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January 17, 2024

Free Library community cookbook shares recipes from River Wards residents

More than 80 dishes, submitted by patrons of six library branches in Northeast Philadelphia, are featured in the book

Books Free Library of Philadelphia
Free Library Cookbook Courtesy Zari Tarzona/Siani Colon for Kensington Voice

Free Library staff pulled together recipes from residents of Kensington, Fairhill and the River Wards for a new cookbook. Above, Philly resident Sandra Brito holds up the finished product from her cookbook submission.

In December, the Free Library released the "Kensington/Fairhill/River Wards Community Cookbook," which includes more than 80 recipes for dishes like peanut butter sandwiches, apple pie and lumpia. Patrons of the Kensington, Lillian Marrero, Fishtown, McPherson Square, Richmond and Ramonita G. de Rodriguez Free Library branches provided the recipes.

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Librarians Kate Goodman, Tuesday Chalmers and Sara Palmer said they started working on the cookbook during the COVID-19 pandemic. They wanted a project that relied on collaborative work and could be done remotely. Cooking seemed like a natural fit, Goodman said, because that was something many people were doing while in lockdown.

Goodman added that the cookbook provided a chance to document a particularly tumultuous point in time.

"We're librarians, so part of our role in the community is to be the memory of the community and an archive of the community," Goodman said. "(This book) is a snapshot of what the community is like right now, and it's a snapshot of what people were actually cooking in a very particular moment of the pandemic, when people were finding a lot of refuge in cooking." 

Librarians began collecting recipes in the summer of 2021 through in-person submissions and a Google form. Some recipes were submitted with specific measurements while others were a bit more free-form — one salsa recipe was submitted with no measurements whatsoever, Goodman said. Librarians translated all recipes into both English and Spanish.


The cookbook also includes a collection of recipes from adults at the Lillian Marrero Library who were translating recipes to help them learn English, as well as a collection from the Norris Square Senior Center that Penn State Extension had compiled but never completed. Children from the Free Library's after-school programs provided some of the cookbook's artwork, Kensington Voice supplied photos and mural artist J.C. Zerbe created the cover.

"I've always thought of cooking as being a way to break down barriers and get people together," Chalmers said. "I mean, who doesn't love to sit at a table and eat good food and have good conversation?"

"It's a snapshot of where we are right now as a community, but also I feel it helps stabilize a community that's facing a lot of challenges," Palmer added. 

Cookbooks can be checked out at the six Free Library locations previously mentioned or purchased at the Kensington, Fishtown, Richmond and Cecil B. Moore libraries. As for the book's cost, a sliding scale suggests $2 to $15, though some people have paid nothing for a book while others paid $100, the librarians said. Proceeds go toward McPherson Square Library, which initially funded the project.

"When I give (the cookbooks) out, I just ask people to cook something out of it and come back and share what you cooked," Goodman said.