CHRISTMAS WON’T BE CHRISTMAS

Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

“We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.

The four young faces on which the firelight shone brightened at the cheerful words, but darkened again as Jo said sadly, “We haven’t got Father, and shall not have him for a long time.” She didn’t say “perhaps never,” but each silently added it, thinking of Father far away, where the fighting was. – From Little Women.

It was the first book I ever owned, a copy of “Little Women” given to me by my mother when I was about ten or eleven. I read it over and over again, often enough to be able to recite entire paragraphs from memory. Owning a copy of “Little Women” caused something to explode within my heart. It was never enough, after that, just to read a book although I read library books voraciously. I wanted to OWN those favorite books as well. Perhaps a year or two later, my brother Jim gave me FIVE Nancy Drew books for Christmas. FIVE! What riches! What wealth!

Not surprisingly, you will have to agree, my house today is wall to wall bookcases filled with books throughout most of the house (ok, none in the kitchen or bathrooms) although you can often find a little stack of magazines or catalogues on the back of the toilet. And last year, Bob built a library that takes up half of the garage. I was unpacking books to go onto the shelves as fast as he finished a section. Finally, after two years, the rest of our books were unpacked and placed on shelves.(We moved into this house in November of 2008).  The garage library is primarily for fiction although I have a respectable collection of books – biographies and auto biographies about our first ladies and one entire section is devoted to American presidents. (I think I have more about John Fitzgerald and Jackie Kennedy than any other president. I think this is because he was the first American president – and she the first “First Lady” who really captured my attention. Next high on my list are books about President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan.  We have made many trips to the Reagan Library and Museum in Simi Valley. But I also collect biographies and auto biographies about movie stars and this probably started when I began working at the SAG Health Plan in 1977.

I’ve also collected books – stories, biographies and—yes, even cookbooks—about African Americans (or Black Americans if you want to be more politically correct. I have found so many really wonderful stories written by African Americans. I believe this is an untapped resource of Americana fiction.

And yes, it started with an inexpensive copy of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. (I love Little Women so much that I have every film edition of this wonderful civil war era story. But, I have never figured out what pickled limes were; you may recall that Amy got in trouble at school for having a bag of pickled limes in her desk. The teacher confiscated the bag of pickled limes and threw them all out the school house window. I do a lot of canning  (and yes, I collect  cookbooks about canning, preserving, making jams, jellies and chutneys – but have never come across a recipe for making pickled limes!)

“Little Women” is one of those ageless stories that I enjoy watching during the holiday season – along with “Miracle on 34th Street” and “Elf”, “The Santa Clause” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

I have loved Christmas my entire life; when I was about ten years old I began taking my two younger brothers downtown – in Cincinnati – to do our Christmas shopping at the 5 & 10 cent stores. We did all our shopping in one day, along with visiting the department store Santas to get a peppermint stick – and then happily returned home on the trolley (or buses if they had replaced street cars by then) to surreptitiously slip upstairs to my bedroom and wrap our gifts – with wrapping paper my mother had saved from the year before. We ironed out gift wrap paper and ribbons to look “like new” again.  My two brothers and I have the most precious memories of those trips downtown. If we were able, we’d make another trip downtown to see the life-size nativity on display in Garfield Park.

And I think opening the presents, as wonderful as it was, might have been anti climatic to the trip downtown with my little brothers to buy Christmas presents for everyone in the family, with pennies and nickels we had saved or earned. We didn’t have an allowance and earning a bit of cash was always a challenge. My girlfriend Carol went downtown with us one year and in later years confessed that she was always jealous of us Schmidts, buying all our Christmas presents for about a dollar—total!  Well, there was also the five cent bus fare each way to take into consideration. And sometimes we even shared a grill cheese sandwich at the soda fountain counter in Woolworths.

How did we do it? I have no idea. Our little change purses were something like the loaves and fishes in the bible – there was always JUST enough to get something for everyone in the family – five of us children, our parents and our grandparents.

My love for Christmas rubbed off on Bob, my partner for the past 25 years. He became as enthusiastic as I, putting up trees (yes, plural – one year we had 8 trees up in the house in Arleta) and decorating everything in sight inside and outside of the house, while I baked cookies. One year we made a fantastic gingerbread house.  He was always as excited and pleased as I, when guests would arrive at our house and begin to ooh and ahh over the two trees standing on either side of our fireplace, the lighthouse tree in the dining room and the little kitchen-theme trees in the kitchen.   This will be my first Christmas without Bob to share it with.  Christmas won’t be Christmas without him.

I originally wrote this in November of 2011, two months after Bob passed away from cancer of the esophagus. This year will mark the third Christmas without him.

Sandra Lee Smith

September 7, 2014

 

 

 

CANNING SEASON – MAKING YOUR OWN SAUER KRAUT

There is, I confess, a kind of insanity that takes hold of me whenever I come into possession of any large quantity of fruit or vegetables—or, say, the owner of my favorite little grocery store in Burbank would offer me a couple of flats of ripe tomatoes for next to nothing. My freezer would still overflowing with frozen bags of pureed raspberries, from the last such windfall. It’s apparent, nothing else is going to fit into the freezer until I finish making up batches of jam. One wonderful holiday recipe is a chocolate-raspberry spread that I like to give away during the Christmas season.

Maybe I was a squirrel in a former life. What else can account for stocking up, canning, dehydrating, and freezing far more food than we can possibly consume?

Or, if not a squirrel in a former life, I would like to believe that this is something I inherited from my German/Hungarian paternal grandparents—who would butcher a hog once a year and make up lots of sausages. My grandfather converted one of their garages into a “smoke house” where he had the hams hanging from the rafters. (This isn’t something I remember – but my sister Becky did, and told the story often enough).    

Years ago, we acquired a very large stoneware crock. I believe it originally belonged to my younger sister Susie’s mother-in-law, Vera. It could hold something like over 30 quarts when it was filled. In March, to honor St. Patrick’s day, cabbage can often be bought locally for 10 cents a pound. (I lost this big crock when Bob backed the car into it turning my car around in the driveway).

Our first attempt to make our own sauerkraut turned out ok, although the finished product turned a little dark—undoubtedly from using regular salt instead of canning salt. The following year, some friends who moved to Texas but with whom I shared a love of canning and exchanged recipes, happened to find a close-out sale of canning salt, pickling ingredients and I don’t know what all, at their local Walmart store and bought everything they had. They sent me a big box of these things, and I believe I must have a lifetime supply of canning salt on hand, now.

 There is very little to making your own sauerkraut—what it does take a lot of is elbow grease. You have to shred the cabbage very fine and then for about every 5 pounds of shredded cabbage, mix in about 3 tablespoons of canning salt. Then it gets packed into the sterilized crock. You weigh it down—Bob made a round piece of wood with a handle that just fits inside the crock—but we wrapped the wood up in layers of plastic. On top of that we’d prop 4 or 5 filled 2-liter bottles of soda pop, stick it in a corner of the pantry and let it ferment for six weeks. At the end of six weeks, voila—you have sauerkraut.

