Community or charity cookbooks may seem like unlikely collectables, but they are fascinating glimpses into our past, says Traditional Home magazine.

The deliciousness in these cookbooks is the clear voices and images that immediately come forth as you begin to read.The Civil War is the unlikely mother of community cookbooks. With husbands, fathers and brothers off fighting, women organized "sanitary" fairs to raise money to purchase food and medical supplies.

The first charity cookbook ever documented was "A Poetical Cook-Book," produced by Maria J. Moss in 1864. Her book is dedicated to the sanitary fair held in Philadelphia that year. The early production of these books is believed to have been a Yankee idea, but "The Confederate Receipt Book" of Richmond, Va., 1863 - which offers recipes and housekeeping tips for use in times of war - may have been used to raise relief funds.

Jan Longone, a passionate charity cookbook collector and owner of an antiquarian bookshop in Ann Arbor, Mich., explains that when the war ended, these groups of women were so energized from being in charge and producing essential moneys that they turned their attention to charities, putting together books to benefit every cause imaginable, from aiding the mentally ill to forming temperance unions.

The community cookbook movement spread quickly across the country. By the end of the 1870s, women in more than half of the country's states had produced such books. Women in groups ranging from the Massachusetts' Ladies' Society to the Baptist Women's Group published cookbooks to benefit a range of charities.

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Some books offer only recipes, but others might offer combinations of signed recipes with notes from the authors, a foreword describing the mission of the cookbook and maybe the people who put it together, household management advice, etiquette and practical advice.

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