Monthly Archives: March 2011


A serendipitous event can take place when you write a story about an experience in your life, telling the story as you know it–never knowing, when it appears in print, how it may ultimately affect someone else, far away.

I wrote about Helen’s Cookbook for Inky Trail News in 2007 (but had originally written an article about it for another newsletter back in 1993) –and again, on my blog, in June, 2009. obviously, Helen’s cookbook has continued to fascinate me, more than 40 years after I acquired it. Its pages are fragile, now, and I handle the book with extreme care. I couldn’t treasure it more if my own mother had compiled it.

To bring you up to date, In the 1960s, when I was just beginning to collect cookbooks, I found a bookstore in Hollywood where many cookbooks were $1.00 each. While I grabbed books off the shelves, thrilled by my find –the store owner said “I have a cookbook you may be interested in seeing” and he brought it out–it wasn’t ONE dollar, however, it was $7.00 (a lot of money for me at the time)–but I was captivated. The collection is in an old leather 3-ring binder but not your 8 1/2x 11” size binder. This one measures 5 ½ x 8 ½”.

I learned a lot about its creator by carefully reading through all the handwritten recipes and examining cards, newspaper clippings and other scraps of paper kept in a pocket on the inside of the cover. I knew that her name was Helen.

I didn’t think that Helen had any children–consequently, her handwritten collection of recipes ended up in a dusty little used book store–and has been a prize gem in my cookbook collection for over 40 years.

The book is packed with handwritten (in real ink) recipes, interspersed with pages of recipes clipped from magazines and newspapers and pasted onto the pages. Helen apparently began her collection in the early 1920s, shortly after she married. One of the earliest entries is a recipe she obtained while on her honeymoon–Helen always gave credit where credit was due; most recipes are dutifully named after the person who gave it to her. There are dozens of recipes with titles such as “Aunt Maude’s doughnuts” or “Florence’s pound cake”.

Helen liked to have dinner parties; she and her husband usually hosted Christmas dinners for eight or twelve; guests were assigned duties (everything from serving up celery stalks to putting up the card chairs). Helen kept her menus and guest lists from the mid-1930s until after WW2. And she kept copies of her guest lists, assignments, and menus.

Helen was thrifty and often copied recipes onto the backs of envelopes or old greeting cards–sources that provided clues to who she was and how she lived. Gradually, it appears that Helen’s vision began to fail her. Her handwriting became scrawled and almost illegible. Judging from a message inside an old card, I believed her husband died first.

What happened to Helen? My guess was that she died, and when she did, her belongings were sold in an estate sale or perhaps by a distant relative. That part of Helen’s life was–until recently–a blank page; her manuscript cookbook offered no clues.

A few years ago, a package arrived in the mail one day, from England -Inside I found a recipe journal, very old–possibly 1920s and a letter from an ITN subscriber offering the book to me since she had read about Helen’s cookbook and thought I would appreciate this one as well. Would I! I wrote to the sender, Anna, and in answer to her questions, provided what little other information I knew about Helen–her name and address had been printed on a sheet of stationery that ended up in the cookbook with a recipe written on it. And Anna – with the assistance of a genealogy-minded friend – soon sent me several pages of information about my Helen–where she had been born and grown up, when she had married, – and most amazing of all (to my mind) that Helen had been a psychologist and the daughter of a surgeon in Chicago. And, as I had surmised, Helen and her husband Mart never had any children. They had lived most of their married life here in Southern California (strongly reflected in the pages of her cookbook). It would have never crossed my mind to try and discover the history of the author.

As I had surmised, Helen’s husband did die before she; he passed away November 14, 1956.

Helen died January 20, 1971, in Los Angeles.

It is the most amazing discovery –to think that this handmade cookbook I have treasured all the years – has more than just a name. It has a history. But even more amazing – that my story reached a woman in England – who provided all the details about another southern Californian whose passion, like mine, was cooking. And as Paul Harvey would have said, now you know the rest of the story.

Happy Cooking & Happy Cookbook Collecting!




You may know by now that I collect cookbooks and recipes, recipe boxes (preferably filled with someone else’s recipe collection), cookie jars and cookie cutters—and I like to cook. I enjoy baking—cookies, bread, pastries, pot roast; I love to make soups—and there is very little that I haven’t tried with the exception of snails and snake (neither of which I am going to ever change my mind about. Some things are better left slithering outside on the ground). I enjoy making jellies, jams, chutneys and relishes.

However, there’s one thing you may not know about me: I am the mother of four sons, now all married and providing me with darling grandchildren My sons are what we used to refer to as “Picky Eaters”. What made the situation impossible is that their father was the pickiest one of all. I married a man who was the youngest in his family. He was a sickly child; consequently, he was babied and catered to throughout his childhood. For starters, he wouldn’t touch a cream pie, cucumbers, meat loaf or any kind of leftovers. It didn’t matter that the beef stew was made from last night’s pot roast and the brown mushroom gravy
was thick and yummy. It was leftovers.

So here’s the thing – you have a picky husband and when he says “ew, ew, what’s that?” and you try to explain that it’s baked chicken with grapes – and he says what person in their right mind would mix grapes with chicken—you know there’s not a chance of a snowball in July that any of your children are going to even taste the chicken and grapes either.

Son Steve doesn’t eat beans—not even jelly beans. Once when he was little, I was making liver and onions and when he asked what it was, I told him Salisbury Steak. To this day, he doesn’t eat liver and onions or Salisbury Steak.

None of them will eat any kind of cookie with nuts added to the dough; I make separate batches of chocolate chip cookies sans nuts—for all of them every year.

My youngest ate nothing but peanut butter (smooth, never chunky) and jelly sandwiches throughout First Grade and never touched peanut butter and jelly after that. None of them would any kind of Jello (least of all with ingredients added to it). There is a family story about Steve and “Ingredients”. When he was about six, he was reading the label on a can of Campbell’s Soup. “Mom!” he cried, “This soup has INGREDIENTS!”

None of them would eat oatmeal cookies (never mind that it was my favorite cookie) – and forget adding raisins, nuts or anything else to them. (Nowadays I make oatmeal cookies for myself).

My sons will eat my brownies but only if there are no nuts added to them. The only kind of cake Steve and Kelly like is angel food, with a deep rich chocolate fudge glaze drizzled over it. I think their wives are attempting to get them to overcome these prejudices. I wish them luck.

I guess I can confess now that I tricked them from time to time. I had this great Halibut Almondine recipe that I found when we lived in Florida. (It worked equally well with Grouper, a nice white fish that’s available there). Well, none of them would ever eat fish with almonds sprinkled on it, so I’d grind the almonds up in the blender and mix them in with bread crumbs and sprinkle that over the fish. They never knew.

I cooked full course meals every night for over 25 years—always standard, plain fare—the kind of food they would eat. Fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, mashed potatoes and corn. (They didn’t like any other vegetables). Spaghetti and meatballs. Lasagna. Macaroni and cheese (the KRAFT blue box). Hamburgers.
They will eat most Mexican food (except Steve doesn’t eat the refried beans) but not Chinese, Korean, Thai, French, German, or most anything else that is “foreign”. Hot dogs and baked beans (no beans for Steve) were ok. Steak was always acceptable but who can eat steak on a ground beef budget? I don’t think any of them ever tasted potato salad or cole slaw.

If I were to say to any of them “One bite won’t kill you!”, they would roll their eyes and give me this doubtful look. Like, how could I be sure it wouldn’t kill them?

Well, they are all grown up now and on their own and some one else deals with their food idiosyncrasies When they come home for a meal, I make what they like – pork roast with mashed potatoes and gravy, applesauce and corn. Or, if it’s breakfast—pork chops or cube steak with biscuits and gravy, hash browns and eggs, fried with butter over easy. And, I am relieved to report, their father and I parted company 25 years ago and someone else has to deal with his eating peculiarities. My significant other for the past 20-something years is a man who eats anything I put in front of him and what’s more – he likes it. Well, with one exception. He wasn’t too crazy about spaghetti squash. Even though I told him, “One bite won’t kill you!”



Anyone can write a cookbook. At least, that’s the consensus of more than one writer.

Patrick McManus, co-author of “Whatchagot Stew” had quite a bit to say about writing cookbooks.

“Back about 1969,” writes McManus (somewhat tongue-in-cheek), “I came across one of those scary statistical articles in the newspaper. It predicted that within twenty years one out of every four people in the United States would either have written a cookbook or be a carrier…”

McManus wasn’t worried about himself because he didn’t belong to the high-risk group—people who cook. He figured it could never happen to him; the closest he’d ever come to cooking was opening a can of sardines.