 In colder climates, the crock of sauerkraut can be kept in a fruit cellar and eaten as is. But, here in Southern California, the summers get very hot (and we don’t have cellars) so that at this point, the sauerkraut needs to be canned. This means heating the sauerkraut in a big pot, while boiling quart jars in another large pot.

When the sauerkraut is simmering, (185 to 210 degrees), it can be packed into the hot sterilized quart jars, sealed, and then submerged in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes.

We entered our sauerkraut in the Los Angeles county fair in 1990 and won a blue ribbon for it.

People either love sauerkraut or they hate it—there doesn’t seem to be any middle of the road.

All the years I was growing up, my mother made sauerkraut and pork, with mashed potatoes and peas for New Years eve supper, which was served late, probably around midnight. According to William Woys Weaver, the author of SAUERKRAUT YANKEE”, sauerkraut with pork was eaten on New Year’s Day by the Pennsylvania Dutch people, for good luck. I remember one New Year’s Eve, when I was about 15—I was babysitting for neighbors a block away from home. Around midnight, there was a knock on the door; there stood one of my brothers, with a plateful of sauerkraut and pork, mashed potatoes and gravy, sent over by my mother. I cried in the sauerkraut as I ate my good luck supper.

Weaver says that sauerkraut was something one learned to make as a child, that for the Pennsylvania Dutch people, the art of sauerkraut was practically second nature.

He says that Philadelphia writer Eliza Leslie was one of the first to publicize Pennsylvania-German sauerkaut in her cookbook, but that the earliest recipes appeared in newspapers and agriculture journals. Ms. Leslie was a famous cookbook author of the 1800s, including “Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry Cakes and Sweetmeats” by “A Lady of Philadelphia”, which is now available in facsimile edition from Applewood Books.

According to Weaver, “…sauerkraut is so intermeshed with Pennsylvania-German ethnic identity, that it always makes it appearance anytime Pennsylvania German foods are specifically called for…” During the Civil War, it gave birth to the name “Sauerkraut Yankees”.

Weaver tells this following story: “There is a twist of irony in this because history turned the joke around on the South. When Confederate troops captured Chambersburg in the summer of 1863, one of the first things the famished rebels demanded from the inhabitants were barrels of sauerkraut. The Dutch could only smile and shrug their shoulders. No one in his right mind made sauerkraut in the summer…”

 I was enchanted by the discovery of a little recipe booklet called “ONE NATION UNDER SAUERKRAUT”, published by the people of Waynesville, Ohio for their annual Ohio sauerkraut festival. I’ve been to Waynesville—one of my brothers used to live near there, and my sisters and I spent one wonderful summer day visiting the many antique stores in Waynesville.

Ah, but I didn’t know about their sauerkraut festival! The author of “One Nation Under Sauerkraut”, Dennis Dalton, provided some fascinating facts about sauerkraut—that cabbage has been an important food crop to mankind for more than 5,000 years—that at one time it was so highly revered in Egypt that it was worshipped during certain religious rites—that the formula for sauerkraut (an Austrian word meaning sour cabbage) was invented by China’s Emperor Shih Huang-Ti. It was developed as a result of an economic need to stretch the rice diets of coolies constructing China’s Great Wall over 2,200 years ago. That third century sauerkraut little resembled the Teutonic variety of present times. Chinese cooks achieved fermentation by pickling whole cabbage leaves in wine.

 It was sometime during the latter part of the 16th century that someone stumbled onto fermenting cabbage with ordinary salt.

Sauerkraut reached American tables and became a part of the nation’s menu after the Dutch colonized New York.

However, it was the Pennsylvania Dutch who immortalized it in table fare, story and song, a people who have an old saying “He is as Dutch as sauerkraut”.

 We “put up” (canned) 30 quarts of sauerkraut in 2009. I swore this was it; that I was never going to make sauerkraut again. Bob always shrugged and smiled and said “you always say that”. I will say this, neither he nor I have ever had scurvy. **

Bob (who really was my sous chef) passed away in September of 2011. I think I opened the last of the jars of sauerkraut when my penpal Bev & her husband came to visit the winter of 2012—maybe, just maybe I will attempt making sauerkraut again next spring—if I can find someone to help shred the cabbage! A few years ago – maybe in 2010 – we bought a huge crock that has a specially designed lid that keeps the contents “sealed” while it is fermenting.

 This summer has found me canning tomatoes and tomato juice, with the bounty of tomatoes from my son Kelly’s garden. LAST year when we were tired of picking tomatoes, he and I picked all the green cherry tomatoes we could find before he pulled out all the vines to go into the trash. I looked up and found a recipe for pickling cherry tomatoes –

Ok, you can’t be too rich or too thin (or to paraphrase Wallace Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor back in the 1930s) …have too many pint or quart jars waiting to be filled.

 

– Sandra Lee Smith

 

 

KINGS IN THE KITCHEN BY GERTRUDE BOOTH

Published in 1961,  KINGS IN THE KITCHEN was a distinct surprise as I began turning the pages the other day—I could read a different cookbook every day for the next five years and never get caught up, thanks to my penpal in Michigan who keeps me well supplied.

In the dust jacket, Gertrude Booth explains, “the traditional rule of the pot and pan domain is woman. But when something really special is created in the kitchen—the piece de resistance, the chef d’oeuvre of a meal—it’s a man’s job and every woman knows it. Here, collected in one volume by Gertrude Booth are the favorite recipes of more than one hundred and seventy men of distinction…”

She notes that “Affluence has opened the spice boxes of the Indies and the teapot of the Orient. The invasion of conquers, notably gourmets such as Napoleon Bonaparte, left a trail of changed eating habits in every land they visited. And always it has been the man of importance who has been the inspiration or the creator of the dish delectable. Whether he is the head of a royal house or the man in a woman’s life, he is a king in his own right—in his own kitchen—who by pomp or circumstance has glorified the kingdom of the kitchen….”

(Before I continue, let me point out that this book was published in 1961, some time before Women’s lib came along. AND it should be noted that now we have the Food Network and a many female chefs as well as male—so take those comments in consideration with the decade in which Booth’s book was published).

Gertrude Booth collected recipes from men such as the President of the United States (Eisenhower), his cabinet, ambassadors, governors, military officers, heads of industry, writers, artists, television and radio stars, publishers, editors, doctors and “hosts of other famous men from America and abroad…”

Gertrude Booth has spent years selecting and testing these fascinating recipes—and while many of the recipe contributors are names I am no longer familiar with—the recipes themselves are a great collection. Note the publishers, “Not only is this volume an intriguing glimpse of the tastes of successful and distinguished men, it is also complete and comprehensive cook book which includes recipes for everything from hors d’oeuvres to beverages, soups to sauces, fish to pheasant. These are the dishes which are served at the most famous tables in the world—the drinks which are consumed at the gayest cocktail parties and the desserts which are prepared for the most important guests…”

KINGS IN THE KITCHEN is available on Amazon.com with prices started just under $4.00. I am fortunate that my copy is in like-new condition with its dust jacket intact. FYI—I checked for any copies Albris.com might have and unfortunately, they don’t have any at all.

