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Chinese Community Cookbooks

by Jacqueline M. Newman


Summer Volume: 1999 Issue: 6(2) page(s): 11, 12, 25, and 26

Serious students of history and culture know ethnic cookbooks as treasures and records of culinary evolution. They know them as important vistas about the history of eating, and about the collective experience of their authors.

With good food the essence of good living, Mary Sia in her 1935 classic book, Chinese Chopsticks, knew that Chinese Cuisine needed documentation. She did so in editions from the early 1930s to the late 1970s, but this was not common for a cookbook, let alone one about a cuisine eaten by more people than any other in the world.

There are many styles of cookbooks, Sia's by a single author, others by more than one author. There are very few cookbooks in which more than one person donates recipes for the book. This later type of book is called a community cookbook and most were written to raise funds for an organization.

Chinese participation in the community cookbook genre, begs investigation because as do all cookbooks, they provide cultural and historical background. Rarely, if ever, have any Chinese cookbooks been included in discussions or bibliographies of cookery texts. As with other Chinese cookbooks they are almost always excluded from reviews and omitted from compendia. For example, in Schofield's 1994 Cooking by the Book: Food in Literature and Culture, only cookbooks of African Americans are discussed. Perhaps ethnic cookbooks, Chinese or others, are not included because people do not know where, when, and/or how to access them. They certainly would have even more trouble should they be looking for a Chinese community cookbook.

The very idea of a community cookbook became popular around the time of the American Civil War. Then and since, most were written by women and issued in small print runs with limited distribution. No Chinese community cookbook was printed that early; the first was published some years into the 20th century. While there are thousands upon thousands of community cookbooks, there are but a few dozen written by or about Chinese. Thus, they do have special significance because so few were published.

Cookbooks are gossipy morsels as well as serious reflections. Confucius, who believed that an educated man should be able to discuss good food, may have developed a culture that frowns upon putting self in the limelight when he and others advise to do group before self. That also might explain why less than half of those that were published do not list those who contributed their names next to their recipes, and in some cases, they do not list their names anywhere at all.

English is spoken in almost every country and Chinese people live in almost every country in the world; however, they published this type of cookbook in English in only seven countries. These are: Australia, China, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, and the United States (US). The US census in 1990 reports almost a million and a half Chinese in the US of A with Asians concentrated in the ten states of AZ, CA, FL, HI, MA, NM, NY, TX, WA, and WV. Community cookbooks are published in only half of these states: AZ, CA, HI, MA, NY, and also in Washington D.C.

Less than half of those published in the US list recipe authors and only one, published in New Zealand, advises who contributed each recipe. These community cookbooks were published from 1930 through 1980, one, two, two, three, five, and five published, respectively, in each decade. There is also one volume with no date but an educated guess for it is the 1960's. The paucity of Chinese community cookbooks can not be attributed to the lack of a Chinese population. Immigration increased significantly in the 70's and 80's as a direct reflection of the change in the immigration laws after 1964. And, other Chinese cookbooks increased after that date, too.

In what is purported to be the largest English-language Chinese cookbook collection, my own which now has more than two thousand two hundred volumes, less than two dozen community cookbooks exist, some with names of individual recipe contributions and/or as a fund-raisers. The earliest one was written as a fund-raising volume but it is not a Chinese community cookbook. It was published in 1918 in China by the Nanking Chapter of a western organization and titled the American Red Cross Book of Recipes for the use of Chinese Foodstuffs to raise money, lower the cost of living for the Western residents, and to teach the use of what they cal: 'Native products' to the western community in Shanghai, where it was printed.

A copy of the first edition could not be located but a revision, called the Nanking Cook Book, was printed in 1924 by the American Presbyterian Mission of the Women's Auxiliary of the University of Nanking. This later volume advises that it includes an added chapter on candy and a greatly enlarged Chinese recipe chapter. This edition has recipes by non-Chinese intermingled with those by Chinese contributors.

In this edition is a recipe for Chinese Date Pudding by a Mrs. Kensington sharing a page with an English style Plum Pudding by Mrs. Boone; Glutinous Rice Pudding by Mrs. Johannaber facing a page with Butter Scotch Pie by Mrs. Goddard. In the end-chapter of thirty-two recipes "kindly donated by Chinese Ladies in Nanking," there are many recipes by Mrs. Kuo including one for Shrimp and Deo Fu (tofu) and another for Kidney Flowers. There is also a Chicken Congee by Dr. Tsao, Shrimps and Bamboo Shoots by Mrs. Ho, Chow Mein and several other recipes with no contributor listed, a Chop Suey recipe by Mrs. Reisner, and Pork Boiled with Chinese Sauce by a Mrs. Lee. Surveying these books, there are four volumes with no or a limited number of Chinese recipes that were written by a Chinese organization or touted as a community cookbook. Five were published by a church group, six by women's clubs, one thought to be produced/sponsored by a Japanese company making MSG (the cover and first few pages are missing), a couple products of YWCA organizations, six are by other Chinese organizations, and one is the work of an individual with no obvious sponsor.

