Monthly Archives: May 2011


One year in the early 1990s, I was traveling north with my brother Jim and we had a stop-over in Oakland, where he had a meeting and I connected with my friend Patrick to go exploring for bookstores and whatever else I might find interesting. At a bookstore, I found a copy of “Cincinnati Recipe Treasury” by Mary Anna Du Sablon. Jim read it from cover to cover on our flight from Oakland to Seattle. Shortly after – possibly when we were visiting bookstores in Seattle, – I bought copies of “Cincinnati Recipe Treasury” for my siblings.
Although I am a cookbook collector, there are probably not more than a few dozen cookbooks that I really do treasure. A few of them are cookbooks from my hometown of Cincinnati—one reason is that there are certain foods you’ll find in Cincinnati and nowhere else. Authentic Cincinnati Chili is just one of them. There are many others.

In the preface to “Cincinnati Recipe Treasury” author Mary Anna Du Sablon writes, “Great cooks abound in Cincinnati—people whose superlative talents flourish virtually unknown outside the circles of family and friends. Occasionally an entrepreneur will gain the courage to open a restaurant or catering service, but more often than not this wealth of culinary art and experience is acknowledged once in a church or club cookbook, or by a resounding cheer at a lodge dinner, and then taken for granted….”

Du Sablon says there was no human way for her contact each of the great cooks recommended to her, nor to reproduce every tasty and traditional recipe. She writes “A sincere effort was made nevertheless to represent our town through its cultural heritage, its family traditions, and its creative endeavors, and to reflect the intimacy of real home cooking—a treasury unto itself.”

Du Sablon reflects that “Cincinnatians, an unusually friendly breed, take their food seriously. They are not generally anxious to try new things, but will experiment with encouragement and render an honest opinion. What they like, they like, what they don’t like, they never will…” (I had to chuckle reading this—it is SO true even of Cincinnatians who have moved across the country).

Du Sablon also writes, “Although they are frugal cooks as a rule, Cincinnatians will make exceptions to create a perfect meal for a special occasion. For this reason many families have dealt with one butcher shop for a lifetime where they have come to expect a superior product….” (I am reminded of the many times I have flown to Cincinnati for a family reunion or a class reunion, and have gone with my nephew Russ down to Findlay Market to get dozens of different kinds of sausages for a sausage and sauer kraut BBQ).

“As in many cities,” Du Sablon notes, “cookbooks have become a Cincinnati preoccupation; almost every donor of a recipe I this compilation admitted to being a collector…” She says she handled hundreds of these cookbooks while preparing this manuscript, some new and innovative, some old and falling apart, still hand down through generations. “Naturally,” she writes, “the best cookbooks were the most dog-eared, barely readable under the flour and grease stains of past preparations…”

What Du Sablon writes next resonated strongly with me because as a collector, I have the same reaction. “Some of my favorite moments,” she says, “were when little clipped recipes, yellow with age, fell out from between the pages, or when a child’s scrawl appeared along with the cook’s notations handwritten on endsheets.” She noted that once a perfectly pressed four-leaf-clover was found lying against a recipe for blackberry cake and she wondered if both clover and berries were found that lucky summer’s day.

She noted also that until the last thirty years or so, most of our local repasts were influenced primarily by our own culture. She said that lately the world has come to Cincinnati by way of new residents and restaurants, bringing with them menus and recipes that may well be the history of tomorrow. (I hope not). I still go to Cincinnati for class reunions and family events—it wouldn’t be Cincinnati without frequent trips to Skyline Chili for coney islands or making a trip downtown to Findlay Market for sausages, the likes of which you won’t find anywhere else. Nowhere else will you find Cincinnati chili made the way it should be made—every so often I see a recipe for Cincinnati chili featured in a magazine and it’s a sacrilege. If you want the real thing you have to go to the Chili Parlor in Camp Washington. (Although just about every Cincinnatian, past and present, has his or her own “authentic” recipe for Cincinnati chili that they swear by.

Mary Anna Du Sablon’s “Cincinnati Recipe Treasury” is packed with recipes that anyone from Cincinnati (and hopefully, as well as everyone still living there) will recognize. There are a lot of cookbooks published by clubs and churches—and I love all of them; I buy as many as my budget will stand for, all the while aware that I have to get them back to California. One favorite is a 1961 Methodist Church* cookbook that my father bought from a coworker at Formica for a dollar each. He bought three – one for mom, one for Becky and one for me. In 1961 when I moved to California – and didn’t collect cookbooks – this was the only cookbook I had with a recipe for Cincinnati chili in it. Over the years I have added a lot more Cincinnati cookbooks to my collection…but I can tell you that Mary Anna Du Sablon’s holds a place of honor on my bookshelves.

