THE MOTHER BOOKS: (THOSE BATTERED & TATTERED COOKBOOKS THAT WERE YOUR MOTHER’S OR GRANDMOTHER’S)

Mine was the Ida Bailey Allen Service Cookbook that my mother kept in a kitchen drawer. I learned how to make cookies following the directions in this cookbook, which my mother bought for a dollar at Woolworth’s. From these pages I taught myself how to make Hermits, Ice-Box nut cookies, old fashioned raisin cookies and oatmeal cookies. My mother turned me loose in the kitchen when I was nine or ten years old—the only stipulation was that the ingredients for a recipe had to be on hand in my mother’s pantry. NO ONE ever went out and bought ingredients to make something and my mother’s budget of $10.00 a week to feed a family of seven didn’t allow much leeway—but raisins, flour, sugar, baking soda or baking powder, oatmeal, Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa powder—were always on the pantry shelves. (The raisins were often hard as pebbles I think I grew up thinking that’s how raisins were supposed to be). I’d read the recipes in The Cook Book by Ida Bailey Allen until I found something for which we had all the ingredients. Some other recipes, such as salmon patties, I learned from watching my mother make them. I have my mother’s Ida Bailey Allen Service Cook Book but am unable to explain how I acquired, over the years, four more copies of Volume One of The Book, and two copies of Volume Two.

My friend Doreen confided that her mother’s Five Roses Cookbook is the one she treasures. (Five Roses is the brand name for a type of flour sold in Canada.) From Five Roses, Doreen learned how to make cream puffs*, gingerbread, and sponge cake. She adds that she puts a quarter teaspoon of cream of tartar into the whipping cream to keep it stiff. She thinks the nicest cream puffs are filled with whipped cream mixed with vanilla or lemon pudding.
Doreen’s mother’s Five Roses Cook Book is copyrighted 1938 by the Lake of the Woods Milling Company Ltd, Jean Brodi author. Doreen writes, “Marketing is worth nothing now as it is in pieces. Doreen covered it with a homemade cover** in the 70’s but the pages are worn thin, yellow and crumbing away. The Book offers cream fillings for cakes and Pies include Coffee, Caramel, Butterscotch, White Mountain, French Vanilla, Lemon, Rich Lemon Butter, Chocolate Cream and Pineapple Cream, plus others.

Sandy’s cooknote: *My mother used to make cream puffs—I have her recipe (it was in her recipe box) but don’t know where it came from, originally. Possibly from the Service Cook Book? There IS a recipe in the Service Cookbook for Cream Puffs with Orange Cream Filling and elsewhere, a recipe for Cooked Cream filling. Cream puffs, I expect, is a standard recipe you can’t fiddle around with very much. It’s all about the FILLING.

Another memory from the 60s – we used to have a Helm’s Bakery Truck that came around our street in Burbank when we first moved to California. OMG, they had the BEST cream puffs and éclairs! Like the cream puffs and elcairs, Helm’s Bakery is a thing of the past.

In my personal collection of cookbooks there are about half a dozen books that have homemade covers, often of oil cloth, to protect the covers of the books.
I’ve written about the Meta Given cookbook that mysteriously appeared in our household when I was about 12 or 13. Eventually, I made it my own as I did other books I found and confiscated from the family bookcase – “Eight Cousins” and “Rose in Bloom” both by Louisa May Alcott were just two of the other books I claimed for my own. Years later, I learned those books had belonged to my cousin, June. We inherited them when June outgrew them.

**My cousin Renee has the cookbook that belonged to our Grandma Beckman, apparently, it was passed on from Grandma to Aunt Rainey who was the youngest child in the Beckman family.

In 2006, the NY Times published an article titled “Kitchen Classics, in the Eye of the Beholder” which reads in part, “When Joan Hotson turned 65, she says, each of her five daughters began angling to inherit The Book. “They knew it wasn’t going to happen any time soon, but they were quite determined,” Ms. Hotson said. The object of their interest was a long out-of-print cookbook, “Pillsbury’s Best 1000 Recipes: Best of the Bake-Off Collection,” published in 1959. Ms. Hotson received her copy…as a wedding present in 1962. “There are very few recipes in that book I haven’t made, and all my girls make their Christmas cookies from it,” said Ms. Hotson, who lives in Victoria, British Columbia. “The flavors are very distinctive.”