When contributors names are present, most come before or after the recipe and a few include the authors elsewhere as a simple list of contributors. A few provide no specific names; they indicate that the recipes were donated by members of their organization.

Overviewing these community volumes, most have fewer recipes, less than a hundred, than do non-Chinese community cookbooks. The number of recipes in these books range from a dozen to one with about six hundred. Three of the books have two hundred or so recipes while almost three-quarters have fewer recipes than that. Other than recipes, a few of the books have an index, a dozen have a food glossary, ingredient list, advertisements, and/or line drawings, two have black and white photographs, and one has colored photographs of the completed dishes. With limited background materials, most offer a wide range of recipes in all food categories. Five recipes, randomly selected from the twenty-three community cookbooks and five recipes similarly selected in each of a dozen randomly chosen non-Chinese community cookbooks were prepared and evaluated. Of those from Chinese community cookbooks, our evaluation is that they are tasty and typical of simple home-cooked Chinese food. None failed, none was difficult to make, and very few had more than ten ingredients. Among recipes from the comparative group, also randomly selected (when visiting a local public library), only three-quarters of the recipes worked, several were missing an ingredient or an instruction, and in addition, many were bland and monochromatic, thus, visually less enticing.

Those that are Chinese community cookbooks are listed in the order published; four others touted as such but are not Chinese community cookbooks follow them. These are:
1) Chinese Recipes by Fenn Mo was published by her in San Francisco California in 1930. This is the earliest and smallest of any with recipe contributors cited; it may not be a charity cookbook. Each Chinese Recipes volume is bound with a hand-tied colored Chinese knot with streamer, and each cover is individually colored, probably by the author; with not all colors and coloring alike. This is a twelve-recipe volume dedicated to Miss Donaldina Cameron and her Chinese daughters saying: "whose gracious hospitality has taught many friends to appreciate more than rare viands." The recipes, with authorship cited, are for dishes such as Chop Suey, Pineapple Chicken, Rose Sugar-cane, and Chinese Fried Sesame Seed Cakes. Note that another book cited later with the title of Chinese Cuisine, was also done by the Donaldina Cameron House.
2) Chinese Home Cooking Recipes of Cantonese Dishes prepared by the Chinese Women's Club of the International Institute is published in Honolulu in 1941 by The Chinese Committee International Institute Y.W.C.A. The purpose was to raise funds for national and world support of the Y.W.C.A. It is a hardbound book with a few advertisements and black and white photographs, and one page about table etiquette. It advises that the recipes are from different contributors but no names are given after recipes or anywhere else in the volume.
3) New Chinese Recipes written by Fred Wing and published in 1946 in New York by United Service to China, was a fund-raising cookbook for that organization, formerly called the United China Relief. The book was written by a restauranteur who prepared the dishes tested by Mabel Stegner, a Home Economist. There are many editions of Fred Wing's work ranging from twenty-four to ninety-six pages; not all have recipes in the same order nor do they all have all of them. One edition, Old Chinese Recipes, also published in 1946, does not indicate its fund-raising purposes but does list a New York publisher, Edelmuth. Other fund-raising editions are spiral-bound cardboard leaves, the Edelmuth copy is a stapled pamphlet.
4) Noodles and Rice and Everything Nice was written by Marian B. Miller and published in 1950. It is a hardbound collection of recipes from Chinese cookery classes at the Home Women's Department and published at their Hong Kong Young Women's Christian Association facility. Along with fewer than one hundred recipes, this book includes seven pages that detail what they call: 'Eating Chinese Fashion,' ten pages about 'Cooking Chinese Fashion,' and an index of its recipes.
5) Chopsticks, a Flight into Oriental Cooking was edited by Mary Washburn in 1954. It is a one hundred seven page book written to benefit the Yuhang Kindergarten of the Chinese Air Force by the Chinese Women's Anti-Aggression League. Published by Wu Hsueh Press Ltd. in Taiwan, we located two different hardbound editions, one has gold lettering and a single chopstick slipped into a prepared book spine. The signatures of recipe contributors appear on one page, not after each recipe.
6) Dragon Fare is edited and issued by the Women's Corona Society, Hong Kong Branch in 1960. It is a small volume that says its profits go to local charities. This eighty-two page hardbound includes sixty-three pages with recipes and information on them, the rest are blank other than each of them says: 'Other Recipes.' There is one chapter of all Chinese dishes, the others have only some Chinese recipes because "the members of this Branch have links with many lands." In this volume one never learns who the members are and no recipe indicates its contributor.