This is a great addition to your cookbook collection.

Review by Sandra Lee Smith

I SAY TO-MAY-TOE, YOU SAY TO-MAH-TOE

OR – (I say tomato, you say Tomah to–let’s call the whole thing off (song lyrics from long ago)

It has been some years since we had a glut of tomatoes (still living in Arleta, I think) where I canned quarts and quarts of whole tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, salsa, tomato puree, and my brother’s recipe for “sketti” sauce.

I haven’t had a good veggie garden for the past five years, being new to the area and having a back yard that was let go for many months and was mostly weeds. We began planting fruit trees a year or two after moving to the Antelope Valley and Kelly has proven that a fantastic veggie garden is do-able here in the dry desert

 My son Kelly has discovered he has a green thumb and has been growing lots of tomatoes, bell peppers, hot chili peppers, and some corn. He brings over plastic tubs of tomatoes and peppers. So far, I have canned 10 quarts of tomato juice, all made from cherry tomatoes that have taken over his garden. I’ve also canned fig jam given to me by a friend’s sister, and 5 pints of salsa.

I love tomatoes and enjoy canning them to have on hand throughout the winter months. Whenever we had a bumper crop of tomatoes, it was a beautiful sight to behold when there were a dozen or more lined up, ripening, on the glass panes of the louver windows in our valley kitchen. This particular window faced west where the bright afternoon sun shined through.  

The tomato is the superstar of the vegetable world (even if it actually is a fruit), the most popular and widely grown plant in our home gardens—and with good reason, when you discover how versatile it is. Here in the USA, more than 100 varieties of tomatoes are grown to suit your every need—whether you want to can tomatoes, use them in sauces and pastes and purees – or eat them raw. There is nothing on earth like walking out to your garden, picking a ripe tomato, brushing it off with your shirtsleeve – and biting into it! The second best way to enjoy a tomato might be to slice them and sprinkle with salt and pepper. One of my favorite recipes is a marinated tomato recipe given to me by an Ohioan childhood friend many years ago when we were visiting relatives in Cincinnati.

Tomatoes are believed to have first been cultivated by the Indians of South America. Most food historians believe that tomatoes were probably first grown in Mexico and Peru (the name is derived from the Aztec xitomate or xtomatle depending on whose translation of Aztec you accept) though the picture is muddied by a 200 A.D. description by the Greek physician, Galen, of an Egyptian fruit which sounds very much like a tomato. However, most food historians concede the tomato’s South American origin.

Tomatoes are believed to have been brought to Europe by way of Mexico, probably by the conquistadors, where the fruit eventually found its way to Italy. The Italians called their early yellow variety of tomato “pomi d’oro”, or “apple of gold”. However, it was regarded by the rest of Europe as an ornamental plant and, perhaps in a distortion of its Italian name, was called “pomme d’amour”, or “love apple”.

Tomatoes were introduced into England in 1596 but were considered to be just ornamental plants. The vines were trained to grow on trellises where their bright colored fruit could be admired, but nobody ate the fruit, which was thought to be poisonous.

Not until the 18th century did the tomato begin to achieve a place in European cuisine, although Elizabethans still thought tomatoes were poisonous. The idea that tomatoes were dangerous is also most likely based on their being listed among the narcotic herbs in the deadly nightshade family by Pierandrea Mattioli, the Italian herbalist, in his herbal book first published in 1544. Mattioli called the tomato the golden apple and associated it with belladonna, henbane and mandrake. 

Early colonists are thought to have brought tomato seeds to Virginia; however, no record of its culture exists before 1781 when Thomas Jefferson mentioned planting a crop. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 19th century that the tomato seems to have made it way to market to become a fairly common ingredient in the Creole cooking of Louisiana. However, until after the Civil war most Americans still believed tomatoes were poisonous. Actually, the leaves and stems are toxic so this is probably where this belief originated. (Curiously, the potato also was once thought to be poisonous. Like the tomato, potatoes were first grown in Europe as ornamental plants – some of the Presbyterian clergy in Scotland maintained that potatoes, since they were not mentioned in the bible, were not safe to eat).

According to the Wise Encyclopedia of Cookery, published in 1949 by Wm. H. Wise & Co (and one of my favorite reference books), the exact origin of the tomato is still in doubt. Various legends say that it comes from Africa, from India, or from China. Some historians say that the tomato was first found in Peru where the Spaniards, searching for Inca treasures, saw it growing in gardens. Somewhere, sometime ago, I remember reading about tomato seeds being found in caves in remote parts of South America.

 If you’ve ever had a compost, you know that tomato seeds are the hardiest of seeds. Our compost, where we lived in Arleta for 19 years, was over 15 years old; Bob dug from the bottom to fertilize our flowers and plants and we were both  constantly surprised by volunteer tomato plants that sprouted up – in the middle of the marigolds, or where ever compost had been spread.

 Got a glut of tomatoes in your garden? To paraphrase Wallace Windsor, the former Duchess of Windsor from the 1930s, you can’t be too rich or too thin…or have too many tomatoes! Here are some recipes to whet your appetite—or fill the pantry shelves.

CANNING TOMATOES

15 lbs tomatoes

boiling water

14 TBSP lemon juice, divided or 3 ½ tsp citric acid, divided

7 tsp canning salt, divided

7 1-quart canning jars and lids, sterilized, kept hot

Dip tomatoes into boiling water until skins split; about 30 to 60 seconds; plunge under cold water and peel. Core; cut into half, if desired. Set aside. Add 2 TBSP lemon juice and 1 tsp of canning salt to each jar; add tomatoes. Cover with hot water leaving ½” headspace. Remove air bubbles; secure lids. Process in a boiling water bath 45 minutes. Set jars on a towel to cool. Check for seals. Makes 7 jars.

 

DRYING TOMATOES

Wash, quarter and blanch for about 5 minutes. Run through a food mill to remove skins and seeds. Strain out the juice through a jelly bag or several layers of cheesecloth. Use a little hand pressure to extract more water, then spread the remaining pulp on glass, cookie sheets or pieces of plastic. Turn the drying pulp frequently until it becomes dry flakes.

I made my dried tomato slices by simply slicing them very thin with a very sharp knife, and spreading them in a single layer on the racks of a dehydrator. I only washed and stemmed the tomatoes; I did not peel or seed them. When they were completely dry, I packed them into quart jars or ground them to a powder using a coffee grinder).