In October of 1980, McManus explained, he visiting friends. While the husband bustled happily in the kitchen, wife whispered tearfully to McManus that her husband had gone from learning to boil water to writing a cookbook. She said he was at that very moment ‘cooking up’ a recipe to test on them—his Pheasant Italiano.

‘Pheasant Italiano,’ McManus replied, “Sounds delicious.”

‘Don’t ever let him hear you say that!” the wife hissed. “It will only encourage him.”

With great fanfare at dinner, the husband served his Pheasant Italiano,
And, reports McManus, his taste buds instantly melted into euphoria. Never before had they known such ecstasy.

‘Like it?’ the chef asked.

‘Not bad,” McManus replied. “Could use a little salt and pepper, though.’

‘Oh yeah,’ he snarled, ‘well maybe you should write your own damn cookbook, how about that?’

It’s odd,” comments McManus, “how little offhand suggestions plant themselves in some remote but fertile recess of the brain and begin to grow undetected by the host organism until it’s too late…”

“By 1985,” McManus continues, “the dire predictions of 1969 had come to pass. One out of every four persons in the United States was now either a cookbook writer or a carrier. Their numbers were growing exponentially. Carl Sagan wrote in PARADE magazine that unless a serum was developed soon, within a few years all the land surface on earth would be covered with cookbooks to a depth of twelve feet.

‘There will be billions and billions of them,’ Sagan wrote, ‘until the supply of known recipe reserves is totally exhausted and the writers will be reduced to stealing each other’s recipes and merely changing the names. Cooks will prepare ‘Chicken Bombay’ only to discover that it is the same as the old Chicken Kiev’. Chaos will reign! Sagan named the impending catastrophe ‘The Souffle Effect.’…..”

And with this, McManus goes on to explain the origin of “Whatchagot Stew” and how he and his sister happened to write a cookbook.

“My urge to write a cookbook” says McManus “increased day by day, which was peculiar. I didn’t know how to cook. I didn’t want to learn to cook. I had never even read a cookbook. Why on earth did I feel this compulsion to write one? True, there was a certain amount of peer pressure. Most of my friends had written their own cookbooks…I asked my therapist about the compulsion. He said there was no known cure for the malady, but he’d sell me an autographed copy of his SCHIZOID MANIC-DEPRESSIVES’ COOKBOOK…” (From “Whatchagot Stew” by Patrick F. McManus and Patricia McManus Gass, published by Henry Holt and Company, 1989).

Well, if it’s any consolation to McManus, Carl Sagan’s prediction about the land surface of the earth being covered with cookbooks never came true (DARN!) and a lot of people continue to write them.

Nika Hazelton, author of many cookbooks, had something to say about them her book “I COOK AS I PLEASE”, published in 1974 by Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers.

“Cookbooks,” says Hazelton, “are another of the subjects I muse about as I wash dishes or perform the hundred and one mindless occupations that are part of kitchen life—putting away dishes, cleaning silver, lining kitchen drawers with clean paper. I write cookbooks myself, endeavoring to earn a living, but it still beats me why people buy so many new cookbooks when they could cook just as well from the ones they have…”

(Strange…I have never mused about cookbooks while washing dishes).

Which isn’t the point, of course, and those who collect cookbooks could have told Ms. Hazelton that. We don’t always buy cookbooks to cook from them – although that can be an added bonus. We buy them to read, and we do. I’ve often heard people say they “read cookbooks the way other people read novels”, with astonishment, as though no one ever before or ever since would do such a strange thing.

Truth is, cookbook collectors have nightstands and the floor by the bed and every available space in their living rooms and dining rooms piled high with cookbooks clamoring to be read. Sometimes when I turn out the light and turn over in bed, stacks of books that were scattered all over the bed fall noisily to the floor while the cats and dog dash for cover. I even keep a few cookbooks in the back seat of the car…in case I need something to read while stuck in traffic.

“Who writes and buys all these books and why?” asked Hazelton.

“Professional food writers and some professional cooks write cookbooks for the same reason anthropology professors publish anthropology papers, namely, because it is their job. Cookbooks are good for keeping one’s name before the public eye, leading to reviews, radio and TV appearances….As for the nonprofessionals, some write cookbooks because they have found that some food ideas and recipes work out well or because they have a good contemporary idea. Very often these are one-shot books, even excellent ones. But most cookbooks,” claims Hazelton, “as far as I can see are written because it is so fashionable… Cooking is like writing; most people think they could do it better if they just had a little time….”

Nika Hazelton had much more to say on this subject; you will have to find a copy of “I COOK AS I PLEASE” to read the rest. Hazelton also noted that while she had over 2,000 cookbooks, she only cooked from about twenty of those. That sounds about right to me. I think I have about ten thousand cookbooks (no one wants to count them) – but I cook from perhaps a dozen or so.

As noted by Patrick McManus, you don’t even have to be a writer to write a cookbook. Lots of celebrities write cookbooks—for charitable causes or just because they enjoy cooking. If your name is, say, Vincent Price and you write a cookbook , it’s a shoo-in that a lot of people are will buy the book whether they collect cookbooks or not. They are curious to learn what Vincent Price has to say about cooking.

Naming your cookbook is important. Something catchy helps. I have a cookbook called “Turnip Greens In the Bathtub” that I bought entirely on the strength of the title. I don’t even eat turnip greens.

Most often, the title says it all – The Casserole Cookbook, Cooking for One, Cooking for Two, Dinner for Eight, the Five Ingredient…Four Ingredient…Three Ingredient…Two Ingredient cookbooks . There are cookbooks aimed for losing weight, lowering your cholesterol, cutting out fat, salt, or sugar…there are cookbooks on Desserts or cookbooks on one particular dessert ingredient – like chocolate! I must have over a dozen chocolate cookbooks. There are a lot of comfort food cookbooks making the rounds these days. While researching for another article, I realized there are a lot of “Bride” cookbooks out there. (And here I always thought the Betty Crocker or JOY OF COOKING cookbooks were the Bride’s cookbooks – I know I have given enough of them to newlyweds over the past forty years). Also popular–cookbooks with “America” or “American” in the title – these fill an entire bookcase in my house. Cookbooks with Christmas in the title are a sure thing when the holidays draw near.

Then there are all of the Community, Church, and Junior League cookbooks – many of them with catchy titles like “America Discovers Columbus” (Junior League of Columbus Ohio), “Say Ah-h-h-h-!” (the Woman’s Auxiliary to the San Diego Medical Society), “Some Like it South! (Junior League of Pensacola, Florida), “Feast of Eden” (Junior League of Monterey County, California), “Women Who Can Dish It Out” (the Junior League of Springfield, Missouri) and “Standing Ovations” (Junior Board of the Tri-City Symphony in Davenport Iowa). What’s in a name? Everything! (And if you are a junior league and you publish a cookbook for Christmas – that’s a double whammy)

People would ask me “Why don’t you write a cookbook?”

Actually, it took 20 years to get the Schmidt family cookbook published. The idea was hatched in Florida in 1984 at a family reunion but took years to get family members to submit recipes. “Grandma’s Favorite” (dedicated to our paternal grandmother) was published in 2004.

It was much easier in the early ‘70s when my children’s school PTA decided to compile a cookbook. One of my sons brought home a flyer announcing the PTA’s intention. I immediately called the PTA lady whose name was on the flyer – and volunteered my expertise. No, I had never put together a cookbook. But I collected cookbooks and knew how to type. A few weeks later, a group of PTA ladies gathered at my home one January day to discuss the project.

As we sat around my dining room table discussing the “Project”, I glanced outside and saw my two babies, Chris – who was three – and Kelly, who was two – cavorting naked in the sprinklers in the back yard.

I was so mortified, and thought I’d die of embarrassment. I knew my husband was in the garage working. I leaned out the back door and chirped, “Jim! Oh Jim! Can you get the kids out of the sprinklers?”

“Get them yourself!” he snarled back at me. “I’m busy!”

So that was how I was introduced to the PTA. They’d collect the recipes and bring them to me, where I was stuck at home with two toddlers and a home job typing insurance policies. I’d type up the recipes and a few months later, we sent a package off to a cookbook publisher. Soon, we had boxes of “RECIPE ROUNDUP” to sell for $3.00 a copy. We didn’t check any of the recipes – other than to call the recipe donor occasionally to ask about an ingredient or the correct amount. We were such novices, but oddly enough, it has withstood the test of time – and oh, what fun we had putting that cook book together! And for what it’s worth, I went on to write the school newsletter for five years and two of the women who worked on the cookbook project became lifelong friends.

