Those Old Favorite Relief Society Recipes
by Janet Peterson

If you want to take a culinary journey through history, browse through a couple of old Relief Society or ward cookbooks. It matters not whether the recipes were collected by sisters in Newport Beach, California,  or Newark, New Jersey, you’ll be assured to find similar entries in nearly every book you peruse.

Long before the Internet, there was the Relief Society network, where the newest food fad spread faster than you could say “funeral potatoes.” If you were a guest at a Relief Society Birthday Party or Fall Social in Portland, Oregon, one week and then joined sisters in Portland, Maine, the next, you probably wouldn’t know you had traveled three thousand miles because the food would seem very familiar.

A sister somewhere in mid-America got a recipe from her mother, sister, or friend who said, “You just have to try this.” Tried and liked, the recipe made the rounds of Relief Societies from north to south, east to west, and became part of the Relief Society food culture. Each cook, however, interpreted the recipe in  her own way, for if you gave the same recipe for Chicken Enchiladas to twelve different sisters, you would be serving that many variations.

Food favorites shift over the years as new recipes make the rounds, diet and nutrition philosophies change, and tastes are tutored. Sampling some of those old, familiar Relief Society dishes, nevertheless,  evokes fond memories of dear sisters cooking for the few and the many, of happy gatherings around one’s own table or festive tables set in the cultural hall, and of pleasant times shared with family or ward members.

Is there a ward or branch in the Church that hasn’t at some point in time created a cookbook of its own?  Back in 1979, the Butler 31st Ward in Sandy, Utah, published “Oldies But Goodies,” a collection of our favorite dishes. Compiling a cookbook is never an easy task, but Sandy Gundersen ably gathered and typed hundreds of recipes (before computers) and published this culinary treasure. It became my “Bible,” and when my first book became spattered and the binding  wore out, I begged my mother to give me her copy.  Because this cookbook was so popular, Sandy reissued it in 1997.  I do not let this new copy become stained or tattered-it is a prized memento. Turning the pages is a walk through that era of my life when my husband served as the first bishop of that ward and when we had six small children gathered around the dinner table for yet another tasty meal from the ward cookbook.  With the division of the ward and with many sisters having moved and some having died, reading through the names is a vicarious and sweet ward reunion.

Although names of particular  recipes vary widely, no historic Relief Society cookbook would be complete without:

Jello Salads: Utah might be designated as the Jello State (complete with a Green Jello Olympic pin), but our penchant for Jello expanded far beyond state lines. Jello became a Mormon legend of its own. Some popular Jello salads include: Raspberry Jello with frozen raspberries, pineapple, bananas, and chopped pecans;  “Company Best Set Salad” made with lemon Jello, miniature marshmallows, pineapple, bananas, and a thickened cream topping; Blueberry Jello salad, whose many variations combined raspberry or blackberry Jello made dark purple with juice from canned blueberries, and pineapple, cream cheese, and whipping cream.

Green Beans and Mushroom Soup: One version is titled “Fancy Quick Green Beans” with just three ingredients—canned green beans, mushroom soup, and slivered almonds. At any ward function, green beans never appeared unaccompanied.

Cool Whip Delight: Often listed with more intriguing titles, such as “Better Than Robert Redford,”  this dessert has several layers beginning with a baked crust, cream cheese, lemon or chocolate pudding, and Cool Whip, and appeared innumerable times as the grande finale.

Chicken Crescent Rolls: Still one of my family’s favorites,  aka “Chicken Dumplings,” “Chicken Pillows,” or “Chicken Bundles,” this main dish single handedly raised profit margins for the Pillsbury company. Cooked and diced chicken, cream cheese, and optional green onions, mushrooms, and celery are rolled up in a Crescent roll and baked, then served with chicken gravy.

Funeral Potatoes: Ever since this dish debuted (tracing its origin would be a mighty task), it  has accompanied ham for Easter dinner,  Relief Society socials, and funeral luncheons. Served so often at the luncheon for families of the deceased, it earned the moniker, “Funeral Potatoes.” Whether frozen hash browns or cubed boiled potatoes are used, other required ingredients are sour cream, cream of chicken soup, cheddar cheese, and crushed corn flakes.

Before we became acutely conscious of calories, fat grams, and cholesterol, we could freely enjoy those dishes and savor the experience of those old favorite Relief Society recipes. Such meals nourished us with good food and generous portions of love.

2004 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.