HOME CANNED TOMATO JUICE

20 LARGE RIPE TOMATOES

1 MEDIUM GREEN OR SWEET RED PEPPER, MINCED

2 LARGE ONIONS, MINCED

1 CLOVE GARLIC, CRUSHED (OPTIONAL)

2 STALKS CELERY, DICED

1/3 CUP SUGAR

¼ CUP LEMON JUICE

1 TBSP SALT

Combine tomatoes, green pepper, onions, garlic, celery, sugar, lemon juice and salt in a large heavy pot. Simmer covered, over medium heat, 35-40 minutes, stirring occasionally until tomatoes cook down to juice. Put tomatoes through food mill or fine sieve, forcing out as much juice and solids as possible.

Pour prepared juice into clean, scalded 1-quart jars into which you have added 2 TBSP lemon juice and 1 tsp of canning salt. Put a canning lid (which has been boiled in water and kept warm) and screw on canning rings. Process in boiling water bath 45 minutes. Makes 4 quarts.

 TOMATO BUTTER

2 LBS red tomatoes, peeled and chopped

3 LBS green tomatoes, peeled and chopped

2 lemons, halves and thinly sliced (including peel) seeds removed

3 cups sugar

½ tsp ground cloves

2 TBSP minced fresh ginger root or crystallized ginger

2 TBSP chopped candied orange peel

 In a large kettle, combine all ingredients. Bring to a slow boil and cook over moderate heat until thick, about 45 minutes. Ladle into hot sterilized jars and seal. Makes 3 pints.

 TOMATO SAUCE

 1 oz butter

2 lbs tomatoes, skinned, seeded and finely chopped

¼ – ½ tsp sugar

Salt and pepper

Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over low head. Add tomatoes and stir to mix with the butter. Cover and cook 5 minutes. Uncover and stir in the sugar. Partly cover the pan and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until tomatoes have softened and the sauce is thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Use immediately or cool and then refrigerate or freeze.

 MEXICAN SALSA (CANNED)

 5 POUNDS ripe tomatoes

3 cups chopped onions

1 ¼ cups chopped, seeded chili peppers

1 cup snipped fresh cilantro leaves

1 cup apple cider or apple cider vinegar

2 TBSP minced garlic

1 TBSP canning salt

5 pint jars with lids and rings, sterilized

Dip tomatoes in boiling water for 30-60 seconds. Plunge into ice water and slip off skins. Core and chop tomatoes.

 In a large 6-quart saucepan, combine tomatoes and remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes or to desired thickness, stirring occasionally. Immediately fill hot jars with mixture, leaving ½” headspace. Carefully run a non-metallic utensil down the inside of the jars to release any air bubbles. Wipe jar tops and threads. Place hot lids on jars and screw bands on firmly. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. This makes 5 pints of a medium hot salsa.

BILL’S SKETTI SAUCE (WITHOUT MEAT, FOR CANNING)

 

30-40 lbs of tomatoes

1 cup chopped onion

Minced garlic cloves, about 5 or use garlic salt about 4 tsp

1 cup chopped green (bell) peppers

5 tsp salt

1 TBSP red pepper flakes

¼ cup chopped hot peppers (Bill uses banana peppers)

2 tsp black pepper

¼ cup virgin olive oil

¼ cup brown sugar; dark is best but light brown will work

Little chopped celery is ok, maybe ¼ cup

If spicier is wanted, add another ¼ cup sugar or after it has cooked a few hours, add sugar to taste.

Go through the usual preparation of the tomatoes (He means blanch, peel, and chop them)

Put the tomatoes in a large pot; start with some in the pot at low heat and add all the rest of the stuff to the pot. Keep stirring frequently. Cook until at least half cooked down but Bill says he usually cooks it to about one-third cooked down. Don’t let it burn to the bottom of the pot; sugar will do this if you are not careful. It may take 16 hours or longer to boil down this far at low heat but high heat will burn unless you stir constantly

 (*Sandra’s cooknote- I bet you could cook this down in a large turkey roaster, the kind that is like a giant crockpot – with the lid off so it reduces).

Prep the jars in the usual manner (*this means washing them in hot soapy water and then scalding the jars in boiling water). Bill adds a tablespoon of lemon juice to each of the jars. It won’t affect the taste but helps keep the acid content high enough for canning. Bill uses a 20 quart pot to cook this sauce, and lo and behold (says he) it’s usually full when he starts and then he ends up with about 13 pints of sauce.

This is a lengthy and informal recipe but I have provided it exactly as it was given to me.

Bill’s sketti sauce is also excellent poured over stuffed bell peppers.

**

But, you say, you aren’t interested in CANNING tomatoes and just want to know how to use some of them when your garden produces a glut of tomatoes (along with that glut of zucchini?) -Here are a few recipes you can try:

ABSOLUTE SALSA (FRESH)

4 green onions, chopped (about 3/4 cup)

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

4 ripe plum tomatoes OR  2 regular tomatoes, seeded and chopped (about 1 1/4 cups)

1/4 cup peeled and diced red onion

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

2 TBSP olive oil

1/2 cup chopped ripe olives

Salt & pepper to taste

6 dashes Tabasco (hot sauce) or 1/2 jalapeno pepper, chopped, with seeds

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

 IN A BOWL, combine all ingredients, except basil. Refrigerate until 1 hour before serving. Just before serving, add basil. Serve at room temp. Good with chips, grilled fish or chicken, or as an omelet filling or on deli meat sandwiches.

Makes 2 1/2 cups.

 

EL TORITO SALSA (FRESH)

2 CUPS DICED TOMATOES

½ CUP DICED ONION

1-2 TBSP FINELY DICED JALAPENO PEPPERS

1 TBSP OIL

1 TSP VINEGAR

1 TSP LIME JUICE

½ TSP MEXICAN DRIED LEAF OREGANO

¼ TSP SALT

¼ CUP FINELY CHOPPED CILANTRO

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Check seasoning, add more salt if needed. Serve with tortilla chips. Ole! This is one of my favorite fresh salsa recipes.

 

FRESH TOMATO SAUCE

 6 medium size tomatoes

4 unpeeled cloves or garlic

1 peeled onion, cut in half

Place tomatoes, garlic and onion on a cookie sheet with sides (or jelly roll pan) and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. When cooled, peel   tomatoes and garlic and puree in blender with onions. Simmer in saucepan on stovetop to desired consistency. Cool completely and freeze in plastic storage bags. Sauce may also be canned.

 “MAKE YOUR OWN” SALSA

 1 LB RIPE TOMATOES (2 LARGE) SEEDED AND CHOPPED

½ CUP FINELY CHOPPED GREEN ONIONS

1 TSP MINCED FRESH GARLIC

1-2 TBSP FINELY CHOPPED HOT PEPPER (SUCH AS JALAPENO)

¼ C. CHOPPED FRESH CILANTRO

½ TSP SALT

JUICE FROM 1 LIME

Drain off excess juices from tomatoes; combine with other ingredients. The heat of the salsa depends on the type and amount of hot pepper you choose. Serve with tortilla chips.

