what we have going on this week, Monday, July 14 – Friday, July 18:
Beginning Monday, we will highlight some of our favorite books and other summer essentials as part of our Summer Reading (+ More) promotion. Enjoy discounts for a limited time in-store and online.
Monday – Friday, 9:00am – 5:00pm
Stop by any weekday at 2:00pm for a guided tour of our space, including The Factory, the Alabama Chanin production and design studio, and Building 14.
Join us in the café this week and enjoy recipes from this month’s featured chef, Vivian Howard of Chef & the Farmer. Her recipe for Blueberry BBQ Chicken Flatbread has become a new favorite, as well as our own house made, locally-sourced BLT (this week’s tasty special).
The act of sharing a meal with others can be a uniting experience, with the potential to create memories and build relationships. Ashley English’s new book, Handmade Gatherings: Recipes and Crafts for Seasonal Celebrations & Potluck Parties, is a celebration of just that sense of community. We previously featured another of Ashley’s books, A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies on our Journal. I was excited to read this, her latest book, as it focuses on something I truly love: entertaining. I appreciate Ashley’s approach to creating an experience through communal, potluck meals. I particularly value her approach to slowing down and appreciating the process of creating, and was honored to contribute a review of Handmade Gatherings (featured on the back cover of the book).
I have been a fan of the lovely Tift Merritt ever since I first heard her 2002 debut album, Bramble Rose. Since then, I have been lucky enough to meet and work with Tift as part of our MAKESHIFT initiative. One of my heroes, Emmylou Harris, once said that Tift “stood out like a diamond in a coal patch,” and her thoughtful lyrics and melodies prove this to be true time and again.
In 2012, finding herself without a manager or a record deal, the North Carolina native did some soul searching to find out what kind of artist she really wanted to become and came face-to-face with self doubt. I’ve shared before how my own challenges led to moments of real breakthrough and commitment to doing good work – and the admission that no matter how seamless it may seem, the journey is not effortless. Tift told Pop Matters, “Being a good artist is not for the faint of heart…I think you have to ask questions that are scary to ask and you cannot apologize for that and you cannot worry what anyone else thinks about your journey.”
This is the time of year to celebrate the men in our lives: fathers, husbands, partners, sons, and brothers who have been there through it all, and continue to support us through thick and thin. This year we’ve selected a few favorite Father’s Day gifts which will be discounted from our online store through Friday, June 13.
The Thursday before Father’s Day, we are hosting our inaugural “Friends of the Café” Dinner Series benefiting Alabama Gulf Seafood. The dinner features James Beard award-winning chef (and father) Chris Hastings who will prepare a three-course meal, followed by a book-signing. Buy a ticket for dad (and yourself) and visit us at The Factory in Florence. Be sure to get a copy of Hot and Hot Fish Club).
If you can’t make the trip to Florence, you can always make something special or give something handmade; we have a selection to help celebrate the dad who deserves the best.
Allison Kave, a truly creative baker and expert on all things pie related, credits her mother with her passion for food. Her mom, Rhonda Kave, is owner of Roni-Sue’s Chocolate in New York’s Essex Street Market. Growing up, Rhonda had a rather unexciting childhood filled with canned and boiled vegetables and she wanted more nutrition and excitement for her own children. Research into various cuisines led to a love of chocolate, which inspired her very own confectionery shop. All of this unbridled love of food couldn’t help but inspire Allison and her brother, Corwin, a renowned executive chef in New York City.
Like some of us, Allison did not find her calling immediately. Her route to the culinary life modeled the circuitous path her mother took. Eventually, her boyfriend encouraged her to enter the First Annual Brooklyn Pie Bake-Off – and she walked away with the award for Best Overall Pie. So, she asked: Why not make pies? In fact, Allison recently partnered with fellow baker Keavy Blueher, and together they are opening Brooklyn’s first dessert and craft cocktail bar, Butter & Scotch.
Sass Brown’s ReFashioned: Cutting Edge Clothing From Upcycled Materials, is the second in a series focusing on the eco-fashion movement. Previously, in Eco Fashion, she examined designers and labels (including Alabama Chanin) practicing sustainability in the fashion industry. In ReFashioned, she features 46 international designers who create using recycled and upcycled textiles. The result is a stunning volume of forward-thinking design that also opens a discussion on the current state of fashion and its many wasteful practices.
Sass is one of the most knowledgeable and thoughtful voices in the eco-fashion movement. She considers herself a fashion activist, writing, “As a designer and writer, I like to tell the stories around our clothes, to help revive our material connection to our clothing.” She says, “It became equally important for me to reveal the hidden price tag of fast fashion, as a means to promote conscious consumerism.”
At Alabama Chanin, we believe DIY projects are integral to sharing creativity and promoting sustainable heirloom-worthy pieces. Bibliocraft: A Modern Crafter’s Guide to Using Library Resources to Jumpstart Creative Projects is a great guide to DIY crafts that utilize a range of library resources for inspiration. Written by rare book librarian Jessica Pigza, this book contains over 20 unique projects and crafts for your home, including the Cyanotype Throw, designed by the Alabama Chanin team.
Pigza walks readers through different types of libraries, collections, and other resources that can foster motivation and provide ideas for the curious and creative. The book shows you how to find the right library for you and also provides information on digital libraries and an array of library catalogs. To get you started on your project, there are lists of recommended library collections from general visual resources to performing arts and film. The book is an informative and inspiring guide for learning about new resources and turning to libraries for discovery. There is something different and special about holding an actual, physical book in your hand that continues to draw me toward libraries. As a designer I find escape within library walls, and as a business owner I find critical information that has helped me grow into who I am as an entrepreneur.
The tote bag has almost completely replaced all other sorts of bags in my house. I have different types of bags for different purposes. There are organic canvas totes in a variety of sizes for trips to the grocery store and for holding my laptop and supplies as they are ferried between my home and office, plus smaller bags to keep Maggie’s school supplies and lunch in one place as we travel between home and school. Hers are clearly marked in case they wander off somewhere. I have wicker market baskets to hold large, heavy loads from the farmer’s market and a sizeable leather tote for when I need to carry an arm’s load of items to an event.
The tote bag has been described as the new “purse” by Style.com, Vogue, and the likes. And as the desire for sustainable living increases, the increased usage of the tote bag, particularly in place of plastic shopping bags or other disposable carrier bags, is a more than welcome sight.