Nika Hazelton also believes that having cookbooks, or at least reading them, is a middle-class thing, which does not concern the female population in general. “This does not mean that women do not have recipes,” she adds. “On the contrary they have lots of recipes…Where do they come from? They are recipes from magazines, newspapers, publicity releases, friends, relatives, free recipes—irresistible to clip or rip out and keep. The keeping is not done in lovely orderly files, card indexes, scrapbooks or what not, but the collection is dumped into a big or small drawer, a shoe box, an envelope, helter skelter….”

Hazelton says she keeps hers in a covered basket. She thinks that when her life becomes more orderly, the recipes can be sorted and filed and “the chaos transformed into dazzling order”.

Well, I gave up keeping clippings in a kitchen drawer decades ago. For one thing, sometimes clippings would slide down behind the drawer and get jammed in the back, never to be found until someone took the whole drawer out and peeked inside (this usually only happened when the drawer wouldn’t shut anymore or one of the boys’ white rats or a kitten would climb into a kitchen drawer and disappear). For another, I don’t have enough kitchen drawers to accommodate all the clippings. They completely fill two of large boxes. I am constantly attempting to catch up on the recipes – to clip them neatly and paste them onto either 3×5 or 4×6” cards.

But I would say to Nika Hazelton or Patrick McManus, to paraphrase the Duchess of Windsor you can’t be too rich or too thin or have too many recipes and/or cookbooks.

Which reminds me, even the Duchess of Windsor wrote a cookbook! (Not to be confused with the current Duchess of Windsor whoalso wrote a cookbook for Weight Watchers).

When Edward VIII abdicated the throne in the 1930s, to be with the woman he loved, the Windsors went off to the South of France or the Bahamas, where the Duchess, nee Wallace Simpson, penned “Some Favorite Southern Recipes of the Duchess of Windsor”.

Although I find it difficult to believe that the Duchess, who was partial to the finer things in life and liked to have the Duke paint her toenails, ever wielded a spatula, she claimed to have had her own collection of cookbooks which contained many southern recipes. Presumably, the royalties from her cookbook paid for some bottles of nail polish for her tootsies. Those Windsors lived the rest of their lives in exile. Many historians speculate that Wallace Simpson never really forgave the former King Edward VIII for abdicating the throne–Wallace had her eye on the crown! And it would appear that, if Wallace Simpson couldn’t be royalty, she could at least collect royalties…from her cookbook, at least!

Which just goes to show you, – anybody can write a cookbook!

Happy Cooking—and Happy Cookbook Collecting!


Perhaps, to some people, they weren’t “arts” at all. To the people who lived and worked in those decades where “conveniences” were far and few in between, things like growing your own herbs or making your own soap simply fell into the vast cauldron of work that had to be done.

In the past year or so, Bob and I embarked on a quest to learn how to do some of those mostly forgotten tasks, such as making our own soap and having our own herb garden. As many of you know, we’ve been doing a lot of canning for more than 15 years—growing and canning (or freezing) our own tomatoes, beans, corn, peaches and other fruits and vegetables. In Arleta, we had a small grape arbor which produced plenty of grapes from which to make unsweetened grape juice or grape jelly. At our new home, there are grape vines but they were apparently neglected for a long time. They’ve been cleaned up and cut back—we have to see what kind of grapes we will have now.

We also had, in our old home, peach, orange, tangerine, lemon, fig, and olive trees. Several times we’ve made our own sauerkraut.

Bob backed the car into my huge crock one day, but cabbage was a really good price last year so I bought a wonderful new crock online that has its own lid to seal out air—we made so much sauerkraut last year (30 quarts) that we won’t be making a new batch until we finish up last year’s crop. As long as you have something to ferment the cabbage in, nothing could be easier to make – you just shred cabbage and layer it in the crock with canning salt; push it all down and cover it up. It needs to ferment in a cool place and I worried last year that our garage wouldn’t be cool enough – but it was.

Mostly, I make a lot of jellies and jams, coming up with some of my own original combinations (like Hunka Hunka berry jam and Grammy’s Christmas Jammy that we give to friends and relatives at Christmas). I also make a lot of chutneys, relishes, conserves, fruit butters—and apple sauce. We planted a young apple tree some years ago, at our old home that produced a tart green apple, like a Granny Smith. (We have planted four fruit trees so far, in our new home. One of them is apple).

More recently, I began experimenting with concocting my own herb/spice mixtures from things like parsley, carrot leaves, celery leaves, tomatoes, chives, cilantro, garlic, and chili peppers, dehydrating and then crushing the mixture so that it could be used it as a seasoning substitute for salt.

Bob has made grape wine a time or two and one of our friends made a special label for us. (I confess, I am not really very impressed with the home brew. I’d rather stick to White Zinfandel).

However, my grandfather had a small grape arbor and made his own wine. I couldn’t ever be in our little arbor, picking grapes, without thinking about my grandfather, tending his grape vines. (My brother tells the story about how, after grandpa died, my father, uncle and aunt found some very old bottles of grandpa’s wine in his wine cellar and proceeded to get blitzed on it). Even though my grandfather passed away when I was only eight years old, when I am in our grape arbor, I feel connected to him.
A lot of people would say “why bother?” Why go to all of that work when you can just go to the local supermarket and buy a jar of applesauce, or jam, or jelly or a bottle of grape juice? Why, indeed? As I sit here at the computer, I am asking myself that very question. Why do we do it?

I think part of the answer to this question has to do with soap making. Yes, soap. But not your ordinary scented body-and-bath soap. The soap I am talking about is a brownish- colored heavy duty soap, sort of like bars of Fels Naptha or LAVA. As far back as I can remember, my mother made this lye-based soap once a year. It was used for many different things—scrubbing floors or our bare feet, after we’d been running barefoot all day during the summertime. During World War II and long after, my mother would shave up bits of this soap to do the wash. She never purchased store-bought laundry detergent. We called it “work soap” and I always thought that just meant it could be used to do a lot of different jobs.

However, a few years ago, I made a curious discovery. Years ago, in Cincinnati, there was a heavy-duty soap similar to this called Werk’s Tag Soap. As a matter of fact, there is even a Werk Road in Cincinnati, where my high school was located. Our “work” soap was actually named after the Werk soap which, I believe, was named after the family that manufactured it.

My mother continued making her work soap even long after she and my father retired at a mobile home park in Largo, Florida. She’d save all bits of grease – bacon grease, chicken fat – until she had enough to make a batch of soap. When my mother passed away in September, 2000, her “recipe” for making soap went with her. I couldn’t find directions written down anywhere in her recipe box. No one else in the family seems to know exactly how it was made. For a time, I thought perhaps she learned how to make soap from her mother, my Grandma Beckman – but recently, one of my cousins set me straight. “Grandma Schmidt made that soap, too” he recalled.

I saved cans of grease in the freezer until I thought I had enough, then one day last winter, we followed the directions for making lye soap that I had found in a cookbook. Everything seemed to be progressing smoothly until it separated – one of the common problems with soap-making (generally caused by stirring it too fast—and the faster we stirred, the more it separated) – but even so, we finally poured the finished product into shallow wax-lined box lids (I am not sure what my mother used for molds), and after it had “set”, we cut it into bars. I left it on the front porch for about two weeks to ‘age’. As a final test, I sent a couple of bars to my brother, Jim—who declared it a close clone to mom’s “work” soap.

Why did I feel obligated to make a batch of this soap? Because, if I didn’t, the art of making “work soap” would have died with my mother. Since then, I discovered (thanks to the Internet) that soap making is far from really being a “lost art”—but it’s comforting to me, and my siblings, to hold a bar of this soap in our hands, and recall how our mother made it, once a year—and how we used it for everything, from scrubbing floors to washing the dog. And, I think I will attempt to make another batch but will follow some of the directions that I found on the Internet, next time.

Incidentally, Bob thinks it’s the best thing in the world for washing really grubby hands after you’ve been working under the car or out in the garden.

Recently, I began experimenting with making my own ‘from scratch’ salad dressings. I’ve made Ranch and Blue Cheese dressings by the quart, for years – but was interested in a red wine vinaigrette that I could season with my dried-veggie-concoction. It took several batches to get the vinaigrette just the way I like it—but more importantly, it tastes so much better than commercial dressings. I feel the same way about Ranch dressing. What you buy in a bottle doesn’t begin to compare with making it with the powdered Hidden Valley Ranch dressing made with buttermilk. Ok, so I’m cheating a little bit by using the powdered mix and I “doctor” the whole thing a bit to suit us.

One day my sister called, saying she was making tacos and didn’t have any taco seasoning mix. Hold on, I told her – I think I have the directions for making that from scratch. I did and I emailed the recipe to her. She says she makes ‘her own’ mix all of the time now.

