My mother had an old book I remember thumbing through from time to time. It contained mysterious instructions, mostly aimed at the grown-ups, obscure lists and stories of people I'd never heard of. The book came from church, but it wasn't the Bible. It was a cookbook compiled by the ladies of our church and, next to the Bible, it was the most widely-read volume in our house.
Most churches around here probably have a similar compilation of tried-and-true recipes, somewhat loosely organized and intermingled with dedications to beloved family cooks and avid consumers of the dishes.
As I grew up, I began to recognize some of the names that were associated with our church cookbook. This is so-and-so's grandmother; she's the one who makes the chicken liver biscuits for our reunions. Or, this recipe was your Sunday school teacher's favorite; she made it for her husband every week.
As a grown-up, the church cookbook, along with several old copies of Southern Living's "Annual Recipes," became the culinary gospel of my household. "Train up a child in the way he should go," said Proverbs. And when I was old, I wanted no better than was available from those old Southern cooks.
The church recipes suggested not only a method for preparing the food, but also a manner for eating it.
There's the Brunswick stew recipe and the evergreen punch, both of which require a large crowd. Likewise, the ice cream recipes conjure up images of the ice cream social, where 20 buckets of ice cream were lined up under the church picnic shelter, and it was not unusual to go back for seconds, thirds, even fourths.
It seemed almost a sin - or at least impolite - not to sample each and every flavor.
Besides, the ice cream, if not consumed right away, would melt in the summer heat. We couldn't let it go to waste. Proverbs also says "the diligent man makes good use of everything he finds."
For my birthday recently, my husband found an ice-cream maker - the real old-style kind with the wooden bucket and the hand crank.
Now, whether or not he is aiming for a dedication in the next church cookbook as a consumer of one of my dishes, I don't know.
But I am duly developing a repertoire of ice-cream recipes, nods to both the classic fruit-based concoctions, such as peach and strawberry, and my attempts to re-create popular commercial brands, such as Pet's Birthday Cake and Wendy's Frosty.
No matter what flavor I make, though, it always tastes better if we have a crowd to share it with.
Not only does the occasion provide an opportunity to get to know my neighbors better, it also provides for my inconspicuous consumption of said "fourths." The best ice cream recipes have undoubtedly come from our old church cookbook.
I think it's because every recipe in the cookbook had someone in mind, someone who loved that dish and who was loved enough to have it prepared for them. Each recipe implies a relationship.
And aside from the recipes themselves, that's my favorite aspect of the church cookbook: the notes on who enjoys this dish and why, relationships that were strengthened upon the occasion of sharing food.
In my aunt's church cookbook is a recipe for chocolate ice cream, which I've shared here, along with a note that reads: "This ice cream keeps really well IF you have any left. Just place in a covered container in the freezer and it will be just as delicious as when it was first made. Tastes just like a Wendy's Frosty! Just ask Danielle!"
I have no idea who Danielle is, but she was right. Enjoy.