Just recently, seeing her name on Google as a reference to something else, I wondered what else she might have had published lately. It was a distinct shock to discover she had passed away in 2005. I have a slight personal connection to Ms. Du Sablon—after I bought multiple copies of Cincinnati Recipe Treasury, I wrote a letter to her. I must have sent it to Ohio University Press, the publisher of her book.

Eventually, she wrote back to me and we exchanged a few letters about our respective childhoods in Cincinnati. She graduated from St Mary’s High School in 1956 while I went to Mother of Mercy and graduated in 1958. At some point, she referred me to her book, “America’s Collectible Cookbooks” published in 1994, also by Ohio University Press—and it has been a valuable reference book for me over the years.

I was saddened to learn that Mary Anna Du Sablon had passed away. I think she must have surely had a few more books clamoring to be written and published. I would have been happy to buy them. Maybe even half a dozen of them for my siblings.

*In 1965, curious to find out if there might be more cookbooks like that Methodist Church Cookbook “out there” I wrote to a penpal magazine offering to buy or swap for any church or club cookbooks anyone might have to sell. I received over 250 letters and answered all of them. The books I bought formed the nucleus of a collection of cookbooks that now numbers about 10,000.

Happy Cookbook Collecting!



This old house is made of brick
And has been standing about a hundred years;
It’s a three-storied house
With a big basement
That had a wine cellar
In one of the rooms,
A cellar where my grandfather
Stored his homemade wine
Made from the grapes
Grown on his hilly back yard.
There are a lot of rooms in this old house
Where my grandparents raised
Three children
And where, when their children married,
Apartments were created on the first and third floors
For the married child and his or her spouse
And their children, as children were born.
My parents lived in this old house
For nine years,
Until I was almost five
And they were able to buy their own home.
But much as I loved that home,
Nothing could ever compare
With the memories in this old house,
That belonged to my grandparents.
My grandparents resided on
The second floor
When I was a small child,
And could sit in the rocking chair
By the kitchen window
On my grandfather knee,
Watching my grandmother
Make doughnuts.
Later, my grandmother
Would take up residence
On the first floor, front rooms
And rent out the rest of the house;
I spent many nights with my grandmother
In those two rooms
Where at night
We had a cup of hot tea
And saltine crackers
With real butter.
This old house
Holds many memories
For many people,
And now it is
An Assisted Living home
For disabled adults.
If we can no longer live in
This old house,
Perhaps it is a good home
For those disabled adults
And if there are any ghosts
In this old house
They can only be the friendly spirits
Filled with memories
Of family members who lived there
For so many decades.

–Sandra Lee Smith

For This Old House at 1925 Baltimore Avenue


Say “antiquarian cookbooks” and most people imagine that anything they consider old—cookbooks over 30 years old, for instance–to be “antiques”. Strictly speaking, a thirty year old cookbook isn’t an antique; however, many cookbooks published in fairly recent decades may be extremely valuable to a collector. If, for instance, you have a first edition copy of “Joy of Cooking” – the very first copies, the true first editions, were self published by the author in 1931, making one of those 80 years old. It has been in print continuously since 1936 with more than 18 million copies sold. In 1936, Bobs-Merrill began publishing “Joy”. A first edition of “Joy” was listed recently by ABE books for $3,000.00.

Many cookbook dealers call themselves antiquarian book dealers while most of the cookbooks they are offering for sale are not truly antiquarian…but may be merely out of print or scarce. And remember the #1 golden rule of cookbook collecting or trying to sell some of your books—a cookbook is only worth $3,000.00 (or even $100.00) if someone will PAY that price. As a collector you have to decide for yourself whether the asking price of a book is worth that much. (Heck, I would love to complete my collection of The Browns cookbooks but am missing their Vegetable cookbook—I have seen it listed by antiquarian dealers for $90.00 – and to MY mind, $90.00 is too steep. I think even $50.00 would be too much –Tag it at $25.00 and I would probably start writing a check.

Personally, I think most dealer prices are too pricey; I find most of my treasures in thrift stores and other out-of-the-way places where the prices are often more reasonable. On the other hand, I HAVE paid rather high prices for cookbooks I have coveted too much not to own them. And in recent years, I have been doing a lot of my searching on

So, you ask, what IS an antiquarian cookbook? To be truly an antique, it should be over one hundred years old.

We are fortunate that cookbooks, over the centuries, have enjoyed a high enough status to have been collected and preserved.

