Preserving the traditional food of our heritage creates bonds between generations and preserves cultural identity. Still, the Irish may enjoy Italian Wedding Soup and Italians may savor triple-leavened Angel Biscuits, a feature of Black family gatherings. The recipes, and many others, are in the long-awaited “Akron Family Recipes: History and Traditions from Sauerkraut Balls to Sweet Potato Pie” by Judy Orr James.
In her introduction, James cites her catalyst for writing the book: “I realized how deeply woven our food history is woven into our community’s history and, sadly, how many treasured restaurant and family recipes have been lost.”
In the book, great-grandchildren have brought out secret family dishes, and restaurant recipes have been adapted for home cooking. A pierogi recipe was adapted by a former kitchen manager of the Polish American Citizens Club, and an Irish-born war bride contributes her recipe for soda bread.
Though some of the recipes are from restaurants, they are cut down for home kitchens; no “9 quarts of tomato paste” or “2 pounds of cinnamon.” The contributor of a recipe for koulouria, a braided Greek sweet bread, says it “makes a lot of dough – enough for the village,” but it bakes on a single cookie sheet. A for another sweet bread, the Hungarian kuglof, calls for 10 to 12 cups of flour, but could be easily halved.
While most cookbooks list recipes by type of dish – soup, bread, dessert – these recipes are listed by the ethnic and cultural group that contributed them. James acknowledges that she could include only the larger groups, and regrets she had to leave out Swedish and Lebanese recipes, for example. The groups are alphabetized: African American, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Polish, Serbian, and Appalachian and Southern. There are no Asian or Hispanic recipes.
Each chapter begins with “Where They Lived,” the area of earliest settlement (Germans lived in Goosetown, around Grant Street, south of Exchange; early Italian immigrants lived in Boston Township and Richfield, but later North Hill became the center of Italian life) . Churches, restaurants and ethnic clubs like the Polish American Citizens Club kept people connected with their food traditions.
The Beacon Journal columnist Polly Paffilas kept and indexed every recipe that appeared in the paper and donated them to the Akron-Summit County Public Library, where they are now in an online database. Author James is retired from the library, where she was manager of special collections, the local history and genealogy department. She also gathered recipes from the former restaurateurs and their families, like “Cornbread Dressing with Smoked Turkey Leg and Gravy” from the former Porter’s Soul Food Restaurant on Copley Road.
Now, to sauerkraut balls. The uniquely Akron appetizer has been served in local restaurants as early as the 1940s and was first mentioned in the Beacon Journal in 1952. A dozen or more restaurants have claimed to have the best version, and in 1996 Beacon Journal food writer Jane Snow declared them to be Akron’s official food. The book includes six recipes: four use ham; three use corned beef; one calls for Granny Smith apples. Sauerkraut balls may or may not have German heritage, but they belong to us all.
“Akron Family Recipes” (252 pages, softcover) costs $23.99 from History Press.
The free, one-day Cleveland Rocks Writing Conference will be held Aug. 13 at the South Euclid-Lyndhurst branch of Cuyahoga County Public Library, with keynote speaker Mindy McGinnis and presenters including Miranda Liasson (“Sea Glass Summer”), Angie Hockman (“Dream On”), Julie Ann Lindsey (“Closely Harbored Secrets” ) and Chloe Flowers (“Pirates & Petticoats” historical romance). Register at 2022 Cleveland Rocks Writing Conference – Cuyahoga County Public Library (cuyahogalibrary.org).
Fireside Book Shop (29 N. Franklin St., Chagrin Falls): About 18 local writers will sign their work during the Author’s Festival, from 10 am to 5 pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday. See the schedule and names at firesidebookshop.com.
Massillon Public Library (Pam S. Belloni branch, 12000 Navarre Road SW, Brewster): Bob Lung, who runs the annual Fantasy Football Expo in Canton, talks about “Fantasy Football Consistency Guide,” 6 to 8 pm Thursday.
Loganberry Book Shop: Lindsey Fitzharris joins Peculiar Book Club to talk about “The Facemaker,” about plastic surgeon Harold Gillies, who provided facial reconstruction to injured soldiers in World War I, in a YouTube event at 6 pm Thursday. Register at brandyschillace.com/peculiar.
Dover Public Library (525 N. Walnut St.): Alex Erickson talks about his Bookstore Café series (“Death by Hot Apple Cider” is the latest) and Furever Pets series (“Dial ‘M’ for Maine Coon”), 6:30 to 7 :30 pm Thursday. Register at doverlibrary.org.
Cuyahoga County Public Library (Parma-Powers branch, 6996 Powers Blvd.): Susan Wiggs (“The Apple Orchard”) talks about “Sugar and Salt,” about a San Francisco baker with a new neighbor, an attractive barbecue master, 7 to 8 pm Thursday.
Music Box Super Club (1148 Main Ave., Cleveland): David Spero, former entertainment manager, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame executive and author (with K. Adrian Zonneville) of “A Life in the Wings: My Sixty Year Love Affair with Rock and Roll: A Memoir,” joins the Cleveland Stories Dinner Party series. Dinner is $20; the lecture is free. Go to musicboxcle.com.
Mac’s Backs (1820 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights): Green author Angie Hockman (“Shipped”) signs “Dream On” from 6 to 8 pm Friday; It’s about a woman who wakes up after a car accident with memories of a man she’s never met.
Learned Owl Book Shop (204 N. Main St., Hudson): Nina Echemendia signs “Monsieur Third Base,” 1 to 3 pm Saturday.
Visible Voice Books (2258 Professor Ave., Cleveland): Cleveland author Eugene Marten signs “Pure Life,” about a former football player who looks for treatment for the brain damage he suffered, 7 pm Saturday.
Email information about books of local interest, and event notices at least two weeks in advance to BeaconBookTalk@gmail.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @BarbaraMcI.