Publishers Weekly - Publisher's WeeklyBirkby, a Shenandoah Evening Sentinel columnist and onetime radio show host in Iowa, draws together her favorite recipes and offers us a context for them: the 1940s and '50s. For her the context is best characterized by what she knew home to be: ``a barn, hog shed, corn crib, equipment shed,'' other outbuildings, ``a small, white, single-story house'' much like others once scattered across the Midwest, and her neighbors. In plain prose that tells us just what it needs to, she considers various country ``heritages''--her own and her friends'--and trots out the food that figures in them: ``White Fluffy Frosting,'' fried chicken, homemade noodles, blueberry salad, oatmeal pancakes. The author takes her backward look straightforwardly, and explains what was involved in raising a clover crop, and in baling hay. Also discussed, methodically: the labor of laundry (including a wringer), the advent of storms, the work of auctions, and what happened on Sundays (``the children would tumble in the soft grass''). Though not sentimental, hers is an affectionate record of living simply. It has a commonplace integrity that can seem, in our era, like fantasy. (Nov.)
Library JournalBirkby, an Iowa homemaker, has written a weekly newspaper column called ``Up a Country Lane'' for more than 40 years; she also had a long-running radio program, that she chronicled in Neighboring on the Air: Cooking with the KMA Radio Homemakers (Univ. of Iowa Pr., 1991). Now she has collected the best recipes from her column, grouped into chapters in which she describes her family's life on an Iowa farm in the years following World War II. There are lots of good simple recipes from the heartland here, but Birkby's mesmerizing text is the real center of the book; she comes across as savvier but no less engaging than the ``Pioneer Lady,'' Jane Watson Hopping ( The Many Blessings Cookbook , LJ 9/15/93). Writing in understated terms about the realities of rural life in the 1940s and 1950s, she gives a wryly humorous description of sharing a 14-family party line, a memorable cataloging of laundry day, vivid depictions of harvesting and haying, and a wrenching account of a child's death. Highly recommended.
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The layout of this cookbook is atypical but once you start reading it makes sense. The book is organized in chapters such as harvest, stoves, water, storms, church/community suppers, special occassions, etc... Each chapter starts with a several page essay (including vintage photos!) describing that particular aspect of rural life. Then there are several pages of appropriate recipes. For example, in the harvest chapter, most recipes were from the garden. In the storm chapter, the author uses storm as a metaphor for the turblulent times that follow after you use a loved one. So there are a lot of casserole recipes in this chapter because neighbors would bake food and take it to the grieved. The most awesome thing about this cookbook is everything is from scratch! Only a very very very few recipes call for the dreaded 'cream of such-and-such' soup. All dessert 'cookies, pies, cakes, pudding' recipes are completely from scratch!