Monthly Archives: December 2010


I’ve said this before but it’s one of those things that occasionally bears repeating; there is often a kind of synchronicity to the kind of food related articles that I write. You think an idea is entirely your own, only to discover later that any number of other people had the same idea and began writing about it too.

An example of this is “GRANDMA’S WARTIME KITCHEN” by Joanne Lamb Hayes – published in October, 2000, which combined not one but two earlier articles of mine in the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, a newsletter for which I wrote articles for about ten years. “Hard Times” appeared in the August/September, 1997 issue of the CCE, and “Grandma’s Favorite” in the January/February 2000 issue of the CCE. Grandma’s Favorite was a tribute to the various cookbooks published in recent years that had “Grandma” in their titles. I personally have a bookshelf full of these cookbooks – a few of my favorites are “From My Grandmother’s Kitchen”, containing Jewish recipes, “Just Like Grandma Used to Make” by well-known author Lois Wyse (boasting more than 170 heirloom recipes); “Grandma’s Hands” by Deirdre T. Guion (a collection of Creole recipes) and Grandma’s Comfort Food—Made Healthy” by JoAnna M. Lund. And when my family decided to compile a cookbook of favorite recipes, we named it “Grandma’s Favorite” as a tribute to my paternal grandmother.

My article “Hard Times”, like Joanne Lamb Hayes’ “GRANDMA’S WARTIME KITCHEN” dealt with World War II and the way our mothers and grandmothers cooked. If this is a subject you find interesting, as I do, you will certainly want to add “GRANDMA’S WARTIME KITCHEN” to your cookbook collection. (And you might also want to search for cookbooks published during the War years, which provide more in-depth recipes and understanding of what cooks were able to buy during the years of rationing, and how they learned to make do – or do without. One really excellent book in my collection is “Wartime Meals” by Margot Murphy, then food editor of the New York Times. Her book was published in 1942

But skip forward to more recent times and there’s Grandma’s Wartime Kitchen, published in 2000.

The foreword to “GRANDMA’S WARTIME KITCHEN” was written by none other than well-known cookbook author Jean Anderson, who wrote “The American Century Cookbook” which has become one of my cookbook reference bibles.

Jean Anderson notes, “With the arrival of a new century and a new millennium, it’s hardly surprising that several cookbooks have surfaced to trace our culinary journey through the twentieth century. What is surprising is the scant attention they pay to World War II and its impact upon the way we ate and the way we cooked even though that impact is still felt today. With ‘GRANDMA’S WARTIME KITCHEN’ Joanne Lamb Hayes amply fills the void. Her coverage of the forties—the war decade—is painstakingly researched yet fascinating to read, thanks to her own childhood memories plus those of countless moms across the country who coped and cooked in those lean days of food rationing….”

Anderson relates that she was a little girl when World War II broke out and many of the things her own mother did to stretch meat and satisfy her family’s sweet tooth despite strict sugar rationing sprang to mind as she read “GRANDMA’S WARTIME KITCHEN”. Why roast chicken, fricasseed rabbit and braised beef heart replaced prime ribs and roast leg of lamb for Sunday dinners (because poultry and game weren’t rationed and lesser cuts of meat required fewer ration points). Why so many desserts began with a can of purple plums (the heavy syrup in which they were packed could be used as a sweetener) and why margarine, used instead of butter, was white (Dairy farmers insisted that yellow margarine not be sold) I also discussed white margarine and how the Dairy Industry lobbied against it being colored, in my article “I love you Ida Bailey Allen, Where Ever you Are”.

Anderson points out that, “If only for its in-depth documentation of the 1940s, “GRANDMA’S WARTIME KITCHEN” is a welcome addition to twentieth-century American literature….” But it’s a cookbook too, filled with a memorable collection of forties recipes.

How did Joanne Lamb Hayes come up with the idea for her book?

In the Introduction to “GRANDMA’S WARTIME KITCHEN”, Hayes explains that a few years ago, as we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, she attended a seminar on American eating habits. She says that when the keynote speaker said that when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, American women left the kitchen and never returned, she knew the speaker was wrong. Although Hayes wasn’t very old at the time, she remembered the time spent in the kitchen and things were pretty busy there. She began searching for her mother’s recipes but those fresh, frugal from scratch recipes had been replaced by more up to date things.

“Thus started a quest,” writes the author, “through libraries, used-book and magazine stores and yard sales that filled my living room with piles of yellowing printed material and my kitchen with delicious memories. As I was reading the cookbooks, magazine food articles and consumer pamphlets, I felt that I was given the opportunity to peek into a 1940s icebox or ‘mechanical’ refrigerator…”

Hayes not only found the recipes, s also discovered a lot about the women who created them

Along with lots of recipes, there are excerpts from wartime cookbooks and quotes from women throughout the country who also remember this particular, unique period in our history. The recipes appear to be a carefully selected cross section of what American women were cooking and serving their families during the War. Are these recipes outdated?
Not at all – you will be pleasantly surprised, I think. Ranging from scalloped spinach and tomatoes to beet relish, from Chicken Gumbo Soup to Six Layer Dinner, from Baked Meat Loaf Potatoes to Brisket with Vegetables or from Hungarian Goulash (which bears a striking resemblance to my grandmother’s Hungarian goulash) to Beef Stroganoff, these and the many other recipes provide a nostalgic backward glance for those of us who actually remember those years, and an intriguing glimpse into the past for those of us too young to remember.

Joanne Lamb Hayes has been writing about food for various magazines since 1965. She holds a Ph.D from New York University’s Department of Nutrition and Food Studies and teaches both academic and recreational food courses. She is also the co-author of seven other cookbooks, including “365 Great Cookies and Brownies”, “Country Entertaining” and “The Weekend Kitchen”.

“GRANDMA’S WARTIME KITCHEN”, was published a decade ago, in October, 2000, by St. Martin’s Press, and originally sold for $27.95. It came as a distinct shock to me to discover that a pristine copy of the book is now selling for considerably more. I checked Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s websites. The best I could find, in price, for a used copy was on Amazon for $16.52 (plus $3.99 shipping). I imagine you might find a copy at your local library, or at least be able to request a copy from your librarian. My search on Amazon also revealed that Joanne Lamb Hayes followed up Grandma’s Wartime Recipes with another cookbook a couple of years later, Grandma’s Wartime Baking Book. Amazing! The latter is even higher priced. However, that being said – I did some internet surfing and if you just Google “Grandma’s Wartime Kitchen” you will find a wealth of booksellers with varying prices; the lowest I found was about $15.00.

