There is nothing sweeter than grandma’s sugar cookies served up with a dollop of local history.
It may seem an unlikely pairing, but the effort by women of the Longbranch Improvement Club to mix heritage and epicurean delights is a winner. Literally.
The Heritage League of Pierce County presented the seven women responsible for the cookbook “Savories & Sweets, South Sound Treats” with its Publications Award at its Feb. 1 meeting in downtown Tacoma. The honor lauds the Longbranch Improvement Club for cooking up “a beautiful and tasty combination of history, heritage and recipes.”
“There was so much thought, so much heart that went into this,” said Karen Haas, president of the Heritage League. “If you look through it there is history, there’s culture… its just brilliantly done.
“Its really exciting to be able to acknowledge the fabulous work that is going on in the Heritage communities around,” Haas added.
According to Haas, the Heritage League has been handing out awards the past three years.
“We were thrilled to receive the Heritage award,” said Sharon Gearhart, one of the seven behind the book project. “We had no idea that it was going to happen.”
The 200-page hardbound book of 386 recipes, cooking tips and calorie charts was completed in September 2013, a yearlong odyssey of collecting and testing recipes. The book features 10 watercolor paintings of local landmarks by Seattle artist Melissa Haumerson, who owns a cottage in the area, and brief articles on Key Peninsula history by Connie Hildahl, an officer of the Heritage League.
The group even had a bit of fun with a “Name That Cookbook Contest.” Local merchants donated items for “a real nice basket,” said Gearhart, that went to Mandy Peterson, the author of the winning book title.
The idea for the book had been marinating for years, as the women served up delicacies at club gatherings.
“Well, people have talked about the food out here,” said Peg Bingham, the maven of the club’s kitchen. “They would say we have good cooks… we should do something.”
Guests at club events would tell Bingham: “You know you really ought to put together a cookbook of all the food you make,” recalls Barb Van Bogart, who also helped with the book.
At first Bingham resisted. “I didn’t want to give our recipes just then while we were still doing our events because most of it was rather unique to us,” she said.
In the end she relented.
A committee of the Longbranch Improvement Club was formed to put together the cookbook. Led by Barb Floyd, the women began collecting recipes from anyone willing to part with one.
Recipes came from all over, starting with the the committee members and their families. Old recipes that had been handed down through generations ended up on their stoves and ovens for testing. Local merchants and businesses offered their recipes. Oyster and clam farmers on Minter Creek sent in a few. This had become a community effort.
“We didn’t really put down a criteria for (the recipes),” Gearhart said. “We encouraged people to (send in) some of those old-time recipes.”
This is why many recipes in the book have family connections, Gearhart said, including her late brother Michael Gearhart’s recipe for shepherd’s pie.
“He always made that every time I visited him,” she said.
Then there is the recipe for Swedish Dinner Rolls — a Bingham family favorite.
“My sister sent in this one,” Bingham said. “Grams was always accompanied by these rolls.”
There is even a recipe for Fruit Pizza.
“You make a pizza crust out of a sugar cookie recipe, add cream cheese, whipping cream and spread that like you would tomato sauce on a pizza,” Bingham said. “Then you add slices of fruit and finish it with a glaze. It was very good. I thought it would be easy. It was not hard, but it took all day.
“This is one of my granddaughter’s go-to recipes,” she said, proudly pointing to the name Alisha Bingham Smith in her copy of the book.
After three months of accepting submissions, the ladies faced the daunting task of testing all the recipes. But that “would have taken years,” Gearhart said.
“We tested, tested, and tested,” said Van Bogart, who has a few of her own recipes in the book. “We brought the recipes in to our meetings” for everyone to taste.
It was the only way to go about testing so many recipes.
“I brought a recipe I really liked… it was gone in two seconds,” Bingham said. “It was delicious. People would ask: ‘Oh, can I have the recipe?’ And I would tell them: ‘You have to buy the cookbook.'”
The recipe: Frozen Lemon Mousse.
But this was more than just a book of recipes.
“It is an opportunity to help all of us fortunate enough to live down here on the Key (Peninsula) to understand our beginnings,” Van Bogart said.
The idea of tying in the Key Peninsula into the book “and make people maybe feel more a part of it” caught on, Gearhart said.
This also made the project a little different “because most people don’t think of a cookbook as a place to read about history,” Bingham said.
Looking back, Gearhart said, “It is one of those ideas you think about but never get around to doing it.”
According to Van Bogart, this was a way to share the Key Peninsula’s colorful past — from the stories of the Mosquito Fleet to the ferries that used to dock at the Longbranch Marina.
What she loves reading about is the “development of the area… the groundswell of the industry out here, (from) the various farming endeavors to the way we live now.”
In the end, it is the simple life on the Peninsula that captures her heart, she said.
“The ebb and flow of this area is fascinating,” she added.
“Savories & Sweets, South Sound Treats”
To order a copy of the cookbook, go here:
The women behind the cookbook:
Barb Van Bogart