My Very first penpal was a distant cousin that I met when my family visited hers in Detroit; I was 9 or 10 at the time. Pat & I became friends and exchanged addresses and corresponded for a while. My next penpal, I believe, was a Vietnamese girl who was attending high school in New York State. During my freshman year, teachers asked if we wanted to exchange addresses with girls attending the NY school. Anne’s family were political refugees–in the mid 50s! and sought sanctuary in the United States. We corresponded until after graduating from high school.

I don’t think I thought a lot about penpals for a few years, while getting married and becoming a mother I married in December of 19 58 and my first son Michael was born in September of 1960. . We moved to California in 1961 and I began corresponding with friends and family in Ohio.

I began subscribing to Women’s Circle in the mid 1960s. Specifically, I think I “discovered” WC in 1965. I think I began finding the magazine on the magazine racks of the supermarket where we shopped. Around that same time, I became interested in collecting cookbooks. Simultaneously, a friend of mine told me about a Culinary Arts Institute cookbook on Hungarian cuisine that she was searching for.

“I bet I know where we can find it!” I told her. I wrote a letter to Women’s Circle, asking for the cookbook, offering to pay cash. As an afterthought, I added that I was interested in buying/exchanging for old cookbooks, particularly club-and-church cookbooks. Little did I suspect what an avalanche of mail would fill my mailbox when my letter was published! I received over 250 letters. We purchased several of the Hungarian cookbooks and I began buying/trading for many other cookbooks which formed the nucleus of my cookbook collection. And I have to tell you something that I think was pretty spectacular—I was never “cheated” or short-changed by anyone. Even more spectacular were the friendships that I formed, as a result of that one letter, which still exist to this day.

One of the first letters I received was from another cookbook collector, a woman who lived in Michigan. Betsy and I—both young mothers at the time (now both grandmothers)—have remained pen-pals for over fifty years, while our children grew up, married, and had children of their own.

The first time I met Betsy and her husband, Jim, they drove from Michigan to Cincinnati, where I was visiting my parents, to pick up me and my children, so that we could spend a week visiting them in Michigan. A few years later, my friends repeated the gesture – driving hundreds of miles to Cincinnati to pick us up and then returning us to my parents a week or so later. On one of those trips, I took my younger sister Susie along with us and we all have fond memories of going blueberry picking at a berry farm. We visited the Kellogg factory and went to some of the flea markets where you could find hundreds of club-and-church cookbooks for as little as ten cents each (remember, this was the 1960s!). On one of those visits, I met Betsy’s British pen-pal, Margaret, who was also visiting. We had such a wonderful time together.

Around this same time, I responded to a letter written to “WOMEN’S CIRCLE” by an Australian woman (whose name I no longer can recall). She received such a flood of letters from the USA that she took them to her tennis club, spread them out and said “If anyone would like an American pen-friend, here you are!” A young woman named Eileen—who was, like myself, married to a man named Jim, and—like me—also had a son named Steven—chose my letter. We’ve been corresponding ever since. In 1980, when we were living in Florida, we met Eileen and Jim for the first time and from the time they got off the plane and walked up to us, it was just like greeting an old friend or relative. (We liked—and trusted—them so much that we lent them our camper to drive around the USA). When they reached Los Angeles, they contacted, and met, friends of ours who lived in the San Fernando Valley. About a year later, our friends from California were visiting us, when the best friends of my Aussie friends’ (who lived in London) contacted us in Miami and paid us a visit. The following year, when my California friends visited London, they paid a return visit to their new London acquaintances.

(I hope you have followed all of this). I think during those decades when penpals became fast and lasting friends with one another it was sort of like belonging to a particularly friendly club, whether you MET in person or not.

Another young woman who wrote to me (around 1974, we think) was a housewife/mother who lives near Salem, Oregon. She wrote in response to a letter that I had written to Tower Press, noting that we shared the same birthday. In 1978, my husband and children and I drove to Oregon in our camper, where we met my pen-pal and her family. I’ve lost count of the number of times they have visited us in California. And yes, we’re still penpals.

Another pen-pal acquired in the 1960s was my friend Penny, who lives in Oklahoma. We first visited Penny and her husband Charles and their three sons in 1971, on our way to Cincinnati for a summer vacation. We spent a night at Penny’s and were sent on our way the next morning with a bagful of her special chocolate chip cookies. What I remember most about that visit was my father’s reaction when we arrived in Cincinnati. He kept asking, “How do you know these people in Oklahoma?” (The concept of pen-pals was a foreign one to both my parents. I think they sometimes wondered what planet their middle daughter was from!)

Two other pen-pals were acquired when we moved to Florida. Lonesome and homesick, I wrote yet another letter to Women’s Circle, and mentioned my love of Christmas (and preparing for it all year long). One of these was a woman in Louisiana and the other was an elderly widowed lady who lived in my home state of Ohio. Years later, I think both ladies passed away and had no one to notify me.

Before everyone owned a computer and Internet services flooded the market – we had Prodigy. The concept of Prodigy, at that time, was to offer bulletin boards to which you could write, asking for friends, recipes, whatever. It was through Prodigy that I became acquainted with my friend Pat and her husband Stan. We met for the first time when Bob & I went to the L.A. County Fair one year. Pat & Stan came to visit us at our motel in Pomona; they lived in nearby Covina. Eventually, Prodigy would be overcome by AOL, Earthlink, Juno—and the dozens of other Internet services which have changed our lives so drastically. I think the one greatest thing about the Internet is that it has brought so many of our family members and friends back together again.

I don’t know when I acquired a penpal in Ithica, New York—a girlfriend named Lisa, who, at this time, still doesn’t have a computer and writes all handwritten letters to me. (sometimes I respond in pen and ink and sometimes I type letters).

In 2006, I acquired two Canadian penpal girlfriends—ten years later, our friendships are going strong, whether by handwritten letters, emails—or visits in person. One thing these two friends and I have done is provide names and phone numbers of family members—just in case one of us falls out of contact for whatever reason. These two friends are as near and dear to me as sisters but none of us are spring chickens anymore.

You would be surprised to know that writing letters is NOT a forgotten art—there are many of us alive and well and a handwritten letter is such a welcome sight in our mail boxes.

Sincerely Yours,

Sandra Lee Smith



I love thee made with walnuts
Or a cup of chocolate chips,
I love thee made with chocolate syrup
Or those toffee bits;
I love thee with a glass of milk
Or a cup of tea,
I love thee when you’re hot or cold;
It’s all agrees with me;
Brownies that are cake-like or
Brownies fudgy, dark and dense,
Flavored with vanilla too,
Makes a lot of sense;
Nobody knows from whence you came,
Or who was your creator
You’ve been around a hundred years,
And just keep getting better;
You’ve changed a lot since way back when
Though some parts are the same
But since you were invented,
Baking hasn’t been the same!
— Sandra Lee Smith

Brownies…I’ve been making them since I was about 10 years old. Who doesn’t love brownies?

Personally, I like my brownies best loaded with ingredients – chopped nuts, chocolate chips, some chopped up Hershey’s miniatures if I am out of chocolate chips, some dried cherries – I love it all. (If I am making brownies for my sons, I have to leave out the chopped nuts. They all LIKE nuts but not in their food. Go figure – they didn’t get that from me). I made a great discovery not long ago; I keep a candy jar filled with Hershey miniatures but the little Mr. Goodbars are always the last to get eaten – so one day when I was out of chocolate chips, I chopped up about a dozen little Mr.Goodbars and tossed them into the brownie batter. Oh, yum! For special occasions, my brownies are topped off with a dark chocolate glaze .

I have been working on my recipe file collection while watching the Olympic Coverage in Vancouver this month—if you clip recipes, chances are you stick them into a junk drawer and then forget about them. Well, I don’t stick the clippings into a drawer – but I collect them in a box, one of those fairly large boxes that reams of computer paper come in. The box is overflowing; when the Olympics roll around so I take it out, stock up on 3×5” or 4×6” file cards and buy a lot of Elmer’s glue—and start pasting the recipes onto cards. One of the fringe benefits of doing this – aside from watching all the Olympic events – is reading through recipes and setting aside interesting ones to try and maybe write about as well. I get a lot of inspiration this way. I knew I didn’t have enough recipe boxes for all the newly pasted cards so today we went to Michael’s and I bought 3 of those boxes designed to hold 4×6” photographs. They’re just the right size for 4×6” recipe cards too! (And the boxes were on sale, 3 for $5.00 – whoohoo!)

You may know that I collect recipe boxes – and love finding a “filled” recipe box (one filled with the previous owner’s recipe collection) but I don’t like to change anything about those collections, even if they have space to hold more recipe cards. I think I will have to go back on Ebay and search for some more small recipe boxes—meantime, I will be busy as long as the Olympics are on, pasting clippings onto cards.

So, today I have been setting aside brownie recipes even though I think my fudgy-wudgy brownie recipe, previously posted on my Blog, is about as good a brownie as you can make. But you may not care for a brownie that is more like candy than cake.

