Oh, how I love old recipe clippings
Spattered and tattered
And yellowed with age;
Newspaper clippings and
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
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
-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 still have the tell-tale traces
Of yesteryear’s cooks, bakers, and
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
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!