Grandma’s Wartime Kitchen
ISBN 0-312-25323-0

Remembered by Sandra Lee Smith



My love affair with diners dates back to my early childhood, where, in South Fairmount in Cincinnati, Ohio, there was a place on the corner of Queen City Avenue and Beekman Streets, called the Twin Trolley Diner. I loved that restaurant. It was a favorite place to stop and have a bite to eat after going to the movies at the West Hills Theater in South Fairmount. We lived in North Fairmount and everyone either walked or took the streetcars, also known as trolley cars, to get where they were going. Buses replaced streetcars while I was still very young. Even so, children walked everywhere. To have an adult drive you someplace was simply unheard of. We walked to and from school, the library, movie theaters, the Dairy Queen, bakery, drug store, or the corner mom & pop grocery stores – unless you were going Downtown; then you took a streetcar or the bus. The Twin Trolley Diner was also right on the street car/bus line. (It might surprise you to learn, too, that when women or girls went Downtown, they wore high heels, hats, gloves, and stockings—the works! People didn’t go Downtown in casual attire, even if it meant walking all around Downtown in uncomfortable high-heeled shoes!).

There was another place in Cincinnati that enjoyed enormous popularity, one I didn’t even think of as a diner until I read about it in a cookbook called “ROCK & ROLL DINER” by Sharon O’Connor. The diner is a place called Camp Washington Chili and the restaurant has been at the same location since 1940. It was just about a mile from our house, just across the Hopple Street Viaduct. Camp Washington Chili was always open 24 hours a day and very often, when I was a teenager, someone would get a yen for “Coney Islands” or “White Castles” and we’d make a late-night quick trip to both places. I think this happened mostly when I was babysitting for my older sister and she and her husband would come home from their evening out on the town.

“Coney Islands” are specially made small hot dogs on smaller-than-average buns, loaded down with hot dog, Cincinnati chili, chopped onions, shredded cheese and mustard. Cincinnati chili is a special blend of chili, originally created by a Greek chef and a “five way” is a plateful of spaghetti topped off with chili, kidney beans, chopped onions and finely shredded cheese—with oyster crackers. Nearby was a White Castle restaurant, also a chain of diner eateries popular in my hometown. Their hamburgers were smaller than regular-size hamburgers – a really hungry person could easily eat about three Coney Islands and three White Castles. (When I was a little girl, the Sunday paper often featured a White Castle coupon—you could get 5 hamburgers for twenty-five cents! I think we clipped a lot of those coupons). Another memory from my earliest childhood is coming home on the street car with my grandparents, after spending a Sunday at their “lodge” downtown near Findlay Market. When we transferred streetcars at Hopple and Colerain Streets, Grandpa would go into the White Castle and get a bag of hamburgers for us to take home and eat.

And, even though Camp Washington Chili has been at the same location since 1940, it’s no longer the same building. When the City wanted to widen Hopple Street, they wanted a slice of the land on which the original Camp Washington Chili building was located. The owners obliged and now Camp Washington Chili is in a new—albeit very art-deco-ish building. The owners and the food are the same, however, (although the menu has expanded). A few years ago, I visited my hometown and my nephew and his wife and I enjoyed lunch at Camp Washington Chili. All of the walls of the interior of the restaurant are decorated with tributes that have been appeared in numerous books, magazines, and newspapers about this most famous Cincinnati eatery.

There are, now, many chili “parlors” throughout the city of Cincinnati, most either Skyline or Empress. Camp Washington Chili was one of the earliest, however and is so famous that the mayor declared June 12 to be Camp Washington Chili Day. When I go to visit relatives and friends in Cincinnati, usually the first thing we do is head for one of the chili parlors. There is even one in the Greater Cincinnati airport (which, incidentally, is located in Kentucky—but that’s another story!)

“Diner history”, writes Sharon O’Connor in “ROCK & ROLL DINER” (published in 1996 by Menus and Music Productions, Inc) “began in 1872 when Walter Scott drove a horse-drawn freight wagon filled with sandwiches, boiled eggs, buttered bread, pies, and coffee down Westminster Street in Providence, Rhode Island. Late-night factory workers couldn’t purchase anything to eat after 8 p.m. when all the restaurants in town closed for the evening, so the enterprising Scott brought the food to his hungry customers…”

A few years later, a man by the name of Samuel Jones noticed some of the lunch wagon customers standing outside in the rain eating and he had an inspiration – he would build a lunch cart big enough for people to come inside. In 1887 at the New England Fair in Worcester, Massachusetts, for the first time ever, customers entered a lunch cart on wheels. “Jones’ cart had a kitchen, fancy woodwork, stained glass windows, standing room for customers and a menu that included sandwiches, pie, cake, milk, and coffee,” writes O’Connor. “The idea of eating inside a lunch cart was an instant success.”

Before long, lunch wagons were being mass-produced by a man named Thomas H. Buckley, who became known as the “Lunch Wagon King.” Buckley added cooking stoves to his lunch wagons, which allowed expanded menus. These lunch wagons, O’Connor explains, underwent a number of changes and gradually evolved into the roadside diners of the 20th century. Curiously, early in the 1900s, when street railway companies were beginning to electrify, enterprising wagon owners converted many of the discarded trolley cars into permanent restaurants.

Soon after, several other entrepreneurs went into the diner manufacturing business and began shipping pre-fabricated miniature restaurants that were approximately thirty feet long and ten feet wide to various parts of the country. Sometime between 1923 and 1924, the name “lunch car” evolved into “diner”.

“In 1922,” writes O’Connor, “diner manufacturer Jerry O’Mahony’s catalog pictured ‘lunch cars’; two years later, it showed many models called ‘diners’…”
“This new name,” explains Sharon O’Connor, “linked them with the fine dining experience offered on Pullman trains, and it also better described the expanded fare of breakfast, lunch, and dinner available twenty-four hours a day…”

Richard Gutman, author of “AMERICAN DINER, THEN & NOW” delves a great deal deeper into the origins of the diner, and the life of Walter Scott and others who came up with the original food carts. Gutman’s book also offers many illustrations and photographs of diners from their inception on.

It was during the mid-1920s that diner owners also began to make a bid for female customers to come into their restaurants. Initially, most women wouldn’t set foot into a diner. The Diners’ early days as late-night lunch carts gave them a reputation of being for men only. Now, ladies were invited to come in; flower boxes, shrubs, and frosted glass were added to the décor. In addition, the menus began to offer salads. The bid for female customers also led to another major innovation. Writes O’Connor, “Because most women didn’t feel comfortable perched on counter stools, manufacturers began to offer diners with table or booth service. By the end of the decade, diners were regarded as inexpensive, respectable places to eat and this reputation served them well during the 1930s…” (It was also during the 1930s that the term “Luncheonette” came along. This had, I suspect a more respectable ring to it for the ladies rather than something like “hash house” or “Lunch Counter”).

In 1928, the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. However, diners made it through those difficult years—people still had to eat, and diners offered inexpensive meals.

The popularity of diners peaked in the 1950s, when an estimated 6,000 of these small, family-owned businesses were in operation. In 1962, along came McDonalds and the advent of the fast-food chains caused a major decline in the diner business. The 1982 movie “Diner” inspired a revival in diner mania – but then, in the 1990s, baby boomers became fascinated with the Retro look – and everything old was new again. New versions of the 1940s and 1950s style diners are being re-created and the older diners are being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. Unfortunately, a lot of places, like the Twin Trolley Diner, are gone forever. And, one of life’s ironies about this entire story is that now, again, we have “food trucks” that go around to office buildings and factories during break and lunch hours, so that workers can go out and grab a bite to eat—what goes around certainly does come around!

