As you may or may not know, July 29th is our beloved national holiday, Cheese Sacrifice Purchase Day. Every year, Americans from all walks of eagerly wait for the day when they can purchase some cheese, and then sacrifice that cheese.
Ok, maybe not. So what is this holiday anyways?
Besides having a fantastic name, the day also has some interesting historical background. I found a number of sources that all seem to suggest the same origins for the day: That it was a day to celebrate buying cheese for your mousetraps (or, more specifically, to celebrate not having mice in your house after your load your mousetraps). Nowadays, we have other pest control options in addition to mousetraps. I think we can all appreciate having mouse-free houses AND not having to sacrifice any of our beloved cheese in the process. You can learn a little more about the day, and get some ideas for celebrating it here!
Inspired by my new favorite name for a holiday, I went down into the stacks to see what cheesy books (…sorry…) we had to celebrate with. The first book that jumped out at me was The Way to a Man’s Heart: The Settlement Cookbook (18th edition; 1930). I’ve always been intrigued by the title, and the contents of the book are broad enough to cover many of the same household management topics we see in some of the Bentley’s older cookery books (shameless plug: you can learn about these books and many more in our upcoming food history exhibit, Culinary Memory).
Once I researched the book, I also became intrigued by the author. Lizzie Black Kander initially compiled the book in 1901 as a way to raise funds for her work at The Settlement, a social service organization in Milwaukee. Kander was key in founding The Settlement, which worked with Jewish immigrants to the Milwaukee area. The Settlement Cookbook came about when Kander and her colleagues went to the Settlement’s board of directors and asked for $18 to publish recipe booklets to distribute to the women they taught. The board shot it down as an ‘unnecessary expense,’ telling Kander that if she wanted money to print the book she would need to raise it herself.
She found a printer for the book, which includes recipes compiled from a number of sources, and began selling copies to raise enough money to cover printing costs for the booklets. The book was so successful that it was released in dozens of later editions over the next century, and is still considered a classic today. Its success meant the book’s profits could help support The Settlement’s work, and also garnered Kander attention as a philanthropist and devoted lover of food and cooking. You can learn more about Kander and the book from NPR, The Chicago Tribune, as well as The University of Michigan and Michigan State University libraries.
What does this have to do with cheese, you ask? Let me tell you.
Kander didn’t just include cheese in her recipes, she also included recipes for cheese. The cottage cheese recipe we’ve featured here is a great introduction to simple cheesemaking, and is actually pretty similar to the cheese your lovely rare books curator (hi!) makes at home. It’s simple to do, and worth a try, especially if you’ve got someone you want to impress with your cooking skills. After all, what better way to anyone’s heart than through the gift of cheese?