My Favorite Cookbook

medium_cookingforchristcover.jpgIf anyone asks, I’d immediately say my favorite cookbook is Cooking for Christ by Florence Berger. It was originally published in 1949, and the recipes embrace the Liturgical Year in the Home. Although only a few recipes are part of my yearly repertoire, I read this book again and again. My mother used the book with our family, and I used it as the basis for my senior thesis.

What I love about this book the most is the conversation and presentation of the spirit of the Liturgical Year in the kitchen. The book has been reprinted, by National Catholic Rural Life Conference, the original publisher. But it has undergone a few omissions and revisions, which really change the original spirit of the book. I recommend that to look for the original. I thought I’d include the Preface and Introduction here. They are long, but I couldn’t explain more eloquently what I strive for in my own kitchen:

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PREFACE

This book is an extension of the Missal, Breviary and Ritual because the Christian home is an extension of the Mass, choir and sacramentals.

It is superfluous to point out, since it is so frightfully evident, that the Christian home rapidly is losing both its Christianity and homeliness. The baptismal robe was worn for a week after Easter and Pentecost to let the world know that a “new offspring of God’s family” was peopling the busy streets of Rome or the cottage on the land. The Middle Ages, though far from the Christian ideal in many ways, developed a tradition of an integrated Christian life. We need not shed tears over the past; neither should we exalt the present as the zenith of perfection or condemn it as the nadir of depravity.

Both Christianity and civilization are based upon the family. It is the most efficient unit of material production; it is the font of loyalties, religious and social. It is a kingdom, a nursery, a school, a cooperative, a sanctuary.

This book is based upon these verities and it seeks to foster them. Liturgical seasons or feast days were intended not merely for church and cloister. To be fully effective and enjoyable, they have to wrap kitchen and commons in their colorful mantle. The motto of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference is “Christ to the Country and the Country to Christ.” We paraphrase it here by saying “Christ to the Kitchen and the Kitchen to Christ.” This is reverent as well as simple.

Long after Gustavus Vasa had uprooted Catholic dogma in Sweden, the tradition of St. Lucy’s cakes remained. Christmas was outlawed in merry England and a penalty imposed upon the ones who still enjoyed “the popish pudding,” but the kitchen was the great preserver of traditions.

The focal point of the NCRLC teaching is a word, a symbol and a reality: THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY. We have shouted from the housetops, “The natural habitat of the Christian family is the rural home.” A farmhouse or a suburban home with space, light, air and property is the ideal. That may be physically impossible for some people, but even a utility apartment can carry out the liturgy of the Church through its makeshift kitchen.

The NCRLC is happy and privileged to contribute this little share to the reconstruction of the Christian home.

L. G. Ligutti.

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INTRODUCTION

Eat thy bread with joy and drink thy wine with gladness because thy works please God. (Ecclesiates IX:7)

Of all the rooms in a house, the friendly, comforting kitchen is mother to us all. It is the source of our food, our learning and our virtue. Here the first pale green streaks of dawn find a woman grinding coffee; the aroma wakes the family with a kindly call. Here the baby spills his milk with impunity. All during the day little helpers find new adventure here in tasks which teach and amuse–even though it means sifting flour on the cat. Here the older children run, as soon as school is out, to raid the apple bin or cookie jar. Even the high school gang prefer to kick off their shoes in the kitchen rather than any other room of the house. At night there are lessons to do here, while debates and philosophizings split the ceiling. When the rest of the rooms are asleep at last, the light in the kitchen comforts a newborn baby or a visiting neighbor. Thus the kitchen remains first and last in our affections and memories.

There is, I believe, a reason for this, and it lies in the woman who is mistress of that kitchen. Cook, you may call her. I prefer to call her “Christian in Action.” She herself is Christ-centered because she brings Christ home to her kitchen and, in corollary, her kitchen reflects the Christ within her.

To some it may seem sacrilegious to connect cookery and Christ, but that is exactly what this book means to do. If I am to carry Christ home with me from the altar, I am afraid He will have to come to the kitchen because much of my time is spent there. I shall welcome Him on Easter and He shall eat new lamb with us. I shall give homage to Him on Epiphany and shall cook a royal feast for Him and my family. I shall mourn with Him on Holy Thursday and we shall taste the bitter herbs of the Passover and break unleavened bread. Then the cooking which we do will add special significance to the Church Year and Christ will sanctify our daily bread. That is what is meant by the liturgical year in the kitchen.

If I am to create, and I believe God made me to do just that, why can’t I create feast day specials from eggs and milk and butter? These are materials which I know. I once tried to paint a picture, but the colors ran and the perspective was poor. I tried to write music, but even the dog howled to hear it. I tried to weave a piece of cloth, but the warp broke and the woof tangled. So I have resolved to stick to my cooking and beat my way into heaven.

The idea of serving certain foods on certain feast days is a very, very old one. You can go all the way back to Exodus and see how specific God was in giving instructions to the Jewish cooks who were to prepare the Passover meal. Christ and His family were careful to follow the letter of the law as they celebrated the Jewish festivals.

As the celebration of Christian feast days spread throughout Europe and the East, each group of people created their finest foods and used them over and over; in this way a tradition of feast day cookery grew up. The custom was so widespread during the Middle Ages that the Church had to call a halt to the many days of fine eating. After all, the people were not getting their work done and, I suppose, gout was on the increase.

With the Protestant revolt the saints’ days were scattered. Instead of six or seven days in honor of Christ’s mother, we, of very recent date, have drummed up a so-called Mother’s Day. Instead of the holy thrill of the white garment of baptism given at Easter, we have silly little Easter bonnets to cover our silly little heads.

If we are Christians why must we de-Christianize everything? When we encourage secularism it is not a case of being neither fish nor fowl, but we soon become all foul and no fish. Remember the fish was the first sign of the Christian.

A cry has gone forth to revitalize our Christianity. Analysts have pointed to the lethargy which has crept upon the Christian spirit like a slow paralysis. Liturgists have called us back to a vision of early Christian worship and have begged for more active lay participation in the Lord’s service. Theologians have rewritten our New Testament in modern English. Commentators have led us through Old Testament pathways so we may come to know the ancient prophets. Now perhaps mothers and daughters can lead their families back to Christ-centered living and cooking. Foods can be symbols which lead the mind to spiritual thinking. After Christ had preached to the multitude, He fed them. If our family is to hear the gospel, I shall first feed them on symbols and then on more substantial meat. The one will help the digestion of the other.

Yet this book is not a part of a backward looking movement. We do not revive past Catholic customs merely because they are antique. We use them because they are filled with the Christian spirit which our modern days have sidetracked. We have tested the recipes, which we ask you to try, in a modern kitchen fully equipped with modern gadgets. We have changed the old procedure of measuring ingredients by weight and used our present quantitative system of cups and spoons. We have sweetened or enriched several of the recipes to suit our American sweet tooth. But, above all, the acid test came when we asked a very real, growing, matter-of-fact family to eat our feast day specials. If the feast was to be a day of joy, we should not mar it, but magnify it. This tells you how our book was built, how the idea was sown and watered; only God can give the increase.

FLORENCE S. BERGER,
Hill Country House,
Exaltation of the Holy Cross,
September 14, 1949.

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