Diners, I discovered, have their own “lunch counter lingo”. This is a sort of shorthand slang used between servers and the cooks in traditional diners and luncheonettes. John Mariani, author of “THE DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN FOOD AND DRINK”, published by Hearst Books (originally in 1983, but updated and revised in 1994) provides a sampling of terms if you are interested in Diner Lingo. Says Mariana “lunch counters have provided etymologists and linguists with one of the richest stores of American slang, cant, and jargon, usually based on a form of verbal shorthand bandied back and forth between waiters and cooks….”

Some of these terms, such as a “BLT” for bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, have become a familiar part of American language. H.L. Mencken, published in 1948, incidentally, culled Mariana’s list, from several other sources, notably “the American Language”. Mencken, in turn, found some of his sources dating back to a writer for the Detroit Press in 1852. Waiters, he says, developed most of it, in the 1870s and 1880s.

Here are a few Diner lingo terms:

ADAM AND EVE ON A RAFT: two poached eggs on toast.
BIRD SEED: cereal
BLUE PLATE SPECIAL: A dish of meat, potato and vegetable served on a plate (usually blue) sectioned in three parts
BOWWOW: A hot dog
BOSSY IN A BOWL: Beef stew, so called because “Bossy” was a common name for a cow
CROWD: Three of anything (possibly from the old saying ‘Two’s company, three’s a crowd)
DRAW ONE: Coffee
EIGHTY-SIX: Translates to “do not sell to that customer” or “the kitchen is out of the item ordered”. Might be traced to the practice at Chumley’s Restaurant in New York City of throwing rowdy customers out the back door, which is No. 86 Bedford Street
FIRST LADY: Spareribs, a pun on Eve’s being made from Adam’s spare rib
There are many other terms, most of them completely outdated in 2003, such as ZEPPELINS IN A FOG which were sausages in mashed potatoes. How many young people today even know what a Zeppelin was? (No, it wasn’t a rock group!)
“Now…” writes author Sharon O’Connor, “diners are flourishing across the United States, from nostalgic prefabricated booth-and-countertop models to custom-designed spots that seat hundreds and gross millions. Colonial- and Mediterranean-style places are being redone with less stone and brick and more polished granite, marble, glass, and stainless steel. New versions of classic 1940s- and 1950s-style diners are being re-created, and older diners are being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. Menus across the country are diverse `and include traditional diner fare as well as more eclectic and regional selections….”

Some diner historians dispute what really constitutes a diner, however, and point out that many of today’s so-called diners are really imitation diners, or wannabes.

As noted in a magazine called “Roadside”, “if your diner is a storefront, or built into a shopping mall, or into a strip plaza, it is not a diner. If it sits anywhere within the boundaries of an amusement park, it is not a diner. If it serves $8.95 cheeseburgers and requires reservations, it is not a diner….”

Since I embarked on a mission to find out more about the diners of my childhood, I have discovered there is a wealth of published material on the subject! Whether you want to know the history of diners or how to cook comfort foods such as the diners were famous for serving, someone has written about it.

Diner cookbooks are a lot of fun to read and they are usually packed with nostalgic comfort recipes.

Cookbooks such as “ROCK & ROLL DINER”, and “BLUE PLATE SPECIAL” offer photographs of diners throughout the country and provide recipes featured at these restaurants (although nothing quite compares with actually visiting a fifties-style diner, sitting in a red-vinyl booth and ordering your favorite comfort food while selecting songs from the wall juke box. Food and atmosphere have always been key elements to the success of these diners. And, isn’t it ironic that the fast-food chains which once threatened the existence of the diners—are now in competition with them?

Want to learn more about diners, their specialties and their history?
You may want to look for the following:

“ROCK & ROLL DINER” by Sharon O’Connor, published 1996 by Menus and Music Productions, Inc.
“BLUE PLATE SPECIAL/THE AMERICAN DINER COOKBOOK” by Elizabeth McKeon and Linda Everett, published 1996 by Cumberland House Publishing Inc.,
“THE STREAMLINER DINER COOKBOOK” by Irene Clark, Liz Matteson, Alexandra Rust, Judith Weinstock, published by Ten Speed Press, 1990.
“DINER” by Diane Rossen Worthington, published 1995 by Sunset Publishing Corporation
“THE ROUTE 66 COOKBOOK” by Marian Clark, published 1993 by Council Oak Books
“AMERICAN DINER, THEN & NOW” by Richard J.S. Gutman, the John Hopkins University Press, paperback edition 2000 *
“RETRO DINER/COMFORT FOOD FROM THE AMERICAN ROADSIDE” by Linda Everett, published 2002 by Collectors Press, Inc.
“DINERS/AMERICAN RETRO” published by Sourcebooks, Inc.
“WHAT’S COOKING AT MOODY’S DINER/60 YEARS OF RECIPES & REMINISCENCES” by Nancy Moody Genthner, published August 2002 by Dancing Bear Books…and something for the kiddies, a children’s book on the subject, “MEL’S DINER” by Marissa Moss, 1994, by BridgeWater Books

–Sandra Lee Smith


Perhaps you’ve noticed – there has been a great wave, or trend, towards easy recipes that start out with a pre-packaged cake mix, such as those you will find from Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines, or Pillsbury.

Actually, the concept of using a cake mix for something other than a cake isn’t really all that new.

The traditional pre-packaged layer cake mixes were developed just after World War II and were welcomed by consumers who were interested in finding ways to make cooking, especially baking, easier. (Women going to work in factories, during WW2, may have been a factor in this change of perspective—how much time should we spend in the kitchen after working outside the home all day?) Cake mixes developed by Betty Crocker labs were four years in the “creating stage” with the advent of Betty Crocker Party Cake mixes (yellow, white or spice) in 1949. In the past 50 years, hundreds (if not thousands) of varieties of recipes using a cake mix have been developed by all the major food companies Nowadays, you can make any number of different muffins, breads, desserts, and cookies—all starting out with one cake mix. As nearly as I can pin down a date (and could be mistaken), I believe the idea of using cake mixes to make cookies dates as far back as the 1950s. There is an illustration in a Betty Crocker cookbook for holiday cookies made from a cake mix, that was first published in the 1950s. However, the concept of cookies, brownies, bars, and other snack treats made from cake mixes really began to take off just a few years ago, prompted, perhaps, by the trend for 3,4,5,6, 7 or 8 ingredient cookbooks. I fell in love with this idea and keep a complete shelf of cake mixes on my pantry shelf, stocking up when cake mixes are on sale. (And let me tell you, I would take chocolate cookies studded with M&Ms, made from a Devil’s Food cake mix…or Lemon Crispy cookies made from lemon cake mix and Rice Krispies – to work to share with coworkers, and no one ever guessed that the secret ingredient was a cake mix. It was my little secret!)