Ms. Hotson said she has trouble finding recipes for baking from scratch. “It seems like they all begin, ‘Take one box white cake mix,’ ” she said. For 10 years, Ms. Hotson haunted secondhand book stores and contemplated a massive photocopying project. Then the Internet saved her: she found five copies at oldcookbooks.com. “That 1959 book is the one people really want,” said Patricia Edwards, who runs the Web site with her husband, Peter Peckham, and stocks thousands of cookbooks in a warehouse in Reno, Nev. “It was the first time the company did a collection, even though the competition began in 1949. I can’t keep it in stock.”

Sandy’s Cooknote: I have a huge collection of Pillsbury Bake-Off Cook Books (including the elusive by highly desirable #1 of the bake off series that I found at a flea market sale, quite accidentally) but only one of the 1959 Best of the Bake-Off Collection with a thousand recipes. It’s understandable why this particular Cook Book has remained so popular. To see it is to love it. Everything is made from scratch, girlfriends!

“New and revised are not always a good thing,” said Bonnie Slotnick, a cookbook dealer in Greenwich Village. “Cooks don’t necessarily want the newfangled or low-fat versions that publishers think they do.” Most often, she says, people are looking for one of the “mother books,” big, popular cookbooks from the first half of the 20th century that were also comprehensive guides to everything from training servants to raising children, such as the Woman’s Home Companion books, the Boston Cooking-School books (predecessors of the Fannie Farmer series), the encyclopedic works of Meta Given and the American Woman’s Cookbook…” I would add to that an old Joy of Cooking Cookbook or one of the Settlement Cookbooks—both of which have been published and republished dozens of times. And, I swear, I must have a dozen of the American Woman cookbooks—I have never tried to find all of them. I’ve started putting them all in one place as they turn up. I’m up to six so far.

My sister in law, Bunny, has a decrepit falling apart Joy of Cooking cookbook that is held together with rubber bands. I had the opportunity to leaf through it during one of my visits to my Brother Jim’s home. And although Joy of Cooking undoubtedly ranks #1 in the Mother Books, it was certainly not the only book of its kind.

Nancy Leson, a food writer for a newspaper in Seattle did a piece about moms’ hand-me-down cookbooks and wrote, “My mother cooked — when she wasn’t too busy working. But unlike me, she was not a cookbook junkie. Instead the shelves in our Philadelphia kitchen, handcrafted by…my handy stepfather, held a single tome wedged between two heart-shaped bottles of Paul Masson: The name of the Mom Cookbook Nancy refers to is “Cooking for Young Homemakers.”

Nancy called her sister to ask about the cookbook. She was told it is kept on a baker’s rack in her sister’s kitchen. Nancy says she didn’t feel the slightest bit slighted that her mother chose to gift that book to her sister and says she deserved it. “But Bubbie’s hand-chopper? That’s another story” says Nancy. (The kind of story I would love to hear. My cousin Diane has my grandmother’s rolling pin—and that’s another story too!)

Sandy’s Cooknote: “Cooking for Young Homemakers” piqued my curiosity as anything like this tends to do. I am quite sure I don’t have it in my cookbook collection, but as I was searching on Google for more information, I believe I found the author of Cooking for Young Homemakers” to be a woman named Ruth Herolzheimer, who wrote a number of cookbooks (some of which I DO have) for the Culinary Arts Institute. I’d have to have a copy of “Cooking for Young Homemakers” to do a comparison. Ruth Berolzheimer also edited The United States Regional Cook Book which was first copyrighted in 1940 by the same publisher, Halcyon House, that published the Browns’ “America Cooks”. ***

Bob’s daughter in law, Angel, shared the following with me about her recipes:
“My Mom wasn’t much of a cook, but my “second” Mom was a wonderful cook. Over the years she’s taught me countless recipes. Whenever she gave me one it was always written on a recipe card. Since then I’ve collected them up and created my own binder full of good old fashioned foods”.

Another Nancy who has been reading my blog, offered the following:

“Inspired by you, I ventured down the (ugh) basement last night to try and find that book, which I did–and it is Lily Wallace’s New American Cook Book, the 1947 edition published by Books, Inc.

[Lily Haxworth Wallace, a “Home Economics Lecturer and Writer and Instructor in the Households Arts Department at The Ballard School, New York City” was the Editor in Chief, “assisted by fifty-four leading Authorities on Domestic Science and the Art of Modern Cooking].

Nancy continues, “I remembered one more recipe my mother made from that book–and it wins the prize for the most stained, “used” page in the book–”Shortcakes”, which was our standard summer dessert with strawberries or peaches. It is not the sponge cake type, but more the biscuit type…Do you have this book?”

