COLLECTING HANDWRITTEN RECIPES

RECIPE CLIPPINGS

Oh, how I love old recipe clippings
Spattered and tattered
And yellowed with age;
Newspaper clippings and
Scribbled receipts,
On the back of an envelope,
Or the edge of a page.

I love all their names,
How they roll off my tongue,
Names just as sweet
As a song being sung.

Granny’s beet relish,
And Maude’s apple pie,
Aunt Becky’s favorite
Caraway rye.

Church-social brownies,
Miz Carr’s piccalilli,
And here’s a corn relish
We got from Aunt Tilly.

Uncle Jim’s homemade chili
Auntie Ann’s apple strudel,
Sister Sue’s one and only
Best noodle kugel.

I hold in my hand
A bit of the past,
And somewhere beyond
I hear someone ask

“May I have this receipt
for this great cherry pie?
My husband just loves it – and
Oh, so do I!”

And gladly she copies
It down for her guest
On a small piece of paper
That comes to rest
Inside of a cookbook
Or shoebox of snippings,
Spattered and tattered
Recipe clippings.

-Sandra Lee Smith

*This was previously published in a recipe newsletter I used to subscribe to, called Fare Share…but it was B.C. (before computers) and I have no idea what year. Maybe the late 1980s)

And one more:

GRANDMA’S RECIPE BOOK

Here is a cookbook, faded and worn,
Some of its pages are dog-eared and torn;
Some of its pages are much-stained and spattered,
It’s covers are frayed and somewhat a bit tattered;
Herein are clippings, some loose and some pasted,
And notes that reflect recipes often tasted,
Here is a kitchen heirloom to show
What life was like … a long time ago.
— Sandra Lee Smith

A writer by the name of Ted Currie, who lives in Canada, wrote an article about collecting handwritten recipes –subtitled “conserving the cookery heritage of our regional homesteaders,” and the first two paragraphs of his article which was published in a newspaper in Canada, read like poetry—In fact, I am going to copy it the way I would if I were writing it as a free-verse poem:

“They were scribbled onto scrap pieces of paper,
penned in attractive script
on the backs of old receipts and invoices,
on cardboard cut from product boxes,
on the reverse sides of photographs,
written onto the margins of newspaper clippings,
and on small blank pages pinned together
on a top corner.
I have even fond these curious cookery relics
Penciled onto cutout newspaper obituaries
And memorial cards
Offered at funerals.

They smell of cinnamon, cloves, sage
And garlic
And still have the tell-tale traces
Of yesteryear’s cooks, bakers, and
Pastry chefs,
In the form of greasy fingerprints
And smudges of cake icing, gravy,
Butter, and some past season’s jam preserves.

They fallout of old cookbooks by the dozens,
And are either attached to companion notes,
Folder in some peculiar way
Or pinned to a variety of pages
In the gnarled old texts,
Unfolding when accidentally
Intruded-upon by some
Modern era voyeur.
What was fascinating about them
For this collector-historian,
Was the fact they all had some
Interesting provenance attached,
That while taking a little sleuth work
To discover,
Gave pretty interesting profiles
Of the kitchens of origin…”

There! Isn’t that poetry?

A copy of the newspaper it was printed in came to me by way of my Canadian penpal, Sharon, who knows of (even if she doesn’t understand it) my passion for old recipe clippings. Sometimes I have found them in books; mostly I have found them in filled recipe boxes that I began collecting about 20 years ago. It wasn’t enough to find recipe boxes – I wanted them filled with the original owner’s collection of recipes, regardless of how they were packed into the boxes – often every which way and untidily, at that.
A few of the boxes are so old that you handle the clippings gingerly, as fragments of paper disintegrate and fall to the floor. I have written about those recipe boxes, which I have referred to as the Kitchen Diaries.