The earliest cookbooks were handwritten manuscripts, prior to the invention of the printing press in 1455. All books were handwritten manuscripts. The Gutenberg Bible, as we know, was the first book printed on the printing press, but cookbooks also played an important role in the development of printed books.

Per Esther Aresty in her 1964 “The Delectable Past” (Simon & Schuster), the first cookbook printed on the printing press originated in Italy. It was written by a Vatican librarian named Bartolomeo de’ Sacchi and was titled “DE HONESTA VOLUPTATE” which loosely translates to mean “Permissible Pleasures.”

England’s first printed cookbook, “The Boke of Cokery” (sic) was published in 1500; “The Good House-Wive Treasure” (sic) was printed in 1588; “The English House-wife” (sic) by Gervase Markham was printed in 1615, and along with other cookbooks being published during those periods of time, were all written by men – women were not thought to be competent enough to write cookbooks!

Also, these books were owned only by the wealthy or royalty—bearing in mind, it really was a man’s world; most women in medieval times did not have the luxury of an education.

From Betty Confidential I learned that the very first female cookbook writer is believed to be Sabina Welserin of Augsburg, Germany. Her Kochbuch of 1553, however, remained in manuscript form until modern times.

Also from Betty Confidential, “Anna Weckerin’s Ein Köstlich new Kochbuch (A Delicious New Cookbook) of 1598 is the first cookbook published by a woman. It went through many editions up through the 17th century. She was the wife of a prominent professor of medicine, Johann Jacob Wecker, and not surprisingly, was health conscious. Her recipes include a roast salmon with a sour sauce, an eel pie, as well as more familiar German dishes like Bratwurst and Lebkuchen.” Betty Confidential also refers to “One of the most delightful and least known of antique cookbooks is ‘Rare and Excellent Receipts’ by Mary Tillinghast published in 1690. (This is the first I have ever heard of Mary Tillinghast’s cookbook).

In my original article for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange in 1993, I noted that “Possibly the first English cookbook with a woman’s by-line appeared in London in 1681 and was titled “The Queen-like Closet or Rich Cabinet” by Hannah Wooley. While searching on Google to re-verify my 1993 notes, I came across the earlier references to Sabina Welserin and Anna Weckerin.

Another of the earliest female cookbook authors was Mary Kettilby who, in 1714, published “A Collection of Above Three Hundred Receipts in Cookery, Physick and Surgery; For the Use of All Good Wives, Tender Mothers and Careful Nurses.” But one woman writer who was to greatly influence English cookbooks and to prove that women were just as capable as men when it came to compiling cookbooks was Hannah Glasse, whose book “The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy” was published in 1747.

These early cookbooks were scarcely JUST cookbooks—they contained everything from household hints to directions for making up one’s own medicines, instructions for managing the household servants and proper etiquette, to directions for concocting perfumes, wines, cordials, soap, yeast – just about everything.

Early cookbooks began with the premise that first you had to KILL the animal that was to be eaten, and provide gory details for dismembering and preparing meat. I remember one old cookbook’s directions for cooking calf’s head—first you had to hold it by an ear and dip the head in boiling water! Still think it was so great back in the good old days? Calf’s head jelly was a forerunner of Jello gelatin—but Calf’s head was also cooked to make “mock turtle soup” – when you didn’t have a turtle but did have a calf’s head laying around. Ew, ew. Directions for killing a turtle to make authentic turtle soup are so gruesome that I, for one, am grateful for mock turtle soup. More recent versions of mock turtle soup are made with…ground beef.

Many seventeenth and eighteenth century cookbooks found their way across the ocean—ALL cookbooks first available in this country came from Europe. Not that it mattered very much; pioneer Americans were learning to adapt to a wide variety of new foods and one can suppose that even if the lady of the house COULD read and write, much of the discourse on managing servants would have been useless to early pioneer women.

The first American cookbook was printed in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1742, and reprinted there in 1752. According to “The Delectable Past”, however, this book was American by imprint only for it was actually Eliza Smith’s “The Compleat Housewife” (sic) which, at the time, was the most popular cookbook in England. The same book was reprinted in New York in 1764. (There was a lot of plagiarism ‘back in the day’ and apparently, it was done with impunity.)

In 1772, a cookbook was published in Boston, Susannah Carter’s “The Frugal Housewife,” followed in 1792 by Richard Briggs’ cookbook “The New Art of Cookery”. However, these first “American” cookbooks were actually English cookbooks; none contained recipes using Native American foods. Cookbooks were not in great demand in this country. In the south (and in the homes of some of the well-to-do) hostesses kept manuscript recipe journals and guarded their treasured recipes carefully, while in pioneer households across the land, young girls learned to cook by watching and helping their mothers in the kitchen.

