Thursday, December 29, 2011


The Big Food Manual and Survivalist Flourishing Guide recently crossed the 14,000 recipe mark. For readers unfamiliar with this collection, I started it back in the early summer of 2006, before Marica and I left “The Compound” in Cincinnati’s Northside community for “The Bunker” in rural Rileyville, Virginia, where we were on a year’s sabbatical just a few short steps from the Shenandoah River. It began as simply a way to get a bunch of old hand-written recipes I had compiled over the years, stuffed into a blue three-ring notebook, onto my laptop computer. Those recipes came from a variety of sources, including recipes from Gran, Tait, Buncle, and other “old timers’ at the Dallas SPJST Hall (Slavic Benevolent Order of the State of Texas), handed down to me mostly by Mom and Aunt Bee. (Though I did find a number of these recipes hand-written in old cookbooks I acquired from Gran.) I then started working through the many old, mostly locally published cookbooks I had collected over the years, adding favorite recipes I had cooked out of those books for as long as I’ve been cooking. And that’s awhile. I started collecting those books in my college undergraduate days when I learned how to cook seriously, first at the old North Campus Dining Facility at UCLA, back in 1980. (However, I’m sure Mom will remind me that I cooked as a kid, too.) Anyway, the project kept expanding, and eventually it hit me that I was compiling a definitive collection of American home cooking recipes. I started adding more recipes from my collection of old cookbooks, even ones I had never tried personally—I just started intuiting which ones should make good food. And I continued searching earnestly for more old cookbooks.

            Now we’re at the point where it would take a person more than thirty years (and closing in on forty years) if one simply did 1 recipe (and whatever variations are included on its page) per day. 

            Big Food—as we still refer to this collection colloquially, as we have since its beginnings—has clearly become a life’s project for me. Fortunately, preserving American home cooking from the middle parts of the 20th century dovetails  nicely with Marica’s and my libertarian-survivalist-prepper political outlook. 

            There is an entire “Introduction” to Big Food, which gets updated with every 500 new recipes added. That’s the best documentation of the motives behind this collection. It’s as readily available as the collection (see the next paragraph below), so I won’t repeat its contents here.

            Like the food catalogued within it, the Big Food Manual is for sharing. I save it weekly on an external hard drive (along with the continually revised “Introduction”), so all you need to do if you want a full copy of the entire collection at any time is name a place to meet and bring your laptop. You’ll then have the latest version of what seeks to be the greatest collection of mid-20th century American home cooking recipes and guides on Planet Earth—but only until the next day, when I’ll add more recipes from the many old cookbooks lining our bookshelves.

--John (a.k.a. Mr. Big Food)

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