Junior Leagues are fixtures of the Southern social and civic scene, throwing great parties and orchestrating some of the most formidable fund-raising endeavors in the country. For at least 50 years, one of the most effective methods of raising money was through the creation of a cookbook that cataloged and celebrated the food of a community.
Compared to a simple black-and-white, comb-bound paperback from a small-town volunteer fire department, a Junior League cookbook looks more like a bookstore best seller. With fetching hardback covers, tested recipes, edited text, and color photographs, some of these publications are as much at home on a coffee table as they are on a kitchen counter.
Junior League cookbooks, especially the vintage volumes, memorialize a sense of time and place. The best ones enshrine these women and the worlds they lived in. If a cookbook hails from your hometown, it's a part of that community's history. If it has your mother's name in it, it's a family heirloom.
Of course, the recipes are usually fabulous, because what league member would deign to share a bland or boring dish? We combed through iconic Junior League cookbooks and chose five desserts that showcase this year's fresh crop of winter citrus. Like all of the other recipes featured in the pages of this magazine, they had to pass muster in our own Test Kitchen. Not surprisingly, each one earned rave reviews, although we couldn't resist adding a few of our own twists here and there.
A classic Junior League cookbook does plenty of good in ways beyond what we usually consider community service. It fills the gaps in our recollections and renditions of cherished dishes on our family tables, rekindling old culinary flames and reminding us to pass along our treasured food memories.