My grandmother made all of her own noodles—she’d have them drying on the backs of all her wooden kitchen chairs (I haven’t gotten into noodle making just yet – and think I just might have to invest in a pasta machine for this)—but we often make beef jerky, from London Broil when it’s on sale. (A dehydrator is a handy thing to have, and we own two of them—Bob found the second one at a yard sale and bought it for a dollar).

Some of you are undoubtedly too young to remember this, but in the 70s, everyone began making sourdough starter to make their own sourdough bread. We also had yogurt makers to make homemade yogurt. I still have a sourdough starter in my refrigerator.

I discovered a book called “Lost Arts” by Lynn Alley. It’s a guide to making vinegar, curing olives, crafting fresh goat cheese, making simple mustards, baking bread and growing herbs. We had an olive tree and attempted to cure our own olives one year. As for baking bread – well, I’ve been baking bread most of my adult life and I’ve written about it a couple of times in the pages of the Cookbook Collector Exchange. When I was a child, my mother made her own bread, two large loaves, twice weekly. She baked the bread in large turkey roaster pans and we took homemade bread so completely for granted that having a sandwich made with Wonder Bread was something of a novelty. When my sons were small, I began experimenting with making various kinds of bread – my favorite being pumpernickel –and I often put the dough, in a large Tupperware container, inside the car to “raise”.

Lynn Alley’s chapter on bread making is a great deal more creative than even I want to be – she includes information on growing your own grain, milling grains at home, and creating your own leavening (I’ve done the leavening – that’s easy enough and there are a lot of recipes for making sour dough starters) – but if you are just starting out and don’t have a bread machine, try your hand at one of the many recipes for making quick breads – pumpkin, zucchini, banana nut. They’re easy to make and a freshly baked loaf of banana nut bread is so rewarding. Small loaves of homemade fruit breads accompanied by a small jar of homemade jelly make a nice gift, too. When I was in Ohio one year, I made fresh banana nut bread for my nephew and his son – they didn’t even wait for it to cool off and polished off the entire loaf in a few minutes. You’d have thought I’d given them the crown jewels. (My nephew, Russ, was stationed in San Diego when he was in the navy, in the early 1980s. Whenever he had a free weekend, he got on a Greyhound Bus and came to visit us in the San Fernando Valley. I often made banana nut bread for him to take back with him to the ship, to share with his friends. He has the fondest memories of those loaves of bread!)

I’m going to share one more of my “lost arts” with you and I am sure you’ll think I’m one brick short of a full load when I tell you this. I’ve been asking Bob to put up a clothes line for me ever since we moved to the Antelope Valley. I want a clothes line to hang things of mine that shouldn’t go into the dryer – and my little area rugs that have rubber backings. I also wanted to be able to hang sheets and pillowcases on the line. The wonderful smell of air-dried laundry will soon convert you. He just got the posts cemented into the ground – all we have to do now is find clothes line.

A lot has been written in recent years about old-time ways of doing things, forgotten recipes, lost arts. Why the great interest? Obviously, given the number of books dedicated to these subjects, I’m not alone in my interest. And, I don’t have a burning desire to be a child again – our childhood, that of myself and my siblings, friends and cousins, wasn’t always all that easy. (My son Steve likes to roll his eyes and say “yeah, ma, tell us again how you had to walk ten miles to school in the snow, barefoot…”)

I never said we walked ten miles. We did walk—all the time, everywhere. (And, in the summertime, we were barefoot). A couple of years ago, when my youngest brother Scott drove me around my childhood neighborhood of Fairmount, I was shocked and dismayed how much it had shrunk in size, and diminished in grandeur. The distance between our house and the school is probably not more than a mile but it was up hill and down, and seemed a long way for a child’s short legs. We walked to and from school in any kind of weather and I sometimes ran home for lunch, or else we walked to my grandmother’s house on Baltimore Avenue, up the street from St. Leo’s, and had lunch there. There was very little money for anything but you could always get fed at Grandma’s. I think food was her universal remedy for everything that ailed you.

One of the things that kids did around the neighborhood was to go around and collect soda pop bottles which could be redeemed at a corner grocery store for two cents each. Rarely did any of us have any spending money. Allowance? What was that? No one received an allowance. When I became old enough to babysit, most of my spending money came from babysitting the neighbors’ children. And allowance or no, children were always expected to help with household chores. One of my earliest childhood chores was hanging socks on a wooden rack (in bad weather the rack could be propped open over a floor register, where the heat came up from the furnace. You also stood over a register to get warm while you got dressed on cold winter mornings). We were expected to wash and dry and put away dinner dishes, scrub floors, and—for the boys—mow the lawn, shovel snow, and clear the sidewalks in bad weather. My brother Jim had several part time jobs by the time he was about 12. One of these early jobs was “setting pins” at St. Bonaventure’s Bowling Alley in South Fairmount. Before automated pin setters were invented, young boys would have the job of setting up the bowling pins. There was a space between two lanes where a boy could sit, and set up the pins on either side of him. I’m amazed just thinking about it. Can you imagine a young boy being allowed to do something like that today? He could have easily gotten knocked silly by one of those bowling pins. I imagine many boys did get hurt doing this job.

Jim also delivered newspapers and in his early ‘teens, began working as a box boy at a food distribution company where one of our uncles was employed. The neat thing about this was that my brother was allowed to bring home certain foods which had expired dates on them. We got a lot of canned biscuits that often exploded when we opened them—canned biscuits were a new thing in the early 1950s, and we didn’t care if they exploded. We baked them and ate them anyway. There was also a new cookie mix that only required the addition of water and maybe an egg – I loved those cookie mixes.

Perhaps this explains the popularity of books such as Marguerite Patten’s “We’ll Eat Again”, a memoir of rationing in Great Britain during World War II, cookbooks such as “Forgotten Recipes” and “Depression Era Recipes”, and magazines like “Reminisce”. It’s not so much that we long to relive those days as it is that we don’t want them to be forgotten. Who will remember these things when we are gone?

Lynn Alley’s book “Lost Arts” is available on, new or used, starting at $16.38. I was unable to find this particular book on any of my other usual websites. However, if you Google “Lost Arts” you will be amazed how many “lost arts” are out there waiting to be remembered, or discovered.

Happy Cooking – and Happy Cookbook Collecting



“THE SECRET TO TENDER PIE” is subtitled “America’s Grandmothers Share Their Favorite Recipes”. Compiled by Mindy Marin and published in 1997, it is a tribute to Mindy’s own grandma. “Some of these delicious, old-fashioned recipes,” we learn, “are pulled from the backs of kitchen drawers and corner cupboards, some strictly from memory, never before written down. Some were scrawled in faded ink on yellowed bits of paper, some scrupulously copied from the margins of old cookbooks. Mindy’s own Grandma, Bessie Cecil revealed the secret to her unforgettable apple pie made from Gravensteins or Granny Smiths. And along with all the different recipes that have been contributed to make a success out of “The Secret to Tender Pie” are the wonderful photographs – photographs of grandmothers, when they were young girls, accompanied by photographs of the grandmothers today (well, today being 1997 when the cookbook was published). The favored recipes cut a wide swath across America’s landscape – from Irish Soda Bread to Papoo’s Pancakes (I just learned from Tom Hanks on Oscar night that Papoo is Greek for Grandpa!); there is a recipe for Cheese Blintzes, which I love, to a Kwanzaa Bean Soup and Arroz Frito (Mexican fried rice). Not to be overlooked is Obachan’s Special Teriyaki Sauce – or the story that accompanies it, of a family that began with a husband and wife marrying in Japan in 1924, of immigrating to the Sacramento Valley where they farmed for many years – of being interned in Japanese prison camps during WW2 and ultimately, to their return to farming. I love that “Obachan” means “Beloved Grandmother” in Japanese. There are these and many other recipes and stories—but be sure to read about Grandma Bessie’s Apple Pie, the inspiration for Mindy’s book.

“The Secret to Tender Pie” is available on; there are many pre-owned copies listed, starting at one cent (you will always pay $3.99 shipping and handling for pre owned books purchased on Amazon).

“Grandma’s Hands,” subtitled “The heart and soul of New Orleans Cooking” is by Deirdre Guion and was copyrighted in 1998. In the Prologue, Deirdre explains that “this book started as a project” for her and her grandmother in 1995. Deirdre writes. “At the time, I was very concerned about my grandmother and wanted to find something meaningful for her to do that she would enjoy. Several years earlier, Granny sustained a terrible fall that resulted in permanent spinal cord injury. This previously vital and lively woman was suddenly paralyzed from the shoulders down…”

Deidre relates that as the years went by, her grandma often became despondent and stated more than once that she didn’t feel useful. (*and not to change the subject, but I could wholeheartedly related to Deirdre’s story—because when my own grandma no longer felt useful, she lost her zest for living and died not long after. I have always believed that, if she had kept her house, that alone would have helped her have a continued purpose in life. But I digress. This is Deirdre’s story).