PAN GRILLED TOMATO SALSA

3 large meaty tomatoes, cored and cut into thick slices

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 TBSP Sherry vinegar or Balsamic vinegar

Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

 Heat a large skillet, preferably cast iron or non-stick, over medium high heat, for about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, increase the heat to high and cook until lightly charred on one side, 3-5 minutes. Turn and cook the other side, very lightly, about 1 minute. If necessary work in batches to avoid overcrowding the tomatoes. 

Combine the olive oil and vinegar in a large shallow dish and as the tomatoes are done, turn them into the mixture. Season and serve as a side dish or a sauce for grilled or roasted fish or chicken. Salsa can also be refrigerated for a day or two; bring to room temperature before serving. 

One more recipe – this is a simple tomato recipe you can put together an hour before dinner time and it’s always good. My girlfriend Mary, in Cincinnati, gave this recipe to me – back in the 70s.

 MARY’S HERBED TOMATOES

6 LARGE ripe tomatoes, sliced

1 tsp salt

coarse pepper

¼ cup finely chopped chives

¼ cup vinegar

2/3 cup oil

 Sprinkle layers of tomatoes with herbs and spices. Cover with oil and vinegar (mixed) and let marinate an hour or more.

**

People often ask me about my favorite cookbooks. I have three favorite tomato cookbooks.   One is “TOMATOES! 365 Healthy Recipes for Year-Round Enjoyment” by the editors of Garden Way Publishing. This is a nice spiral bound cookbook from Storey Communications, published in 1991. Another favorite is “THE TOMATO FESTIVAL COOKBOOK” by Lawrence Davis-Hollander, also published by Storey Publishing in 2004, and it’s packed with recipes and historical tomato lore. The Third is an older book (1976) “THE TOMATO BOOK” by Yvonne Young Tarr but along with recipes there is a wealth of information on growing and preserving tomatoes.

Happy Cooking!

 Sandy

 

SINGLE TOPIC COOKBOOKS PART 2

If I had done a little more searching through my bookshelves, I would have discovered quite a few more books on subjects already mentioned in Part One—and I think I will have to do one topic entirely on tomatoes; I have been collecting tomato cookbooks for quite some time (and love to can tomatoes and make my own salsa).

I came across FOUR more lemon cookbooks on my shelves. First is a lovely little book called “LEMONS! LEMONS! LEMONS” by Sarah Schulte and LaLitte. Sarah is a full-time artist. Lalitte is a professional calligrapher who is interested in horticulture. Both women live in NYC, enjoy cooking and love lemons.

There are all kinds of recipes using lemons, ranging from Guacamole (which I wouldn’t attempt without having lemons on hand) to a recipe for lemon marmalade, that I think I would like to try.

While I didn’t find “LEMONS! LEMONS! LEMONS” on Amazon.com—I was nonplussed to see how many other kinds of books are available –not just cookbooks but mysteries and (I hate to admit it) lemon cookbooks that I don’t have. Just to be thorough, I checked on Alibris.com and DID find “LEMONS! LEMONS! LEMONS” starting at $4.00.

Another little cookbook – this time shaped like a lemon, is small enough to be overlooked. “TOTALLY LEMON COOKBOOK” by Helene Siegel and Karen Gillingham was published by Celestial Arts in Berkeley, California in 1999. This is a winner – it contains my favorite recipe for Lemon Chicken, Lemon Curd, (which I love making) and Preserved Lemons—which I made one time when I was living in Arleta and we had three lemon trees. There is a recipe for Lemonade Wafers that I think I will have to make soon.

Alibris.com has “TOTALLY LEMON COOKBOOK” for 99 cents. Amazon.com has the book pre-owned starting at $1.49. Do I want to know that the author created another book called “TOTALLY CHEESE COOKBOOK” but the price on that one starts around $20.00, so I won’t be buying that one anytime soon.

Another book on lemons is “LIVELY LEMON RECIPES, for Gourmet and Everyday Dishes”, by Joyce Crumal. This book was published by Howell-North Books in Berkeley, California in 1967. This is a hardcover book with loads of lemon recipes and an in-depth introduction to the history of lemons. I don’t really remember buying “LIVELY LEMON RECIPES” but I think it may have been one of the books I inherited when two of my girlfriends passed away and I was given a lot of their books.

I have one other lemon cookbook from the Country Garden Cookbook series that I believe I received when I was reviewing cookbooks for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange newsletter.

Amazon.com has “LEMONS, A Country Garden Cookbook, by Christopher Idone, and prices start at only one cent for a pre-owned copy. The county garden cookbook series are all the same size, with beautiful illustrations. You really can’t go wrong with any of these lemon cookbooks.

While searching for more one topic cookbooks—and fortunately, all of my fruit and vegetable cookbooks are in the same bookcase—I realized I had more apple cookbooks – and the first one is a small spiral cookbook in the shape of an apple. The title is “THE BIG FAT RED JUICY APPLE COOKBOOK” edited by Judith Bosley and published by Grand Books in Middleton, Michigan. You wont believe how many recipes are in this little book!

Amazon.com has this cookbook for about $5.00 for a new copy and starting at 21 cents for a pre-owned copy.

Favorite Recipes from America’s Orchards is a soft-cover cookbook titled APPLES, APPLES EVERYWHERE by Lee Jackson. On the back cover we read, in part, ‘Outstanding recipes from some of America’s finest orchards, cider mills, and fruit growers are shared in the collection” – the author has collected recipes from various apple places, many which are featured in their restaurants. You will want to try all of these recipes.

APPLES, APPLES EVERYWHERE is on Amazon.com and can be yours, new, for $11.00 or pre-owned starting at one cent. (remember you will pay $3.99 shipping and handling for all pre-owned books that you purchase).

Next is THE APPLE BARN COOKBOOK FROM THE APPLE BARN AND CIDER MILL from Sevierville, Tennessee. This cookbook was published in 1983 and printed by Wimmer Brothers, a famous cookbook publisher—but I noted at the back of the book, order forms. You can write to THE APPLE BARN COOKBOOK at Riverbend Farm, 230 Apple Valley Road, Sevierville, Tenn 37862.

Nevertheless, I checked with Amazon.com and found the same cookbook, a later publication date by Bill Kilpatrick, published in 1998, paperback $4.95, pre-owned starting at one cent.

APPLE CELLAR is a spiral bound cookbook compiled by Ruth Blackett with illustrations by Karen Walker Porter. This has a fairly substantial collection of apple recipes. APPLE CELLAR is featured on Amazon.com, with a price of $7.50 for a new copy—no other copies are listed and it doesn’t provide a picture of the cookbook but since my copy was published in 1981 and so was the one in Amazon, I think it’s a fairly reasonable assumption they are one and the same. There is an apple spice cake featured in the cookbook and someone wrote “good!” alongside it. Since I just finished canning applesauce and the recipe calls for a cup of it, I think I will try this one myself.