One of the things I love about brownies is that the ingredients are all pretty basic, generally what you would already have in your kitchen cupboard. But as much as we love our delicious brownies, the history of brownies is somewhat obscure. And although they are baked in a cake pan, we think of the brownie as a bar cookie. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of recipes for brownies—just going through some recipe cards this afternoon I found about 40 brownie recipe cards. This doesn’t include all the brownie recipes in my cookie cookbooks. Just for the heck of it, I checked some of my earliest cookbooks—one of the first I owned was my mother’s copy of Meta Given’s Modern Family Cookbook first published in 1942, and as a wedding present I received a copy of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook. Both provide basic Brownie recipes that are fairly similar. Also in my possession is one of the very FIRST Betty Crocker Picture Cookbooks published in 1950. This is in slipcase and was one of a limited edition of the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbooks presented to General Mills Employees. The father of a friend of mine worked at General Mills and received the cookbook, as did other employees. The point I want to make is that the brownie recipe in the 1950 edition is the same as the one published in a ring binder a decade later. **

There are a number of stories explaining the history of brownies–Extensive information about brownies can be found in my favorite cookbook author Jean Anderson’s 1997 “The American Century Cookbook”, and a little blurb of information is in John Mariani’s “ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN FOOD & DRINK”. What is particularly intriguing is a paragraph in James Trager’s FOOD CHRONOLOGY which provides a timeline for food going back to prehistoric times. Trager’s comment on Brownies can be found on page 354, under the year 1897. He writes “The first known published recipe for brownies appears in the Sears, Roebuck catalogue. Probably created when a careless cook failed to add baking power to a chocolate-cake batter; the dense, fudgy squares have been made for some time by housewives who received the recipe by word of mouth…”

But then a brownie recipe was published in the 1906 edition of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, edited by Fannie Merritt Farmer. This recipe is not as rich and chocolaty as the brownie we know today, using two squares of melted Baker’s unsweetened chocolate squares. No one knows if Fanny Farmer obtained the recipe from another source and food historians will probably continue to debate the issue ad nauseum. As for Fannie Farmer! That’s another story I have been planning to share with you! Look for it in an upcoming post on my blog! She was a most interesting woman.

Jean Anderson refers to Lowney’s Cook Book, another cookbook in my collection, written by Maria Willet Howard and published by the Walter M. Lowney Company of Boston in 1907. Ms. Howard was a protégé of Ms. Farmer and added an extra egg and an extra square of chocolate to the Boston Cooking-School recipe, creating a richer, more chocolaty brownie. For reasons only known to Ms. Howard, she called her recipe Bangor Brownies. Anderson also notes that Betty Crocker’s Baking Classics, published in 1979, credits Bangor Brownies as the original chocolate brownie—in any case, Lowney’s brownie recipe was richer and perhaps tastier. You can decide for yourself –

To make Bangor Brownies, you will need:

¼ cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
¼ tsp salt
3 squares unsweetened chocolate
½ to ¾ cup flour
1 cup nut meats

Put all ingredients in a bowl and beat until well mixed. Spread evenly in a greased baking pan. Bake and cut in strips.

To make Lowney’s Brownies, you will need

½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 squares Lowney’s premium chocolate (use 2 squares of any unsweetened chocolate. I usually have a box of Baker’s unsweetened chocolate squares on my pantry shelf)
2 eggs
½ cup nutmeats
½ cup flour
¼ tsp salt

Cream butter; add remaining ingredients; spread on buttered sheets and bake 10 to 15 minutes. Cut in squares as soon as taken from the oven*.

*Sandy’s Cooknote: The above is typed as originally directed; most brownie recipes today suggest you let the pan cool completely before cutting the brownies into bars.
Jean Anderson also notes that in 1916, Maria Parloa, one of the founders of the Boston Cooking School, developed a number of recipes for Walter Baker & Company (of chocolate fame), with all the ingredients worked out by Fannie Farmer in level measurements* to meet the needs of the demands of the time;. (*Fannie Farmer is credited with being the originator of level measurements. Prior to her creating exact measurements, such as 3 teaspoons equal one tablespoon and 8 ounces equals one cup) – early cookbooks might call for “butter the size of a walnut” or “a tea cup” of flour. Before Fannie Farmer, measurements were terribly imprecise).

In any case, brownies became enormously popular—possibly because they were so easy to make with ingredients commonly found on any pantry shelf, and now we have brownies to suit everybody’s palate.

So, here are some of my favorite Brownie recipes. This first one is a recipe I have been making ever since my sons were little boys.


To make saucepan brownies, you will need:

4 ounces (4 squares) unsweetened chocolate
1 cup butter or margarine (but don’t use a soft spread)
2 cups sugar
3 eggs, beaten
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup all-purpose flour

Grease a 9” square pan and dust with flour. Set aside. Combine chocolate and butter in a saucepan and melt over low heat. Remove from heat, add sugar, eggs and vanilla and mix well. Stir in walnuts. Gradually add flour, mixing well. Pour into prepared pan and bake in pre heated 350 degree oven about 50 minutes. Cool thoroughly in pan on wire rack before cutting into 16 squares. Store, covered, in a cool place.

This next recipe has been in my files for so many years, I no longer remember where I found it. One bone of contention – her name is misspelled in the original printed recipe. MOST people misspelled her name. It was KATHARINE with an “A” not an “E”. The recipe is great.


To make Katharine Hepburn’s brownies, you will need:

2 squares unsweetened chocolate
¼ lb sweet butter*
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
½ tsp vanilla
¼ cup flour
¼ tsp salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
Melt chocolate and butter in a heavy saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Add
Eggs and vanilla and beat like mad. Stir in flour, salt and walnuts. Mix well. Pour into a buttered 8×8” pan and bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool and then cut into 1 ½” squares. NOTE: Because the recipe calls for only ¼ cup flour rather than ½ or ¾ cup most brownie recipes call for, these brownies have a wonderful pudding-like texture.

*Sandy’s Cooknote: ¼ pound = 1 stick of butter. I assume sweet butter means unsalted. Also, Hepburn’s brownies are similar in preparation to saucepan brownies which translates into less cleanup in the kitchen.

Baker’s Chocolate One-Bowl Brownie Recipe, prepped in the microwave, only requires a bowl and a baking pan – and something to stir with. Another easy recipe. To make


4 squares Baker’s unsweetened chocolate
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) margarine
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (optional)

Microwave chocolate and margarine in a large microwavable bowl on HIGH 2 minutes or until margarine is melted. Stir until chocolate is melted. Stir in sugar. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Stir in flour and nuts. Spread in greased 13×9” pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes (DO NOT OVERBAKE). Cool. Makes 24.

*Rangetop: Stirring constantly, melt chocolate and margarine in a 3 quart saucepan over very low heat. To make CAKELIKE brownies, stir in ½ cup milk with the eggs and vanilla. Use 1 ½ cups flour.

The following cookie recipe is my friend Mary Jaynne’s signature dessert dish, often requested by friends and family. WE request it when there is a cookie exchange.

To make MJs Meltaway Brownies, you will need:

1 package brownie mix
½ cup each coconut and walnuts

Prepare brownies according to package directions, adding coconut and walnuts. Bake and cool thoroughly. To make 1st topping you will need:

3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup margarine or butter, softened
1 ½ tsp vanilla
2 TBSP milk

Mix together powdered sugar, margarine or butter, and vanilla. Add milk a little at a time until spreading consistency. Frost brownies and refrigerate until firm.

To make 2nd topping you will need

2 squares unsweetened chocolate
2 TBSP margarine

Heat chocolate and margarine to melt. Pour over frosted brownies and spread evenly. Refrigerate until cool and firm.


To make peanut butter brownies you will need:

¾ cup shortening
¾ cup peanut butter
2 ½ cups sugar
5 eggs
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
1 ½ cups semisweet chocolate chips*
¾ cup chopped peanuts

In mixing bowl, cream shortening and peanut butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; stir into creamed mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips and peanuts. Spread into a greased 15x10x1” baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Makes about 3 dozen.

*Sandy’s cooknote: For a more intense peanut butter taste, try substituting peanut butter chips for the semisweet chocolate chips—or use half and half, ¾ cup of peanut butter chips, ¾ cup of chocolate chips.

To make Hershey’s Syrup Snacking Brownies, you will need:

½ cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup Hershey’s syrup
4 eggs
1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
1 cup Hershey’s semi-sweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 13x9x2” baking pan. Beat butter and eggs in large bowl; add chocolate syrup, eggs and flour; beat well. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 30-35 minute o until brownies begin to pull away from sides of pan. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars. Makes about 36 brownies.

To make BROWNIE MACAROONIES you will need:

2 cups sugar
1 cup shortening
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup cocoa

1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
8 ounce package (2 2/3 cups) coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 15×10” jelly roll pan. Cream sugar and shortening until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs, one at a time beating well after each addition. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. Add flour and cocoa to sugar mixture and mix well. Spread in prepared pan.

In a small bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk and coconut. Spread over batter, spreading evenly. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes or until coconut topping is lightly browned. Makes 48 bars.

Philly Marble Brownies also starts out with a box of brownie mix but dresses it up for special occasions.

To make Philly Marble Brownies, you will need:

1 pkg (21 ½ oz) brownie mix
1 pkg Philadelphia Cream Cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
½ tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Prepare brownie mix as directed on package. Spread batter in greased 13×9” pan. Mix cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until well blended. Blend in egg. Pour over brownie batter; cut through batter with knife several times for marble effect. Sprinkle with chips. Bake at 350 degrees 35-40 minutes or until cream cheese mixture is lightly browned. Cool n pan on wire rack. Cut into squares. Makes 2 dozen.

There is one more brownie recipe I want to share with you—and I admit, I haven’t tried making these yet, but I WILL very soon. I found this while working on my recipe collection and was intrigued by the addition of a particular ingredient – PEPPER!
To make Black Pepper Brownies, you will need:

¾ cup butter or margarine*, softened
1 ¼ cups packed brown sugar
1 tsp EACH: instant coffee, black pepper, and vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
3 eggs
4 squares (1 oz each) unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
¾ cup flour
1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped coarse

In large bowl, cream butter. Add sugar, coffee, pepper, vanilla and salt; beat until well blended, scraping bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each only until incorporated. Slowly beat in chocolate, then flour, scraping bowl and beating only until blended. Stir in nuts. Turn into greased foil-lined 9” square pan; smooth top. Bake in lower third of preheated 375 degree oven 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out only barely moist. Remove from oven; cool in pan 15 minutes; remove from pan. Peel off foil; cool completely on rack. Chill slightly before cutting into 32 small brownies or 16 cake squares.

