Egg Harbor City became home to a thriving wine industry almost as soon as it was founded in the mid-19th century. Over the next eight decades, more than 100 wineries flourished in the uniquely fertile soil of what became known as "The Wine City."
Then came Prohibition, which led to the shuttering of all but two vineyards. Now, just one winery - the Renault Winery - remains, but the importance of wine to the city's history cannot be overstated. As such, the Egg Harbor City Historical Society has based its second cookbook around the beverage.
"The Wine City Cookbook" was compiled and edited by Historical Society member Roy C. Weiler, an author, and released in August to raise funds and interest in the society. Historical Society librarian Dennis M. Niceler wrote the cookbook's introduction, which covers the history of Egg Harbor City from 1700 through Prohibition.
"People will buy a cookbook just because they collect cookbooks, and if it tells them about the historical society and a little bit about the history of Egg Harbor, that's great," Weiler said.
Weiler, who also compiled the society's well-received Egg Harbor City 150th Anniversary Cookbook eight years ago, said that earlier this year members of the community began asking him if the society had any plans to put out a new cookbook.
As he was in a lull between novels, Weiler agreed to do the project, and put out the call for recipes in April.
"It's been eight years and I thought, we're always looking for support, some income, revenue to support the society," Weiler said. "I thought this was a great time to take a break and do a cookbook, if I'm going to, because once I get really involved with another novel that takes all my time."
Dozens of community members responded to the request, sending in 150 recipes for dishes ranging from Ducklings a L'Orange to Burgundy Sherbet.
Margie Hesse, one of the founding members of the historical society, was one of the biggest contributors to the book. Most of her recipes came from friends, she said, but she's learned to make a few wine-centric dishes of her own in her years of cooking for her family.
"My husband, my father, my son, my grandson - they're all hunters - and I cook their venison and partridge and quail," Hesse said. "I have some recipes like that in there."
Weiler, who said he agreed to do the cookbook based more on his writing abilities than his cooking prowess, nonetheless contributed a few recipes to the cause.
His Naked Peas, he said, are his specialty.
"They're a lot of work, but they're good," Weiler said. "You start out with two pounds of peas, and then you blanch them, you have to go through and gently squeeze each pea so the skin comes off. That's why they're naked peas. Then you saute them in wine and butter."
So far, the cookbook has been a success, and if its predecessor's four printings are any indication, it will continue to be popular through the holidays.
Hesse, who got a copy as soon as it was released, said she's anxiously looking forwarding to cooking the recipes contained inside.
"I've been paging through it, and there's quite a few I'm going to try, I go, 'Boy, that sounds good.'" Hesse said. "It's got sherry, and burgundy. I have to go up to Tomasello's (Winery) and buy all these wines so I can try these."
"The Wine City Cookbook" is available at the Egg Harbor City Historical Society's museum at 533 London Ave. The museum is open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m., and admission is free.
Weiler is also the author of the Egg Harbor City-based novel "White Ivory from the Museum," which is available on Amazon.com and at the Historical Society Museum.
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