Back in the 1970s, Penny, my penpal in Oklahoma, introduced me to Farm Journal cookbooks. We strived to own all of them – they were a cook’s bible. COOKING WITH APPLES by Shirley Munson and Jo Nelson with the Food Editors of Farm Journal produced this small soft cover cookbook which features dessert recipes I haven’t seen elsewhere. At the end of the cookbook a character doll, made by hand by a pioneer mother, is featured. The head of the doll was made with an apple. That’s one I haven’t seen anywhere else.
COOKING WITH APPLES took some deep searching on Amazon.com – I finally found a copy listed at $15.99 for a new copy and $3.32 for a pre-owned one. It was only $2.95 when it was brand new—so you may want to do some more searching depending how much you want a copy.

A larger lovely cookbook titled AN APPLE HARVEST/Recipes and Orchard Lore by Frank Browning & Sharon Silva is a beautiful hardcover cookbook. My copy was published in 1999 by Ten Speed Press and it appears to have been reprinted with a different cover. AN APPLE HARVEST took a bit of searching to find it. Amazon has it for $15.29 for a new copy and pre-owned copies available starting at $3.05.
**
There are several berry cookbooks in my collection. One is shaped like a basket of berries. It was compiled by Judith Bosley and published in 1991 in Livonia, Michigan. The book is divided into four categories—take your pick of strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries or Cranberries. Recipes are mostly easy to do—like Raspberry Cordial—4 ingredients, or Raspberry Liqueur (something I love to make) –another easy to do with 4 ingredients. There is one recipe to a page and with wire spiral binding, it will lay flat on your kitchen counter. I’m in love with Judith’s Blueberry Cream Puff Pie, having made cream puffs not long ago myself.

A VERY BERRY COOKBOOK is not very big in size but it contains 117 recipes. It is available at both Amazon.com and Alibris.com and neither website shows a true depiction of the book, which puzzles me. Amazon.com offers the book for 2.26 new or starting at one cent for pre-owned. Alibris.com offers it for 99c or for $2.26 new. This appears to be part of a “grand cookbook series”—in which the Big Fat Red Juicy Apple Cookbook was featured. Also in the series (but I don’t have any of the other books) is a book about cherries, another about potatoes, another on fish food and one about cheese.

Another berry cookbook is one called BERRY-GOOD RECIPES/Strawberry Patch Cookbook. This appears to be a fund-raising project by Allegan Dollars for Scholars and is a spiral bound cookbook. Strawberries are in season in the high desert where I live, so I am looking forward to trying some different recipes. Generally, I make strawberry jam or strawberry and blueberry jam, my granddaughter’s favorite.

Finally—not to be overlooked—A Country Garden Cookbook titled BERRIES was written by Sharon Kramis with photography by Kathryn Kleinman. The introduction is one of my favorites and there is a color glossary of all the different kinds of berries, which you will surely treasure. I love the recipes but confess I am most partial to recipes for jam, which is a favorite pastime of mine. You will love all the recipes—so, so mouthwatering from beginning to end. And—BERRIES was the first title to pop up when I began a search on Amazon.com. You can own a copy of BERRIES, a Country Garden Cookbook for $1.99 new or starting at one cent for a pre-owned copy. (and while I am on the topic—there are other books in the Country Garden Cookbook series—more about those later!)
**
Amongst the cookbooks in my fruit & vegetable files are a few of which I have just one copy. One of these is the SPHINX RANCH DATE RECIPES, compiled by Rick Heetland and published by Golden West Publishers (A publishing company I am familiar with). Sphinx Ranch Date Recipes by Rick Heetland is available on Amazon.com for $8.95 for a new copy, or starting at one cent for a pre-owned copy.

2. THE PRUNE GOURMET compiled by Donna Rodnitzky, Jogail Wenzel and Ellie Densen was published by Chronicle Books in San Francisco. THE PRUNE GOURMET is available on Amazon.com for $5.35 new, or starting at one cent for a pre-owned copy.

3. Marvelous Maple Masteries Cook Book compiled by the American Maple Museum is a New York State Cookbook and is not listed on Amazon.com or Alibris.com. Marvelous Maple Masteries is listed in the introduction located on Main Street, Croghan, Lewis County, New York. This may truly be one of a kind; I couldn’t find it on Amazon, Alibris, or on Google—but I can’t wait for Christmas baking and candy making! There are several pages of maple candy recipes I want to try!

4. THE VIDALIA SWEET ONION LOVERS COOKBOOK by Bland Farms is a spiral bound cookbook which you can order at 1-800-VIDALIA. This appears to have been compiled from recipes submitted by Vidalia customers all over the USA. Vidalia onions have a very short lifespan in your supermarket, if you don’t already know this—a girlfriend from work and I ordered them by the case directly from Bland Farms for several years, sharing the expense. I’ve learned to peel and finely dice the onions and pack them in 1 or 2-cup zip lock bags to freeze. (I have a Vidalia onion chopper that is absolutely dandy in the kitchen, not just for dicing onions (fine dice or larger) but good for so many other vegetables that are easy to chop, like bell peppers. When bell peppers are in season and a good price, I stock up on those and dice them up to go in zip lock bags, as well. I dice red, green, yellow, and orange bell peppers to freeze and have on hand.

This concludes part 2 of Single Topic Cookbooks – but look for part 3, soon as I get myself in gear and start writing it. (I am busy canning right now, too and have developed “sources” here in the desert. A girlfriend’s sister brought me pears and apples, as well as Asian pears; another friend brought me two little buckets of figs; my son has been bringing tomatoes and other vegetables to me—and I may have another source for tomatoes).

A thought crossed my mind as I was preparing this article to put it on my blog–any time I tell you about a cookbook being available on Amazon.com or Alibris.com –if you want to SEE the cookbook, they are almost always illustrated on the websites. I am incapable of downloading/uploading the covers–but you can see them on Amazon or Alibris.

–Sandra Lee Smith

SINGLE TOPIC COOKBOOKS – Part ONE

There is a particular kind of cookbook I am especially fond of, and that is the single topic cookbook.

Right now I am searching repeatedly for recipes to try from a cookbook titled 500 RECIPES USING ZUCCHINI or A BOOK OF FAVORITE RECIPES; A BOOK OF ZUCCHINI RECIPES – and for a good reason! My youngest son’s garden is producing zucchini and summer squash faster than I can use them. One year when Bob and I had a glut of zucchini in our veggie garden in Arleta, I tried shredding zucchini and freezing it – I won’t do THAT again anytime soon; when I defrosted the zucchini to make some zucchini bread for Christmas that year, I discovered it was totally slimy. (But if anyone out there knows of a good way to freeze shredded zucchini….feel free to write!).

