NON-DAIRY whipped topping is out--well, most of it, anyway. Processed cheese food (sometimes with pimiento) is definitely out. Mushroom soup sneaks in, but not a lot--not nearly as much as it used to.
What they are out of is Junior League cookbooks, which are clearly in. Riding the crest of the wave of enthusiasm for cookbooks in general, Junior Leagues have discovered that their products can reap large profits, sometimes as much as $40,000 each year. Thus all over the country, from San Antonio to Savannah, leagues are flirting with big business, which means burying the mushroom soup casseroles and brushing up their sales efforts.
Junior Leagues have raised money through cookbook sales at least since the Junior League of Phoenix published one in 1922. The leagues, a network of 247 nonprofit service organizations, are made up of women in this country, Mexico and Canada. The money they earn (much from cookbooks) is "all turned back into the community to support or initiate community projects," says Liz Quinlan, director of communications for the Association of Junior Leagues. In some cases, leagues have been known to contribute upward of $100,000 to support hospitals, homes for unwed mothers or runaways, education centers and more.
Over 100 of the chapters publish cookbooks, which sell from $2.50 to $16 each. So Junior Leagues have hit the major leagues in the cookbook business. Cookbook consultants now travel the country to advise local chapters revising or compiling new cookbooks. S.C. Toofs & Co., a Memphis printing house, schedules seminars for self-publishers twice a year, where club cookbook chairmen can join two days of "intense seminars" to learn how to focus on concepts, design, type, distribution and more, says Toofs' sales representative Gene McCown. Toofs also prints about 30 of the leagues' cookbooks. The leagues' national association distributes a reference manual which compiles experiences of chapters that have published cookbooks.
"Cotton Country Collection," assembled by the Monroe, La., Junior League, is the "big success story of self-published cookbooks by a charitable organization," says McCown. Its success, he says, came as a result of "timing and joint group effort." The Monroe league published just as the regional cookbook craze caught on, and now about 40,000 of the books sell each year. League members carry cookbooks on vacation with them to show to bookstores around the country. "River Road Recipes," out of Baton Rouge, "Southern Sideboards," from Jackson, Miss., and "Charleston S.C. Receipts" joined "Cotton Country Collection" among the ranks of the successful. .
Dottie Hart, who helps teach Toof seminars and who belongs to the Monroe, La., Junior League, says the club "thought through everything" before compiling the "Cotton Country Collections."
The title reflects its southern origins, the cover is "southern looking," she says, with a "pretty watercolor of soft greens and browns." The pen and ink sketches inside were drawn by a league member; the 1,100 recipes have been tested, sometimes two and three times, by committee members. Like most of these books, it has a plastic "comb" binding that allows the book to lie flat when it's opened. When members answer mail orders, they wrap the book in brown paper manufactured in local paper mills and attach a cotton ball -- picked from area cotton fields -- to the outside of the package.
That's all part of running a successful business. And that's what Junior Leagues concern themselves with. "It's not the little housewife any more . . . " says McCown of the League membership. "It's the volunteer-oriented person involved with a group. They're pretty sharp people; they're not naive."
The cookbooks must fight for room on the shelves in homes of compulsive cookbook collectors. It isn't necessarily cooks who buy the books, but people interested in cooking, in reading the regional anecdotes, in learning about an area through its cuisine. And as these collectors have grown more sophisticated -- going beyond condensed soup and Cheez-Whiz -- so the face of these cookbooks changes.
"Thecaliber has increased some," says "Cotton Country's" Dottie Hart. "Most Junior Leagues put in a couple of years collecting the recipes. Most would't dream of putting together a cookbook without testing recipes at least once."
To make the money necessary to support community charities, these books must sell nationwide. To sell for years and years, says Hart, the recipes must be good. One enthusiast says the books contain the "very best" recipes of league members -- family favorites and company recipes. Out with the congealed fruit-and-marshmallow salads, in with regional recipes (gumbos in Louisiana cookbooks), uncomplicated and elegant party dishes (pork en croute from San Francisco) and tried-and-true successes (cheese balls from everywhere).
