Thursday, September 6, 2007

The love that dare not speak its name

I’ll get to Part Two of the Tomato Bee tomorrow, but today I’d like to tell you about a woman named Debbie Miller and her unholy obsession.

Debbie looks like a nice enough woman; while she’s not actually from Minnesota, she is Midwestern and has lived in and around the Twin Cities long enough to take on all the characteristics of Minnesota Nice.

But Debbie is racked with obsession, an obsession that has led her to scrounge through dusty boxes of others’ junk, troll her nights away on Ebay, and become unnaturally devoted to the history of the hotdish.

Debbie is a reference specialist at the Minnesota Historical Society, which allows her to feed her obsession morning, noon, and night. For you see, Debbie suffers from Vintage Cookbook Addiction (VCA). She specializes in unearthing Minnesota’s past through its many community and church-sponsored cookbooks, its State Fair blue-ribbon pies, its lutefisk, and its hot “Dego” sandwiches (I can say that; my bisnona Gemma was born in the countryside near Pisa).

I spent an hour or so with Debbie last week, dishing about vintage cookbooks like housewives chatting about homemade stain removers. She’s a big fan of the community or congregation cookbook where a surprising range of recipes (and glimpses into history) can be found. A 1940s church compilation includes sukiyaki, submitted by a member of Minnesota’s newly arrived and very small Japanese population – former internment camp detainees who were sponsored by congregants and brought to freedom in the land of lakes.

As someone who has recently developed a mild case of VCA (recent purchases include Cooking with Miracle Whip, the New American Cookbook of 1950, and The Best of Home Economics Teachers Bicentennial Cookbook), I was delighted to talk to a woman with such expertise and passion – and who didn’t look at me like I was crazy. Debbie’s working on a book called Potluck Paradise, based on old recipes and a follow-up to Ann Burckhardt’s instant classic Hotdish Heaven, and I can’t wait to taste the results!

This weekend, I’ll be delving into my new/old cookbooks for a 1950s-themed dinner party: gin drinks, gelatin salads, pork tenderloin, and casseroles, gee whiz!

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