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Church cookbook recipes that bring back memories of togetherness

Church cookbook recipes that bring back memories of togetherness


As the volume in question includes the word “church” in the title, a small confession is in order.

Paging through “The Vintage Church Cookbook: Classic Recipes for Family and Flock” by Parrish Ritchie (Countryman Press, $22.95) was a bit like opening a time capsule.

The book is a collection of recipes that Ritchie culled from the sort of self-produced, spiral-bound volumes of cookery that, as she writes in the introduction, were often created as fundraisers and as a way for home cooks to share recipes and tips.

“Each one is a little different and each has a unique blend of classic recipes and some special variations,” Ritchie writes, “but you can always feel a strong sense of community through the pages.”

My father was a minister for much of my life, and I have spent perhaps more than my fair share of time at potluck suppers, where many of the dishes served at these gatherings can be found in the pages of Ritchie’s book.

It also contains a great many recipes for things that — poor church mice that my family at times was — graced our family dinner table. Some, such as a casserole of canned tuna, egg noodles and crushed potato chips as a topping, are things I can no longer even begin to think about eating.

But, as Ritchie writes in the book’s introduction, “I have so many memories of church and food, they seem to go hand in hand. Whenever I make one of the recipes from (a church cookbook that was a staple of her family’s cooking) it brings back memories of those great times and events when those dishes were served.”

And that is true. Even though I don’t know if I could face a plate of tuna noodle casserole, the thought of it does bring back a lot of memories. That is one reason why my sister almost immediately laid claim to my copy of “The Vintage Church Cookbook” and has since set about making just about every recipe for our family’s Sunday dinners.

Ritchie writes that one thing all these recipes have in common is “these are hearty recipes meant to be shared. A lot of the dishes are economical; everyone likes to save a penny, especially back then.

“Some of the recipes may seem a little retro,” she writes, “but trust me — they are all delicious and stand the test of time.”

Russian chicken

This chicken is so moist and so flavorful that it has become one of my kids’ favorites. It is quite vintage and oh-so delicious. My grandma uses this same sauce to marinate chicken and potatoes for shish-kebabs; it’s that good. Russian dressing has become a little harder to find lately, but you can substitute with Catalina dressing. You can also substitute pork chops for the chicken if you want to change it up a bit. This is best served over white rice to soak up all that yummy sauce.

2 teaspoons oil

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or 8 thighs


Black pepper

1 cup Russian dressing (or Catalina dressing)

1 cup apricot jam

1 teaspoon soy sauce (optional)

1 (1-ounce) packet dry onion soup mix

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper the chicken. Add chicken to the skillet and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side until browned. Transfer the chicken to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

2. Mix the dressing, jam, soy sauce and soup mix in a small bowl. Pour over the chicken. Bake for 45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Serve over fluffy white rice.

NOTE:  You can also make this right in the slow cooker, but I would use thighs instead of breasts to ensure the meat doesn’t dry out. Just pop everything in the slow cooker on low for 6 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours.

Three-bean Salad

I am obsessed with this salad. Yes, it is super vintage and not as popular at cookouts as it once was, but let’s bring it back. It is delicious, simple to make and flies off the table once people taste it. I use the three traditional beans — kidney beans, green beans and wax beans — but you can switch around the beans to include your favorites. Try butter beans or garbanzo beans for a different twist. This is another recipe to make ahead so that the beans can soak up the flavor of the vinaigrette.

¾ cup sugar

⅔ cup white vinegar

⅓ cup vegetable oil

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

1 (15-ounce) can green beans, drained

1 (15-ounce) can wax beans, drained

1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 stalk of celery, sliced

1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

½ green bell pepper, chopped

1. In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper, whisking well until sugar is dissolved.

2. Toss the green beans, wax beans, kidney beans, celery, onion and green bell pepper in the vinaigrette.

3. Let set in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours; overnight is best.

NOTE: Some recipes call for ¼ teaspoon of celery seed in place of the fresh celery. Either way is delicious.

Pig Pickin’ Cake

This recipe is really dear to my heart. I have such fond memories of the pig pickin’ parties we would have at my grandparents’ house with everyone from our church. All my friends from church were there, and we got to swim and watch a huge whole pig roasting. Of course, this cake was at every pig pickin’ party; that’s what it is named for. This moist yellow cake, studded with oranges and topped with the most heavenly frosting made of just Cool Whip and crushed pineapple, is to die for.

1 (15-ounce) box yellow cake mix (I like the kind with pudding added)

3 large eggs

⅓ cup vegetable oil

1 cup water

1 (11-ounce) can mandarin oranges, drained (reserve a few for the garnish)

2 (12-ounce) containers Cool Whip

1 (20-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.

2. In a large mixing bowl, add the cake mix, eggs, oil, 1 cup of water and drained mandarin oranges. Mix with an electric mixer until well combined.

3. Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool slightly and then remove cakes from pans to cooling racks and cool completely.

4. In another large bowl, mix the Cool Whip with the drained crushed pineapple.

5. Place one cake on a cake plate and spread some of the Cool Whip on the top and add the other cake layer on top. Frost the top and sides with the remaining Cool Whip. Garnish with mandarin oranges. Keep this cake in the refrigerator.

— All recipes are excerpted from “The Vintage Church Cookbook.” Reproduced by permission of the Countryman Press. All rights reserved.

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James D. Watts Jr.



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