Back around 1960 or 1961, I didn’t know very much about cookbooks. Eventually, I acquired my mother’s Ida Bailey Allen Service Cookbook. That cookbook spent decades in a kitchen drawer—I learned how to cook from it—limited to cookie recipes. I don’t know if my mother ever actually used that cookbook, which I think she bought at a Woolworth store in downtown Cincinnati. Some of her cooking knowledge was undoubtedly acquired from both my maternal and paternal grandmothers—my mother made two large loaves of bread twice a week for as far back as I can remember. The bread was baked in turkey roasting pans and home made bread was on the table for all meals. My paternal grandmother’s cookbook was given to me by a cousin who received it when her mother passed away. We discovered a number of familiar recipes in that cookbook.
Some years later, I acquired a Meta Given cookbook that I think was sent to my mother by a book club—she didn’t order it and refused to send it back or ever look through the cookbook which ended up in my parents’ bookcase and I must have acquired that one after getting married in 1958. I DID use the Meta Given cookbook and the pages stained with milk or egg or other ingredients are the cookie recipes. The Meta Given cookbook went with me when I got married.
About a year or two later, my father brought home a Methodist Church cookbook that a coworker at Formica was selling for a dollar each. Dad bought one for mom, one for Becky and one for me. That was a Cincinnati church cookbook and the one I used extensively as I attempted to learn how to cook. Much later, I acquired my mother and sister’s copies of the Methodist Church cookbook. A few years later—in 1965, to be exact—I began to wonder if there were other church cookbooks “out there” and I wrote a request to a women’s magazine (one that specialized in printing letters, mostly from women like myself, married with children). I had no idea what a Pandora’s box I opened with that letter. I wrote that I was interested in collecting cookbooks, especially church or club cookbooks, and would purchase them or exchange for something available in California. I received over 200 letters and over the next few months, answered all of them. Those cookbooks were the nucleus of my budding cookbook collection.
Best of all, though, I acquired some lifetime penpals from that letter. But I digress!!
Back in the early 1960s as my then-husband Jim and I traveled to California—the first time in 1961 with son Michael then a year old. In 1963 when I became pregnant with Steve, I felt I wouldn’t have a successful pregnancy unless I went back to my own ob-gyn, having had a miscarriage in 1960 and another in 1962. A prominent obstetrician I consulted told me he thought it unlikely I could carry another pregnancy to term. So, we gave away whatever we had acquired in a couple years. I flew back to Ohio with Michael. Jim followed a month later by car.
Although I had a successful pregnancy resulting in son Steve’s birth in August of 1963—I knew pretty soon that the return to Ohio was a mistake. For one thing, I worked until 2 weeks before Steve was born (I went back to my old job) – Jim worked briefly, got laid off, and worked on remodeling his mother’s house which he bought (money or having an occupation apparently was not an issue in 1963).
We returned to California in December of 1963 – now with two youngsters – in the dead of winter, by car, an experience I try hard not to remember. We both got jobs at Weber Aircraft in January of 1964—he in the factory, me in the office– and a girlfriend helped us find a great apartment, down the street from Warner Brothers Studio.
At some point in time – I think around in 1959 or 60, I began clipping recipes out of magazines. I had a Woman’s Day Christmas cookie collection from the December 1958 issue of the magazine. I wasn’t sure yet what I wanted to do with the clippings but I thought it would be great to save the cookie recipes that appeared in ladies’ magazines. I bought a 3 ring binder and began to paste, staple or otherwise attach cookie recipes into the binder, which I eventually covered with yellow checkered contact paper. This 3-ring binder kept me satisfied with the holiday cookie recipes from 1958 until 1986.
Somewhere along the way, I began to clip other recipes from women’s magazines and when I had a lot of them, I bought more 3-ring binders. I used 3-ring binders to store articles or poems of mine that had been published, and eventually filled half a dozen or so 3 ring binders with those. But recipes were my primary interest – even though I had also begun collecting cookbooks, primarily club-and-church cookbooks—I was on a quest; I collected cake recipes until I had enough for a 3-ring binder. I collected canning recipes, and when I had too many recipes, I put chutney recipes in its own 3-ring binder, jellies and jams their own 3-ring binder and so on.