It was suggested to Deirdre that they engage on a project to preserve some of their family’s history and traditions. Immediately, recipes came to mind. “You see,” Deirdre explains, “I grew up in a family that cooks. Most if not all the recipes were handed down orally while we learned how to cook…” Deirdre knew this would be a tremendous understanding since her grandma had surely forgotten more recipes than Deirdre would ever know.

On granny’s 70th birthday the family held a big birthday bash and it was then that Deirdre presented her grandmother with a tape recorder and a box of cassettes to begin the process. And while some good progress was made on the recipes, Deirdre reveals that some incredible family stories came to light. “Embedded within the recipes were delightful stories of my family’s traditions. And eventually, she knew she had a collection that needed to be shared Therefore, “Grandma’s Hands” isn’t just a cookbook even though you will find recipes for red beans and rice, Jambalaya, Shrimp Creole, honest-to-goodness southern Fried Chicken, Seafood Gumbo and many other true southern recipes, you will be equally enchanted with the stories Deirdre shares with us. Her Grandma passed away in 1996, but she lives on through her recipes in “Grandma’s Hands”.

I’m afraid I haven’t found any copies of “Grandma’s Hands” at a reasonable price – most seem to start at $45.00. The original price on the cookbook was $15.95. (I think I paid about $5.00 for my copy).
“GRANDMOTHERS OF GREENBUSH”, subtitled “Recipes and Memories of the old Greenbush Neighborhood” spans the decades starting with 1900 to 1925. This loving tribute by Catherine Tripalin Murray was written as a way of recapturing the past. “However,” writes Ms. Murray, “so much time has lapsed since the neighborhood had disappeared that making necessary connections was often impossible. Announcements made in Madison newspapers, club newsletters, and other ethnic publications drew little interest…” So, the author depended on the famous grapevine as a method of reaching out and friends of the Italian community who had known her grandmother “tucked me under their wings and carried me back to the old days with poignant stories of the past…”

Catherine Murray explains in the Introduction that her grandmother died a week before she was born. She never had a chance to feel her hugs, hear her Sicilian songs, see her smile or discover the twinkle of pride in her eyes…”’ Her grandmother, who would have been called “Nonna” was a link to Catherine’s Sicilian heritage and the Greenbush neighborhood in Wisconsin where she lived. From the stories shared, Catherine learned about other grandmothers who lived in cold water flats, unheated apartments bungalows and two-story homes. “When we return to the memory of our grandmothers” Catherine writes, “we see dusty upstairs attics where things were stored in old trunks and boxes and basements where bread was baked on hot summer days and served in the coolness of its depths at suppertime…we savor memories of kitchens where kettles filled with soups and sauces were stirred with long-handled wooden spoons and ovens were warm to the touch with nourishment for the family and anyone else who happened to stop by at the last moment….”

“Greenbush in all its glory” says the author, “was a 52 acre plat comprised of ten blocks that formed a triangular shaped neighborhood. The area didn’t expand as neighborhoods tend to do today…”

“The area was razed during an urban renewal project in the 1960s; residents were scattered throughout the city, leaving behind only memories and the roots of grapevines hidden deep beneath the surface of the neighborhood our grandmothers so loved…”

What follows are chapters filled with photographs or sketches, and short biographies of the grandmothers of Greenbush, along with one of the favorite recipes of that person. has copies of “Grandmothers of Greenbush” starting at $3.82.
I’m a great believer that concepts, ideas, thoughts – are all swarming out there in the Universe, waiting to be tapped into. I think it’s why an idea for a book or an invention may be developed by more than one person at the same time. For instance, I had the idea of collecting three ingredient recipes back in the 1970s when 3-ingredient beer bread became popular. I collected a few three ingredient recipes and got sidetracked with something else going on in my life; it may have been about this time that I went back to work full time. Well imagine my surprise when 3, 4, 5, 6, and even 7 ingredient cookbooks became all the rage. Well, I think you could say the same about some of the grandmother books. The Grandmothers of Greenbush was published in 1996. In 1997, a big thick cookbook titled “In Nonna’s Kitchen/Recipes and Traditions from Italy’s Grandmothers” was written by Carol Field and published by HarperCollins.

Fewer photographs but many more recipes grace the pages of “In Nonna’s Kitchen”. In the introduction, Ms. Field writes, “Every Italian has a grandmother story. ‘My grandmother used to make a treat for me by packing a thimble with moist chestnut flour. I watched her press it down hard and then put it in the embers of the fire’ remembers a very old Tuscan handyman, ‘and when she pulled it out after a few minutes, she tapped sharply on the top and out fell a perfect little mound. It was my snack, something special for me to eat’”

Elsewhere, Field writes, “Many of today’s Italian grandmothers, women in their sixties, seventies, eighties and even nineties, still live with a strong attachment to the kitchen, and still think about cooking as their own grandmothers and great-grandmothers did, which is why what they cook is called la cucina della nonna. They are a link to an earlier time in the country’s past..”

“In Nonna’s Kitchen/Recipes and Traditions from Italy’s Grandmothers” is a big book, packed with the history of Italy, stories about its grandmothers—and most importantly, their recipes.

You can purchase “In Nonna’s Kitchen” new, from, for $26.14 or check out the many pre-owned copies starting at $6.66. has pre-owned copies starting at $3.35 and Barnes & Noble has pre-owned copies starting at $3.40. Take your pick!

Another really interesting cookbook came to me from over the pond –“YOUR GRANNYS COOK BOOK” by Sheila Hutchins is a Daily Express Publication and is an unusual collection of old family favorites from all over the country – the “country” being Great Britain—contributed to the Daily Express by the newspaper’s readers.

“The whole thing began”, Sheila Hutchins explains, “ when I said in the Daily Express two years ago that there were hundreds of marvelous old dishes in Britain that were gradually being forgotten, wonderful things that your granny and my granny used to cook and that if we were going to save these things we would have to do it quickly before they died out and disappeared. For Britain,” she adds, “is changing and our eating habits are becoming international and Americanised and it will be a great pity, not least for the tourist trade, if everywhere becomes exactly like everywhere else. So I asked you [the Daily Express readers] to send me recipes for things just like your granny cooked. It had to be granny, I thought, for it is she who remembers the really good cooking…”

Sheila received thousands and thousands of letters from all over the country. She received letters from retired cooks, from former kitchen maids at great country houses, from farmers’ wives, from aunts, great-aunts and grandmothers, some in spidery copperplate handwriting.
“They speak in many different voices with many different accents,” Sheila notes, “and most of the recipes have their own regional flavor…”

Some readers sent her whole hand-written cookery books (oh, to have been able to see those!) “There are all kinds of half-forgotten lovely things which people always eat for Christmas and I have given details of some of the often neglected gastronomic delicacies….” Elsewhere Sheila notes, “Much of the food that granny cooked, though cheap, is still as delicious as ever and many of her slow simmered stews and sausage pots and things would be worth making in double quantity so that half may be stored in the deep freezer…”

Sheila regretted that there were too many recipes to include everything in the book and often too many of the same thing such as Yorkshire pudding being made differently in various parts of the country.

“YOUR GRANNY’S COOK BOOK” is regional England at its best—great reading and lovely illustrations. It was published in 1971. has a few pre-owned copies starting at just over $8.00 while Barnes & Noble didn’t have any copies of the book. has a hardbound copy for just under $15. My own copy is paperback and somewhat worn so $15 sounds pretty good to me for a nice hardcover cookbook. ***

“Grandma Doralee Patinkin’s Holiday Cookbook, subtitled “A Jewish Family’s Celebrations” was written by Doralee Patinkin Rubin with the introduction presented by Mandy Patinkin, whose name you may recognize from TV, film and theatre. Doralee realized, after meeting cookbook author Joan Nathan (who wrote “Jewish Cooking in America”) that she, too, had enough recipes to fill a cookbook. “I realized that many of my recipes,” she writes in the Preface, “which I have prepared for more than fifty years, are, in reality, over one hundred years old…”

She says that certain foods define certain holidays, such as potato latkes on Hanukah and Hamentashen at Purim and that “Food is bound up in our memories of all our holidays as it is in any ethnic origin…”

The feature I appreciate most about Granda Doralee Patinkin’s Holiday Cookbook is that the recipes/chapters are divided into Jewish holidays followed by a menu for each holiday and the recipes to serve. Although I’m not Jewish, I’ve had Jewish friends ever since we moved to California in 1961 and my best friend, Rosalia, introduced us to many of the Jewish holidays and meals. I like knowing about the Jewish holidays and knowing whether the holiday is a solemn one or a joyous celebration. But Grandma Doralee provides menus and recipes for many other events – a holiday buffet or a Bridal luncheon, a brunch or a patio supper/barbeque—this book will be a young or new cook’s best friend in the kitchen.