*Sandy’s Cooknote: I almost always bake with real butter. If you are using margarine always make sure it is a solid stick good for baking. The soft spreads won’t work and I am telling you this from personal experience. Also want to mention, the previous recipe is the only one that requires using a foil-lined pan but I always make my brownies in foil lined pans. It’s so much easier to remove them from the pan and then cut into nice tidy squares.

Happy Cooking!

*this was previously posted on my blog–I accidentally came across the recipe today and thought it would make good reading in 2016!


You know, I am constantly trying new or different chocolate chip cookies and I have read about my quest on my blog. Not long ago I found the following recipe & decided IT is the best yet.

I have gotten in the habit of putting all the dry ingredients together—I line up the flour and other dry ingredients and put them through the sifter, then set it aside.(and I put away those ingredients so that I know I am finished with them. You may say well, duh, who doesn’t do that but I am well into my 70s and it’s a reminder for me.)

I have the room temperature butter and eggs set aside with the two kinds of sugar and the 2 teaspoons of vanilla. The chocolate chips and, if I am adding them– finely chopped walnuts or pecans are set aside to go in last. I am now ready to prepare the cookie dough.

To make these cookies you will need the following ingredients:

2¾ cups of flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder ( yes, both baking soda and baking powder)
1 tsp cinnamon (this wasn’t in the original recipe; I added it).

Put all of these ingredients in your sifter in the order given so you will have a good distribution of the ingredients. Sift and set aside.

You will need 2 ½ sticks of unsweetened butter, softened to room temperature
1 ¾ cups dark brown sugar*
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
2 tsp real vanilla extract (I have learned over time to use good authentic vanilla extract)

*if you can’t find dark brown sugar, use the regular golden light brown sugar. for some reason I was unable to find dark brown for several months. When I did find it, I loaded up the grocery cart.

Beat the butter until it is well blended, then begin adding the dark brown sugar, then the granulated sugar. Next add the eggs, one at a time until blended. Lastly, add the vanilla. Now you begin adding the flour, usually about a cup at a time, until all the flour has been incorporated. Now remove the bowl from your electric mixer.

You will need to hand mix in the final ingredients.

When all the flour is mixed into the wet ingredients, stir in the chocolate chips. OK, the recipe says 2 cups of chips. I add a lot of chocolate chips (the good semi-sweet chocolate chips. I probably double the amount of chips to the recipe. If I am adding chopped pecans, I generally bake about half of the chocolate chip dough and then add the chopped pecans, because my family loves just plain chocolate chip cookies & they aren’t about to change their taste buds any time soon. I add pecans when the cookies are for the women I bowl with or anyone else who likes pecans.

Bake the cookies on parchment paper in a preheated 350 degree oven. If I am not in a hurry, I will do one tray at a time, 6 cookies to a baking sheet in the middle of the oven. I use a scoop that is the equivalent of two tablespoons, leveled. I bake the cookies for 5 minutes, then turn the tray around for another 5 minutes. If I am baking two trays of cookie dough at a time, I switch the trays, top to lower and front to back, for another five minutes of baking==in which case, you need to adjust the two racks as best fits your oven.

BEST thing you can do is bake a couple test cookies to see what works best for your oven. I have a very old 1940s stove that I love. and just so you know, I can still burn a tray of cookies, if I forget to set the timer–this usually happens around the end of the cookie baking when I start to clean up my baking materials. I have been doing this since my sons were young boys, so it has nothing to do with AGE, just a matter of paying attention to what I am doing.

I have been baking cookies once a week for the ladies I bowl with–they like them so much that when the league ended at the end of the year, the ladies gave me a big basket filled with flour, butter, chocolate chips, baking powder, 4 pounds of granulated sugar, 2 pounds of brown sugar, a bottle of vanilla extract–everything you need to make chocolate chip cookies! (how SWEET was THAT?)

I like to buy new cookie sheets about every 2 or 3 years but if you line the cookie sheets with parchment paper, the cookie sheets will last a lot longer. Just saying!

Sandra Smith aka the cookie lady



President Taft (from my hometown of Cincinnati!) the biggest and heaviest of all American Presidents, was also partial to turtle soup.

Terrapin soup was one of President Taft’s favorite luncheon recipes, but when it was served at State’s dinners, a special cook was hired for the $5.00 charge to cook just the soup—given what I now know about killing and cooking turtle, I’m willing to bet that the reason a special cook was hired to cook the terrapin wasn’t so much the cooking end of the job as it was –first kill one turtle.

Mrs. Taft was a great one for invading the White House kitchens to peek into the pots and pans and undoubtedly did so even when the special cook was in attendance. Mrs. Taft kept three cooks in the kitchen but seems to have “gone through” them one after another, possibly due to her habit of invading the White House kitchen to taste what was in the pots! **

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s family LOVED soups. Throughout the many years of the Roosevelt administration, soup pots and kettles were kept simmering on the White House stoves. One of the President’s favorite was pepper pot soup, while Cream of Almond was one of Eleanor’s favorite soups. They also favored fish chowder and something called Mongole Soup (made with yellow split peas and tomato juice) which was an inaugural day favorite. Poppy Cannon tells us that Mongole Soup was also a hearty midnight snack for the Roosevelts house guests.

Yellow split peas
Tomato juice
Salt & pepper

Soak ½ cup of yellow split peas overnight. In the morning, drain the peas and set over low heat with 2 cups tomato juice. Simmer several hours or until the peas disintegrate. Seasons with 1 tsp grated onion and salt & pepper to taste. Serves 6.
However, a favorite Roosevelt soup story involves turtle! Like so many of his predecessors, the president loved turtle and terrapin soup. Shortly after his inauguration, some terrapin were sent to him as a gift. The creatures roamed around the White House cellars, terrorizing Mrs. Nesbitt, the housekeeper.

When she ruined the first terrapin after it was cooked, the President was furious so that the next time terrapin arrived at the White House, the president hired someone from the Metropolitan Club to prepare it!

(it should be noted there is a RITUAL to killing and cooking turtles. (I will spare you the details…trust me, you don’t want to know!)

“In the end,” writes the History Channel on Google, “turtle soup became the victim of its own overwhelming popularity. It migrated from presidential dinners down to railway dining cars, and finally to the red and white Campbell’s can in the 1920s. by World War II, harried cooks had long tired of dressing their own turtles, and cheaper and tastier canned options to turtle became available. Newfangled convenience products like TV dinners and Spam were the final strikes against the increasingly unfashionable turtle soup and by the 1960s, it had gone the way of the pepper pot, served only in certain regions of America…” (from The rise and Fall of Turtle Soup on Google)

The Roosevelt Family enjoyed Philadelphia Pepper Pot soup, Chicken Soup Amandine, and Sara Delano Roosevelt’s Fish Chowder (Sara was FDR’s mother) as well as Green Gumbo, a luncheon favorite of FDR’s along with Crab Gumbo.

Moving on to the Trumans administration—Mrs. Truman was a very private person and resisted any attempts to divulge favorite recipes. That said, Mrs. Truman made herself popular with all the staff in the White House. She knew what she wanted, she knew how things should be done, and how to give orders in a pleasant way. A household employee who said “this is not how the Roosevelts did this” was quickly replaced.

Poppy Cannon doesn’t name names in the Presidents Cookbook and it has been eons ago, so I think it’s safe to say that the person who made that remark was undoubtedly Mrs. Nesbitt, who was hired by Mrs. Roosevelt and came to the White House with them from Hyde Park. (During Mrs. Nesbitt’s reign, it was undoubtedly her way or the highway).

The Truman ways were not the Roosevelt ways. Mrs. Truman took the household bookkeeping in hand and ran it herself. She ruled out breakfast for the daily sleep-out employees, to cut the huge food bills. Every day she sat at her desk and tried to run the White House like a business.

Mr. Truman was a senator prior to becoming Vice President going into FDRs fourth administration and enjoyed Senate Bean Soup, a recipe that has appeared in numerous cookbooks but I discovered that the recipe in Poppy Cannon’s cookbook is made with CANNED SOUP – so I am a bit nonplussed where I found the canned bean soup recipe—the following is an authentic copy of Senate Bean Soup:




*I made this soup exactly as directed and decided it needed more color; so I added a small can of tomato sauce and a couple carrots, diced or sliced, to the soup. Back where I come from, we don’t add lemon slices; we DO add a tablespoon of Apple Cider vinegar to our individual bowls of bean soup, just before eating. Yum!

The Eisenhowers were partial to soup, too. Oxtail soup, cream of almond and cream of celery were a few favorites, along with Stone Crab Bisque, and cream of Artichoke soup.

It was well known that one of President Eisenhower’s own specialties which he prepared himself, was a vegetable beef soup. President Eisenhower was an amateur chef and enjoyed thumbing through cookbooks and experimenting with recipes. The President prided himself on his homemade soups but this detailed recipe for a plain vegetable soup was more than two pages in length! He began with some practical instructions for preparing chicken broth but ended with a rather unusual suggestion for garnishing the soup:

“The best time to make…soup is a day or so after you have had fried chicken and out of which you have saved the necks, ribs, backs, etc.—uncooked. As a final touch, in the springtime when the nasturtiums are green and tender, cut them up in small pieces; boil them separately and add them to your soup. (I have never seen nasturtiums mentioned in a recipe before!

