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Book Review

‘Always Put in a Recipe and Other Tips for Living: From Iowa’s Best Known Homemaker’

11/7/2012

Review by Cathryn Lang

University of Iowa Press

09/15/2012

$19.95

203 pp

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In this age of instant and continuous communication, it is difficult to imagine how lonely and isolated the farm wife was in earlier days. Her friends were the newspaper columnists and radio personalities who provided their homely stories and wisdom to make her feel connected with the larger world.                

One of those best friends was Evelyn Birkby. She began writing her newspaper column in the Shenandoah Evening Sentinel and broadcasting over radio station KMA in 1949. The title of this book comes from the advice of the Sentinel publisher Willard Archie. As he told Birkby, “Always write friendly.”                

“There are many lonely people out there. Always put in a recipe. People may not read anything else you write, but they will always read a recipe,” he said.                

The formula must have worked. She wrote her column for more than 60 years.                

This collection of her favorite columns reveals the practical, humorous and poignant experiences of everyday rural life in Iowa from a previous time. She writes of her experiences raising three boys in the 1950s, and she touchingly recalls the early unexplained death of her only daughter in 1953. She achieved national acclaim for her knowledge of cooking and produced a cookbook, “Up A Country Lane.” She was recently the inspiration behind an IPTV documentary called “Radio Homemakers: Up a Country Lane.” In 1996, Evelyn represented Iowa at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.                

These remembrances of a simpler, kinder lifestyle help connect today’s woman with her strong and resilient female predecessors. Birkby is certainly one of the predecessors who has shaped the character of the Midwestern woman. CV

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