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purple onion comfort foods

Recipes for comfort foods can be found in the most unlikely places, hopefully just when you need them most.

Here’s to the recipes that take you back.

Seems like we’ve been talking about comfort foods for months now. Nine months, to be exact.

Yet, this is the time of year when we are usually thinking about the foods and aromas that make us feel cozy and warm. For one of our Purple Onion/WV Marketplace customers, this is the time when she brings out those local cookbooks from churches, schools, restaurants and organizations. You know the ones: They’re filled with gelatin salads, canned good mashups and plenty of time-honored family favorites that are pretty quick to make. Our conversation got me to thinking about the recipes from some of my mother’s local cookbook collection.

One of those cookbooks that is special to me is “Cook Book — Favorite Recipes from Our Best Cooks.” It is a collection of recipes from the Hughey Sisters.

While that name might not ring a bell with many readers, here’s one that will: Marvine Epling. That’s right, from the long-time local favorite Epling’s Restaurant in Marmet. Folks still talk about how much they loved eating in that little Main Street storefront. Marvine was one of the three Hughey sisters who, along with their three brothers, inherited a love for cooking. Luckily for us, the sisters got together to write a cookbook that allows us to enjoy some of their personal and restaurant favorites.

Although it’s tough to say which ones I enjoy the most, two family favorites are a Squash Casserole and Marvine’s Fresh Apple Cake. The casserole is great with roasted chicken and makes a delicious main course with the addition of a fresh fruit salad. The Fresh Apple Cake is fall on a plate.

In “Heavenly Dishes” from the Calvary Baptist Church Deaconess Board, my mother marked a few of her favorites. The Easy Cauliflower Dish is one of them that I recall enjoying at family dinners.

One of the things that makes these cookbooks special are the recipes you find that take you back to places that, like Epling’s, are no longer here. In “Calvary Cookery” I found a great recipe for the Daniel Boone Hotel Cheese Soup. In the same cookbook, I found a Swiss Apple Salad that is a little different than a traditional Waldorf salad and is a refreshing note for dinner.

Garden clubs, local townships and schools are a few of the other organizations that produce cookbooks for fundraisers and special events.

“Heaven’s Best Recipes” features family and church favorites from parishioners of St. Anthony Parish. The Orange Nut Butter Cake is a fresh citrus dessert that can be served warm or cooled. Enjoy these — may they bring you warmth and comfort in this season of traditions.

What makes community cookbooks special?

Looking for that always popular seven-layer salad? Can’t find the American Chop Suey recipe you remember from elementary school? Don’t know in what cookbook your mother found her chicken pasta recipe that the whole soccer team loved?

Chances are you’re not looking in the right places. Not to say you won’t be able, maybe, to find them online or in a well-known bound cookbook. But you might be better off to look on the shelf where the old spattered and splattered, missing-their-covers local cookbooks are stashed. And there, along with those recipes you’ve been looking for, you are apt to find some others that take you back to family meals, picnics and even restaurants.

Local, or community, cookbooks date back to the 1800s and have been around for as long as people have been asking each other for the banana bread recipe that someone brought to a ladies luncheon or a family potluck dinner. Today, as in the past, many of these cookbooks are produced by nonprofit organizations, schools, churches and fellowship groups that are interested in raising funds for special projects or activities. There are also many that are written by cooks who are interested in sharing the traditional recipes they have been collecting over their lifetimes.

These cookbooks can be a treasure trove of recipes. Who would expect to find the Daniel Boone Hotel Cheese Soup recipe in a local church cookbook? Or did you think you’d find the recipe for the Esquire’s Crab Cakes in a garden club cookbook or Julio’s Restaurant’s Pasta Fagioli in a local festival cookbook?

Even more exciting finds are the heritage recipes that families have enjoyed for generations and have proudly shared to help a good cause.

Yet, there they are. Tucked away between the broccoli soup made with frozen veggies, canned soup and processed cheese and the gelatin salads that include everything from 7-Up to mandarin oranges.

If you haven’t given these cookbooks a look lately, you might want to settle in with one. The notes and comments are worth the read alone. And the recipes, even in more contemporary community cookbooks, have a touch of nostalgia.

One fair warning, though: Some of these cookbooks, while enthusiastically and earnestly compiled, are not always carefully proofread. Take a few minutes to read a recipe you chose from beginning to end.

Remember that, especially in older books, the cooks were writing down recipes that they may have been making from memory. Sometimes the recipe’s ingredient list might include an ingredient that you can’t find in the recipe instructions or the instructions list the addition of an item not in the list. It’s not a big deal and you should be able quickly figure out what’s what. You just want to do that before you start.

Don’t let that stop you, though. You may discover that the hot dog chili you found is exactly the one that the lunch lady made or dump gelatin salad is your new favorite way to combine cottage cheese, pineapple and whipped topping.