"They all know that if they want to compete they have to have an excellent selection of recipes," says Hart.
And they have to have an attractive book, the experts say. The attention span of the book buyer is very short, and a pretty product piques interest quickly. "Talk About Good," compiled by the Junior League of Lafayette, La., uses striking prints by a local artist to separate each recipe section. "You're seeing color now," says McCown. "A lot of color. The books are getting very sophisticated."
Finally, they all have a gimmick, says Galey Knight, chairman of the cookbook committee for the Junior League in Washington. "That's the trouble with league books -- there's always some gimmick that makes them worth buying." So buying just one won't alleviate the impulse. You have to own them all.
The Washington, D.C., gimmick is Christmas. Titled "Think Christmas," the book combines instructions for crafts (making wreaths, centerpieces and decorations) and recipes (desserts appropriate for the holidays but others appropriate for any time). Recipes suitable for making gifts are designated with a little package sketched by the recipe title.
The look of this book has changed with the times. Originally printed in 1970 with white pages, black type and a green cover, the book got a face lift about six years ago when a marketing class at George Washington University studied the book as part of a class project. The marketing students decided that a new design was in order, so "Think Christmas" was reissued with ivory pages, brown type and a "warm cover." In terms of Junior League books, it's one of the nation's biggest moneymakers, says Knight, and even though the Washington league only markets the book four months out of the year, it sold 22,000 copies last year.
The marketing team, she says, consists of two dozen women who send query letters as well as books to gift boutiques, flower shops and bookstores in this country, Canada, England and even France.
The superior sales skills of various chapter members reap larger profits, resulting in greater income for leagues who support community charities. In Washington, the money goes to such places as Children's Hospital, Columbia Hospital for Women and the Gonzaga Higher Achievement Program (for basic skills tutoring).
Superior sales skills do not translate, unfortunately, into superior editing skills. Although many of the newer cookbooks do not rely so much as before on processed foods, the recipes often skimp on instructions, give vague references to ingredients and miscalculate servings (one cheese ball recipe calling for four pounds of cheese, among other things, allegedly serves four to six people).
In addition, some cookbook editors often miss this perfect opportunity to include personal vignettes and hints which make other books such as the "Joy of Cooking," (first published as a church cookbook) so successful.
A random sampling of recipes from several different Junior League cookbooks proved that one must be at least an interpretive cook to have consistent success with any of the books. Although the recipes are generally reliable, they should be read with a critical eye.
JALAPENO CHEESE BALL (2 large balls) 8 ounces cream cheese, softened 8 ounces extra sharp cheese, grated 8 ounces mild cheddar cheese, grated 8 ounces hot pepper cheese, grated 4 ounces green chilies, chopped 1 cup chopped pecans 2 medium onions, chopped 6 cloves garlic, minced 2 tablespoons lemon juice 2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce Paprika Parsley or sesame seeds
Whip cream cheese until fluffy. Add sharp, mild and pepper cheeses, green chilies, pecans, chopped onions, minced garlic, lemon juice and worcestershire sauce and mix to blend well. Roll ball in paprika and then in either chopped parsely or toasted sesame seeds. Serve with melba toast. (Adapted from a recipe in "Pirates Pantry," Lake Charles, La.)