Several friends who know of this peculiar passion of mine have found boxes of just recipe clippings at yard sales and sent them to me, knowing how pleased I will be to go through the clippings one at a time. Last year, my penpal Betsy sent me several boxes of clippings such as these, that she found at an estate sale. Occasionally, I have acquired some of the really old Better Home & Garden’s 3 ring binder/cookbooks in which the owner was encouraged to write in or paste on extra blank pages her own favorite recipes. I have a smaller collection of loose very old handwritten recipes, and a number of handwritten recipe journals. None can compare, however, to the one I have written about on sandychatter about “Helen’s Cookbook” – a manuscript recipe journal that I found in a used book store in Hollywood years ago. It was Helen’s cookbook that awakened me to the possibility of finding other handwritten recipe journals. And then, a penpal in England sent me a small recipe journal she had found—and helped identify my elusive Helen. (I have also written about discovering Helen’s identity on Sandychatter).

Elsewhere in his article, Mr. Currie writes something I discovered for myself quite some time ago: “While I initially dismissed them as of lesser importance than the published cookbooks, I soon realized that these, like old letters and diaries, contained something more than just instructions. They were most definitely part of all our social-cultural pasts in whatever region they represented, whatever culture they were inspired from, and what adaptations were made based on the area of residence, and ingredients that were available….” I am reminded of the vinegar pie I wrote about in sandychatter a while back – it was an all-American creation by cooks aching for the tartness of lemon, when no lemons were available, and so someone created vinegar pie. In the prairie states, far from coastal ports, (and long before anything like lemon concentrate was invented) necessity was the mother of invention, especially in the kitchen. Many “mock” foods owe their creation to the women in the kitchen, craving for something out of reach – no apples? But you wanted apple pie? Someone invented mock apple pie which was made with crackers—more recently with Ritz crackers but the original owes its existence to pioneer times.

Old handwritten recipe journals often attribute the recipe to whoever gave it to you in the first place. I have a couple of very old (and extremely fragile) small notebooks that are filled with handwritten recipes. The name Maranda Farrar and “choice recipes” is on the cover of one. Often, at the top of the page, she wrote the contributor’s name –
Edna B’s Fruit Cake, Grace Ren’s White Mountain Cream Icing, Lura’s Molasses Cake, Mae’s Peanut Butter Cookies and Grace’s Red Devil’s Food cake (Grace must have been quite the cake-baker). I hesitate to handle the little notebooks; bits of paper crumble and fall apart every time I do. But, oh, they are so precious to me! And the handwriting is so beautiful! No one has penmanship like this anymore. Tucked inside one of the small notebooks is a brown piece of paper with “Aunt May’s dandelion wine” written in pencil on one side, and “Aunt May’s pickle” written in pencil on the other side. Actually, many of the recipes in Maranda’s little notebook are written in pencil. I suspect she carried the notebooks with her—to luncheons or teas, perhaps, or church socials – and you wouldn’t be carrying around pen and ink back then before ball point pens were invented and all one had were fountain pens and bottles of India ink…but if you took your little recipe journals with you to these luncheons and teas, you would perhaps have a pencil with you in your handbag. And if, perhaps, you were sampling Lura’s extra fine molasses cake and asked for the recipe, you were prepared to write it down.

So, thanks to Mr. Currie and his wife Suzanne, who are old book collectors and dealers, and Mr. Currie’s newspaper article about “Collecting Handwritten Recipes” I have discovered I am not alone in this curious, perhaps unusual, quest for searching for handwritten recipes written long, long, ago.

He wrote, “We found recipes scribbled onto phone message pads, on the inside covers of vintage magazines, on the covers of paperback novels, on the reserve side of church hand-outs, Christmas song-sheets, inside of old Jello boxes and on company letter-head from a wide variety of businesses” (I have a few recipes written on company letter-head).

Currie also says they are very much in the early stages of research and collection developments and recently launched a website for reference; if this is a topic that fascinates you too, you may want to visit the website at http://muskokavintagerecipes.webs.com. They don’t claim to be authorities on the subject but if this is as fascinating to you as it is to me, you may want to visit the Curries’ website in Canada.

If you have an old recipe in your grandmother’s handwriting – they might not be able to tell you if it has any value, but you might want to frame it or do a little shadow box with the recipe and a few old culinary items. As Currie writes, it seems the right thing to do, conserving these ripped and stained handwritten recipes.