7) Cook Book of the Chinese Christian Church, published in Boston MA in 1966 is a small spiral bound volume with fifty-three pages of recipes written to honor the church's twentieth anniversary. Their Mission, founded in 1896 has the then pastor/superintendent, Rev. Dr. Peter Shih, advising in the introduction that the recipes are prepared by: 'one of our best cooks' and include favorite dishes by the church women who 'entertained thousands of American friends throughout New England and in other states.'
8) Tea and Chopsticks by the Desert Jade Women's Club of Phoenix Arizona is a book that says it is of: 'Favorite recipes of the friends and members of the Desert Women's Jade Club.' This book, published in 1966, has one hundred eighty-two pages. After the recipes, it discusses ingredients used. The recipe sections are divided by simple line drawings. These are for Appetizers, Soups, Seafood, Egg Dishes, Beef and Pork, Vegetables, and Desserts. They are typed on one side of each page, the other side is blank. Less than a dozen recipes (i.e.: Sukiyaki, Three Bean Salad, and Fruit Cake Dessert) are for foods of other cultures. The Chinese recipes are classic items such as Egg Roll, Steamed Pork Dumplings, Stuffed Wintermelon Soup, Soy Sauce Chicken, Eight Precious Duck, Steamed Pearl Meatballs, Anise Abalone Chicken, and Steamed Salt Egg with Pork.. A later edition, circa 1990, indicates copyrights of 1966, 1980 and 1990. Every edition has a plastic spiral-binding, the 1990 one is professionally typeset and printed by Fundcraft Publishing. It has slightly different recipe sections and fewer numbered pages.
9) Treasured Recipes from Two Cultures - American and Chinese was written by the Women's Society of Christian Service. It is representative of its members of different cultures. This volume has many printings done by them, the first in 1966, three known and one a revision. Not every recipes lists its contributor, each is hand typed with title in English and a Cantonese Romanization. Most list ingredients but the method of preparation does vary from recipe to recipe. The book has a plastic spiral binding. Its American foods come before those that are Chinese. There are a few unusual recipes including Pig Stomach Strips with Vegetables, Salted Preserved Duck Eggs, Sharks Fin and Bird Nest Soups, and West Lake Steamed Duck. Among the Chinese selections, there are modern adaptations such as Chicken in Foil, Roast Turkey (Chinese style), and Shelled Prawns with Tomato Sauce. A Chinese ideograph decorates each section, these are the only illustrations. Also, the American section is numbered to page sixty-two, the Chinese section, four times that size, has no page numbers.
10) Gourmet Celestial published by the Los Angeles Chinese Women's Club in 1970 shows Chinese dishes, American adaptations of them, and it has a special chapter titled: Occidental Favorites. The glossary has Chinese ideographs and Romanized Cantonese transliterations. There are a few line-drawings, such as for making dim sum and a few menu suggestions for planning a meal. The use of a Number Two can of pineapple, Worcestershire sauce, red bean curd, and dried Chinese dates indicate adaptations and authentic recipes in the one hundred ninety-eight pages of typed recipes in a spiral plastic binding. An interesting item called: 'To serve your Chinese guests' is a recipe for spareribs that uses red bean curd recommending serving them over rice, buttered noodles, or on toast. There are two hundred fifty recipes between firm clear plastic pages over orange covers and colored food-illustrated divider pages. Four printings have been located, rare in a community cookbook, this is a volume without an index.
11) Chinese Gourmet published by the Chinese American Citizens Alliance Portland Lodge in 1972 has had at least three printings since it say it was first published to 'insure the legal rights of its members, promote citizenship and to secure the equal economical and political opportunities for its members.' The Portland Lodge is in San Francisco; and it donates its income toward community and youth oriented activities. The recipes offer what they say is: 'everyday family type dishes, banquet-type dishes, and family-secret type dishes that have been handed down through generations.' Divided in sections with Chinese ideographs, the recipes are typed in script. A few helpful hints, a pair of equipment photographs, and an advertisement for the printer end this one hundred seventy-four-page volume. As in a few other books, there is a recipe for Chicken in Foil and one for Spareribs with Black Beans. There are also less usual items including a soup/Congee called Jook, Crackling Roast Pork, Fried Chicken Gizzards and Mini Corn, Mandarin Peel Braised Duck, and Pickled Mustard Greens.
12) Chinese Cuisine is by and benefits Donaldina Cameron, whose name graces a neighborhood house in San Francisco. She is the same lady to whom Chinese Recipes by Fenn Mo was dedicated. This book is the third volume, done in 1972, to benefit this Presbyterian institution. It is a combination of the first and second volumes, neither located in any library nor in the Church which has served its Chinatown community since 1874. A fourth edition done in 1978, titled Gourmet Delights, combines the first three editions and includes a number of recipes in 'original form from the former editions and many new recipes.' The third edition discusses basic Chinese utensils, ingredients and condiments, food preparation, Chinese cooking methods and dinnerware, and has a few suggested menus. The recipes are typed for its one hundred twelve spiral-bound pages. The fourth edition illustrates basic food and equipment and includes section dividers with line drawings and lists of the recipes in each of them. The last section in this edition is called: 'Popular Dishes' and it includes some non-Chinese recipes. Every edition is in a plastic spiral binding without an index.
