My love of recipes started when I was moving into my first apartment, and my Mom gave me a recipe box (my first). It's shiny metal surface was adorned with little painted strawberries. A humble little box to be sure, but oh what wonder it held inside. It was stuffed with dog-eared copies of old family favorites, neatly folded magazine clippings, and pre-printed state fair recipe handouts. My favorites were those that were hand-written by any of the ladies in my family. My Grandmother H's cards were a bit brittle with age, but her careful printed recipes are still easy enough to read .... Other cards sported the old-fashioned cursive of my Great Aunt Mary, my Grandma B or Great Aunt Ree. My Mom's contributions were newer (and more familiar - she'd included all of my childhood favorites). They were each written on bright neon cards. Those recipes on neon became some of the first I attempted as I dealt with a bit of homesickness, and a youthful hunger for anything home-made.
The cook book collection began not long after I received that first recipe box. In the beginning I looked for cookbooks that were like the ones that sit on Mom's kitchen shelf. Many were classics: Betty Crocker, Better Homes & Gardens, Joy of Cooking, and Pillsbury. There were some older beauties that turned out to be a bit harder to find, but with each one.... my obsession grew. I discovered the Betty Crocker "Cooky Book" thanks to my Mother in Law, and when I found out that particular book was one in a series.... I started looking for all of those. Then I got distracted by Church compilation books, most filled with recipes from ladies I've never met, but that are each clearly worth giving a try... there were the pamphlets from the Depression Era that boasted war time recipes and ways to save money. For a while I was side-tracked by cake decorating and found several books on that subject. And then there was Sylvia's Soul Food cookbook, the Fannie Farmer Baking, Watkins, and Hershey. Eventually, I started finding earlier editions of my favorites (I now have several "Joy of Cooking" books) and so on.... It's become an addiction, but one which I have no desire to pursue therapy for.
No matter how many I have (and after 15 plus years of collecting, let's just say I have more than a few), I always enjoy a new addition to my collection. We went antiquing this past weekend in a nearby college town. Dan spotted it first... a 1920 version of "The White House Cookbook". It's pages were fragile and yellowed, but it was in fairly good condition for its age, and priced reasonably. I looked up at Dan, and didn't even need to say anything. One look at my face and he knew. "I think we'll take it," he said.
Later that night, when the baby was sleeping sweetly and Dan was watching a football game on TV, I opened up my new treasure to review its contents more thoroughly. The photographs & paintings of former First Ladies were sharp and clear. Recipes for Squirrel soup and Pigeon pie caught my attention, as did "American Toast" and Gruel. Admittedly, most of these aren't ones I'll try, but I do love learning about the cooking and eating habits of earlier generations. Most of the recipes (nearly all) call for lard, or "a lump of butter about the size of an egg". Instead of temperatures in degrees, they instruct the reader to use an oven that is "quick" or "hot". There is a section dedicated to home remedies, and another to the proper way to butcher livestock. Tucked into the front cover is a neatly written recipe for "Stock Fish" along with a second supporting note from "Dad" which says he remembers this recipe which he knew as "Lute fish" and admits it was not one of his favorites. I can guarantee I'll never prepare this recipe, but I love that it exists... and that someone cared enough to write about it. Those pieces of paper will stay right there for as long as this book is in my possession. It is after all, where they belong.
As an added bonus, stuffed between many of the yellowed pages were old newspaper clippings with titles like "Pumpkin Pie Filling"... "Calvin Coolidge loves Custard!"... "Daffodil Cake" & "Date Bait". That last one was an article about how wonderful dates (the fruit) are and it included several recipes to use them in. Additionally, there were more hand written recipes for "Spice Cake" and "Pickled Herring". These little scraps of paper are almost more fun for me than the book itself. I always consider myself lucky when I come across a book filled with fun little bits like this. I imagine some of the recipes are tried and true, while others might have merely caught the fancy of the former owner. I think of each of these add-ins as gifts from a kindred spirit... a glance into what recipes intrigued THEM.
This "new" book will be a favorite I think. I won't cook directly from it, for fear of damaging it's fragile pages, but I will copy down any recipes that I decide to try. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Of course I'll then probably have to call my Grandmother to see if she knows what temp a "quick" oven is... and then I'll have to track down some lard, and maybe Dan can rustle up some squirrels etc. (Note: Dan is refusing to go squirrel hunting, so I guess that recipe is out.)
Regardless, it will be a fun journey which I will enjoy heartily, and which hopefully will help me to produce some lovely treats for my fellas.