I began collecting cookbooks (primarily church-and-club type) over 45 years ago. Soon after, I discovered a “manuscript” cookbook – or more accurately, it discovered me. I was rummaging around in a used book store in Hollywood when the owner said “I have something interesting in a cookbook – let me show it to you”. It was a small 3-ring binder with an old leather cover and it was filled with hand written recipes as well as hundreds of clipped-and-pasted on recipes. Its owner had kept her notebook cookbook for decades – and I bought it for about $10.00 (which doesn’t sound like much, now, but at the time I was raising my family and it was a lot) – but I had to have it. Over the years, I’ve found a few more manuscript-type cookbooks but they’re really scarce. My theory is that this type of cookbook remains in the family. I don’t believe that the owner of that first manuscript cookbook, whose name, I discovered, was Helen, had any family.

Then I became interested in recipe boxes when I found an old, green, wooden recipe box in Ventura, California, at an antique store. It was packed with the former owner’s collection of recipes. I was so intrigued by this type of collection – what I think of as a kitchen diary – that I began a diligent search for filled recipe boxes. These are just about as scarce and hard to find as handwritten cookbooks. Often, you can find recipe boxes – in thrift stores or antique shops – but they are usually empty. I think the storekeepers don’t imagine anyone would be interested in the contents, which are often scrappy little pieces of paper, recipes clipped from the back of a bag of macaroni or flour, recipes written on a piece of envelope, – but over the past 15 or 20 years, I’ve managed to find quite a few of these filled recipe boxes. One time my niece, who lives in Palm Springs, found three of them for me at a yard sale; it helps that so many people know about my fascination with old, filled recipe boxes. Another time, a girlfriend of mine was telling me about helping a friend of hers clear out her mother’s apartment, after her mother had passed away. “Oh,” I said “Ask your friend if her mother had any recipe boxes”. She did – and I got it. She also had, and gave to me, several cookbook autographed by cookbook author Mike Roy, with whom her mother had been acquainted. On yet another occasion, I was given half a dozen filled recipe boxes that had belonged to the aunt of a woman I worked with.

Now, I collect all types of recipe boxes but the ones I cherish the most are those filled with some one else’s recipe collection. One of these boxes is so old that the contents are extremely fragile and bits of paper disintegrate whenever you handle them.

Yard sales where I live rarely yield such treasures although once we were at an estate sale and I happened to find a cardboard box – shaped like a file drawer – filled with handwritten recipe cards on oversize cards, about a 4×6” size. I was able to buy it for $2.00. Part of the charm, or intrigue, of owning these boxes is going through them piece by piece, and trying to learn something about the person who compiled the box. I leave all of these boxes exactly “as is” because I feel to change them would change the integrity of the collection.

What makes these recipe boxes so enticing? I think old recipe boxes, filled with someone’s collection of recipes, are a window into our culinary past. Eventually, no doubt, someone else will discover these treasures, too, but in the meantime, I like to think that what I have is a fairly unique collection.

–Happy Cooking & Happy Cookbook Collecting!



5 responses to “THE KITCHEN DIARIES

  1. I read your article this morning on recipe’s still in the box and your delight in reading through the handwritten gems. You have a way of describing the task of kitchen duty with an eye to the historical and I almost imagine myself (safely tucked away) in a kitchen of another era, awaiting the arrival of scarf covered tumbling children and hungry men.

    Thanks for the memories,

  2. The one shown above is called Calabrian Fruit a brightly colored recipe card box that features some of the fruits harvested in Calabria Italy especially the bergamot orange which helps give Earl Grey tea its distinctive flavor..Some of our other new are made of beautiful craft woods and still others feature some great new prints and graphics that are suitable for most everyone s kitchen..I m really excited about our new Recipe Card Tins though..We have six delightful recipe card tins in different designs. All of the recipe card tins come complete with 98-99 preprinted theme recipes on 4 x 6 recipe cards accented by beautiful color photographs.

  3. I am looking for a brownie recipe from an early red plaid Better Homes and Garden cook book. It was either on page 196 or 198 and I have lost that cook book but still have a taste for the Brownies………….! Let me know if you can help me find it…………..

    • Dear Patti,
      I got out 3 differnt versions of the BH&G plaid cookbook; the only one that comes close to th page # you provided is the BH&G “new” cookbook and it offers 2 brownie reipes on pg 185. Providing these 2 recipes & if this doesnt sound right, please check my Feb 10, 2010 article on my blog titled “Brownies…how do I love thee?” – after the written text you will find an assortment of brownie recipes. Hope this is what you are looking for!
      Brownies (Fudge type)
      1/2 cup butter or margarine
      1 cup sugar
      1 tsp vanilla
      2 eggs
      2 1-0z squares unsweetened chocolate, melted
      1/2 cup sifted all purpose flour
      1/2 cup chopped walnuts
      Cream butter, sugar and vanilla. Beat in eggs. Blend in chocolate. Stir in flour and nuts. Bake in greased 8×8″ square pan at 325 degrees 30-35 mins. Cool. cut in squares.

      Brownies (cake-type
      1/2 cup shortening
      2 1-0z squares unsweetened chocolate
      1 tsp vanilla
      3/4 cup sifted all purpose flour
      1/2 tsp baking powder
      1/2 tp salt
      1 cup broken California walnuts

      Melt shortening and chocolate together over VERY LOW heat, stirring constantly. cool. Beat eggs til light; stitr in sugar, then chocolate mixture and vanilla. Add sifted dry ingredients mixing well. Add nuts. Bake in preheated greased 8×8″ square pan at 350 degrees 30-35 minutes. Cool. Cut into squares.

      And for good measure here are 2 of my all time favorite brownie recipes but I hope you will check the article “Brownies…how do I love thee” for others:


      To make saucepan brownies, you will need:

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

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

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


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

      2 squares unsweetened chocolate
      ¼ lb sweet butter*
      1 cup sugar
      2 eggs
      ½ tsp vanilla
      ¼ cup flour
      ¼ tsp salt
      1 cup chopped walnuts

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

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

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