Wisconsin Historical Society Press: What motivated you to put together a cookbook of your family recipes?
Susan Sanvidge: Diane came up with this as a Christmas present idea for our parents who have always been "hard to buy for." We have never given our parents a present that was appreciated more! It was such a fun project for all of us, and it was good to know that all those scattered family recipes would be gathered in one place and duplicated before they were lost. As the project became more than just a collection of recipes, we realized that it would also show our kids what it was like for us growing up.
Jean Sanvidge Wouters: Diane was the one who came up with the idea to put together a family cookbook as a Christmas gift for Mom and Dad, and she intended for just the two of us to do it. (We live in the same town.) I'm not good at typing and she doesn't have a lot of spare time, so I suggested that we get our other two sisters, Susie and Julie involved. Susie and Julie both enjoy cookbooks, so their involvement in this project was a huge part of its success. Susie fortunately had the time and before we knew it she had an outline for our book.
As for Mom and Dad's reaction to our gift--it was the next best thing to another grandchild!
WHS Press: How did you go about selecting recipes and stories?
Susan: We wanted the original book to be a surprise for our parents so we couldn't (overtly) ask them for any recipes. We had each copied recipes from Mom over the years and it was a good thing there were four of us. Julie had most of the meat recipes down; Jean had recipes for desserts and lunch-type things; Diane knew how to make the soups and vegetables; and I had the bread recipes and many of the desserts. We also found more of Mom's recipes in the cookbook her Homemaker's Club printed (Mom had given us each a copy); had small recipe files from both grandmas; and called relatives. (Our cousin Linda had Grandma Sanvidge's handwritten Ice Box Cookies recipes laminated to protect it.) We put in all of our favorite childhood food and some legendary non-favorites like canned asparagus, mashed rutabaga, and Grandma's liver sausage (which we got from our Uncle Hank).
For this published version of the book, we were able to keep going--to add stories, and ask Mom for the recipes we couldn't find. More "grandma recipes" turned up, too: Uncle Fritz's Rock cookies and Grandma Noffke's Wacky Cake recipe, for example. We only had Christmas holiday food in the original book, but we were able to add stories and recipes for the other holidays, and write about things like card parties and Fizz-Niks!
Julie Sanvidge Florence: "Stream-of-consciousness" would describe the process best. Once I started concentrating on being back in the house on Bowen Street, the memories flooded in.
Each sister came up with her own recipes and stories--when there was overlap, we combined them, sometimes finding surprising differences in memories or perspective.
WHS Press: What are each of your favorite recipes and stories?
Susan: The Beet Greens recipe reminds me of my Dad (who died in May, 2005). I can picture him coming in from the garden with a handful of greens (I don't remember him ever eating the beets, just the greens) and cooking them up right away (for himself, because nobody else liked them back then). This is a very simple recipe, but so perfectly good.
Many of Mom's recipes have always been on the menu in my own houseâ€”more now, since we did this cookbook.
"Julie's Oshkosh Saturday Night Cocktail Party," my youngest sister telling about how she spent her home-alone time, is one of my favorite stories in the book. In Diane's story about Thanksgiving, I love how she remembered that Dad always brought the beat-up salt and pepper shakers from the stove, to the table that Mom had set with the good dishes!
Diane Sanvidge Seckar: The Brownie recipe makes the best brownies I ever ate. Susan makes them every time she comes to visit and I never get tired of them.
My favorite story is "Red Rover." I had almost forgotten how much fun it was traveling in the old bus.
Jean: Despite all the good dessert recipes, my favorite recipe is Dad's Pounded Round Steak. It's simple, inexpensive, and delicious.
My favorite story is Julie's "Deer Hunting Season 1972-1976." By that time, we older sisters were out of the house and Mom and Dad and Julie had moved up North. It was fun to find out what life was like without us.
Julie: "Cile's Baked Beans"--the secret of a lost treasure revealed!
"When Mom's Away" is my favorite story. It really did happen just like that!
WHS Press: Did you learn anything about each other in putting together this book?
Diane: Susan is the organizer and motivator: Jean is a stickler for details and an excellent writer; and Julie has a great sense of humor. By talking back and forth about each story we were able to come up with a lot of facts that would have been missed by one writer. I used to say that I couldn't remember the time before I had kids. Memories came flooding back during this project and that was a very nice thing.
Julie: Even though we all grew up in the same household and our parents treated us fairly, if not just the same, we all had a little different childhood experience because of our individual personalities and our birth order.
WHS Press: What did you find particularly challenging?