According to Poppy Cannon in THE PRESIDENT’S COOKBOOK, President Eisenhower enjoyed making an old fashioned beef stew for sixty, with directions calling for 20 pounds of beef in 3 gallons of beef stock–You may not want to make a beef stew for sixty people (does anyone have a soup pot big enough?) but you might enjoy experimenting with President Eisenhower’s beef stew scaled down to feed six—-so to make President Eisenhower’s Beef Stew:

Beef for stew (1-2 pounds)
Butter or other shortening
Canned bouillon (or packaged beef bouillon cubes—1 beef bouillon cube with 1 cup of water equals one cup of beef stock)
Bouquet Garni*
Small Irish potatoes
White onions
Salt and pepper to taste

Brown 2 lbs beef cubes in 2 TBSP shortening, then add 2 cans bouillon and 1 can water. Simmer, covered, until meat is nearly tender. Add bouquet garni* and 12 potatoes, halved, 1 bunch carrots, cut in 1” lengths, 12 small white onions, 2 large tomatoes, cut in eighths, salt & pepper. Remove bouquet garni and drain off liquid. Return gravy to pot and cook over low heat until well thickened.

(Watch for sales on any cut of beef, such as 7-Bone or round bone roast. Cut the meat into cubes—its much easier than buying beef that has already been cut into cubes. Cook the bone-in in a pot of water to make your own beef stock.

*To make a bouquet garni (not Eisenhower’s instructions—these are my own—sls) I consulted the Grand Dame of cookbooks, Irma Rombauer who advises in JOY OF COOKING that a Bouquet Garni can vary in makeup but usually includes a bay leaf, thyme and parsley, basil, sweet marjoram, summer savory, celery or chervil. Tie the fresh or dried herbs in a bouquet made with 4” squares of cheesecloth. Tie the ends together and bind securely. Bouquets of dried herbs can be made in advance and kept in a tight fitting container, preferably one that is light-proof. You never use a bouquet garni more than once and add it only in the last half hour of cooking. Don’t be afraid to experiment and use herbs that your family enjoys.

Another similar bouquet garni is Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Cookbook calls for:

3 sprigs parsley
1 sprig celery or small stalk celery
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
9 peppercorns
2 whole cloves
The Kennedys were also soup eaters and one of their famous favorites was Hyannisport Fish Chowder which all of the Kennedys were said to enjoy. According to Francois Rysavy, who was the French Chef to the Kennedys, “The President was a ‘soup, sandwich and fruit’ man for lunch. His luncheon was almost bound to be soup.

To make President Kennedy’s Favorite New England Clam Chowder, South of Boston Style:

4 dozen medium hard-shelled clams
5 cups cold water
1 2-inch cube salt pork, diced*
1 large onion, chopped very fine
4 medium potatoes, diced
Salt & pepper to taste
2 cups milk, hot
1 ½ cups heavy cream, hot

Wash clams thoroughly. Place them in a deep pan with the cold water, covering the clams. Bring to a boil and boil 10 minutes or until shells open. Strain the broth thoroughly through cheesecloth and reserve. Remove clams from their shells; clean and chop. Combine salt pork and onion in a saucepan. Cook gently over low heat, about 3 minutes, do not brown. Add broth and potatoes. Cook until potatoes are render. Add clams. Remove from heat and slowly add milk and cream which has been heated. Serve immediately.

One of the recipes frequently mentioned in connection with Mrs. Kennedy was Boula Boula soup which contained (surprise!) turtle. Mrs. Kennedy’s Boula Boula soup was served at the White House on United Nations Day. (However, the days of 300 pound turtles being presented to the White House are a thing of a past. White House Chef Rene Verdon provided a recipe for making Mrs. Kennedy’s Boula Boula soup substituting peas along with 2 cups canned green turtle soup but I don’t think you can find turtle ANY where anymore–Fresh, frozen or otherwise. Most turtles are an endangered species. In my own family, mock turtle soup—at one time (many years ago!) was made with the head of a cow—back in the days when the head of a cow was something you could order from the butcher; at some point in time, ground beef was substituted for the head of a cow.

To make President Kennedy’s favorite onion soup you will need:

3 medium onions, finely sliced
4 tbsp butter
1 TBSP flour
2 ½ pints beef stock
Salt and pepper to taste
French bread
Shredded Swiss cheese
Additional butter

Cook the onions and butter in a heavy pot. When they are browned or translucent, sprinkle with flour. Allow to brown a little longer, then add the beef stock, salt and pepper. Cook 15 minutes. Slice the bread ¼” thick. Butter lightly and then brown in oven. Put the onion soup in casserole or serving dishes.

There are numerous published books written by the employees who worked in the White House; in the 1960s, I began collecting White House BOOKS, specifically memoirs by white house employees—not just those compiled by the White House chefs. One of the first that I found was Henrietta Nesbitt’s “The Presidential Cookbook”, published in 1951. Many of these books have a tendency to overlap with other White House cookbooks (sort of shades of which came first—the chicken or the egg).

That being said, the Martha Washington Cook Book does NOT contain a recipe for her Crab Bisque although Henrietta Nesbitt’s Presidential Cookbook contains a recipe titled Martha Washington’s Crab Soup (1951) repeated by Poppy Cannon, in The Presidents’ Cookbook (1968), repeated again by John R. Hanny in his Secrets from the White House Kitchens in 2001.

Henrietta Nesbitt was invited by Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt to go with them from Hyde Park to the White House as their housekeeper. Mrs. Nesbitt was at that time was well into her fifties and she would remain housekeeper for the next 13 years for the Roosevelts and one year with the Trumans.

I started searching for books by White House employees after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy—there were numerous memoirs by JFK’s friends and employees close to him, as well as those who worked for Mrs. Kennedy (despite by being required by Mrs. Kennedy to sign an agreement NOT to write any memoirs about them.

Then once I really got underway in my search for White House memoirs, I discovered numerous published works by those employed by FDR or those who were personal friends of FDR and/or Eleanor.

Recently, I began to notice re-writes of those early books—presumably the copywrites have expired on those early memoirs. I purchased, from, a reprint of “White House Diary” by Henrietta Nesbitt, originally published by the author in 1948. I had an original edition of White House Diary and lost it somehow, so recently I ordered another copy from for my home library. I also ordered President Jimmy Carter’s “White House Diary” to supplement my original White House library. **

Poppy Cannon’s “the Presidents Cookbook” ends with the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson, who was vice president at the time of Kennedy’s assassination. As vice president, LBJ was sworn in while on Air Force One flying back to Washington DC. No soup recipes are in Cannon’s final segment of presidents.

At the completion of the one term Johnson fulfilled as president, he announced he would not be seeking another term as president; he and Ladybird returned to Texas. Perhaps he felt those shoes of Kennedy’s were too big for him to fill.

My reference material is taken from books in my own library. Some years ago (1990s) I wrote a 4-part article for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange on the White House, primarily by White House Employees. When it was complete and had been printed in four issues of the CCE, I then had the idea of compiling an article based on soup recipes favored by presidents and their wives.


THE MARTHA WASHINGTON COOK BOOK (Recipes from the personal cookbook of Thomas Jefferson, by Marie Kimball, originally printed 1940

THE PRESIDENTIAL COOKBOOK, feeding the Roosevelts and their guests, copyright 1951 by Henrietta Nesbitt

THE MOUNT VERNON COOKBOOK compiled by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association copyright 1984

THE PRESIDENTS’ COOKBOOK, by Poppy Cannon, copyright 1968, covers presidents from George Washington to Lyndon B. Johnson.

SECRETS FROM THE WHITE HOUSE KITCHENS, by John R. Hanny copyright 2001


THE WHITE HOUSE CHEF COOKBOOK, copyright 1967 by Rene Verdon, over 500 recipes and menus by the man who was White House chef during the Kennedy years

–Sandra Lee Smith



Beautiful soup so rich and green
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for danties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!

(From The Mock Turtle in Alice in Wonderland)

Is there anything quite like a bowl of hot soup? It nourishes and sustains us on a cold and wintry day. Nothing restores us quite like a bowl of hot soup, that COOLS us off, and what could be tastier, then, than a chilled bowl of gazpacho? Another soup served cold long ago was Senegalese Soup, made with chicken broth.

French peasants, for many centuries, recognized the value of having a soup pot simmering on the back of the stove every day. Any leftover bits of meat or vegetables were tossed into the soup kettle—nothing was ever wasted, A bowl of nourishing soup was available, then, at any time.
Decades ago, housewives knew the value of feeding a nourishing beef bouillon or chicken broth to an invalid. A pot or kettle of soup can be very simple—beef broth, for instance, can be very simple, or it can be hearty, like clam chowder or beef stew. Today’s thrifty cook knows she can toss bits and pieces of leftover meat and vegetables into a plastic container or zip lock bag and FREEZE them; when she is ready to make a pot of soup, she can just toss the leftover bits into a soup pot.

If you think of soup as just something that comes out of a can, you are in for a surprise! Homemade soup is one of the easiest, most nourishing foods you can possibly serve to your family…and it can be very, very inexpensive made from odds and ends of leftovers in your refrigerator from leftover pot roast or a ham bone—or simply by chopping up some fresh vegetables, adding a few beef or chicken bouillon cubes and whatever other seasonings you like.

When I was a little girl, vegetable soup was served at dinner (called supper when I was a child), first as a broth, sometimes with homemade noodles Then as an entrée, we had the potatoes, carrots and meat from the soup pot—while my father and brothers spread the cooked marrow on crackers.

It may surprise you to know that many American presidents were very partial to soups—enough so that history has left us a legacy of their soup preferences!

Our first president, George Washington, loved seafood and was especially partial to Martha Washington’s crab soup. According to Poppy Cannon in her book “The President’s Cookbook” it also became a favorite of FDR’s and President and Mrs. Eisenhower.