As Oprah would say, think outside of the box! That’s exactly what Stephanie Ashcraft, author of “101 THINGS TO DO WITH A CAKE MIX”, has done. This cookbook is on the small size (about 5×7”) but is spiral bound with a plastic over-cover to protect your book in the kitchen. It opens and lays flat on a counter or work space (a difficulty with many large books…generally, I have to copy a recipe and tack it onto the refrigerator door with a magnet, in order to follow directions—and keep my cookbook from getting spattered).

Ms. Ashcraft provides a wide variety of recipes for brownies and bars, cookies, fruity cakes, fancy cakes, Bundt cakes, muffins and breads—and something she refers to as “Children’s Delights”, the latter a delightful collection of recipes for various holidays (Valentine Cookies, Pumpkin-Patch Halloween Cake, Black Cat Cookies, Snickers Surprise cookies, Christmas Rainbow Poke Cake and more).

The author was raised near Kirklin, Indiana, and received a bachelor’s degree in family science and a teaching certificate from Brigham Young University. In 2004, Stephanie was teaching a monthly cooking class entitled “101 things to do with a Cake mix” for Macey’s Little Cooking Theater in Provo and Orem, Utah. “101 THINGS TO DO WITH A CAKE MIX” actually started out as a college class project; later she began teaching the cooking class.

Stephanie Ashcraft is also the author of a another cookbook, published in 2004, titled (appropriately) “101 MORE Things to do with a cake mix”. And the beat goes on!

“101 THINGS TO DO WITH A CAKE MIX” by Stephanie Ashcraft is from Gibbs-Smith Publishers, and sells for a reasonable $9.95.

If you are unable to find “101 THINGS TO DO WITH A CAKE MIX” at your favorite bookstore, you can order it from numerous websites on the Internet, including also offers some other “101 things you can do with….”in some other categories.

Review by Sandra Lee Smith

ISBN 1-58685-217-5 for 101 Things To Do With a Cake Mix.


Most of us, today, associate the name of Duncan Hines with a cake mix. However, it might surprise you to learn there really was a man by the name of Duncan Hines, who, at one time, was considered “America’s leading authority” on good eating. Before Jane and Michael Stern began eating their way across America; before Ford and Lincoln-Mercury began publishing their “Treasury of Favorite Eating Places,” before Marian Clark began writing “THE MAIN STREET OF AMERICA COOKBOOK, A CULINARY JOURNEY DOWN ROUTE 66” and even before someone got the bright idea of publishing “COOKING THE HOLIDAY INN WAY” – Duncan Hines had taken the high road afore ye.

If you are a Kentuckian, you probably even know that Bowling Green, Kentucky, honors native son Duncan Hines with an annual Duncan Hines Festival in June. One lucky young miss is crowned Miss Duncan Hines, and at the festival in June, 2000, the local townspeople prepared the world’s biggest brownie! It weighed in at nearly half a ton, measured 30’ X 13’ (more than 390 square feet) and was the work of 250 volunteers who had baked 675 pans of brownies. And for those of you who like statistics, the world’s biggest brownie took 675 packages of Duncan Hines Chewy Fudge Brownie Mix ®, 11 gallons of water, 2,025 eggs, 21 gallons of oil and 675 pounds of Duncan Hines ® Creamy Homestyle Frosting.

There is even an 82 mile Duncan Hines Scenic Byway, which begins on US-31 W at the site marking Hines’ former home and office.

Duncan Hines, who was born in Kentucky in 1880, was the youngest of six children. When he was four years old, his mother died of pneumonia. His father, who was a lawyer, found law practice and six children a little much to handle so Duncan and his brother Porter, the two youngest boys, spent a great deal of time on their grandmother’s farm. Duncan’s appreciation for good food apparently stemmed from his grandmother’s culinary skills. “Grandma,” writes Duncan in “FOOD ODYSSEY”, “was from Covington, Virginia, which is to say she had learned her craft thoroughly …Grandma had acquired a ‘feel’ that few cooks have today. Her only measurements were a pinch of this and a pinch of that sifted out through her slender fingers…”

Duncan wrote that his grandma had no cookbooks and her stove was “one of those great black wood-burners that stood in every American kitchen towards the end of the last century..”

Duncan Hines spent much of his early adult life as a traveling salesman. As he traveled, he began to keep notes about the restaurants he visited on the road, for future reference. Hines recounts how it all began in his book “DUNCAN HINES’ FOOD ODYSSEY” explaining that his wife Florence often accompanied him on business trips and was just as interested as he in discovering good eating places.

One year The Hines’ compiled a list of their favorite eating places, in a blue folder, and had it printed to give to friends instead of the usual Christmas card. The original blue folder contained the names of 167 recommended restaurants and dining rooms in thirty states and the District of Columbia. When Mr. Hines began receiving hundreds of requests for his restaurant guide as its existence apparently spread like wildfire, it occurred to him that no one else had ever published such a guide before. In 1936, Duncan Hines published “Adventures in Good Eating”. It was the first American restaurant guide and helped set a higher standard for dining.

Along with directions for getting there, the original guides provided descriptions of the food, specialties and prices, noting “…This place specializes on a real chicken dinner, all you can eat. The dinner is $2 and well worth it…” Testimonies from satisfied restaurant guide purchasers are sprinkled throughout along with some of Mr. Hines’ homilies (“Any man or woman under the influence of liquor is a nuisance in a well-ordered place” and “Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, ‘Life is not so short but that there is always time for courtesy’”)

Hines refused to accept a free meal or lodging or charge anyone for a listing. To do his book justice, he resigned from the printing firm where he had been employed, in order to become a full time traveler. In the Introduction to a later edition of “Adventures in Good Eating”, Mr. Hines offered a warning to places listed stating, “It is a distinct disappointment to me to learn that a surprising number of people have gone to listed places and received free meals and lodging because they have claimed to be relatives of mine traveling through the country to check on place, or that they were responsible for the place being included in my book..” Mr. Hines advises that no one was ever authorized to make such demands and should be refused.

In 1938, Hines published his second book, “LODGING FOR A NIGHT”, in 1939 “THE ART OF CARVING IN THE HOME”, in 1948 “DUNCAN HINES VACATION GUIDE” and in 1955, “DUNCAN HINES FOOD ODYSSEY” and “DUNCAN HINES DESSERT BOOK”. There was also, in 1952, a booklet titled “THE ART OF GRILLING, BAKING, BARBECUING” which looks like it might have been a free booklet that accompanied the purchase of the “new 1952 Estate Range” (i.e., stove).

I have a 1941 copy of “Adventures in Good Eating” which sold for $1.50 and appears to have been self-published and sold by Mr. Hines. His home address in Bowling Green is on the first page! In its Introduction, Mr. Hines explains, “ My first discovery was that the highways were crowded with gasoline pilgrims whose main interest seemed to be the relative merits of inns..” (It should be noted that this was long before the advent of Denny’s, McDonald’s, Howard Johnson’s and all the other chain restaurants that pepper the freeways from coast to coast – in 1941, we didn’t even HAVE freeways!)