Now, what you CAN do is make zucchini bread and then freeze it, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and foil. But I began reading through my 500 RECIPES USING ZUCCHINI/AKA A BOOK OF FAVORITE RECIPES COMPILED BY THE GARDEN CLUB OF SOUTHINGTON, OHIO and one day made a mock apple pie for a girlfriend I was meeting for lunch the next day—and she is unable to eat apples, due to a medical condition – so the mock apple pie* was a perfect dessert to make for her. There are SO many recipes in 500 RECIPES USING ZUCCHINI—I think it’s impossible to run out of recipes before you run out of zucchini. A new favorite recipe is one for a Hershey’s Chocolate Zucchini cake*; it calls for some buttermilk, which I love to have on hand when I am baking and a recipe calls for buttermilk.

I have been unable to find 500 RECIPES USING ZUCCHINI in Amazon.com, Bing.com or even on Google. However, Amazon.com has a wealth of zucchini cookbooks that you can select. The Zucchini Houdini by Brenda Stanley is one such cookbook. EVERYTHING ZUCCHINI by Katherine Hupp is another. A third title is LIFE’S LITTLE ZUCCHINI by Joan Bestwick.

A BOOK OF FAVORITE RECIPES/A BOOK OF ZUCCHINI RECIPES was compiled by the Garden Club at Southington, Ohio, in 1997.

You may want to try making Mock Apple Pie or Hershey’s Chocolate Zucchini Cake. Selected recipes will be at the end of this blog post.
**
When strawberries are in season—and delicious to eat “as is” or by making an easy strawberry shortcake with whipped cream.
I like to make strawberry jam (and my granddaughter likes my strawberry-blueberry jam) but I have two strawberry cookbooks in my collection. One is the 1973 National Strawberry Festival Cookbook, while the other is a strawberry-shaped cookbook titled A STRAWBERRY COOKBOOK FROM THE STRAWBERRY PATCH by Sharon Kay Alexander, copyrighted 1980. This cookbook has a jumbo collection of strawberry recipes, collected by the author who is known locally as the Strawberry lady.

I was unable to find Sharon Kay Alexander’s strawberry cookbook but was bemused to find another strawberry shaped cookbook on Amazon.com. This one is titled Totally Strawberries Cookbook, published in 1999 by Helene Siegel and Karen Gilling.

I was unable to find an author for the 1973 National Strawberry Festival Cookbook but it appears that “favorite Manistee County area recipes [were] reprinted from the Recipes Corner the Manistee News-Advocate. Manistee County is located in Michigan.

Sharon Kay Alexander knew a good thing when she found it; in 1984 she wrote the ALL AMERICAN APPLE COOKBOOK and it is shaped like an apple. THE ALL AMERICAN APPLE COOKBOOK is jam-packed with recipes; there is even a section for making apple butter, apple chutney and cinnamon apple jelly. (the latter is one of my favorite recipes that I thought I had invented. It reminded me of something I had told a co-worker years ago—there are NO secret recipes and what goes around comes around. (I have an apple tree and just recently finished making 4 quarts—and one pint—of apple sauce. It may not sound like a lot but for one person, it’s plenty).

While I did find ALL AMERICAN APPLE COOKBOOK on Amazon.com, what I found was a 1985 sequel that isn’t apple shaped. Amazon has the 1985 edition for $7.11 (used) or $7.95 (collectible.)

I have two cherry cookbooks in my collection; one is titled CHERRY CREATIONS, THE ULTIMATE CHERRY COOKBOOK BY Dr. Myles H. Bader. CHERRY CREATIONS focuses on lowfat and non-fat recipes that use a lot of tart cherries—which I would love to be able to GET here in the high desert. We get plenty of Sweet Bing cherries—you can even go cherry picking at some of the cherry farms. CHERRY CREATIONS is listed on Amazon, new $16.20 but pre-owned starting at 1 cent—or “like new” for TWO cents. Remember that when you purchase from a private vendor, you will pay $3.99 shipping and handling—so your one cent cookbook can cost you $4.00 but still a bargain.

Another cherry cookbook is titled 600 VERY CHERRY RECIPES, compiled for Elk Rapids Rotary Partners of Elk Rapids, Michigan, by Marjory Veliquette and Julia Pollister Amos, published in 1993. 600 VERY CHERRY RECIPES is a thick spiral bound cookbooks that will keep you reading recipes for a long time. I found two listings for 600 VERY CHERRY RECIPES on Amazon.com; one for $20.00 and another for $22.00.

I love lemon cookbooks—we used to have several lemon trees down in Arleta, including a Myer lemon. THE LEMON LOVERS COOKBOOK by Peg Bailey, while not a very big cookbook, is beautifully illustrated by Laura Seeley and contains some of the recipes we all yearn for but don’t know where to find – lemon oil and lemon vinegar, lemon syrup and lemon chutney, fluffy lemon pudding cake and lemon pound cake….plus many more lemon recipes. Amazon.com has THE LEMON LOVERS COOKBOOK new for $8.99, pre-owned for one cent—listings are good and very good for your one cent.

Similarly is another little book by Brian Glover, titled COOKING WITH LEMONS & LIMES. Photographs by Richard Jung are mouth-watering. Amazon.com has COOKING WITH LEMONS & LIMES new for $5.98 or pre-owned for $1.93.

TO MAKE MOCK APPLE PIE:

1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
Pinch of salt
2 TBSP cornstarch
4 cups zucchini
¼ tsp allspice
¼ tsp cream of tartar
1 unbaked pie shell

Peel & remove seeds from the zucchini. Slice like apples; cover with water and boil 2 minutes. Drain and let cool.

Mix all ingredients together except the pie crust. Gently add zucchini and mix. Pour into the unbaked pie shell and top with Dutch apple topping. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes or until done.

To MAKE DUTCH APPLE TOPPING:

½ CUP SUGAR
½ CUP BUTTER (1 STICK)
½ CUP CHOPPED NUTS (I used pecans)
¾ cup flour

Mix together until crumbly.

TO MAKE HERSHEY’S CHCOLATE ZUCCHINI CAKE:

3 eggs
1 ½ cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup buttermilk or sour milk
2 cups coarsely shredded raw zucchini, drained well
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup chopped nuts
½ cup raisins
Creamy chocolate chip glaze

Preheat oven 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan. In large mixer bowl, beat eggs well. Gradually pour in oil until blended. In a separate bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Add to egg mixture alternately with buttermilk or sour milk. Fold drained shredded zucchini into batter. Stir in nuts and raisins. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 55 to 60 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean when inserted in center. Cool 10 minutes; invert on serving plate. Cool completely. Glaze with creamy chocolate chip glaze. Makes 12 servings.

*to make sour milk, use 2 tsp vinegar plus milk to equal ¾ cup.

To make Creamy Chocolate Chip Glaze:

2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp water
½ cup Hershey’s semi sweet chocolate chips or mini chips
1 TBSP marshmallow crème
1 to 2 tsp hot water

In small saucepan, combine sugar and water. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat; immediately add chocolate chips and stir until melted. Blend in marshmallow crème. Add hot water, ½ tsp at a time until glaze is desired consistency. Makes about ½ cup glaze.