Many decades later, Martha Washington’s Crab Soup was served at the Senate Wives Red Cross Luncheon; First Lady Mrs. Ford like it so much that the recipe was sent to the White House chefs who were able to reproduce the crab soup to Mrs. Ford’s satisfaction, whereupon it became a Ford Family favorite.

(I would imagine that President Washington, with his ill-fitting dentures, found sops easier to eat and digest, too! George Washington had a favorite vegetable soup recipe also).

To Make Martha Washington’s Crab Bisque, you will need the following:

Enough crab to make ½ pound crabmeat
1 TBSP butter
1 ½ TBSP flour
3 hard-cooked eggs, mashed
Rind of 1 lemon, grated
Salt & pepper to taste
2 ½ cups milk
½ cup sherry
Dash of Worcestershire sauce

Boil enough crabs in salted water to make ½ lb crab meat. Combine the butter, flour, eggs, lemon rind, salt and pepper. Put the milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour it slowly into the egg mixture. Now combine the crabmeat with the milk mixture and boil gently 5 minutes. Add the cream and take it off the stove before it comes to a full boil. Add sherry and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Serves 4-5.

Martha Washington also favored a Mexican black bean* soup; these recipes found their way into Martha’s manuscript cookbook. Quite possibly her recipe was given to her by President Jefferson, as he, too, had a favorite Mexican Black Bean Soup recipe. Martha obtained recipes from other notables of her times. Many years later, Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Nixon were also partial to Black Bean Soup.

(*I think we have had a resurgence of black beans in the past few decades—I don’t recall seeing it—or any recipes calling for black beans when I was raising my children—sls)

The Martha Washington Cook Book offs quite a few other soup recipes, from making French Broth, to Barley Broth, French Pottage to a Gruel of French Barley.

One of our first presidents, Thomas Jefferson, was so fond of soups that he wrote an essay, “Observations on Soups”. Which reads “always observe to lay your meat in the bottom of the pan with a lump of butter. Cut the herbs and vegetables very fine and lay over the meat. Cover it close* and set over a slow fire. This will draw the virtue out of the herbs and roots and give the soup a different flavor from what it would have been putting the water in first…when the gravy produced from the meat is almost dried up. Fill your pan with water when your soup is done, take it up and when cool enough, skim of the grease quite clean. Put it on again to heat and then dish it up. When you make white soups never put in the cream until you take it off the fire. Soup is better the second day in cool weather. (“cover it close” may have meant with a tight fitting lid)



Wash beans and add to the water with the short ribs and seasonings. Boil over low flame 3-4 hours or until beans are soft. Remove meat, pour remainder through colander, pressing beans through. Remove to pot with small pieces of meat and stock; simmer about 10 minutes longer. Take from stove, add wine and pepper to taste. Serve immediately with croutons browned in butter. Serves 8-10.

President Jefferson signed the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and fittingly one of his favorite soup recipes was Gumbo. Another favorite soup of President Jefferson’s was potato soup, as prepared by his cook at Monticello.

Yet another well-liked soup recipe of President Jefferson was pea soup, made, of course, with peas from his own garden. Every Monday at Monticello, tomato soup was served. Thomas Jefferson’s daughter, Martha, who shared his interest in recipes (call receipts back then) gave the recipe to Martha Washington. Yet another favorite recipe written by President Jefferson’s daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph was a recipe for okra soup.

John Adams, like all early pioneering Americans, learned to use corn in many different ways. It was a legacy given to us by the American Indians. A favorite soup of President Adams was corn soup. Another favorite dish was succotash soup. Perhaps the Adams’, who spent some years living in Philadelphia, developed a taste for the Pennsylvania-Dutch corn soup. The following corn and tomato soup, with dumplings, is credited with Ohio origins…but it might have originated in Pennsylvania.



Cover bone well with cold water. Add seasonings and onion. Shave off the grains of corn and also scrape out the pulp. Add to soup pot. Peel, then cut up the tomatoes. Add. Let it come to a boil and then reduce the heat and cook slowly 3 hours.



Beat egg slightly. Stir soda into milk and add. Mix in enough salted flour to make a very stiff batter. Drop into boiling soup from a teaspoon. Cover, and cook 20 minutes. Serve at once.

(*I take it for granted that everybody knows these things—but in case you don’t—to make sour milk, just add a teaspoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to regular milk…wait a little bit and it will become “sour” milk).

Many presidents have enjoyed turtle or terrapin, according to White House history. One of the first presidents to receive a gift of turtle was President John Adams. A friend bestowed a 114 pound turtle upon the president.

In his diary, his son—John Quincy Adams—mentions that on a July 4th dinner served at the White House during Tyler’s administration, turtle soup was made from a turtle weighing 300 pounds, a present from Key West*

It is said that John Quincy Adams never failed to mention with whom he dined or how often, so that when he mentioned in his diary having eaten turtle at a dinner, it must have been an impressive occasion.

*More about turtles later!

Dolley Madison, considered for many decades to be the quintessential Washington hostess, served as hostess for Thomas Jefferson, who was widowed. Dolley, who left neatly handwritten notes containing her favorite recipes and home remedies, treated visitors—even drop-ins—with a bouillon laced with sherry. To make Dolley Madison’s hospitable bouillon, you will need:

4 lbs beef 1 veal knuckle
3 small carrots
2 turnips
1 pot hot pepper
3 small white onions
1 bunch parsley
5 quarts water

Place all ingredients except the sherry in a large pot and simmer for 6 hours. Cool and strain.

Chef Rysavy, in a TREASURY OF WHITE HOUSE COOKING, tells us that Dolley liked to let her bouillon stand overnight before skimming off the fat. She would store the bouillon in a cool place and heat a portion of it as needed. Just before hot bouillon was served, a little sherry was added. Serves 20.

President Fillmore may not be well remembered by American historians (or school children) but he DID install the first real bathtub with centrally heated running water. His wife installed the first library in the White House while President Fillmore also installed the first real STOVE in the White House kitchen. Prior to that time, all the Fillmore cooking was done over open fireplaces. There is a story that the Fillmore cook was horrified at the idea of cooking on such a “thing” and that the President had to go visit the patent office to get detailed directions for operating it. But, like all new contraptions, once the white House staff got used to it, they couldn’t imagine getting along without it.

President Fillmore was a thrifty man – it seems only natural that one of HIS favorite soup recipes was an old fashioned vegetable beef soup which was more like a stew. Again, according to Ms. Cannon’s book “The Presidential Cookbook”, when President Fillmore’s soup was “…ready to serve, the solids were removed from the soup kettle to a platter. The soup was served first, consumed, then the soup bowls were re-filled with the meat and vegetables from the platter. (I wonder if my mother ever knew that her soup was served exactly the same way as the Fillmore presidential administration—I read that the president’s wife saw no reason to switch to clean plates after the broth had been eaten).

A favorite soup of Andrew Jackson’s was “Old Hickory Soup”, also a local favorite with natives of Jackson’s North Carolina. The recipe begins “Crack one gallon hickory nuts…”

Julia Tyler, wife of President John Tyler, seems to have been partial to a “torup” stew, torup being a variation of huge turtles that were native to the Eastern Shore of Long Island, where Julia grew up. (Julia was President Tyler’s second wife, and many years younger than he. The marriage created something of a stir in Washington. The “torup” stew was said to taste a lot like chicken. (I’ve heard that said about alligator, too—that it tastes like chicken.

Oyster stew and terrapin stew were listed amongst many other dishes listed on President Lincoln’s second inaugural ball menu. This was a bit of a far cry from President Lincoln’s first inaugural at which mock turtle soup was served.

While most food historians claim that President Lincoln had very little interest in food, it seems a fair assumption that turtle soup was a favorite dish, being served at both of President Lincoln’s inaugural celebrations. The President even planned the menu for his second inauguration. And even though historians claim that Mr. Lincoln was not interested in food or eating, it seems that he loved fruit pies and some of the ladies in Springfield shipped fruit pies to him—no small feat in the mid-1800s.

(I sometimes wonder if the president just didn’t like the way most foods were prepared for him. I grew up thinking I hated rice. I hate cabbage, I hate stewed rabbit. I didn’t really hate those foods; I hated the way they had been cooked. I was an adult living in California before I ever discovered that rice didn’t have to be cooked to a gluey-lumpy-pasty ball of gunk! I didn’t hate those foods; I hated the way my mother cooked them.

One of the best rice recipes served to us at a friend’s house was a rice pilaf that was outstanding. It was long after I met Bob that I discovered how delicious corned beef and cabbage could be, cooked gently in a slow-cooker, wedges of cabbage added in the last hour of cooking.

The Benjamin Harrisons were a soup loving family, with corn soup and fish chowder amongst their favorites. Another favorite served by Mrs. Harrison was “amber soup” which was a hot clear soup that she served at White House teas and receptions. It was made from both chicken and ham, along with assorted vegetables.

Teddy Roosevelt’s family, having a special interest in India and the Far East, were partial to a chilled Senegalese soup, made with chicken stock and curry but they also enjoyed a corn chowder. I did some searching for Senegalese Soup and found a recipe from 21 Restaurant, stating that theirs is one of the few places in this country where you can still find it. The classic garnish is diced poached chicken; this version substitutes chutney; to make Traditional Senegalese Soup you will need:

3 tart apples, such as granny smith
2 TBSP unsalted butter
2 carrots, chopped
1 large white onion, chopped
¼ cup raisins
1 garlic clove, chopped
3 TBSP curry powder*
2 TBSP all purpose flour
8 cups chicken broth
1 TBSP canned tomato puree
½ cup heavy cream

Garnish: bottle mango chutney or poached chicken, diced
Peel and core apples and chop. In a heavy kettle, heat butter over moderate heat until foam subsides and cook apples, carrots, onion, raisins and garlic, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, 10-12- minutes. Add curry powder and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add flour and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Stir in broth and tomato puree and simmer, covered, 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Stir in cream and salt to taste, and simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes.
Cool soup and in a food processor or blender, puree in batches until smooth. Strain soup through a sieve into a large bowl and chill until cold, 2-3 hours. Garnish each serving with about ½ tsp chutney (or a small amount of diced, poached and chilled chicken cubes.)

