The community cookbooks in the Schlesinger Library’s culinary collection give us glimpses into the past, though some offer a wider lens than others. Created to raise funds for various civic and religious organizations, they frequently include extensive local advertisements; showing us what we ate and how we ate it is often the least of what we can learn from them. The Franklin County Charity Benefit Cook Book is an excellent example of the rich historical documentation found in community cookbooks. Originally published by the Children’s Aid Society of Franklin County, probably in 1913, the Schlesinger Library copy is a facsimile produced by a successor organization, the Chambersburg Area Hospital Auxiliary, most likely in the late 1970s or 1980s.
The Franklin County Charity Benefit Cook Book is striking because so much of the content sounds so familiar, even as it is obviously historically distant. In “The New Ten Commandments,” we are exhorted to shop local and bank local, much as we often are today. Only, as we see in the first new commandment, the “thou” isn’t an inclusive “thou,” but a patriarchal head of the family.
If the patriarch is idealized in the new 10 commandments, the Peoples National Bank took a more practical approach. Couched in the language of the separate spheres (e.g., her money is from an allowance, and she is assured of the privacy of banking by mail), the advertisement offers women the hope of economic self-sufficiency when the idealized system fails.
Many other banks also advertised in The Franklin County Charity Benefit Community Cookbook, most advertising their assets and some listing their officers. In this modern age of big national banks, the sheer number of different banks operating in a single county is especially noticeable. So, too, for grocers, who also advertise in great number. If the shops were locally owned, they weren’t necessarily selling locally produced items. Local businesses offered Kodaks, Cadillacs, and Fords, among other consumer goods. The few advertisements for products—rather than for a store—were generally food products: Baker’s Chocolate, Karo Syrup, Kingsford Corn Starch, Shredded Wheat (calling attention to its Shredded Wheat Wafer, the Triscuit). They still exist, though all are now owned by multinational corporations. Both the Chambersburg Hospital and its auxiliary exist today, too. Unlike many US hospitals, they’re still local.