END OF PART ONE – TO BE CONTINUED
–Sandra Lee Smith

READING COOKBOOKS LIKE NOVELS

If you have been collecting cookbooks for any length of time, or gravitate towards any articles or references to cookbooks that you find on the Internet, in the newspaper –or anywhere else—you may have seen the oft-repeated comment from collectors, “I read cookbooks like novels” in a sort of perplexed way, like who does anything like this? The answer is WE ALL DO and our number is legion. I might have made a comment like this myself back in 1965 when I first started collecting cookbooks and really didn’t know where to go about getting started.
There was a magazine for penpals called Women’s Circle (not to be confused with Woman’s Day or Family Circle) – I wrote a letter to Women’s Circle trying to find a little Hungarian cookbook for a friend and as an afterthought, wrote that I wanted to start collecting cookbooks and would buy or trade for them.

I received over 200 responses when my letter was published; I found the Hungarian cookbook published by Culinary Press (ck) and bought one for my friend and one for myself. Then I began buying anything anyone offered me and it was the nucleus of my collection. I also began finding cookbooks in used book stores—I hadn’t been living in California long enough to be familiar with used book stores such as one in West Hollywood that was a treasure trove of cookbooks, many for only $1.00 each. It was there that I acquired a handwritten cookbook that the owner of the book store offered to me for $11.00. Now that is a cookbook I have read from cover to cover many times. I have also written about it on this blog (see Helen’s Cookbook first posted June 16, 2009, along with Helen’s Cookbook the Update and Helen’s Cookbook the Sequel) – now this was a revelation. I have been collecting recipe boxes for years and had discovered filled recipe boxes—recipes collected by someone else, like a kitchen diary) – and I began wondering if there might be more self-written cookbooks like Helen’s. Aside from the very famous hand-written cookbooks such as one created by Martha Washington or Thomas Jefferson and other notables, over the years other handwritten cookbooks have come my way, thanks to friends who know about my addiction to cookbooks such as these.

Each discovery is like traveling down an amazing road and every time you come to a crossroad—it leads to more incredible and fascinating discoveries, all due to starting a collection of cookbooks.

In 1965, I was barely starting a collection. It was a stellar year. I learned how to drive that year, and also acquired an Australian penpal, Eileen, and a Michigan penpal, Betsy, who are still both a part of my life. That was also the year I met Connie, who initially babysat for me—but became a lifelong friend who was also the godmother to my youngest son, Kelly. Her children were as much a part of my life as my own sons. Connie began collecting cookbooks too.
It was right about this time that I became interested in former Presidents and the White House, and Connie and I bought a “lot” of White House, American presidents, sight unseen, from someone for $100.00. We scraped together the money and when the books arrived, divided them between us. (My discovery that cookbooks and the White House/American presidents were connected – came much later and now those books take up several shelves in my bookcases).

So, it wasn’t very long before I was collecting not only cookbooks—but books about the White House kitchens and chefs, books about American Presidents and their families, and books about First Ladies (these take up an entire bookcase).

I’m not sure when I first became aware of an antiquarian bookseller in San Gabriel…she compiled an annual booklet, “200 Years of Cookery” and I bought some books from her—this was another revelation; the booklets were reasonably priced and became my wish books. I remember visiting her once at her home in San Gabriel; I don’t remember the year—or who drove me there. I can’t imagine Jim taking me there—and Bob was familiar with San Gabriel. I still have a 1974 copy of “200 years of Cookery” and only thought, last night, to look up Marian Gore on Google. I learned that she passed away in 2009 at the age of 95. It’s quite possible that I met her, at her home in San Gabriel, with Bob accompanying me. I met him in 1986 and around that time had begun to focus on cookbooks compiled by women’s clubs and churches.

However, I discovered that I was as interested in reading cookbook catalogues as I was in reading the cookbooks themselves. Edward R. Hamilton publishes catalogues of books –including those devoted solely to cookbooks.

I would begin collecting L.A. County Fair cookbooks in the 1980s when Bob and I began entering my jellies, jams, pickled cherries and cantaloupe in the annual fair competition. If your recipes won a first, second, or third prize ribbon, you were invited to submit your recipe for the next fair competition the following year. My curiosity was piqued and I began searching for the L.A. County fair cookbooks published before I began entering it – and I did find them….but I stopped collecting the books when I was no longer able to enter the fair or get to the fair when it was being held at the Pomona Fairgrounds.

But I was still curious – what about cookbooks published by other county fairs? And what about STATE FAIR ANNUAL COOKBOOKS? (To the best of my knowledge, Texas publishes the best State Fair cookbooks…at least they did when I was broadening my search for anything fair related). The glory of fair cookbooks is that they are always reasonably priced. And this, my friends, was one of those crossroads I mentioned earlier.

As for Helen’s cookbook, also mentioned previously—it was through a penpal living in England that I learned who Helen was and something about her life; she and her husband never had any children of their own, which probably explains how her exquisite handwritten cookbook ended up in a bookstore. What charmed me most were the detailed descriptions of her dinner parties, who was invited, how everyone was given a task to perform, and what she served to them—including the recipes.

And it was because of Helen’s cookbook that I began compiling 3-ring binders of recipes…some clipped from magazines, others from other sources—until there are now over 50 of these 3-ring binders stuffed full of recipes. There are twelve binders full of cookie recipes alone. But back in the 1970s I began keeping descriptions of MY own dinner parties, who was invited, what I served and how I prepared the various dishes. I think I kept these dinner party descriptions up until the 1980s when I came to another crossroad.

For years I collected gingerbread house recipes from magazines (all of which ended up in one of my 3-ring binders) until one year Bob and I decided to build our own gingerbread house; the first house we created wasn’t too great but the next one we built was a beauty. When a visiting four-year old great-niece broke off pieces of the chicklet fence, we decided not to re-build and fed it to the birds. Bob was a genius at working on graph paper to copy designs in the magazines to a bigger size. He would make and cut out all the pieces to the gingerbread house. Together we would create gingerbread dough and roll it out to lay the pieces down on the gingerbread dough, cut the pieces out and bake them. It was an enormous undertaking! I’m sorry now that we didn’t attempt to enter THAT into the L.A. County Fair. Well, that’s how I started collecting cookbooks devoted to the topic of gingerbread houses. There were a multitude of other gingerbread creations you could make, not just gingerbread houses. One year we attempted a gingerbread dollhouse that was featured in one of the houses. That was an unusually wet winter and the house sort of collapsed from the dampness. Since then, I buy kits for my grandchildren and me to put together and decorate. And I still like to read the gingerbread house cookbooks!

Do I read cookbooks like a novel? Absolutely. Doesn’t everybody?

–Sandra Lee Smith