Happy cooking – AND collecting!
Sandy

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    • Hi Vicki, thanks for writing – mind telling me what you are searching for that I DIDN’T write about? I might be able to help – or know someone else who can. – Sandy

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    • thank you for writing. I do also write for a newsletter called Inky Trail News – I think you can get an idea of the type of newsletter it is by googling the title. there are some online features as well as a quarterly magazine. – sls

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  49. Hello! Just stumbled onto your page tonight. I share your passion, and thought I was just old fashioned, that hanging onto boxes and books of old recipes and scribbled notes for them, was silly, and kept feeling like I should copy what I want onto my pc and throw the whole works out. So I am so glad I found your page. I gave our Daughter her Grand Ma’s cookbook, and when we visit, she is always asking me to add recipes for her, and when I start to write in the old cookbook on the blank sheets in it for this reason, she says to me Mom, why dont you just print it out? I always smile, and say no, I enjoy writing them for you, in this old cookbook!

    • Hi, Wanda–thanks for writing! Quite by coincidence, in today’s mail I received a newspaper clipping from my penpal in Michigan, from an article that appeared in the New York times. It’s a fascinating, exciting article by writer Kate Murphy, titled “BETWEEN THE RECIPES, SCRIBBLES SPEAK VOLUMES. We are not alone in our quest for cookbooks filled with scribbled notes. You might try to find the article online; it appeared in the January 30, 2013 NY Times section “Dining”. The author goes into a lot of detail of other chefs and cookbook writers who also have a love of these cookbooks filled with marginal notes. Reading it, I thought of my first “manuscript” cookbook, Helen’s cookbook (I wrote about it several times on my blog) – Helen handwrote most of it but also pasted clippings from magazines and newspapers into her notebook…what I loved first and foremost was that she described parties they had, what food was served, what other guests brought to the table–and it goes back to the 1920s. then I began writing down my party menus too. I hope you never throw any of it a way–and what a treasure for your daughter to have her grandma’s cookbook now! (a cousin gave me OUR maternal grandmother’s cookbook the last time I was back in Cincinnati–I didnt even know that book existed until a few years ago). And you know, you can also get blank recipe books and fill them out – I started with one that a girlfriend gave to me and then….received several more…so I filled them up. The first one was all of my own personal favorite recipes; the second was just cookie recipes. Your daughter will love having these recipes as time goes by. thanks for writing – Sandy

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  51. maybe you will tell me who is really original author of this text? if you i have to say you have got good thoughts

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  53. This will be a fantastic web page, would you be interested in doing an interview regarding just how you designed it? If so e-mail me!

  54. maybe you want to tell me who is really original author of this text? if you are the author i have to say really good one and you got good taste

  55. This is a excellent blog, would you be involved in doing an interview regarding how you created it? If so e-mail me!

    • Dear Yingling – my blog was set up for me (photograph of my aprons, other photographs I sent to her) – by the editor of a senior newsletter that felt I would be able to express myself better on a blog, without being hampered by 800 word limitations. From there it just evolved. After a while I created categories for myself and still later learned how to upload photographs. I do my own photography. (My grandson asks “Grammy, why do you keep taking pictures of FOOD?”) I fell back on the best advice I ever learned – write about what you know about. I know about cookbooks, cookie jars, recipe boxes, and maybe a little about life. And that’s how it was created. This is my fifth year writing this blog. I haven’t run out of things to write about yet! – Sandy

  56. Hi I think this website is wicked place to quality resources, I am going to follow you keep the good posts coming and I’ll keep returning back.

  57. I love your site. I love old cookbooks and receipt books. I am always looking for them at yard sales and resale stores. Unfortunately they are getting rarer and rarer as the years go by.

    • Jackie–when I FIRST started collecting cookbooks–in 1965–I thought all the good ones had been taken. Now all these years later, I probably have between 5 and 10 thousand cookbooks–give or take some. occasionally I box up some to give to one of my nieces who like cookbooks too. The thing is, they are still out there and you just have to persevere in finding them. Just keep searching. But I have to say, I rarely find old cookbooks at yard sales – sometimes at estate sales, yes, but not yard sales. Broaden your search. Good luck–the cookbooks are out there; you just have to keep looking. most sincerely, Sandy

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