Sandy’s Cooknote: Actually—I do have Lily Wallace’s “New American Cook Book”…what I haven’t figured out, yet, is why several different cookbooks of the 1940s are so similar in format.

My new friend, Jean, wrote the following: “I have 6-7 (copies of) Joy of Cooking, including a signed one that was my grandmother’s. Too bad it’s in very bad condition. The main thing I remember cooking from it (and mom cooking from it) was caramel custard–not flan, but custard with the caramel mixed in. Mmmmm. Very comforting and full of calcium and protein. I made it for mom after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer…”

Jean continues, “I have to say that the format of Joy of Cooking recipes is not the most appealing for me. BUT it is a lot better than that of many subsequent books. I actually put back at least one cookbook yesterday because I knew I would find the format offputting…”

Sandy’s Cooknote: I can relate. When I am browsing in a bookstore looking through cookbooks, one of the first things I look at is the format and how big the print is.

It was predicted, in the early years of the Internet, that cookbooks would be killed off, since cooks had free access to millions of recipes that were once confined to magazines, cookbooks, card boxes and libraries. (And what do you do with the recipes once you print a copy and try out the recipe? Are you going to throw it out? Not me! This may explain in part how I ended up with over 50 three ring binders full of recipes).

“The trade in old cookbooks used to be more for collectors,” said Frank Daniels, author of “Collector’s Guide to Cookbooks.

“Now everyone has access to all the book dealers in every town, he says, “and because of that, prices have come way down.” As a result, dealers say, there is a lively new trade in out-of-print cookbooks that is driven not by the meteoric careers of chefs or the research needs of libraries, but mostly by people with an attachment, often irrational and sentimental, to a particular book or recipe. “I get a lot of calls from people who know only that the book they want had a blue cover, or they remember that there was buttermilk in the gingerbread recipe”

Perhaps the number one quest in those searches are the Mom Cookbooks.

And there’s a lot more to it than looking up a recipe on Google – which I do quite often, myself, especially when I am in a hurry and want something fast. But does that deter me from buying cookbooks, all the cookbooks I can find or afford? Not at all. But many of them have a greater sentimental value than others. My sister Becky and I both participated in compiling cookbooks for our PTAs as well as other organizations we belonged to – and finally, our greatest achievement, the Schmidt family cookbook that we titled “Grandma’s Favorite” in honor of our paternal grandmother. Since all of our siblings, children and grandchildren received a copy of “Grandma’s Favorite” we hope it will become the Mother book in all of their homes.

“There is certainly a brisk trade in nostalgia,” said Nach Waxman, owner of the Upper East Side cookbook store Kitchen Arts and Letters, which also operates a book-search service. His most-wanted title is “The Art of Jewish Cooking” by Jennie Grossinger, the matriarch who ran the kitchens at Grossinger’s resort in the Catskills (it closed in the late 1980s). “That’s an example of people who want a cookbook to keep a flame, or a flavor, alive,” he said. “You can’t buy a book today with a recipe for knishes made with chicken fat, or strudel that tastes like the strudel they remember their grandmothers making…”

Nach Waxman’s comment about “The Art of Jewish Cooking” had me scurrying through the house searching for my collection of Jewish cookbooks. Sure enough, I have two (albeit paperback) copies of this very cookbook.

And something else; I’ve heard from readers of my columns on sandychatter who have lost a favorite cookbook and are trying to find it. I try to help them find the book they are looking for—I’ve never charged for anything other than the postage for any of the cookbooks I’ve found

And now—someone surely saw the handwriting on the wall –there are a slew of cookbooks with “MOM” or “GRANDMA” in their titles.

Here are some titles you might want to search for:

RECIPES MOTHER USED TO MAKE, Edna Beilenson, 1952. This is an oldie but a goodie, published by Peter Pauper Press and adorned with a pink and white candy stripe cover. In the introduction, Edna writes “the recipes to be found on the following pages are the recipes for foods our mothers and (how time flies!) our grandmothers use to make. They create the dishes that were responsible for those spicy cinnamon-and-sugar smells that greeted our nostrils when we came running home from school, hungry and tied, with childish thoughts on the well-stocked cookie jar….”

Edna also writes, “These remembered smells of remembered foods will vary, however, with the backgrounds from which we come, and it is for this reason that our recipes have been divided up geographically…”

Edna laments that these recipes are from the “good old days” which for her, one assumes, were the thirties or forties, since her book was published in 1952. And, curiously, near the end of her book is a section for “European Recipes” that I found interesting with its recipes for mock caviar (made with eggplant), a simple chicken liver pate, gazpacho (which hasn’t changed much) and – most specially – a recipe for Hungarian Goulash which I consider to be quite authentic.