In the 1980s I became interested in the L.A. Times S.O.S. columns which appeared once a week in the Thursday newspaper. I saved most, if not all, of them, starting in 1984. I couldn’t figure out a way to file the S.O.S. columns so they are all just filed by year. I kept those going for some years—until the newspaper changed the format and its audience focus… so when the S.O.S. columns no longer appealed to someone like me, I stopped collecting them. The S.O.S. columns fill two 3-ring binders.
Eventually, I began to realize I had created a kind of recipe monster. The 3-ring binders average over 3 lbs per album so Bob created special shelves for them when we still lived in Arleta. When he created the garage library in 2010, we filed the albums on the bottom shelves because of their weight. There are now 43 albums and counting.
But as time went by, I stopped trying to keep up with the albums. I began putting magazine articles, newspaper articles that appealed to me for whatever reason—into boxes—the ones that reams of paper come in. I kept them under a desk. Sometime ago it occurred to me that I had two boxes full of clippings in no apparent order going back about a decade. Whenever I found a section of the newspaper (L.A. Times, Valley Press and now the Antelope Valley Newspaper) that I wanted to keep—into the boxes they went.
Over the past month I began going through the boxes; by now I had graduated to storing the magazine or newspaper recipe articles in those 8 ½ x 11” clear plastic sleeves…and found myself creating another kind of monster – or maybe the monster had a baby…I have made repeated trips to Staples for 3-ring binders or for boxes of the plastic page covers. As I recuperated from a serious illness, I tackled the two boxes containing mostly sections of recipes from magazines (and as I subscribe to a number of cooking magazines, I acquired a lot of magazine sections)—and now have 22 of THESE 3-ring binders. The 3-ring binders have plastic covers into which you can slip something to make the album immediately identifiable – one for cakes, one for soups, another for Thanksgiving recipes, yet another of ice cream recipes that has been filled to overflowing for a long time.
Years ago, Woman’s Day offered booklets in their December issues that could be pulled out of the magazine. For instance, their December, 1972 issue offered a booklet of Holiday Favorites, while 1973 booklet offered Molded Cookies. Their 1974 issue had a changed format, a larger size with recipes for Holiday Goodies.
I am perhaps fondest of the oldest 3-ring binders I have collected with cookie recipes. Not just Woman’s Day offered collections of cookie recipes – McCalls and Good Housekeeping were just two magazines that presented elaborate recipes for the holidays. Good Housekeeping had a gingerbread contest running for decades, with houses that became more and more elaborate with each passing year.
Bob and I created a gingerbread house one year—he made a template on graph paper I baked the gingerbread house pieces and we both worked on putting it together. The roof was small heart-shaped cookies frosted pink and white.
Well, I’m sure you all get the picture…but you know, if your finances are limited, it’s pretty easy to create a cookbook of your own. I wish I could show all of mine to you.
But- there has been a surprising bonus to what I have been finding in the bottom of these boxes that originally contained reams of printing paper—not recipes per se, but sometimes articles from newspapers that are recipe related or sometimes include a recipe or two—one such article is an interesting one written by writer Jenn Harris, about her Chinese grandmother and her grandmother’s subtle but everlasting influence on the family’s holiday meals. This article appeared in the December 22, 2011 issue of the L.A. Times.
Also in the same edition of the L.A. Times is a wonderful article by author Janet Fritch, titled My Mother’s Kitchen Kingdom. I have Fritch’s best-seller novel White Oleander and her second book Paint it Black—so I was already familiar with the name. Her story of her parents buying a rambling old fashioned house in 1961—touches my heart. I wish I could have walked through that house and seen it in person. The time came when Janet’s mother could no longer keep up with the old house and chose to move into a senior residence in Beverly Center. Janet describes her childhood home as having a dining room and a library and closets you could walk into and a million hiding places. The title of the article is My Mother’s Kitchen Kingdom and it reached out to me in many different ways I can’t quite explain—the closest I can come to is identifying that house with the one Bob and I lived in for 19 years in Arleta—a rambling old house that had been added on a number of times and brought us years of happiness.
I think I have found enough inspiring newspaper articles to write a few blog posts—I hope you will enjoy them!