*Personally, I’m not crazy about curry powder, so 3 tablespoons of curry powder would be too much for my palate —I would reduce this to one or two tablespoons curry powder, tops. – sls



When I started collecting cookbooks in 1965, I really didn’t know where to begin, aside from making frequent visits to used book stores. I didn’t know a thing about collecting cookbooks—but I had a 1961 Cincinnati Methodist church cookbook that my father bought from a coworker and I thought there must be more like this, “out there somewhere”.

I wrote a letter to Tower Press’ Women’s Circle magazine in 1965 (a magazine for penpals) and mentioned being interested in buying, or trading for church or club cookbooks. Over 200 women responded to my request and I was kept busy for several months, buying cookbooks sight unseen or trading things like S&H Green Stamps – or whatever else the writer wanted. Many of those first cookbooks were remarkably good finds.

The best thing about that letter in Women’s Circle in 1965 was a letter from a woman in Michigan. She was a cookbook collector and she helped me find cookbooks; we became – and remained – friends; our children grew up, married, had children of their own. I went through a divorce and my Michigan friend lost her husband. A few months ago, she began downsizing to move into a smaller place, and has sent me boxes of books – not just cookbooks but other books as well, books about lighthouses (another pet interest of mine) and books about survivors of WW2. My cup runneth over.

After giving this a great deal of reflection, I thought that the best way I can show my appreciation for all that she has given to me – is by writing about some of these books.
I’m not sure whether I have more California church and club cookbooks or more if those from Michigan. The problem with counting the Michigan cookbooks is that they aren’t all in the same place – two of my largest bookcases are divided up as “east of the Mississippi” and “west of the Mississippi”. I know, probably sounds dumb but it SEEMED like a fairly good idea when I first came up with it. I have kept all of my California cookbooks together – currently they fill two bookcases in my bedroom and are double-rowed.

Sometimes I have to take everything off the shelves to find a particular book. Before we moved to this house in 2008, I was in a much larger house and had the California cookbooks divided into two parts – Northern California and Southern California. Now they are all mixed up. (One of these days I’ll get them sorted again).

In a bookcase in our spare bedroom, I have all the southern cookbooks filling up two bookcases on one wall and on the other wall, I have all of my Ohio cookbooks (separate from East of the Mississippi) because I am from Cincinnati, Ohio, and have a separate collection of cookbooks from Cincinnati. Then I began putting the Michigan cookbooks on a shelf underneath the Ohio ones (although technically speaking, Michigan is ABOVE Ohio, not below it) – sometimes the sizes of books has a lot to do with how you file them on your shelves.

Well, as you can imagine, sometimes it’s hard to keep them all straight. Since I first posted “Battered, Tattered, Stained church and club cookbooks”, I have been going through a lot of my books trying to determine which ones would generate the most interest. Then I thought it would be nice to have a discussion on California cookbooks since they are one of my favorites. (The other favorite are my Cincinnati club and church cookbooks.)

But before I do that, I think I owe it to my friend Betsy to tell you about some of the Michigan cookbooks. In addition to having had a Michigan penpal for over 45 years, I also have a brother who lived in Michigan for several decades, and two of his offspring have chosen to remain in the Wolverine State.

I visited Betsy twice in the 1970s – thanks to her kindhearted husband who drove several hundred miles to Cincinnati to take me and my children to Michigan to spend a week with them-one of the most delightful experiences, back then, was going to the flea markets where you would find all sorts of old cookbooks, often priced for as little as ten cents each. But, my brother and his wife hosted a family reunion there one year, and I have made perhaps half a dozen trips to Michigan over the years; twice to visit my mother who was in a nursing home in Grand Rapids, once for my goddaughter’s high school graduation, once for my sister Becky and I to drive around Lake Michigan, searching for Light Houses. Whenever I am in Michigan, I want to find the book stores.

The year that my niece Julie was graduating from high school, her sister Leslie drove me to Ann Arbor – where Leslie had gone to college – and we had a wonderful afternoon searching out used book stores as well as the ones selling new books – particularly cookbooks.

One of the cookbooks I bought that year, 1994, was “Ann Arbor’s Cookin’ II” published by the Ronald McDonald House with proceeds going to the Ronald McDonald House. This is a thick spiral-bound cookbook with over 700 prized recipes. You may find yourself reading recipes for days but one I found outstanding is named “Sue’s Cheerios Snack”. Considered a great snack for tailgate parties, this is easy to make and would be a great snack for the kiddies too:

Pam cooking spray
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup margarine (or 1 stick solid type margarine or butter
¼ cup light corn syrup
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
6 cups cheerios* cereal
1 cup Spanish peanuts
1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Spray a 9×13” pan with Pam. Combine Cheerios, peanuts and raisins in pan. In a saucepan, heat sugar, margarine, corn syrup and salt until bubbly around the edges. Cook 2 minutes more (do not stir). Remove from heat; stir in baking soda . Pour over cereal mixture. Mix well. Bake 20 minutes. Turn immediately onto wax paper. Let Cool.

(*Sandy’s cooknote: When “Ann Arbor’s Cookin’ II” was published in 1994, we only had the one kind of Cheerios. I have been thinking this would be great to try with the chocolate Cheerios or the cinnamon flavored version. Bon Appétit!

At the time I posted this article in 2011, I did some checking on—you can buy Ann Arbor’s Cookin’ II for as little as 59 cents (plus will be charged $3.99 shipping & handling from private vendors; they are also listing 2 new copies for $9.49. There are numerous other listings you can find on Google for this cookbook. I have been unable to verify whether or not you can still order copies from the Ronald McDonald House in Ann Arbor. Maybe someone will know and enlighten me. **

One of my favorite Michigan cookbooks was not published by a church, club or any other organization –but it’s such a keeper, it deserves a spot on this post. The title of the cookbook is “WALNUT PICKLES AND WATERMELON CAKE” by Larry B. Massie and Priscilla Massie.


Priscilla was born in Kalamazoo in 1955 and traces her Michigan ancestry to Michel Campau, one of the one hundred Frenchmen who founded Detroit with Cadillac in 1701. Priscilla’s research, photographic, word processing and culinary skills allow the Massies to participate in a wide range of Michigan history projects…” What wouldn’t I give to visit that century old schoolhouse and see the Massies collections!

I don‘t know HOW many times I’ve reached for this book to check some piece of information–It’s been a favorite reference book for many years. Subtitled “A CENTURY OF MICHIGAN COOKING”, this hard-cover with a spill-resistant cover was published in 1990 by Wayne State University Press in Detroit. And what the two Massies have done is provided recipes from church and club cookbooks dating back in some instances prior to 1900. The book is generously laced with drawings or illustrations of old-timey kitchen utensils – but one of my favorite features, I admit it freely, was the number of rhymed recipes including one my oldest finds for The Kitchen Poets, “Eve’s Pudding” dating from Detroit in 1878. One I will spare directions for is Perfect Mock Turtle Soup that starts out “Get a calf’s head with the skin on (the fresher the better) and before you say ew, ew, I want to add that an authentic MOCK turtle soup was commonly made with a calf’s head when real turtle was unavailable.

In the introduction, the Massies explain how their interest in old books was cultivated and grew from very early ages. They married and moved into an old one-room schoolhouse located in the midst of the Allegan State Forest. “Crowded within the main part of the structure is our collection of thirty thousand books, thirteen-foot high bookshelves surround all sides of a vast room. More shelves in the center of the room support a loft where Larry studies and writes about Michigan history…”

Priscilla has an attached room with a “Hoosier” cabinet (I had one when I was first married and didn’t have the sense to keep it before we moved to California); her kitchen cabinet was built in 1910 and is flanked on one side by a GE “monitor top” refrigerator made in 1932 and on the other, an electric range of similar vintage. They love history so much that they have surrounded themselves with period household furnishings.

Priscilla has antique kitchen utensils, cast-iron Griswold pots and pans and other domestic artifacts hang everywhere. The Massies have fulfilled the dictate to write about what you know the most about. More than thirteen hundred recipes from Michigan’s past are in this volume, dating from 1820s through the end of WW2.

“Walnut Pickles & Watermelon Cake” contains SO many recipes – and I think I copied most of the rhymed recipes when I was compiling the Kitchen Poets.

I have gone through this cookbook over and over, trying to decide which recipe to feature. I chose “Pickled Grapes” because I have seen pickled grape recipes featured on websites and blogs recently – as though a brand-new recipe. I made up a batch and it WAS new to me – but “Walnut Pickles & Watermelon cake have it dated 1899 by a Mrs. McCall in Kalamazoo!

To make Pickled Grapes:

Take grapes fresh from the stems without breaking and put them in a jar. For 7 pounds of grapes, take one quart vinegar, 3 pounds of sugar*, 1 TBSP whole cloves and the same of cinnamon bark. Boil it all together a few minutes, then let it cool until you can bear your finger in it; pour over the grapes, turn a plate over them; set them in a cool cellar and they are done. Do not cook the grapes nor heat the pickle over. If properly prepared they will keep a year and be as plump and fresh as when picked from the vines.

Well, I don’t have a cellar, and here in the high desert it can be a problem finding a spot cool enough. When I made sauerkraut about a year ago, we kept the crock in the coolest section of our garage which is in Bob’s workshop (attached behind the garage) and that worked – but I was making the kraut in March when it’s still relatively cool in the Antelope Valley.