Sandy’s Cooknote: “Goulash” gets its name bandied around quite a lot and for many people goulash is synonymous with stew. But a true goulash won’t have a lot of vegetables in it – just a little onion, a tomato, part of a bell pepper – and potatoes. Most important is the beef and paprika for seasoning. I know this because I grew up on Hungarian Goulash cooked in my paternal grandmother’s kitchen.

FROM MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN, Mimi Sheraton, 1979. Mimi is the author of “Visions of Sugar Plums”, one of my very favorite Christmas cookbooks and a book I turn to every year, checking through it to see if there is something in particular that I feel like making. “From My Mother’s Kitchen”, subtitled “Recipes & Reminisces”, Mimi begins, in the Introduction with an exasperated comment from her mother, “Are we going to measure or are we going to cook?” as the two began the first of many joint sessions to prepare this cookbook.

“Like so many old-fashioned, great, natural cooks, writes Mimi, “My mother rarely measured or used recipes, and did so only when trying a completely new dish…”

FROM MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN was actually started by Mimi, decades earlier, when she had been living away from home for a few years and began to miss her mother’s cooking. She started a notebook titled “Mother’s Recipes” and in the table of contents listed over forty favorites that she wanted to be able to reproduce. Mimi also knew how her grandmother’s recipes were lost because they had never been recorded.

Sandy’s Cooknote: This is something I strongly related to. None of MY paternal grandmother’s recipes were ever written down. Now, Aunt Dolly—who married my Uncle Hans when she was a teenager—was the only one of the daughters- in-law who expressed an interest in learning grandma’s recipes. She did it by standing at grandma’s elbow and watching, carefully watching, every step. Consequently, a few of grandma’s recipes survive. But now, today, my Aunt Dolly no longer remembers some of those recipes and the one I have been chasing, like a phantom for so many years – continues to elude me. It was a pumpkin strudel that grandma made in the fall, when pumpkins were in season. It had a peppery taste and I don’t think the pumpkin was cooked beforehand. I think it was thinly sliced. Despite all of my German/Hungarian cookbooks I have yet to find that particular recipe. This story might help some of you to realize how important it is to have written copies of our mothers and grandmothers recipes.

Even though Mimi’s cookbook has a recipe for making strudel dough, the only filling recipes she provides are apple and cheese. Maybe my grandma’s recipe for pumpkin strudel was her own creation?

As for Mimi Sheraton’s cookbook, “From My Mother’s Kitchen”, the author’s Austro-Polish-Rumanian-Jewish roots were those of food lovers and cooks, and her book makes for good reading and great cooking.

MR. FOOD COOKS LIKE MAMA by Art Ginsburg, published 1992. You may know him much better as Mr. Food. Art Ginsburg, aka Mr. Food is a television chef and bestselling author of over 50 cookbooks who emphasizes simple recipes. He is the originator of “quick & easy cooking” who, for the past 30+ years, has paved the way for TV food personalities who have followed.

MEALS LIKE MOM USED TO MAKE, by Karen Brown, published 1993. This is a collection of 50s recipes; some I wasn’t so crazy about the first time around, having grown up in the 40s and 50s. I won’t eat anything—sweet potato or otherwise—that has marshmallows on it and my sons never liked Jello in any way, shape, or form—so I seldom made it. But I have been looking for my recipe for Angel Biscuits and there it is on page 137. I love the 24 hour salad but stopped making it when I realized it contains 2 cups of mayonnaise. Of course now you can buy the light or no fat mayonnaise so you might want to give it a try. That is a good make-ahead salad.

RECIPES MY MOTHER GAVE ME, by Vale Farrar Kelley, 1999, is a slim collection of recipes reflecting the places in which she lived and grew up- beginning with the Naval Air Station in the Philippines, and moving on to Japan, California, Virginia and Texas. The recipes were her mother’s and now they are in a book to become yours, as well.

MOM’S FAVORITE RECIPES, Gooseberry Patch, 2003—is there anyone out there who isn’t familiar with the Gooseberry Patch cookbooks? I can’t imagine. And here’s the thing about Gooseberry Patch: they put out a call for your favorite recipes (in this instance, the recipes of your mother’s that you liked most) – and when they have enough recipes, Vickie & JoAnn put them into a nice spiral bound cookbook. And, if one of you recipes is chosen by Gooseberry Patch to be included in one of their cookbooks – whoohoo! You get a free copy of that cookbook. I think I have about half a dozen or so of the cookbooks that I was honored to receive “free”. (Then, of course, you will want to buy copies for all of you friends and relatives since your recipe has been published, but that’s another story). I love Gooseberry Patch cookbooks.