Hines, in his “ADVENTURES IN GOOD EATING” notes “Tourists are free spenders and ‘eating out’ amid country surroundings is the modern vogue and prevailing recreational fashion….nearly everyone wants at least one outstanding meal a day. You may not be in that locality again soon so you want food that is satisfying and which can be remembered with pleasure—not the usual 50c or 65c meal…” (Imagine what Mr. Hines would think of restaurant prices today!)

In 1945, Mr. Hines published “ADVENTURES IN GOOD COOKING AND THE ART OF CARVING IN THE HOME”, taking his “ADVENTURES IN GOOD EATING” a step further. While the original book simply listed the names/addresses/and basic information about the places he had visited, and approved, “Good Cooking” offered recipes from the various restaurants. Mr. Hines became known nationally through a syndicated newspaper column and a weekly radio show, but probably achieved his greatest fame by sponsoring a line of food products.

In 1950, Duncan Hines became associated with Roy Park of Ithaca New York. Hines-Park Inc produced more than 50 kitchen items and 200 food products, which were marketed nationwide under the Duncan Hines brand name. In 1956, the company merged with Proctor & Gamble. Then, in 1998 Aurora Foods acquired the Duncan Hines brand from Proctor & Gamble.

A keener sense of the person who was Duncan Hines can be gleaned from the pages of “FOOD ODYSSEY”, in which the author tells the story of the best meal he ever ate, when he was a Wells-Fargo clerk at the age of 19. How did the boy from Bowling Green, Kentucky, end up a Wells Fargo clerk in Wyoming? It came about, the author explains, when a doctor diagnosed him as having asthma. A dry climate was the recommended treatment for asthma in 1899, so the young boy was sent to Cheyenne. (The best meal he ever ate? Ham and eggs, after being lost and walking around in circles for several days). And, it turned out, he didn’t have asthma after all!

On March 16, 1959, Duncan Hines passed away, at his home in Bowling Green, at the age of 78, of lung cancer. Yet his name lives on and was the obvious inspiration for the many “restaurant cookbooks” that followed.

One of these was “THE FORD TREASURY OF FAVORITE RECIPES FROM FAMOUS EATING PLACES”, which appears to have first appeared on bookstore shelves in 1950. The Ford Treasury books took famous restaurant dining at step further with colorful illustrations of the places they had found worthy and provide a recipe from each. It would be interesting to know just how many of these places still exist, more than 50 years later! As a Californian, I can attest to a few – Cold Spring Tavern, for example, is a place in the mountains above Santa Barbara. Bob and I have been there for dinner and the last time we visited the place, it was still a pretty famous restaurant.

I don’t know how many Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Famous Eating Places were ultimately published; I have the first and third books; the third, published in 1959, lists Chasen’s and Perino’s restaurants in Los Angeles (neither of which are still in existence and Lawry’s The Prime Rib (which still is going strong)

Later, Ford would shorten the name of their series and call it “The Ford Times Cookbook” I have a 5th edition of the Ford Times Cookbook, published by Simon & Schuster in 1968.

In 1963, the Holiday Inns of America published “COOKING THE HOLIDAY INN WAY” which, admittedly, offered only recipes from the various Holiday Inns – still, the basic idea was the same.

Could Jane and Michael Stern or Marian Clark be far behind?

In the world of cookbooks, Jane and Michael Stern are familiar names, beginning with their travel guide “ROADFOOD”, published over 30 years ago. When the Sterns started out in the late 70s, they were worried that the country was becoming “a bit homogenized, on the verge of losing its regional diversity”. Michael recalled that when they published their first travel guide, they thought they were documenting something that was dying, that franchises were going to take over.

IN 1988, Andrews and McMeel published Jane and Michael Sterns’ “A TASTE OF AMERICA”, providing, along with recipes, an in-depth description of the places they had visited. “A Taste of America” appears to have grown from the publication of a weekly newspaper column. In the Introduction to “A Taste of America” the authors explain, “For fifteen years we have had the world’s greatest job. We drive around America eating the best food we can find, then we tell people about it in our books and in a weekly newspaper column called ‘A Taste of America’”.

This book was what the Sterns considered the cream of the crop.

In 1997 Jane and Michael Stern’s “EAT YOUR WAY ACROSS THE U.S.A.” was published by Broadway Books. “EAT YOUR WAY…” features 500 diners, lobster hacks, farmland buffets, pie palaces, and other All-American Eateries. The Sterns noted that they had begun traveling around the country looking for good food in 1974 and had driven more than three million miles, eating in tens of thousands of restaurants, with “EAT YOUR WAY ACROSS THE U.S.A.” the culmination of their quest.

Now here’s an observation for those of you who want to know these things; “A Taste of America” includes essays and a more in depth look at the places featured in the book. “EAT YOUR WAY ACROSS THE U.S.A.” seems more like the Duncan Hines books of old – a guide, small enough to carry with you in the glove compartment of your car as you venture forth in search of good food at good restaurants. Everything old is new again – a few decades had passed, but “Eat Your Way Across the U.S.A.” follows the path set by Duncan Hines long ago.

The Sterns have written quite a few books, not all of them about food. Since we are primarily preoccupied with food and cookbooks, other Stern books you may want to look for include “Good Food”, “ Square Meals”, “Real American Food”, “A Taste of America”, “American Gourmet”, “The All New Roadfood’, “Eat your Way Across the USA”, and “Chili Nation”. The Sterns are also the co-authors of “Where to Eat in Connecticut”, “The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste”, “Roadfood” and “Goodfood”, “ Sixties People”, and one of my very favorites, “A Portrait of the Last American Cowboy” – the story of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.

In 1993, Council Oak Books published Marian Clark’s “THE ROUTE 66 COOKBOOK”. The author explains, “Route 66 and everything it stands for remains one of my passions. As I sit at my desk in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the old highway is only a few miles away. Chunks of the original pavement from various locations are in my collection of cherished totems. Memories of the people and places from the road are indelibly stamped in my mind…Route 66 is not just another American highway. For millions of travelers, this artery has forever meant ‘going somewhere’…”

In 1997, Marian Clark’s “THE MAIN STREET OF AMERICA COOKBOOK/A CULINARY JOURNEY DOWN ROUTE 66” was published by Council Oak Books. Both books are reminiscent of The Sterns’ “A TASTE OF AMERICA” – EXCEPT all of the restaurants and recipes in Marion Clark’s books come from (what else?) the famous Route 66.

The first time my then-husband and I and our one-year old son drove across country to live in California, it was 1961 and on Route 66. Shades of Grapes of Wrath! We had an ironing board and the baby’s bed tied to the roof of the car! (Now, forty years later, I can’t for the life of me imagine why I felt it necessary to tote along an ironing board when we could have bought a new one for a few dollars). What I do remember, fondly, however, are the good meals we enjoyed along the way. I also remember the nighttime sky, inky black, with millions of stars, as we drove across the Southwestern States, from Texas to Arizona.

