Community spirit shines in Local Flavor cookbook

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A favorite recipe is something special.

Maybe it’s a dish that’s been passed down through generations. Perhaps it’s one that’s a central part of an important holiday meal. It may simply be the secret to a particularly delicious dessert or cocktail, provided through a tip from a neighbor or friend.

Twenty-five years ago, Beacon Communications first sought to collect its readers’ favorite recipes in a cookbook dubbed “Local Flavor.” Advertising sales representative Janice Torilli, who helped organize that initial publication, says community spirit was at the heart of the effort – and remains so today, as the cookbook returns in this week’s edition of the Warwick Beacon, Cranston Herald and Johnston Sun Rise.

“Everybody knows how to make a grilled cheese or pancakes or something like that. These recipes are meant to be someone’s favorite thing they cook for their family,” she says.

Torilli remembers the bustle and activity of the Beacon’s newsroom in 1994, when the first “Local Flavor” was printed. That environment, she says, made the sharing of stories – and recipes – a regular occurrence.

“It was always so loud, so much noise – so interactive, a lot of conversations,” she says. “Everybody cooks.”

In that initial 1994 printing, the late Alice Stanelun, who was the Beacon’s sales manager at the time, wrote that the response to the call for recipes from readers was “overwhelming.”

“Inside, you’ll find delicious recipes from both well-known and not so well-known Rhode Islanders, each reflecting the unique flavor of our state … We loved your enthusiasm and offer you our sincere thanks for your cooperation,” Stanelun’s introductory note in that year’s cookbook reads.

Torilli says in 2018, the Beacon decided to revive the cookbook, which had been dormant for several years after the publishing of a few additional editions in the 1990s. While the newsroom is quieter now given the amount of business and communication done online or by phone, she says the hope was to rekindle some of the magic from those early days – and to “keep up a tradition of home cooking.”

“The whole reason behind doing the cookbook last year was just to get people more involved … coming into the office, dropping off recipes,” she says.

Some people who had submitted recipes for the cookbook’s initial run returned for the effort. Many, Torilli says, were happy to see “Local Flavor” get a second life.

“Emails that we got were like, ‘This is really good, I’m so happy you’re doing it again,’ and ‘It’s a great idea to have a repeat now, 25 years later,’” she says.

Torilli says it has been particularly rewarding to receive recipes that provide additional reminders of the initial run of “Local Flavor.” Some submissions came in the form of handwritten letters, which she says she still writes to members of her family. Others were outlined on notecards – a practice Torilli says her mother employed for many years.

“It was nice getting personal letters, handwritten recipes,” she says, noting that she retains a collection of such submissions from years past. “To actually have the cards, I thought was pretty cool.”

Torilli has especially fond memories of the late Monica D’Abrosca, who sent recipes to the Beacon starting in the 1970s and was included in the first “Local Flavor” and the 2018 edition.

An entry from the 1994 cookbook reads: “Monica D’Abrosca of Bingham Street didn’t hesitate when we suggested she might work on a salad. Out came the lettuce, cucumber, mushrooms and peppers, and only minutes later as daughter Amy bolted through the kitchen door came the inquiry, ‘what’s for dinner?’”

Some of the recipes included in “Local Flavor” over the years, Torilli says, have been “pretty different.” The names, and dishes, are indeed frequently creative.

The inaugural edition from 1994, for instance, includes Robin Barnicoat’s “Honey Curry Scallops” and Amy Parravano’s “Porcupine Balls” among the appetizers. In 1997, the cookbook included Claire Stadtmueller’s “Love a Goose Pate.”

Among the notecards Torilli keeps is a recipe for “Pink Rabbit,” a macaroni dish submitted by Phyllis Solod. And the 2018 cookbook featured Torilli’s own “Slow Cooked Cowboy Beans” and “Slow Cooked Spinach and Mozzarella Frittata.”

Many of the submissions show how much dedication and care readers put into their cooking, containing deeply detailed instructions on how to prepare a particular dish.

“They took the time to make sure you understood the recipe,” Torilli says.

Advertisers got in on the act, too. In the 1997 cookbook, Lincoln Chafee – then mayor of Warwick – ran a full-page providing his “recipe for good government.” Ingredients included one cup of honesty, one cup of “fair contract settlement,” a teaspoon of humor and a pinch of “proven leadership ability.”

“Combine ingredients and bake in an oven of public scrutiny,” the ad reads. “Add energy, dedication and ethical conduct. Stir in a fair and open government. Serve.”

“Local Flavor” will likely take another break after this year’s publication, but Torilli says the plan is for it to return. Since last year, she says she has seen new enthusiasm for it among some of her younger clients.

For now, she urges readers and others in the community to enjoy what their friends and neighbors have to offer – and to dig into their own recipe books even as they add new dishes.

As Stanelun wrote in the 1994 edition: “We hope that you’ll experiment with what you see inside and this cookbook will be one that you’ll save and use throughout the year.”

You can view the "Local Flavor" cookbook online at the link below.

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