If you want to make the pickled grapes you can keep them very well if you have a cellar or basement. If not, make them while the weather is still fairly cool.

*Sandy’s cooknote: 2 cups of granulated sugar equal 1 pound, so you would need 6 cups of sugar to equal 3 pounds. 4 cups of vinegar equals one quart.)

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of “Walnut Pickles & Watermelon Cake”, the best prices I have found are on They have pre-owned copies starting under $29.81 (higher than the prices I found listed in 2011)

Another good Michigan cookbook is “OUR BEST TO YOU” compiled by the Junior League of Battle Creek in 1984. This cookbook is in a specially designed 3-ring binder that enables the reader to open the rings in case you want to put the page on the refrigerator door so you can make a recipe. The pages measure just under 6½” wide and just under 9 ½” in length. I haven’t been able to find any pre-owned copies in the most frequently websites that I visit. My guess is that it’s out of print and you may have to do some digging to find a copy. However, you don’t have to search very far for this easy Beef Brisket recipe:

1 4-5 pound beef brisket
Seasoned salt
Dried minced garlic
1 medium onion, sliced
2-3 cups of water
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Wash brisket thoroughly and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with garlic. Brown in an open pan (I use a large cast iron skillet for this) for 30 minutes in the oven. Decrease oven temperature to 350 degrees and roast 1 hour. Layer the sliced onion over the meat and continue roasting an additional hour. Add water and cover, roast 1 hour more. Check for tenderness. Cool slightly and slice.

Note: Brisket may be prepared in advance. Reheat in pan juices before serving ~~~

Also published in 1984 and using the same format – the 3-ring binder that measures just under 6½” wide and just under 9 ½” in length is from the Junior League of Lansing, Michigan and bears the title “Temptations.” In its Introduction we learn that the inspiration for the cookbook was based on the bounty of Michigan’s agriculture. The book contains over 500 recipes and here is a simple recipe from “Temptations” that is called Sesame Potato Spears. I love potato recipes that are not fried but are just as good if not better. This is the recipe for Sesame Potato Spears:

6 to 8 potatoes
¼ cup butter, melted (that would be half of one stick of butter)
1 tsp salt
3 tsp paprika
¼ cup sesame seeds
¼ cup Dijon mustard (optional)

Peel the potatoes and cut into long strips. Melt butter in a loaf baking dish and stir in seasonings. Stir the potatoes to coat. Bake in 400 degree oven for one hour or until tender.
(Sandy’s cooknote: I am inclined to put the melted butter and seasonings into a plastic zip-lock bag and then put the potatoes on a Pam-sprayed baking sheet that you have covered with foil. That is how I make my baked fries.

Note: Dijon mustard will give it an extra tang. ~~

“Temptations” is still available on – They have 4 new copies available from $5.43 and 5 used copies starting at $2.87. ~

A third cookbook compiled in a 3 ring binder just under 6½”wide and just under 9½” in length that is one of my favorite go-to cookbooks is titled “THE HOUSE ON THE HILL” which is a bed and breakfast inn, published in 2002 by Cindy and Tom Tomalka. The Tomalkas tell us they have had over 3000 couples and singles visit the Inn since April 1997—who have consumed over 14,000 breakfasts.

You won’t believe all the recipes just for making muffins – now muffins are a favorite recipe of mine – and it was a muffin recipe I was following the first time I made muffins using my mother’s big yellow bowl – which I dropped and broke when I was about ten years old. Muffins can be sweet or savory and a simple muffin is ideal for a young child to make when they are cooking for the first time. Here is a recipe for Michigan Maple Syrup Muffins:

2 cups all purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 large egg, room temperature
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup maple syrup
½ cup butter, melted (*1/2 cup butter is one stick)

Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. In a separate bowl, whisk egg, milk, syrup and butter. Gradually pour this egg mixture into a well I the bowl with the dry ingredients. Stir quickly. Batter will be lumpy. Do not overbeat or muffins will be tough. Spoon into greased mini-muffin cups and bake at 350 degrees until brown, about 12 minutes. Makes 30 mini-muffins.
The House on the Hill Inn has its own website with information on ordering a copy of their oh-so-inviting cookbook. You can write to the Tomalkas at

Another spiral bound cookbook published in 1983 is “CULINARY COUNTERPOINT” published by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Cookbook. This cookbook offers some recipes with unforgettable names, such as Hanky Pankys, Blinking Star, and Strip and go Naked! The recipe for a Ohio culinary treasure is BUCKEYE BALLS. (You will find Buckeye Balls at many sweet shops throughout Ohio – maybe Michigan too). To make Buckeye Balls you will need:

3 1-pound boxes powdered sugar
2 lbs smooth or crunchy peanut butter
1 pound butter, softened
1 12-oz package semi-sweet chocolate morsels
½ stick paraffin

Combine the sugar, peanut butter and butter and beat well. Roll into small balls and refrigerate, covered, overnight.

Melt the chocolate with the paraffin I the top section of a double boiler over hot water. Stick a toothpick in one of the peanut butter balls, then dip into the chocolate. Place on wax paper to harden. Repeat until all candies have been dipped in the chocolate. Makes about 60 candies. has five copies for sale, starting at $5.98.

Another spiral-bound favorite is “Renaissance Cuisine” that went through three printings by the time I found it. This cookbook was the endeavor of The Fontbonne Auxiliary of St Joseph Hospital. The Fontbonne Auxiliary was founded by the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Nazareth in 1947,
I am often stymied when it comes to choosing just one recipe from a church or club cookbook-but the following might be good for company or something to getting cooking when you are home from the office and trying to get something cooking while you make up a salad to go with. Here is Chicken No Peek Casserole:

1 cup rice, uncooked
6 chicken breasts or pieces
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can water
1 pkg onion soup mix
1 cup sherry
Slivered almonds

Grease a 9×13” pan. Place rice on bottom, place chicken on top of the rice. In a separate container, mix the mushroom soup and water and pour that over the chicken. Pour Sherry over chicken Sprinkle onion soup and slivered almonds over all. bake at 350 degrees for 2 hours. Do not peek. A fresh fruit or cranberry mold completes this meal.

(*Sandy’s cooknote: nowhere does the recipe advise you to cover the dish with foil before baking in the oven – but then it tells you not to peek. I would interpret that to mean it needs to be covered with foil. Someone else might interpret to mean not to look into the oven while it’s baking.)

Renaissance Cuisine is available on new or pre-owned starting at $1.59—and 4 new copies starting at $.43; you can’t beat that!

Although I have many more Michigan church and club cookbooks, most are probably not available on the internet. I tried to stick to cookbooks interested readers might have a chance to find.

Happy cooking and Happy Cookbook collecting!


This was originally posted on my blog in 2011! prices for the cookbooks mentioned may be lower.


A recent article in my PARADE* magazine caught my attention; this one by writer Ann Patchett is titled “THE 75 BEST BOOKS OF THE PAST 75 YEARS”.

Well, I’m sure you can imagine—I begged to differ. I rarely read books that are on best seller lists—I pick & choose what I find interesting.

When Parade asked Patchett to compile a list of the best 75 books to celebrate the magazine’s 75th anniversary, her first response was, “Not a chance!” –She says she could picture the mountains of furious letters complaining about all the great works of literature she’d left off. But when she asked the staff at Parnassus Books, the Nashville store she co-owns with Karen Hayes, to take it on as a group project, they agreed.

What they discovered in the process is how wildly they disagreed about everything, except how much they loved books. “We wanted novels, sure”, she writes, “but we also wanted picture books, science books, histories and young adult novels. We wanted things that were old, like “The Old Man and the Sea”, but also things that were hot off the press, like “When Breath Becomes Air” (which I am totally unfamiliar with).

Patchett continues, “The most important thing about creating any list is figuring out ways to narrow it down, so we decided to choose 75 books from just the last 75 years (sorry, Grapes of Wrath, you just missed the cut) and books written only by North Americans, because if we opened it up to the world we would miss plenty of gems out of sheer ignorance and wind up with a lot more than 75 books!”

She says “that seemed like a reasonable solution until we realized that meant leaving off Harry Potter, a deal breaker for half of our staff, so we defaulted to books written in English.
Behold, a mash-up of a list that exemplifies the passionate convictions of 17 booksellers. Are they the best 75 books from the past 75 years? Judge for yourself…”.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (1945)

“This book is so perfectly executed—literature at its most engaging. When I think about so many of the books on this list, I’m also thinking about the books that didn’t get on. Personally, I love “A Handful of Dust” slightly more than “Brideshead”, but I was outvoted.”

The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell (1949)
“This book belongs to no era. It’s pure wisdom.”

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene (1951)
“This book is on the list because Mary Laura Philpot, who’s in charge of our online literary magazine, Musing, pretty much said she’d quit if we didn’t include The End of the Affair and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. We all had books that we refused to be flexible on. Greene’s body of work is both large and wildly diverse: There are the political Greene novels, the comic Greene novels, the romantic Greene novels. If you’re just picking one, it’s not going to be representative of his entire body of work, so in the end we went with the one Mary Laura loved best. I have to say, I completely agree with her.”

Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger (1953)
Writes Patchett “Nine Stories is a book I’ve gone back to at different moments in my life, and I always find something new. I’ve passionately loved different stories at different times, first “Teddy,” later “For Esmé—With Love and Squalor.” I could list all of them. It’s also the most perfectly balanced collection of stories I know. There are no weak links. The Catcher in the Rye is a great book when you’re a kid, and Franny and Zooey is a great book when you’re in your 20s, but Nine Stories can see you through your entire life.”