Grandma Doralee Patinkin’s Holiday Cookbook was published in 1999. I did a little research. has many copies, both new and pre owned. New copies start at $8.00 and used, paperback copies start at one cent. has copies starting at 99c and Jessica’s Biscuit has copies for $7.98 and $10.46.

You might say I’ve saved the best for last—it certainly is one of my favorites. “AT GRANDMOTHER’S TABLE” is subtitled, “WOMEN WRITE ABOUT FOOD, LIFE, AND THE ENDURING BOND BETWEEN GRANDMOTHERS AND GRANDDAUGHTERS”. It was edited by Ellen Perry Berkeley, who writes in the Preface, “Today’s grandmothers are as likely to be playing tennis as baking pies. Some do both, rinsing away the gray, and in their spare time, holding down a full-time job…”AT GRANDMOTHER’S TABLE gives us a far richer view of the women we have called Grandma, or Gram, or Grossmutter, or Nonna. Here we see the substance of their brave and often difficult lives. We see the enormous contribution of these women—to their families and to their communities. We see the importance of their relationships with us, their granddaughters, in the lessons they taught us, the values they gave us, the strengths they lent us, and last (not least) the foods they served us…by cooking what they cooked we are in contact again with their lessons and their values, their warmth, their courage, their comfort, their love…”

“This is a book about connections…the book honors a varied group of grandmothers. Some were born to families who had live here for generations, some were the children of immigrants, some were immigrants themselves, and some never set foot on this land. They represent different circumstances, different heritages…”

Elsewhere, Ms. Berkeley writes, “Close your eyes and remember such moments with your own grandmother: what you did together, where you walked, what you looked at, what you laughed at. And, of course, what you ate together. Turn to your own handed-down recipes, those worn cards with their long-ago handwriting, their faded type. Whether you were close to your grandmother or not, whether you even know her, she had a profound influence on your life and your palate. Relive—or create anew—the special memories that her recipes evoke…”

Ms. Berkeley invites us all to be prompted, after reading her book, to put onto paper some words about our own grandmothers (something I have been doing for some years). Writes Ms. Berkeley, “Can’t you just hear the encouragement and praise from that special person? She happily ceases to be a stereotype when she takes her place on the page—the unique and special woman who is grandmother to a unique and special granddaughter…”

It would be an injustice for me to capsulate the dozens of stories told by many different women, often accompanied by photographs of their grandmothers, when—perhaps—photographs were available and to enjoy, perhaps greedily, the recipes they have shared for us to try and make our own. “AT GRANDMOTHER’S TABLE” is a book to be read at your leisure, savoring it one story and one recipe at a time. Whether reading about “The Penny Jar” or “The Pocket Girl”, “A Legacy Found in Letters” or “Making Do”; “My Old Sweetie” or “Notes from Underfoot” – you will be constantly enchanted. And the recipes! Many of the recipes may be lost to history if we don’t recapture them….and Ms. Berkeley has taken great strides in helping to preserve recipes that might otherwise be lost.

“AT GRANDMOTHER’S TABLE” is available at from $9.99 new – or (incredible bargain) pre owned starting at sixty five cents. There are a number of hard bound copies starting at 65 cents. I was astonished to find numerous listings starting under a dollar. You will pay $3.99 shipping and handling and have a really great book for less than five dollars.

You know, there are simply dozens or maybe even hundreds of books with “Grandma” or “Grandmother”, “Granny” or “Nana” in the titles. One unusual title is “Granny’s Drawers” by Karen Harris, which has nothing to do with underwear but rather offers over 340 recipes from four generations of a southern family. Another in my collection is “Granny Fanny & Cousin EttaMae’s Good Humor Cookin’” a collection from the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. This may have belonged to my sister, Barbara, who lived near Nashville prior to her death in 2004. My copy has a lot of water damage. Another good one is JoAnna M. Lund’s “Grandma’s Comfort Food—Made Healthy” and they are; I’ve marked the page for old fashioned stewed tomatoes.

I wish I could have known my grandmothers better; what we do know are some of their recipes. If you still have a living grandmother, it’s not too late to learn some of her recipes. Perhaps you’ll find some inspiration in one of these cookbooks I have shared with you today.

–Sandra Lee Smith


Grandmas are moms with lots of frosting. ~Author Unknown~

Grandma always made you feel she had been waiting to see just you all day and now the day was complete – Marcy DeMaree.

Grandmothers are just “antique” little girls. ~Author Unknown~

Grandmothers are getting good press these days—whether in cookbooks, in children’s’ books about grandparents, or in memoirs written by loving grandchildren. I typed “grandmothers” into Google and was rewarded with over three million hits.

Quite a few grandmother-theme cookbooks are being published.

Why are our grandmothers’ recipes taking center stage? Didn’t most past generations applaud anything “just like mama used to make?” Have we skipped past our mothers cooking to focus on that of our grandmothers and, if so, why?

Actually, there are a number of cookbooks devoted to our mothers’ favorite recipes but just between you and me, my own mother was not what you’d call the world’s greatest cook. My mother never heard of al dente, – she’d boil a pan of canned vegetables for an hour…and when mom cooked cabbage, she’d put the pot of cabbage onto the stove to start cooking at 9 O’clock in the morning. We ate dinner at 6 PM at night. My mother’s rice was like a lump of library paste – I didn’t discover that I liked cabbage or rice until I was an adult living in California, and realized that it wasn’t the food I disliked, just the way my mother cooked it.

What mom was good at was stretching a dollar to feed a family of seven for a week during depression and wartime years. We grew up on mostly one-pot meals of stew, chili or soup, made with very little meat or soup bones. (Little did anyone guess how healthy these meals would turn out to be!) My father and brothers would dig the marrow out of the bones and spread it on crackers to eat. When my sister Barbara saw Martha Stewart doing a program about marrow and eating it, my sister crowed –“To think,” she said, “Martha is talking about and eating marrow when that was what we poor folk ate in the 1940s”.

My paternal grandmother, Grandma Schmidt, was the acknowledged cook in the family. Grandma made her own noodles – sometimes all of the backs of wooden kitchen chairs would be filled with noodles laid out to dry. She made strudels of cherries or apples or (my favorite) spicy pumpkin–or whatever fruit was in season. None of this frozen Filo dough! Grandma made her strudel dough from scratch. She also made an incredibly decadent Dobos Torte, a dozen or so thin spongy layers of cake interspersed with semi sweet chocolate frosting.

My sister, Barbara recalled that applesauce making was a family project in which everyone was put to work. Even small children could help peel the apples—although the actual cooking of the sauce was left to grandma and her daughter and daughters in law. (When there were too many apples or maybe Grandma had her fill of making applesauce, a grandchild would be sent down the street with a wagonload of apples to give to the nuns at St. Leo’s, our parish church).

What I do remember about the canned applesauce is that, during the War years, it was made sans sugar. We had jars and jars of applesauce in the cellar, long after World War II was over, all of it made with sour cooking apples, none of it sweetened. You sprinkled a little sugar and cinnamon on the applesauce as you were eating it.

My grandmother’s cooking was a hodge-podge of German, Hungarian and Jewish cuisine. (Grandma was German; Grandpa was Hungarian and Grandma worked for a Jewish family when she first came to America. No matter; as children, we referred to all of it as “German food”. Many years later, I would discover that what we called “German pancakes” were actually Hungarian Palacsinta, a kind of cousin to the French crepes. We sometimes ate the paper thin pancakes, spread with jelly and rolled up, on our way back to school after lunch.

We grew up on, (and took for granted) Hungarian Gulyas (goulash) and chicken paprikas, Sauerbraten and Hasenpfeffer (not my favorite recipe; we won’t go there…), a cheese strudel (remarkably similar to Jewish Blintzes), Blutwurst (which translates, literally, as blood sausage) which was utterly delicious with chunks of freshly baked hot salt bread. Grandma made a chicken broth in which were sprinkled rivels—a kind of tiny egg dumpling, which was pretty good eating along with fried wurst (sausages) and hot freshly baked salt bread.

My grandfather enjoyed, I recall, a dish made up of cooked potatoes, noodles and eggs—but I have never seen a recipe and have never quite duplicated it. It might have been something thrown together with leftovers…or maybe you needed homemade noodles to make it right.