13) East Meets West Zodiac Cookbook, edited by Annie Soo and members and friends of the Asian American Community Alliance, was published in 1975 in Berkeley, California. After each contributor's name is his or her zodiac sign. This is the only Chinese cookbook, community or other, with an astrological indicator. It is also the only community cookbook with a page titled: How to Cook for a Diabetic. The recipe sections have animal and zodiac lead-in pages; for example, Rice says the 'Year of the Mouse/Aries' followed by a paragraph that begins: 'If you were born in the Year of the Mouse, the sign of prosperity, the Asian astrologer says you will never starve...' After the typed recipes there is an index and a list of recipes by contributors and the pages they are found on. This cookbook has one hundred eighty-nine pages and some adapted recipes such as one that uses pineapple juice or ones called Leche Flan and Banana Nut Bread. Overall, the Chinese recipes are typical of family food, such as Gene's Fried Rice or Homemade Chicken Soup. Several are more exotic, including Pork Spare Ribs with Black Bean Sauce, Beef Tongue, Eight Precious Rice Pudding, and Winter Melon Pot.
14) Flavors of China produced by Arthur Lum and the Chinese Parents Service Organization in Seattle was first done in 1975. Since then it is reprinted seven times in five short years. Recipes are typed, the two hundred two page book spiral-bound between plastic covers and colored covers. Except for one recipe for Salted Turkey, this book, supporting the Seattle Chinese Community Girls' Drill Team, provides recipes common both in Chinese homes and restaurants. Some are adaptations as is one for turkey and another called Chicken in Foil. The latter appears in several Chinese community cookbooks as does a Chicken Salad Chinese Style. A particularly unusual item is a recipe titled Finger Jello intended for children. Classic Chinese recipes include Oxtail Lotus Root Soup, Ants Climbing up the Tree, Steamed Chicken with Dried Lily Flowers and Black Mushrooms, and 1000 Layer Buns for Roast Duck. There is a short glossary in English with Cantonese transliterations, line drawing section separators, and no index.
15) A Selection of Chinese Recipes compiled on behalf of and published by the Chinese Association of Victoria in Melbourne Australia in 1982 speaks of Nonya foods of overseas Chinese in Singapore and Malaysia. Three-quarters of this forty-page pamphlet are recipes, the rest a directory of Asian grocery stores and a very few advertisements. The book indicates members have shared their recipes but only the names of the editors, Chooi Hon Ho and Annie Yeow appear; member names are nowhere in this volume.
16) Chinese Recipes prepared by the Canterbury Chinese Cultural Centre of Christchurch New Zealand in 1982 is a small fifty-two-page pamphlet with recipe sections. Advertisements appear only inside the front and rear covers. There are some unusual Chinese items such as Sour Pepper Fish Soup, Shrimp Fried Rice on Lettuce, and Salty Rice Dumpling, and some non-Chinese ones including: Doughnuts, Chocolate Fudge Cake, and Satay and Satay Sauce. Recipe titles are listed after each section divider, and there is no index.
17) From Friends to Friends by the by the 3-C Fellowship of the Chinese Community Church of Washington D.C. is a 1984 page type-set spiral plastic bound book. Its one hundred and two paginated pages and eighteen unnumbered ones are put out in cooperation with Circulation Service, a publisher of personalized cook books. This volume indicates, more honestly than most, saying that: 'not all of the recipes contained in this book are originals.' Cooking methods and a glossary with English and Cantonese Romanization follow the recipes. The book gives thanks to the California Chinese-American Women's Club of Santa Clara County for items borrowed. It includes an index and a publishers page with a three-year calendar and holidays to remember. Most recipes are Chinese, those not from Chinese contributors are concentrated in the desserts section and include: Pistachio Pineapple Dessert, Peanut Butter Pie, and Vanilla Wafer Cake.
18) Hmong Recipe Cook Book done by the New Citizen's Garden Project is a fifty-four-page spiral-bound book done in 1985. Sponsored by the First Presbyterian Church of South St. Paul, Minnesota, it explains that the Hmong are descendants of the Miao minority population in China who left for Laos in the 19th century. It says that: 'In Laos foods were steamed, not baked,' and they used stir-fry cooking techniques. The recipes in this book are titled in English and Laotian.
19) Untitled, a twenty-recipe volume, found with no title page does advertise Aji-no-moto, a brand of monosodium glutamate (MSG). The book, probably published in the Philippines, gives recipes and contributor's names in Tag-a-long, Chinese, and English. Most of the recipes are for Chinese dishes and contributed by Chinese women. Each recipe is illustrated with a color photograph of the completed dish. Because the only located copy was rebound by a library minus some pages, charity/fund-raising purpose and publication date are missing. No one at the company could advise about this volume, but based on the quality of the pictures, it is surmised as published in the last twenty-five years or so.