Books in the 1960s:
“America was so vulnerable in the ’60s. I think of the pain that the country suffered through because of the war in Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, the women’s movement–it tore our hearts open, and that openness is the place from which great art is often made.”

Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child (1961)
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)
“These two books make a nice pairing because, in extremely different ways, they’re books about women finding their art and their daring. Plath and Child both test themselves to see what they’re capable of, and that set the tone not only for the ’60s but for the rest of our lives.”

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)
“This book was the guide to the ’70s. The world as we had known it in the ’50s was finished. Who knew what was coming? This is the book that says everything we used to know is gone, but what’s up ahead may be a lot cooler than anything we could have ever imagined.”

Maus by Art Spiegelman (1980)
“The first graphic novel to address a serious subject—one of the first graphic novels for adults I had ever seen, this book made us look at one of the most painful and widely documented atrocities in history with fresh eyes. Maus made us think again. Its influence has certainly been clear in the rise of graphic novels, but I think it’s spread throughout all art forms, going all the way up to the play Hamilton. How can the artist make his audience fully experience history? Present it in the most unexpected way.”

The Harry Potter novels by J.K. Rowling (1997–2007)
“The Harry Potter phenomenon was and still is incredibly uplifting because it turned children into readers. It gave them a profound connection to characters, and that nearly rabid need to know what was coming next. The readers and the characters grew up together, and the passion for the books spread to the parents and then to the next generation. Any child who grew up reading Harry Potter knows that she is fully capable of later reading something like Great Expectations, because she’s had that experience of losing herself in great big books.”

On Writing by Stephen King (1999)
“It would be impossible for a bunch of booksellers to decide on their favorite Stephen King novel, but we all agreed On Writing should make the list. You don’t need to be a King fan, a horror fan, or someone who wants to write to love this book (though Stephen King’s horror fans who want to write will be deeply satisfied). It’s just a great book about determination, and how the past shapes us, and how the love and support of a single person can make all the difference. It’s also the best explanation of addiction, and overcoming addiction, that I’ve ever read.”
(I don’t consider myself much of a Stephen King fan—with the exception of some of his early works, in particular “Four Seasons” – four short stories which all, I believe, were made into films–sls)

Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace (2005)
“Some people feel intimidated by David Foster Wallace’s books, and some of his books can be intimidating. By adding Consider the Lobster to this list, we’re suggesting a book that shows Wallace’s brilliance at its very best while still being accessible. This is a very funny book, very manageable, but the writing is never less than dazzling. He continually asks us if we’re thinking about what we’re doing, because he’s thinking about what he’s doing every second.”

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (2016)
“The book grabs the reader from the opening pages and never lets go. That’s why it’s so perfect for right now. There are so many demands on our time and attention, and Elizabeth Strout actually gets our attention, all of it, by simply and directly telling us an unforgettable story.”

I DID agree with Ms. Patchett on a few titles—one of the first for 1940 is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith (no relation) published in 1943. Several other titles are unfamiliar to me, despite my lifetime of being an avid reader, moving from membership to various libraries to buying bags of books in the bi-annual library sales.

While many bookstores, to my dismay, have gone out of business, all you have to do is attend just one of the Friends of the Library book sales to discover that people are—despite the death of bookstores—still reading books. And I’m guessing that most of the books we purchase from the pre-owned selections at are from used bookstores that are finding customers throughout the country with this format.

The selections from Pachett for the 1950s are partially familiar (“The Old Man and the Sea” by Hemingway, “Charlotte’s Web” (E.B. White), “The Once and Future King” by T.H.White, “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov—I haven’t read any of Patchett’s 1950s selections and don’t plan to go into and look for any of them. Included in 1950s as well was “Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger” I remember struggling through “Catcher in the Rye” by Salinger—yikes! In my honest opinion, best sellers of the 1950s also left much to be desired.

Pachett moves on to the 1960s—certainly I was an avid reader by this time. I scoured used book stores and thrift shops in downtown Cincinnati. Listed by Pachett for the 1960s? “Night” by Elie Wiesel, “The Rabbit Angstrom” by John Updike, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child and “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. I didn’t buy/read Julia Child’s cookbook in the 1960s—but I DID buy and read “To Kill a Mockingbird” and at some point in time, I also saw the film version starring Gregory Peck.

I now have several copies of “The Art of French Cooking” and have given most of my French cookbooks to my niece in Seattle, who – along with her husband – love French cooking.

Around in 1960 or ’61, my father brought home several copies of a Methodist church cookbook that he purchased from a co-worker at Formica, for a dollar each. My mother got a copy as well as my sister Becky and myself. That was really the introduction to church and club cookbooks for me. I tried many of the local Cincinnati recipes and began to wonder if there might be other church or club cookbooks such as this one. It was an awakening for me.

In 1961 we—husband Jim, one year old son, Michael, and I–moved to California, returning to Ohio in 1963 to await the birth of second son Steve. When Steve was four months old, we—now a family of four-returned to California, driving a treacherous route covered with snow and ice until we reached the middle of Texas. I had begun to collect books but my tastes were selective at this time.

I began buying used books (fiction novels, mostly) wherever I could find them cheap. I began reading whatever I could find. I remember going through all of Agatha Christie’s novels, paperbacks bought for ten cents each at a used book store on Lankershim Boulevard, when Michael was a toddler. We had an apartment on Sara Street. I walked to this book store with Michael in a stroller—at ten cents each, I could buy ten of Agatha Christie’s mysteries for a dollar.

Thinking back, I had a small bookcase in my bedroom when I was a teenager. My first books of my own were five Nancy Drew mysteries, a Christmas present from my brother Jim. I was probably ten or eleven at the time.

When I was still a pre-teen, I accompanied my Uncle Cal to the drug store on Carl Street to pick up a prescription for my mother. I picked up a paperback copy of the Diary of Anne Frank and sensing my interest, my uncle bought the book for me. I read it over and over, until the pages fell out of the book. It was the first non-fiction book I had ever read (years later I collected everything I could find about Anne Frank.)

I remember finding a copy of GONE WITH THE WIND at my grandmother’s, when a family she rented the second floor to disappeared without paying the rent, leaving behind an assortment of things. That copy of GONE WITH THE WIND was amongst those discards. GWTW was the very first unabridged novel that I read, up to that point. I think I was about fifteen years old. And, I had to read GWTW half a dozen times to really “get” it—I had to grow into Margaret Mitchell’s account of love, life and the American Civil War.

I also remember reading PEYTON PLACE as a teenager, which was considered scandalous and not suitable reading for good Catholic girls. Everybody was reading it (by later standards, PEYTON PLACE was actually pretty tame.) It should be noted that neither GWTW or Peyton Place made the list in Ann Patchett’s list.

By the time I became an adult and was buying books left and right, now scouring used book stores in the San Fernando Valley—I had acquired some of my favorite authors.

An early favorite author was Shirley Jackson, whose novels I read and collected. Then I discovered Janice Holt Giles and along with girlfriend Connie, we searched for HER published novels. Also early on, I discovered Ardyth Kennelly and made a diligent search for her books (unfortunately, Ardyth only wrote four or five novels and I was never able to discover why her writing career was cut short).

As for Shirley Jackson, she was the author I tried hardest to emulate—she could write bone-chilling mysteries such as “The Haunting of Hill House” (which was made into a movie) – or side-splitting humor such as her autobiographical Life Among the Savages” and “Raising Demons” which may have become offensive to her four children when they were old enough to know that they were the subject of those two books.

In 1965 I began to collect cookbooks – but none were purchased NEW—I began buying church and club cookbooks with assistance from a new Michigan penpal, Betsy, who also collected cookbooks.

Vacation trips with my sons to Cincinnati in the first half of the 1970s led to trips in downtown Cincinnati to scour the used bookstores to search for club and church cookbooks from various groups throughout Cincinnati but from neighboring Kentucky and Indiana as well. One year we returned to California by greyhound bus because you could ship up to five large boxes of books back to southern California without any additional fees.

In 1977, I returned to work full time, ending the summer vacations in Cincinnati.
As I got older, many of the titles of favorite authors became easier to find, thanks to the Internet.

When I bought a house in 2008 and despite giving away truckloads of books to the Burbank Friends of the Library, I filled over 600 boxes with books and other belongings n(such as cookie jars and recipe boxes) while my son Kelly made weekend trips from the San Fernando Valley to the Antelope Valley, then transferred all the boxes of books to my new garage once we moved into our new home.

In 2010, my housemate, Bob, built a library out of half of my garage space—cookbooks filled all the bookshelves inside the house, and my collections of fiction, collections of First Ladies and Presidents went into the new library; I unpacked boxes of books as fast as Bob put up shelves. And despite all the newly found book space, I donated more than five large boxes of books to the Lancaster Friends of the Library.

At last I had enough shelf space to put all of titles by favorite authors into alphabetical order (with the exception of my absolutely favorite authors, who are in a bookcase in my bedroom) so that I can tell you that favorite authors range from Maeve Binchy and Gwen Bristow to Michael Connolly and Patricia Cornwell, Harlan Coben and Jeffrey Deaver to Janice Holt Giles and Norah Lofts, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, from John Sandford to John Steinbeck—who I was late in discovering after a trip to Monterey Bay with a girlfriend.

In more recent years, I discovered—and fell in love with—books by Robert Morgan, starting with The Hinterlands, as well as the body of works by Adriana Trigiani. I think my love for American pioneer fiction started with Janice Holt Giles but is still going strong today with pioneer fiction by Robert Morgan and Adriana Trigiani.

In the past few years, I have begun downsizing some of my books, primarily to provide shelf space for other favorite titles—easily a lot more than seventy five. 

–Sandra Lee Smith

*for the unfamiliar, Parade is a leaflet of perhaps half a dozen pages that appears in my L.A. Times Sunday newspaper.