IN MOTHER’S KITCHEN by Ann Cooper and Lisa Holmes, published 2005. From In Mother’s Kitchen: “Many of us remember learning to cook at our mother’s feet. Recipes, tips and traditions were passed on as children were asked to stir the soup or help roll out the pastry dough during family meal preparation. While Chef Ann Cooper gathered information for her cookbooks, she heard numerous stories from other women chefs about their fond memories of cooking with their mothers and grandmothers. Cooper, who learned to cook from her grandmothers, both first- or second-generation immigrants, became a chef out of her love for food, and giving and nurturing through food. She strongly believes that families need to slow down and take time to eat and prepare food together in order to carry on important sociological and cultural elements, as well as foster good health. She encourages parents to simply bring their kids with them into the kitchen, whether it’s to help with a certain recipe or to prepare an entire meal. The book is a compilation of not only stories such as these, but of wonderful, heirloom recipes from many different cultures and old photographs of young, smiling girls cooking with their moms.

There are chapters on Mothers & Grandmothers, Daughters, Motherlands and even Remedies handed down through generations to heal common ailments…”
MOM’S UNDATED RECIPE BOX, Donna L. Weihofen, R.D., 2005. In the introduction, Donna writes, “Mom’s home cooking was something special. She and the other neighborhood moms used those wonderful recipes that had been passed along from one generation to the next. We have fond memories of simple family suppers, holiday feasts, picnics, potlucks and after-school treats…” Donna’s idea was to take old family favorite recipes and give them a facelift, reducing calories and fat grams without compromising the appearance or the flavor of the recipes. All the recipes in “Mom’s Updated Recipe Box” come with nutritional information per serving.

IN MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN/WRITERS ON LOVE, COOKING AND FAMILY published 2006 various authors (I started re-reading this last night and am thoroughly enjoying it the second time around). Recipes not required but the ones included will make your mouth water and send you off to the kitchen to start mixing and stirring. Not really a cookbook, per se, but really a collection of essays from some of our favorite food writers—Maya Angelou and Dorie Greenspan, the late M.F.K. Fisher, Ruth Reichl, James Villas, Holly Clegg – and others. This is a nice little soft cover book you can tuck into your purse to read while standing in line in a bank or places with long lines, like Sam’s Club & Costco.

Maya Angelou’s Caramel Cake and the story that goes with it? A must! The next best thing to reading cookbooks is reading stories by cookbook authors.
My own mother passed away the day after my birthday, in September, 2000. While she did make a great loaf of bread – and baked 2 huge loaves in roasting pans twice a week when we were all very young—I think it’s ok to note that she really wasn’t what you’d call a great cook. What she WAS good at was stretching a ten dollar weekly allowance for groceries to keep five children and two adults fed. We had a lot of organ meat dinners (such as liver, brains and kidneys) because those were the cheapest cuts and during WW2, weren’t rationed. My sister used to say that none of us really knew what a hamburger should taste like because mom mixed a loaf of bread into a pound of ground beef. My paternal grandmother was the acknowledged cook in the family—but more to the point, none of us ever went hungry (unless you count the number of times Biff got sent to bed without dinner for being late. He loves to tell the story – my sister and I would sneak food to him and he never really WENT hungry).

One of my best memories of my mother and our respective childhoods is that she always baked a cake for whoever was the birthday boy or birthday girl. It’s tradition I have carried on…now to include grandchildren!

Mother’s Day is approaching so I hope, if you have a cookbook that was your mother’s and you cherish it, you will spend a little time thinking about how it happened to be handed down to you.

I may have to get out that Ida Bailey Allen Service cookbook and make some cream puffs for mother’s day….in mom’s memory.

–Happy Cooking and Happy Cookbook Collecting and if you are a mother, then Happy Mother’s Day to you! Sandy

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2 responses to “THE MOTHER BOOKS: (THOSE BATTERED & TATTERED COOKBOOKS THAT WERE YOUR MOTHER’S OR GRANDMOTHER’S)

  1. the cream puffs from the helms truck were the best i have ever eaten. I just can’t seem to find the recipe for them. someone must have this recipe somewhere .

    • You are absolutely right and I think I remember when one of them was only 15 cents. Maybe someone from Helms will read this & share their recipe with us!

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