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OP: Dorcas Dishes

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by Kate Douglas Wiggin, editor

The lasting appeal of community cookbooks lies, in part, in their quaintness. Each reveals an insular world of neighborliness and good will. Dorcas Dishes (1911), compiled by the charitable Dorcas Society of Hollis and Buxton, Maine and edited by chapter founder Kate Douglas Wiggin (1856–1923), is no exception.

Wiggin’s background as a children’s book author and kindergarten teacher adds literary charm and gentle encouragement to her introduction and conclusion:

There is real poetry in a shining country kitchen; poetry in bread and cake as light as a feather. Would that a little of it, felt by some Dorcas as she stirred and kneaded and measured, — would that a little of it might be imprisoned in this text, and find its way into another woman’s heart in some other country kitchen.

The recipes are as variable as the contributors. Some are written in prose, others as ingredient lists with no procedure. For example, one must first understand that ribbon cake is a type of marble cake in order to glean any meaning from Mae Skillings’ sole directive—“reserve one third for the dark part”— found in the middle of the ingredient list. We are left assuming that the preceding ingredients make up the batter and the following are used to flavor and darken the reserved portion. No bake time or oven temperature is included.

Alternatively, careful and repeated reading of Nora A. Smith’s codfish pie recipe raises a few questions on both quantity and technique. Of course, within a small community, one might easily call upon a neighbor for clarification, but we outsiders are left with much to intuit. 

We offer here a presumed first printing, an uncommon paperback edition. The paper stock used for the bookblock is toning but sturdy; however, the paper used for the cover is flimsier and much more fragile. The block is firmly stapled, the cover a glued binding. A previous owner’s signature and the note “Christmas 1911” are found on the front free endpaper. Plenty of joy left to give with delicate handling.

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