Grandma also made wonderful doughnuts—and on the Feast of the Three Kings—you could expect to find a coin, either a nickel or a dime—in your doughnut. I don’t have many memories of my grandfather, a professional tailor who died when I was eight years old. I do remember sitting on his lap, in a rocking chair in the kitchen, while we watched Grandma remove doughnuts from the hot oil and lay them on brown paper bags to drain before she sprinkled them with sugar. I also have fond memories of running down to the corner, where the streetcar route ended, to meet him when he came home from work, and carrying his black metal lunchbox back to their house on Baltimore Street.

My Aunt Dolly was the only smart one amongst us. Aunt Dolly was only about 15 years old when she married Uncle Hans, Grandma’s middle child. Aunt Dolly didn’t know how to cook but recognized good cooking when she tasted it. As a young bride, Aunt Dolly stood at her mother in law’s elbow and learned how to make everything Grandma made. Aunt Dolly is our last living link with Grandma’s recipes, since none of them were ever written down. Grandma’s recipes were all in her head; she mixed a pinch of this or a dab of that, ‘enough flour’ so the dough wasn’t too sticky and enough salt in the soup so that it tasted ‘just right’—but not salty!

American writer Linda Henley wrote, “If God had intended us to follow recipes, He wouldn’t have given us grandmothers” (from “IN PRAISE OF GRANDMOTHERS”. Isn’t that the truth!

It was only in later years that my siblings and I, along with our cousins, realized that one of Grandma’s greatest gifts to all of us wasn’t in her cooking – delicious though it was – but rather, in her ability to make each and every grandchild feel special. We each grew up believing WE were grandma’s favorite. It wasn’t something she ever said – it was something each of us felt.

She was our anchor; she went to bat for you. She’d stop whatever she was doing to make you a chicken-and-lettuce sandwich, first going out to her garden to pick some fresh leaf lettuce…she would take you downtown with her, to see a movie and maybe get a grape juice drink and a hot dog afterwards. She’d make hot tea with lemon, and you’d have that as a bedtime snack, along with butter and crackers (real butter—Grandma didn’t believe in oleomargarine). She loved to travel, to see things—whether it meant traveling to Niagara Falls with a carload of grandchildren or getting on a streetcar and making a Sunday trip to the Cincinnati Zoo. (My brother Jim thinks we must be part gypsy since we all love to travel and move around to different parts of the country).

I can remember a few occasions of becoming sick at school and at least once two older school girls walked me up the street to Grandma’s. Grandma put me in her bed with a hot water bottle and gave me an Alka Seltzer; then I napped sumptuously on her bed, dozing while I could smell the cotton cloth of clothing being ironed, and hear Grandma’s daytime radio soap operas, like Stella Dallas.

Erma Bombeck once wrote, “Grandmas…can shed the yoke of responsibility, relax, and enjoy their grandchildren in a way that was not possible when they were raising their own children. And they can glow in the realization that here is their seed of life that will harvest generations to come.” (From “IN PRAISE OF GRANDMOTHERS”).

My brother Bill tells a hilarious story of the time he and our cousin Johnny, one hot summer day, found a tool in Grandma’s basement that Johnny figured would turn on the water faucets at the Junior High school up the street. The two boys went up to the school and turned on all the outside water faucets. They were having a wonderful time dancing in the spray of water as it flooded the parking lot, when they noticed police cars and fire trucks ascending the hill to the school. The two boys quickly turned off the water and taking a back trail, hurried back to Grandma’s, where they sat (completely drenched) on a side step. Of course, the police and firemen arrived, having been advised by other children that Billy and Johnny were the culprits. When the authorities approached Grandma, she would have none of it. Brandishing her broom, she insisted “her boys” (although dripping wet and looking mighty sheepish) hadn’t left the property all day. After the police and fire department left, Grandma shook a finger at the two boys. “Don’t either of you DARE to leave this yard for the rest of the day” she warned.

Joyce Brothers wrote “Becoming a grandparent is a second chance for you have a chance to put to use all the things you learned the first time around and may have made mistakes on. It’s all love and no discipline. There’s no thorn in this rose”. (From “A TRIBUTE TO GRANDMOTHERS”.

And now, being a grandmother, I know this is true.

And so, in honor of grandmothers, here are some cookbooks with written in their honor. It’s not just that this is a random selection; these are the Grandmother cookbooks on my bookshelves. I’m willing to bet there are many more “out there” waiting to be discovered.

“JUST LIKE GRANDMA USED TO MAKE”, by Lois Wyse, with Liza Antelo and Sherri Pincus, published by Simon & Shuster in 1998, offers more than 170 heirloom recipes and an easy to read format that I really love. In the introduction, Lois (yes, THAT Lois Wyse, author of many books, including “FUNNY, YOU DON’T LOOK LIKE A GRANDMOTHER” and “GRANDCHILREN ARE SO MUCH FUN, I SHOULD HAVE HAD THEM FIRST”) comments in the introduction “Our grandmothers often failed to realize (and so did many of us) that what we most wanted to hand down to us were her recipes. Grandmother food the way Grandmother made it. But who of our grandmothers was precise when it came to measuring? Grandmother made food by feel and taste…some of our grandmothers, of course, came from countries and times when the girl in the family was not the one taught to read and write…”

“Yet”, Lois adds, “Even when we know the recipes, we sometimes have trouble getting ‘the grandma touch’…” Lois relates the story of family members trying for years to duplicate their grandma’s strudel. No one was successful—the day that Lois perfected the recipe, she received a telephone call telling her that grandma had passed away. “Then she knew she could go in peace” Lois relates.

“What is it,” she asks, perhaps rhetorically, “that gives grandmother food its special taste?”

“Certainly love plays a part,” Lois writes, “but so does a sure touch.”

She reminds us that our grandmothers made their food by heart and by touch and with a kind of familiarity that came with the territory.

“JUST LIKE GRANDMA USED TO MAKE” is a fun cookbook but also one with a lot of recipes you will want to try. Since this book was published over a decade ago, you may want to search for a pre-owned copy. Amazon has both new and used starting at 12c for pre owned and only $4.59 for a new copy.

“FROM MY GRANDMOTHER’S KITCHEN” by Viviane Alchech Miner, with Linda Krinn, is a Jewish cookbook of Sephardic recipes—combining Turkish, Greek, Bulgarian, Rumanian and Spanish Cuisines. The book was first published in the USA by Triad Publishing Company in 1984. What I have is a soft cover edition printed in 1986 by Comet Books in London. I don’t remember where I found it but it was marked down and I considered it a rare find. We learn that as a young girl, Viviane spent many cherished hours in her grandmother’s kitchen, absorbing the lively and creative approach to cooking that has been central to her family’s way of life for generations. In “From My Grandmother’s Kitchen” Viviane shares her rich and diverse culinary heritage, a cuisine that has evolved over centuries of migration by the Sephardic Jews. Included with recipes are childhood memories and family photographs.

This appears to be a rare cookbook; no new copies are available on Amazon and the pre owned copies start at $19.01. However, I found several listed on starting at 99c!

I found “RECIPES FROM a GERMAN GRANDMA” a few years ago and in the process became acquainted with the author, Stephen Block who also has a website called the Kitchen Project. ( “Recipes from a German Grandma” is almost the kind of cookbook my family might have written if we had not called ours “Grandma’s Favorite” but the Block family went a step farther with their cookbook project and in it you will find all of the German recipes our ancestors liked to cook and bake, such as Spaetzles which are tiny dumplings, Goulash, and Sauerbraten, Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage, Strudel dough and Apfel Kuchen (which is apple cake), and all the German cookies that we love so much—lebkuchen and Pfeffernusse, Cinnamon Stars and Fruit Cake Bars – many of the very same cookies I bake every Christmas to bring back the memories (and the scent) of my grandmother’s kitchen. I was especially pleased to see an authentic goulash recipe in “Recipes from a German Grandma” – you may recall that it is a pet peeve of mine that people mix anything and everything into a pot and call it goulash. That’s a STEW, not a goulash. The Block family goulash is pristine with nothing resembling a vegetable except onion and should be served over hot noodles. My grandmother’s goulash had some carrots and potatoes added to it; that might have been to extend the meal to feed a hoard of hungry grandchildren.

To order a copy of “Recipes from a German Grandma”, visit this website. The cost of the cookbook is $16.95. Go to:

Similarly, but not as well compiled, is a soft cover book titled “RECIPES FROM MY GROSSMUTTER”, subtitled “A Collection of Recipes from Hahndorf Women of Today and Yesterday” which was given to me in 1980, when my penpal Eileen and her husband Jim visited us at our home in North Miami Beach Florida. “Recipes from my Grossmutter” was a Christmas present from Eileen. The book itself was compiled by the Women of St Michael’s Lutheran Primary School in Hahndorf –Australia!