Marian Clark’s books will bring back many happy memories for anyone who has traveled the famous “Route 66”.

So, even though Duncan Hines was first – and Jane and Michael Stern have perhaps perfected it – the quest for good regional food from coast to coast is still sought after by many, enough to garner any number of websites and newspaper articles. Don’t have a computer, you say? A friend of mine reports that, at her home in Oklahoma, she is able to spend one hour a day on the Internet at her public library.

On a closing note, in a cookbook published in 1949, titled “OUT OF KENTUCKY KITCHENS” by Marion Flexner, Mr. Hines provided the preface, in which he observes, “when a person asks, ‘Where is the best place to eat?’ I always say “in your own home.”

So, if you can’t make it to Mom’s Diner on Route 66, you might want to head home to your own mother’s house for dinner tonight.



I have kept letters, and diaries from my teenage years.
I have saved photographs and thankfully, the negatives.
I have birth certificates and documents that belonged
To both parents and my grandparents.
I have valentines and drawings my children made in school,
Packed in an old trunk. Also inside the trunk
There are newspaper clippings:
Elvis Dies! Mount St Helen Erupts!
Harry Truman is president!
JFK Assassinated!
What I keep is more than this–
I keep people, friendships, memories.

What I throw away is more difficult to define
Because I am not a throwing-away kind of person.
When forced to, I donate boxes of books and knick knacks
To charities. I cannot bring myself to throw away anything
That has any value – whether to myself or
Someone else.
More remarkably, the man I live with
Saves more things than I do.
He always finds a use for some obscure bolt or screw
Stashed somewhere in his workshop.
I am getting better at throwing away
Plastic containers that held margarine or Cool Whip
But I put them into the recycling bin
Feeling I am participating in
A greater cause.

–Sandra Lee Smith


In the house at 1618 Sutter Street, in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I grew up and learned to cook, there was one cookbook. It was kept in a drawer in the kitchen cupboard, along with ration stamp books (one for each member of the family), scraps of paper and pencils, pieces of chalk, rubber bands, cereal box tops that my brother Jim saved to send away for things like decoder rings, and my mother’s collection of WILSON evaporated milk labels. Here’s an interesting aside about the evaporated milk labels. My mother used the canned milk to make formula for whoever was the baby at the time (in a family the size of ours, somebody was always the baby—after Billy was born, he maintained that status for quite a few years). We poured evaporated milk into coffee and what’s more, we all liked it. Even my parents drank coffee this way, along with sugar. The can of evaporated milk was on the supper table along with everything else.

We probably had it with cereal on occasion, as well—it was either that or Starlac, a powdered milk that when added to water, always had indestructible little lumps that never quite dissolved. Evaporated milk was also a mainstay to making mashed potatoes and creamed peas. (I will readily admit, mashed potatoes and creamed peas made with canned milk still tastes pretty good to me. My sister Barbara agreed).

However, I tried evaporated milk in coffee a few years ago, when I was out of Moca Mix—ew, ew! I can’t believe we actually drank that stuff. We also made an equally disgusting ice cream out of evaporated milk and snow, and it seems to me that I even mixed little portions of it with food coloring to make a kind of “paint” to brush on unbaked cookies.
(Isn’t it interesting that one of the most popular fudge recipes to this day is made with evaporated milk?)

The reason my mother had a collection of WILSON evaporated milk labels is that you could redeem the labels for things, sort of like we once did with Top Value and Blue Chip trading stamps. I remember taking the bundles of evaporated milk labels downtown to cash them in for things – tea towels or potholders, most likely. I suspect that it took several thousand labels for one potholder, but I came from a family where free was desirable no matter what it was. Free was always considered a good thing. (Remind me to tell you sometime about the trouble I got into over “Free with Approvals” stamp ads that used to appear in comic books when I was a child—I had no idea what ‘approvals’ were. I only recognized FREE).

My sister, Barbara, had many memories involving the acquisition of free ‘stuff’ including selling Watkins products to get some free dishes, and the free samples of grape or orange juice you could get at the Orange Bar downtown. According to Barbara, our Grandma Schmidt loved anything that was free (maybe we all got it from her!).

This obsession for free stuff probably also accounts for the collection of recipe booklets I amassed, at a tender age – probably 9 or 10 – because of the ads on the backs of boxes and cans of things like Hershey’s cocoa and Calumet baking powder. Post cards cost a penny each. For ten cents, then, you could get ten post cards. All you had to do was write in and request the free booklet. (I also got a lot of free samples of Cuticura soap this way.)

But getting back to my mother’s kitchen cupboard, and her one and only cookbook, if I might digress for just a moment more—this kitchen cupboard was one of a kind and truly spectacular. It was built into the wall and reached the ceiling. The glass panels in the doors in the upper half of the cupboard were some kind of old patterned glass. My sister thinks the pattern was called stars and says you’d see it a lot in bathroom windows. There is a family story about that kitchen cupboard and me, which resulted in my ending up at the hospital getting stitches. Let me just say this: I was 8 years old and too lazy to move a chair over to the cupboard to open the top doors, which were out of my reach. (Barbara had to wash dishes, Jim dried them and it was my job to put them away). So one day, I stood on one of the doors over the lower cupboards—I slipped, straddling the cupboard door and ended up in the emergency room.

In any case, my mother had a cookbook and I couldn’t tell you if she or anybody else in the family ever used it. (most of my mother’s cooking was done sans recipes). Now here’s a funny thing—while my sister, Barbara, remembers the kind of glass in the kitchen cupboard and the color of the Wilson labels, she doesn’t remember the Ida Bailey Allen cookbook at all!

However, I do! I learned to cook from this cookbook. It was called “THE SERVICE COOK BOOK BY MRS. IDA BAILEY ALLEN” which, I have learned through research, was originally published in 1933. I think it may have been distributed by Woolworth’s. Along with authoring numerous cookbooks, Ms. Allen hosted a number of radio programs (radio recipe programs were really big in the 30s and 40s).

I was delighted to discover a dozen or so references to Mrs. Allen in Jean Anderson’s “AMERICAN CENTURY COOKBOOK”, published in 1997 and previously reviewed in the CCE.

Ms. Anderson observes that Fannie Farmer died in 1915 and “Ida Bailey Allen, a Chatauqua lecturer, took the stage and throughout the teens, ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s churned out cookbooks, lectured, wrote newspaper and magazine columns, endorsed products and generally kept her name before the public…”

One of Mrs. Allen’s earliest publications appears to have been published in 1917 (Mrs. Allen’s Cook Book). Anderson also credits Mrs. Allen for publishing a very early version of Swiss Steak in her 1917 cookbook which also indicated she was a hearty advocate of casseroles. Anderson also believes that Mrs. Allen may have been the first cookbook author to discuss broccoli in her 1927 cookbook “Vital Vegetables”.