The four other items, other than the 1918 cookbook discussed earlier that some tout as a Chinese cookbook, have very few, if any Chinese recipes. These are:
The Nanking Cookbook already mentioned
Recipes produced for the YWCA of Hong Kong in 1965. Though touted as such, there are no Chinese recipes. It is subtitled: A Guide to International Cooking.
International Cook Book, The by the Taipei International Women's Club. This metal-spiral-bound book of two hundred seventy pages was published in 1967.
Tips'N'Treats of Taiwan compiled and edited by the Women's Club of the Formosa Christinan Mission is an 1981 volume. The only copy found boasts it is a fifth edition and that it has an index. There are fifty-one recipes in the Chinese chapter including one for 'Jello' that uses none but does use seaweed, an authentic Chinese gelatin source. There are adaptations in this chapter of western dishes including a Stroganoff made with dofu (beancurd) and a recipe called Hamburger Baked with Dofou.
Cozinha Caseira Home Cooking was published by the International Ladies Club of Macao in 1985. It is a metal spiralbound book written to benefit the orphaned and abandoned children in the San Jose school in Coloane, Macau. The one hundred twenty-eight pages are in in Portuguese and English, have mostly Portuguese or other Western dishes and a few recipes from Macao. There are a handful of Chinese recipes.

In Summary: the recipes in the Chinese community cookbooks are not that different from those in other Chinese cookbooks. What is different is that in some, the print is hand-typed, some are not proof read, and many are not professional in their presentation. The community cookbooks include recipes the authors believe are typical Chinese recipes. In some instances, they include more unusual ingredients in recipes, in others, more adapted or westernized Chinese recipes. A few reflect their individual locales such as the use of sago, curry, and items wrapped in foil. In addition, some of these books have very few recipes for pork, China's main meat. They do have many recipes for chicken, duck, and shrimp, also for lobster, oxtail, oyster, sharks fin, bird's nest, and other protein exotica popular items at Chinese banquets.

The more recent of the community cookbooks, as do all cookbooks, have more noodle and vegetable recipes than do items published earlier. They also contain dessert dishes. The former reflects a growing interest in eating more grains and vegetables and less animal protein, the latter a contradiction of sorts but another growing interest, that of indulgence in desserts and sweets. Desserts and bakery products are becoming popular in major cities in China and in cities in other countries with large Chinese populations. Another reason for the Western-style desserts may also be to promote more sales to non-Chinese audiences.

These volumes reflect the larger Chinese environment and offer a variety of foods from regions all over China. Each includes recipes that are good representatives of the variety of foods that are known as and considered Chinese food. In many, the recipes are not for street or for poor-man's food because they were written by people you might consider of the upper crust who probably attended many banquets, ate in many restaurants, and even enjoyed help in their kitchens. After all, poor people have little time to indulge in efforts needed to produce a cookbook, do not eat as varied a diet as these books reflect, and could not have afforded the cost of ingredients to test the recipes, particularly the unusual items.

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