Jean: Sometimes it was a challenge to find a particular recipe. So many of Mom's recipes were popular ones of that time. I remembered a delicious Lemon Toffee Crunch Cake that Mom made and searched a lot of sources looking for it. Finally it dawned on me that it was such a good recipe that I couldn't believe that I wouldn't have copied it down. Sure enough, there it was in my own recipe box.
Susie decided that we'd better test all the final recipes for accuracy. We started testing the recipes in fall of 2006. Gratefully, Mom helped us out with testing recipes. Despite the fact that the test kitchen-ing continued on through Thanksgiving and Christmas, we got it done.
Julie: Sometimes one sister would contradict what you wrote (e.g. Jean and casseroles) and it would make you think, "Where did she grow up!?!"
WHS Press: Who do you hope reads this book and what do you hope readers take away from it?
Susan: First of all, I hope people read it as a book, not just as a cookbook. The stories and the recipes together make the time period come alive (for us at least!). Copies of our original book went to family and friends and we heard the comment "It feels like I'm reading about my own childhood" more than once. I hope some readers of the published book will feel like that. People from our age group (our birthdates span 1948 to 1958- the Baby Boomer time period), and their parents, are most likely to feel that connection, but I'm hoping it will serve as a "still-warm history" of that time period for non-Baby Boomers, too.
Diane: I hope people who lived in the 50's and 60's read our book and remember sitting down at the table, smelling the homemade bread or pot roast, and helping with the dishes. I hope younger people read our book and see how much fun we had growing up. They might want to try a few things.
Jean: For older readers, I hope that it will evoke many of their own memories and encourage them to write them down for future generations. I'm into genealogy and I appreciate the thrill of a first-hand account. My 3x-Great Grandfather, William Tritt, fought in the Civil War, and was captured. He kept a diary during that year's time of his imprisonment. When I was fortunate enough to get a copy of his account, I realized what a treasure that was and have kept a journal ever since. For younger readers, I hope that this book gives them a glimpse of a kinder, gentler, simpler way of life that definitely is worth striving for.
Julie: I hope readers see it as a tribute to our remarkable parents and wonderful extended family. I truly hope it inspires other families to make a family cookbook/memoir of their own.
WHS Press: What does food tell us about the past?
Susan: Historically speaking, food changed quite a bit in the time span of our childhood. We went from having a milkman delivering milk (in glass bottles) to our door; an "Omar man" delivering bakery; and small corner grocery stores (that sold very few fresh vegetables, but often had a resident butcher who cut meat to your request and wrapped it in paper tied with string)-to supermarkets with frozen vegetables (and quite a few fresh ones), TV dinners, cake mixes, and meat already cut and wrapped in plastic.
Diane: Meals took more time to prepare, more time to fill the house with delicious aromas, and more time to enjoy. Doing the dishes took more time, too. "My turn to dry!"
Jean: We were surprised when we tested these recipes, how inexpensive most of the ingredients were. In our generation and our parent's, families were considerably larger and most families lived on one salary. Because of that not many families ate at restaurants except for special occasions. Most meals, which were made from scratch, had to be economical and hearty. The variety of foods to choose from at the corner grocery store was much more limited, more like today's "convenience store." Most families actually sat down and ate together at a table (without the TV on).
Julie: I think it shows how limited the kind of ingredients were and how important it was to store food for future use. Food selection was all about the season and availability, not just what one was hungry for that day! It also shows how closely tied even our grandparents were to their ethnic heritage.
WHS Press: How does your family story help us understand more about the culture of Wisconsin and the upper Midwest?
Susan: Our family probably fits into a pretty common group in Wisconsin in the 50s, 60s, and early 70s. We grew up in Oshkosh, a medium-sized town. We have some German ancestry, some English, some Bohemian, in common with many Wisconsin residents in that time period, and some of the food we ate originated in those cultures. We lived across the street from one set of grandparents and the others lived a short drive away, so they were a part of our lives, which I think was more common then than now. We had a cottage in northern Wisconsin, and that brings in the common Wisconsin pastimes of hunting and fishing (and trout and venison recipes).
Diane: Our family story tells of a working dad and stay-at-home mom. We girls helped with chores, belonged to 4-H, and played outside until dark. It was a typical 50's to 70's childhood.
Jean: Our family story and our recipes are a reflection of our varied European ancestors who settled in Wisconsin. What we ate and the way we used food to celebrate was a melding of those cultures.
Julie: We've served up a "slice of life" in Wisconsin in the 50's and 60's. It goes beyond statistics and facts and enters the personal life of a fairly representative Baby Boomer family in the Midwest.