Mary Drake Mcfeely, author of “CAN SHE BAKE A CHERRY PIE?” provided me with some additional clues about the life of Ida Bailey Allen.
Mcfeely writes, “…she dispensed cooking advice and recipes through her school of cookery in New York, articles in LADIES HOME JOURNAL and GOOD HOUSEKEEPING, a syndicated newspaper column (called, I think, “Let’s Eat”), a radio program, and, in the course of her career, fifty-six published cookbooks…”

“Ida Bailey Allen,” says Mcfeely, advised on everything –nutrition, shopping, pressure-cooker cooking. Her radio and newspaper audience wrote to her asking for help. In her Depression cookbook, ‘Ida Bailey Allen’s Money Saving Cook Book’ she answered some of the questions her readers posed in their letters—questions that reflect the anxiety of the times…”

Ida Bailey Allen, a prominent figure during the 20s and 30s and 40s, was a food authority on hand to provide assistance to homemakers during the terrible times of the Depression.

Allen, like M.F.K. Fisher, also promoted the use of innards. Writes McFeely, “She (Ida Bailey Allen) advocated the ‘clever use’ of innards—items unfamiliar and therefore unappealing, to middle-class Americans…”. (I find myself wondering if this is why my mother so often prepared kidney stew, liver and onions, brains and sweetbreads (it didn’t do any good to say ew, ew, to my mother. If it was on the dinner table, you had to eat it).

The introduction to Ida Bailey Allen’s Service Cookbook advises that “Millions of radio listeners and followers of women’s pages in newspapers and magazines in all parts of North America have bestowed upon Mrs. Ida Bailey Allen, author of this up-to-the-minute cookbook, the affectionate title of “the home-maker”….nearly two million women who have listened to her coast to coast broadcasts over the Columbia network in the past two years have written to her” (this was written in 1933).

The Introduction to The Service Cook Book also lets us know that Mrs. Allen was at one time Home Economics Editor of “Good Housekeeping”, “Pictorial Review” and “Woman’s World”. She was also president and founder of the National Radio Home-Makers Club, and thousands of radio listeners annually visited her “modern home atop 400 Madison Avenue, New York City,” where they could watch her staff of dietitians in their “never ending task of developing and testing new recipes for cooking”. (Sounds like Mrs. Allen was the Martha Stewart of the 30s and 40s, doesn’t it?”)

Ida Bailey Allen has endeared herself to me forever more with her comments in the preface to one of her books, published in 1924, titled “COOKING MENUS SERVICE”. Writes Ms. Allen “It was a long time ago that I had my first cooking lesson. Playing ‘grown up’—in an old dress from my grandmother’s attic—I went to ‘call’ on a neighbor. ‘Grown-up ladies do useful things,’ she said, “I will teach you to cook.’ Standing on a box in her spotless pantry—for I was only eight—I learned to make gingerbread…”

Some years later, I too, played dress up with my two best friends and when I was about eight years old, I too began to learn to cook. Obviously, Ida Bailey Allen and I are kindred spirits!

I have, in addition to my mother’s very battered and heavily stained Service Cook Book, several other copies of the same Number One edition (I have never seen a Number Two; was #2 ever published?). It’s a funny thing about my pristine copies of the Service Cookbook and my mother’s. They’re alike – and then again, they’re not. The pristine copies don’t evoke the same emotional response when I turn the pages. If nothing else, I can tell you exactly what I was learning to cook at the age of eight, from the stains on the pages. The most battered pages contain the recipes for old fashioned raisin cookies, Hermits, something called Rocks and chocolate ice-box cookies. My mother’s Service Cookbook has a history; mine. When I turn the pages, I see myself, a little girl with a big apron tied around my waist, leafing through the pages of my mother’s cookbook, in search of recipes that matched the ingredients in the kitchen cabinets. Often, my two best friends, Carol and Patty, were with me in the kitchen and my two younger brothers would be on the back step happily anticipating the results of our endeavor. (It never mattered to them whether the end product was good or bad – they’d eat anything!).

I have carefully studied the copies of Ida Bailey Allen cookbooks that I own, to perhaps learn why she was such a prolific – and apparently very popular – cookbook author. Bearing in mind that all of her books were written prior to the invention of many time-saving kitchen appliances, you won’t find instructions to “chop in a food processor” or “puree in a blender”—although one of Mrs. Allen’s books was devoted to cooking with a pressure cooker. Cake recipes don’t start out with “one packaged cake mix” – everything is “from scratch”.
I was entertained reading “ROUND-THE-WORLD COOK BOOK” which was published by Best Foods, Inc., to promote Nucoa “the double-purpose food) which is, actually, margarine. Mrs. Allen advises that, “When used as a spread, the New Nucoa may be quickly transformed to a golden yellow color by using the color wafer (approved by the U.S. Government) that is enclosed with every package. For cooking purposes, the New Nucoa may be used as it comes—milky white—or it may be tinted yellow according to preference….” For those of you too young to remember, in the 30s and early 40s, margarine was white. You had to add the yellow food coloring to it to make it look like butter
(James Trager, author of the Food Book, explains, “When the Illinois and Wisconsin Dairymen’s Association was founded in 1867, the dairy farmers could have had no idea that in France that year a man was beginning to work on a product that would one day threaten their livelihood and demand the marshalling of all their powers to resist its inroads.

The man was a chemist, Hypolite Mege-Mouries. Napolean III offered him a handsome prize if he could ‘produce a cheap butter for the Army, Navy and needy classes of the population’. After a sojourn of work on the Emperor’s farm, Mege-Mouries won the prize with a pearly-white product made of suet, or animal kidney fat, melted down and clarified, freed of its softer fats….mixed with milk and churned into solid fat. Mege-Mouriese named the lustrous butter substitute after the Greek word ‘margarites’ meaning pearly…”

Says Trager, the process was patented in England in 1869 and soon American meat packers were producing it as well. And the reason you had to add the little color wafer to turn it yellow? For many years, yellow margarine was outlawed in the dairy states. Wisconsin was the last holdout, yielding in 1967. (As for me, I still prefer butter to anything else—but now you know the rest of the story!).

Another entertaining little book written by Ida Bailey Allen was “The Modern Method of Preparing Delightful Foods”, which is (albeit hard cover), what we now think of as “pamphlet size”, a mere 4”x7”, which sold “for the exceedingly low price of 10c (which does not cover the cost of printing, wrapping and mailing)” advise the publishers, Corn Products Refining Company, the original manufacturers of products such as Karo Syrup and Mazola Corn Oil. This was published in 1927 and in it, Mrs. Allen refers to her work “with the National Food Administration during the Great War..” which was World War I. You’ll find a lot to entertain you in this little book, from the legend of corn to advice on caring for the table linens. Very little escaped Mrs. Allen’s attention!

If you happen to come across some of Ida Bailey Allen’s cookbooks, check them out.