Eileen became my Australian penpal in 1965—now, in 2011 we are still going strong. She and her husband, Jim, flew into Miami, LAX, after traveling in Europe that year, then borrowed our camper and drove it all around the USA. FIRST we spent some time together and several months later, when they returned from their Great American camper trip, they spent several more weeks with us, getting better acquainted. What I like most about “Recipes from My Grossmutter” is the wealth of recipes explaining how to make things pretty much forgotten unless you live in an Amish community. There are directions for making butter and a brine for preserving the butter, for making cottage cheese and yogurt as well as directions for slaughtering a pig and everything you need to know for curing the pig in brine or salt—no, I’m not planning to slaughter a pig anytime soon…but so much of what was commonplace in our grandparents’ lives will be completely lost if someone didn’t take the time to write it all down. (What I might try making sometime is their recipe for blackberry wine-I just need to make another trip to Oregon to get the blackberries!) I did not find any listings for “Recipes from my Grossmutter” on—but bear in mind it was published in Australia. I DID find a couple of listings for the book on Ebay.


–Sandra Lee Smith


Before computers and email…a lot of people actually wrote honest-to-goodness letters. To help promote letter-writing amongst pen-pals, there were, in the 1960s through the 1980s, a group of monthly magazines, published by Tower Press, whose primary function was to bring together people (mostly women) who were looking for pen-pals with similar interests. The Tower Press magazine “WOMEN’S CIRCLE” published letters submitted by women who were looking for pen-pals, sometimes from foreign countries, or mothers with small children seeking other mothers with whom they could exchange ideas and find a sympathetic ear. However, if you were looking for a particular lost recipe or an old fondly-remembered cookbook, if you wanted to exchange post cards or stamps, whatever you were looking for—Women’s Circle was there to lend a helping hand. This monthly magazine even included a column for teenagers, called Teensville; girls and boys looking for pen-pals were invited to write a letter and submit a recent photo of themselves. Women’s Circle published the letters. The Exchange Column invited readers from everywhere in the world to write a letter, expressing their interests. Generally, along with your name and address, you included your date of birth and your wedding anniversary date, the names and ages of your children, as well as your hobbies and collections.

In addition to “WOMEN’S CIRCLE”, the Tower Press publishers also published a magazine called “GOOD OLD DAYS” which contained nostalgic photos, poems, drawings, cartoons, ads, songs, and articles. They also published a magazine called “WOMEN’S CIRCLE HOME COOKING” and, for people into sewing and crafts, there were “POPULAR NEEDLEWORK & CRAFTS”, “STITCH ‘N SEW”, “POPULAR HANDICRAFT & HOBBIES”, “AUNT JANE’S SEWING CIRCLE”, and “OLDE TIME NEEDLEWORK PATTERNS & DESIGNS”. Similar to “Women’s Circle” were “Women’s Household” and “Women’s Comfort” magazines.

When I began thinking about those “WOMEN’S CIRCLE” magazines I wondered – What happened to all of those Tower Press publications? An internet search revealed that the original issue of WOMEN’S CIRCLE magazine was published in February, 1960, ending with the March/April, 1997 issue. Tower Press was bought out by House of White Birches; the latter was founded over 50 years ago in New England by two brothers, Ed and Mike Kutlowski, who were pioneers in the magazine industry. The Kutlowskis retired in 1985 and sold their business to printers Carl and Art Muselman. The Muselmans moved the House of White Birches to Berne, their hometown, and the location of their printing company, EP Graphics. HWB currently publishes eight magazines, many of which were launched in the 1970s and are still popular today. Included are “GOOD OLD DAYS” and “HOME COOKING”. “HOME COOKING” appears to be the last remnant of the original Tower Press format of reader submission of favorite recipes. The idea of a magazine devoted primarily to pen-pals appears to have fallen by the wayside, overtaken, perhaps, by today’s computer generated email and chat rooms. (However, I was bemused to discover—in an Internet search on, an article written by a young woman who happened to discover an old issue of “WOMEN’S HOUSEHOLD” at an antique store. Consequently, she and some friends started up a monthly publication they call “American Homebody” which was based on Women’s Household. The author wrote, “I liked the neighborliness of ‘Women’s Household’ and was intrigued by the way the magazine created a community of like-minded individuals scattered across the country who looked forward each month for articles about women…” So, it seems, the memory—and ideas– of “WOMEN’S HOUSEHOLD” and “WOMEN’S CIRCLE” live on.

Go back with me, in time, and let me share with you how things were before email came along.

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 grandmothers)—have remained pen-pals for 45 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’ home 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.

Also in 1965, I responded to a letter written to “WOMEN’S CIRCLE” by an Australian woman named Margaret. She was seeking penpals but received such a flood of letters from the USA that she took them to her tennis club, spread them out on a table 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 our camper to them 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. It’s sort of like the begats. One friendship begat another one. Years later, the London couple would immigrate to Australia and we became better friends via email, exchanging recipes and gardening tips.

Another young woman who wrote to me 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 1974, Bev & Leroy and their children visited us on their way to Disneyland. In 1978, my husband and children and I drove to Oregon where we visited 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. In 2007, I flew to Portland and they met my flight. We spent a week together, visiting lighthouses – and for our joint birthday, Leroy took us to Three Sisters, Oregon, for the day. It was snowing in the cascades! No snow at lower elevations – we thought it was a good birthday present from the heavens.

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).

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. We were penpals for 25 years.

The downside to having penpals, if there is a downside, is that sometimes letters stop coming – both of these women had become old and had many health issues…perhaps there is no one left to write to their pals to tell you what had happened to them.

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.

As for “WOMEN’S CIRCLE”—the first food-related articles I sold were to this magazine. It was thrilling to see these published. One included photographs that a photographer friend took for me. Then, in 1977, I went back to work full-time and the Tower Press magazines slipped from my radar. But the friendships forged by these magazines have remained an integral part of my life. Yours too, I hope.

And now we have- the Internet…Facebook and blogs, such as this one of mine, sandychatter. But there is still much to be said for the art of writing letters, of finding letters and cards from all over the USA in your mailbox. Much nicer than finding only bills and flyers in the mailbox! And if you are someone still interested in penpals and actual correspondence, may I suggest Inky Trail News; this is a newsletter, bi-monthly, published by my friend Wendy. You can contact Wendy at and might want to send for a sample issue of the newsletter. For people who still appreciate the art of letter writing, this may be just the thing for you.

A few years ago, Wendy put together half a dozen retirees into a Google Retiree group. We were a busy email group the first couple of years but perhaps exhausted topics to write about as the group has tapered off. That being said, two of the women in the group, both Canadians, have become very good friends and the three of us email one another daily.

In 2008, Sharon came to visit me and we did a grand California tour for two weeks, visiting the Redwoods and Yosemite. Then, IN 2009, I visited Sharon in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and had the time of my life meeting her friends and doing all the touristy things one does at Niagara Falls. All because of being penpals!

Another newsletter you may be interested in is PALS OF THE PEN, a quarterly pen pal newsletter (reader letters, their contributions in the way of recipes, nostalgia, tips, poems, health tidbits, etc). It is for USA women readers only and is $10.00 a year. My friend Jackie Barlow offers a back issue as a sample for $1.00. She started the newletter in 1996 for women born in 1938 but never could get a lot of readers born in just that one year. A couple of years ago Jackie decided to open it up to women born anytime in the 1930s, and again didn’t get a lot of new readers. So just a few issues ago she dropped the years and went for “all USA women pen pallers”. If you want a sample copy of Pals of the Pen, send $1.00 for a back issue. A year’s subscription is $10.00. Offer open to USA women only. Write to Jackie Barlow (SS), 67 Aberdeen Circle, Leesburg, FL 34788.

There are undoubtedly other newsletters for those of us who grew up with penpals in our lives. Sometimes penpals come into your life and stay forever while others may come and go. I am reminded of a Vietnamese refugee penpal I had while in high school. She attended a Catholic high school in New York while I attended one in Cincinnati. The nuns offered to exchange names and Anne Nam Hai became my penpal. I lost contact with Anne after graduating from high school. But oh, the joy, over the years, of exchanging letters, recipes, photographs and sometimes small gifts with a penpal far away—email on the internet may fill some of the void but I have to tell you, I still get a thrill finding real letters in my mailbox. And my lady mail carrier – who has only known me for 2 years – knows when I have received a box of cookbooks from my penpal in Michigan and always carries the box up to the door.

Before Email….all we had were letters – and even though I am still an avid letter writer, I have to admit – computers have greatly broadened our horizons.

–Sandra Lee Smith