FRENCH HAM (6 servings) 3 pounds boned ham, cooked and sliced 1/4-inch thick 2 tablespoons butter, melted 1 1/2 tablespoons oil 2 tablespoons minced shallots 2/3 cup maderia or port 3 tablespoons cognac or brandy 2 tablespoons dijon mustard 1 tablespoon tomato paste 2 cups heavy cream Pepper
Trim ham of fat and cut into serving pieces. Dry, if necessary on paper towels. Combine butter and oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. When butter has melted, add ham slices (in a single layer) and brown lightly on both sides. Remove ham to a plate. Pour all but about 1 tablespoon of oil from the skillet. Add shallots and cook slowly until tender. Pour in wine and cognac and scrape up all the drippings. Boil this mixture rapidly until the liquid has reduced to about 1/4 cup. Combine mustard and tomato paste with about 1/4 cup of the cream and set aside. Pour the rest of the cream into the wine mixture. Whisk in mustard mixture and simmer slowly until the sauce has thickened slightly and been reduced. Add pepper to taste. Return ham slice to sauce and heat through. Serve with french bread. (Adapted from a recipe in "Out of Our League," Greensboro, N.C.)
BARBECUED CHICKEN (4 to 6 servings) 1 broiler-fryer chicken, cut into serving pieces 6 tablespoons ketchup 2 tablespoons lemon juice 4 tablespoons worcestershire sauce 4 tablespoons water 4 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons sugar 2 teaspoons salt 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder 2 teaspoons paprika 2 teaspoons mustard 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper
Combine all ingredients for sauce and pour over chicken. Bake in covered casserole at 350 degrees for 1 to 1 1/4 hours. (Adapted from a recipe from "Cotton Country Collections," Monroe, La.)
BRANDIED CARROTS (6 to 8 servings) 2 pounds carrots, scraped and thinly sliced 1/2 cup melted butter 3/4 teaspoon sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup brandy
Parboil carrots for 10 minutes or until slightly tender. Place in large casserole in a thin layer. Combine melted butter, sugar, salt and brandy. Pour over carrots. Cover casserole and bake 30 minutes at 325 degrees. (Adapted from a recipe from "Cotton Country Collections," Monroe, La.)
OATMEAL MUFFINS (About 12 muffins) 1 cup rolled oats 1 cup buttermilk or sour milk 1 cup flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon soda 1 egg 1/2 cup brown sugar 1/2 cup margarine, melted 1/2 cup raisins or currants, optional
Combine oats and milk and set aside to soak for about 30 minutes. Sift flour with salt, baking powder and soda and set aside. Add egg to oats and beat. Beat in sugar. Stir in margarine, then gently stir in flour with 3 or 4 strokes. Add fruit, if desired, and stir just until combined. Batter should be lumpy and this batter will be thinner than many muffin batters. Pour into greased or paper-lined muffin tins and bake 15 to 20 minutes.
Note: To make sour milk combine 1 tablespoon vinegar and 1 cup regular whole milk. (Adapted from a recipe from "Out of Our League," Greensboro, N.C.)
CURRIED FRUIT (4 to 8 servings) 4 large peaches or pears Lemon juice Brown sugar Port wine 8 ounces crushed pineapple, drained (reserve juice) Curry powder Butter Halve fruit and brush with lemon juice. Sprinkle with a little brown sugar, and drizzle about a teaspoon of port over each half. Fill the cavities of the fruit with crushed pineapple. Sprinkle with curry powder and dot with butter. Place fruit in casserole, cover and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Baste with reserved pineapple juice, if necessary. (Adapted from a recipe from "Think Christmas," Washington, D.C.)
LEMON TEA CAKES (4 dozen cookies) 1/2 cup butter 1 1/2 cups sugar 1 egg 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel 1 3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon soda 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup sour milk 1/4 cup lemon juice
Cream butter and 3/4 cup sugar until fluffy. Add egg and peel and beat well. Sift dry ingredients together. Add to creamed mixture alternately with milk, combining well after each addition. Drop from a teaspoon on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees about 12 to 14 minutes or until edged in brown. Remove from sheet to a wire rack and brush with a glaze made by heating 3/4 cup sugar with 1/4 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan until sugar dissolves.
Note: To make sour milk combine 1 tablespoon vinegar and 1 cup regular whole milk. (Adapted from a recipe from "Out of Our League," Greensboro, N.C.