Jean Anderson thinks that Mrs. Allen’s last cookbook, “Best Loved Recipes of the American People” may have been a compilation of recipes collected throughout her long career. Ida Bailey Allen passed away in 1973. But she left us with a legacy.

The following list of cookbooks authored by Ida Bailey Allen is incomplete but it’s what I have been able to find:




The following references can be found in THE FOOD CHRONOLOGY by James Trager:

MRS ALLEN’S COOK BOOK by Ida Cogswell Allen, published in 1916, – author was 32


IN 1932, MRS ALLEN’S MODERN COOK BOOK provides a recipe for escalloped tuna fish using canned tuna and instructions match those given by Mrs. Beeton in 1865 for cod a la bechamel.

1939 THE COMMON SENSE COOK BOOK was published


1943 DOUBLE-QUICK COOKING FOR PART-TIME HOMEMAKERS was aimed at u.s. women with jobs in war plants, shipyards, hospitals and the like.


1962, A COOK BOOK FOR GOURMETS, (author was now 72)

As a final note to this almost-completely-forgotten cookbook author, who set me on my path of cooking and being interested in anything about food, I simply want to add that, recently I scoured the shelves of four used book stores that have fairly comprehensive collections of cookbooks. I didn’t find any written by Ida Bailey Allen. But, Ida Bailey Allen, I love you where ever you are.

–Sandra Lee Smith


My mother didn’t read to me; she was too busy, during World War II and afterwards, just raising five children and trying to make ends meet. I doubt it would have ever occurred to her to read to her children—and we never thought to ask. “Education” (which included learning how to read) was left up to the schools.

I can’t recall the actual process of learning how to read; it seems to me that I always knew how. I remember, however, discovering the rows of books inside my mother’s glass-door bookcase. There, I found “Eight Cousins” and “Little Men” and “Rose in Bloom” – all books by Louisa May Alcott. “Little Women” was the first book my mother gave to me, one Christmas, and I read it over and over until I could recite, by heart, much of the dialogue. I mispronounced Phoebe’s name in “Eight Cousins” for years. I made the books my own. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered those books had belonged to my cousin, June, who had outgrown the books and given them to us. (Although the concept of ‘outgrowing’ any book is foreign to me. But I didn’t object to having books given to us.

I’d put peanut butter on saltine crackers and take them to the cherry tree in our back yard, to readwhile sitting in the branches. Or, I’d go down to the basement and sit on the landing (which was warm in the wintertime from the heat of the furnace) and read my book. I’d lay on my bed and read. I’d sit on the front porch and read. I read everything I could lay my hands on; the directions on the back of the can of Hershey’s cocoa, my Uncle’s National Geograhics, the newspaper, the Reader’s Digest—sometimes in sheer desperation I’d try to read one of my grandmother’s German books, understanding none of it but deciphering words here and there. My grandmother didn’t’ keep very many good magazines in her bathroom!

When I was about ten or eleven, I accompanied an uncle to the Carl Street drugstore where—as he picked up a prescription for my mother—I discovered a paperback book titled “The Diary of Anne Frank”. Uncle Cal bought the book for me and it was my first real experience of reading non-fiction…and more importantly, learning how the War the Europe affected just one family. (*To this day, I collect and read—and re-read—everything I can find about Anne Frank.

I read virtually everything in the little school library at St Leo’s and many of the books offered by the bookmobile in the summertime, or I’d walk long distances to visit a different public library. When a new main branch public library opened up in downtown Cincinnati, it became one of my favorite places to visit.

I never tired of my favorite books and would read them over and over again. I have the fondest memories of a series of Enid Blyton books, about two girls and two boys (sister-brother, sister-brother) who had the most fantastic adventures—in a castle, behind a waterfall, in caves, on an island. Years later, a penpal in England found that series of books for me and I, as an adult, would read them again and again, re-capturing the same faint, blissful, memory of an Enid Blyton Adventure book and a Reese’s peanut butter candy cup, two of my greatest childhood pleasures. Most delightful of all was the discovery, so many years later, that there were two more books to the series than I knew about. (*In more recent years I learned much more about Enid Blyton and what a prolific children’s author she was.)

When I became a little older, I discovered Judy Bolton and Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and Ginny Gordon. One Christmas, my brother Jim gave me FIVE Nancy Drew books – five books all at once intoxicated me. I spent all day Christmas reading a book.

I found a little thrift store about a mile from home, where one could buy books for twenty-five cents and I became obsessed with trying to find another quarter for another book. I’d rather go without lunch and walk home, using my bus fare to buy a book. So, that’s sort of how it all began.

In high school I worked for a year in the school library and read dozens of specially-chosen books suitable for a girl’s school…and discovered Mark Twain. One of my favorite English assignments was receiving a list of books we had to read in the course of the year, and write book reports on. (It ranked right up there with being turned loose in a candy store and being able to have whatever you wanted). I loved those assignments!

Downtown, by the time I was twelve, I discovered used book stores and dusty out of the way thrift shops that generally had a box of books in the doorway, to entice you to come inside. These books were also right around twenty five cents each. I walked up and down miles of downtown Cincinnati streets, finding every little store that had books to sell at prices I could afford. (*Many years later, I walked those streets again with a younger brother who is as addicted to book,s as I and we would find—I, giddy with nostalgia—some of the same shops, the same use book stores and antique shops, still there, offering treasure for next-to-nothing prices.

After graduating from high school I began working downtown, at Western Southern Life Insurance—and now could buy more books. My taste in books gradually became a little more refined; I’d read biographies and autobiographies, series of books by my favorite authors. Two of the earliest collections were historical fiction by Norah Lofts and American pioneer fiction by Janice Holt Giles.
Now, our house overflows with books. Visitors seem a little awed by the shelves of books that seem to be everywhere (a common question is: “Do you actually read all of these books?”)

After marrying and having sons to raise, I found myself not alone in my addiction; I only needed to ask “who wants to go book hunting?” and a chorus of voices respond excitedly. We’d climb into the car and drive all over the San Fernando Valley, to all the exciting places that people seem aware of, or perhaps indifferent to – Goodwill and Salvation stores that always have books for sale, or the thrift stores where books are often the least expensive items in the store.

One day I took the boys to a bookstore that sold only new books. They were excited over the prospect of a new book – and had their own spending money.

“Don’t touch anything” a clerk told my then-seven year old son as we entered. Moments later, he cautioned “Make sure you put those books back where you found them”

Dispiritedly, we decided to leave. A damper had been put on the pleasure of finding a new book. What would have happened, I wondered, if someone had told me, years ago – Don’t touch!

“Never mind,” I told the children. “There are plenty of other bookstores”. Thank God for that! **

Now, many years later, when you visit a bookstore such as Barnes & Noble, there is an entire section of books for children, and they are invited to go inside and browse to their heart’s content. This is as it should be. I think if you expose children to books at a very young age, if they become READERs, everything else they learn will come to them a little easier. Now, we are raising grandchildren to be READERS too.

–Sandra Lee Smith