The first cookbook written by an American woman was Amelia Simmon’s “American Cookery” which appeared in print in 1796. Amelia, according to cooklore, was an orphan and is credited with also being the first American cookbook writer to use American recipes with American ingredients. Her book was enormously successful—so much so that many of her recipes turned up later in Susannah Carter’s book “The Frugal Housewife” which in turn was plagiarized later in a reprint edition of Hannah Glasse’s book for American readers! But as noted earlier, these aren’t the first instances of plagiarism—stealing other cookbook authors’ works was a common practice that goes back hundreds of years. Even Alexander Dumas, famous for having written “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Musketeers” was guilty of plagiarizing when he was compiling his “Le Grand Dictionaire de Cuisine”.

This was such a common practice, one can only assume that in the absence of laws protecting writers, authors had no compunctions against lifting material from other writers’ works.

The publishing market was replete, throughout the 1800s, with cookbooks written by women (bearing in mind, it was one of the few things a respectable “lady” could pursue as a source of income).
One written by a man was “The Art of Cookery Made Easy and Refined: comprising ample directions for preparing every article requisite for furnishing the tables of the nobleman, gentleman and tradesman, by John Mollard. (Presumably, in Mr. Mollard’s world there were no women in the kitchen).

From the previously mentioned Susannah Carter, in 1803, was “The Frugal Housewife: or, Complete Woman Cook: Wherein the Art of Dressing All Sorts of Viands is Explained in Upwards of Five Hundred Approved Receipts” (Has anyone ever wondered how those long titles ever fit on the cover of a book?)

Sometimes the author of a cookbook, if a woman, would write anonymously to preserve her dignity and reputation. “A New System of Domestic Cookery, published in 1807 “by a Lady” was later identified when the book was reprinted.

And, in 1808 Lucy Emerson is credited with “The New-England Cookery, Or The Art of Dressing All Kinds of Flesh, Fish, and Vegetables—etc etc” and if it sounds familiar, it’s because Lucy plagiarized the 1798 cookbook by Amelia Simmons.

I was curious about copyright laws and when they went into effect, so – digressing and sidetracking, which I am known to do, I Googled a number of websites. I learned this:

The world’s first copyright law was the Queen Anne Statute, or “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned”. It was passed by the English Parliament on 10 April 1710.

The purpose of this was to protect work of authors, but copyright laws have now extended to all forms of media. The Queen Anne Statute was the origin of all modern copyright laws.

In the US, the basis for both copyright and patent law is established in Article 1, section 8, clause 8 of the US Constitution (adopted 17 September 1787).

The first actual US copyright legislation was passed by the Congress on 25 May 1790 and signed into law by then President George Washington on 31 May 1790. While Benjamin Franklin is rumored to have birthed the idea of copyrights, it can be seen that it was present in the UK well before then.

Well, despite the existence of copyright laws, would-be authors went right on plagiarizing, or pirating, other authors’ works.

In 1815, Priscilla Homespun published “The Universal Receipt Book” (do you think that was really her surname?) and in 1819, The New Family Receipt Book was published by Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell, who published a number of other cookbooks in her time.

In 1820, Rundell published “The New Family Receipt Book” while (same year) Mrs. Frazer published “The Practice of Cookery, Pastry, Confectionary, Pickling, Preserving…”

One of the first of these that I actually recognize and remember reading about elsewhere is “The Virginia Housewife, Or, Methodical cook”, first published in 1824 by Mary Randolph.

There was in 1830, “Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats” by “A Lady of Philadelphia”—in 1832, a reprint identified the Lady of Philadelphia as Miss Leslie of Philadelphia.

From Feeding America, we learn that “by 1860 more and more cookbooks were being printed, and American cookbooks had become an integral part of the publishing business. The upheaval of the Civil War caused a decline in the publication of all books, including cookbooks. Then, in the 1870s, three major cookbooks explosions occurred, the effects of which are still with us. The first was a Civil War legacy: cookbooks compiled by women’s charitable organizations to raise funds to aid victims of the War – orphans, widows, wounded, veterans. When the Civil War ended, these organizations turned their charitable attentions to other causes. The trickle of these early books published in the 1860s and 1870s has become a flood today, as hundreds, perhaps thousands, of charitable cookbooks to benefit every conceivable cause are published in the United States each year…(another) important development was the growth of the cooking school movement. It began with the cooking schools started in New York City by Pierre Blot and Juliet Corson and intensified with the great cooking schools and their teachers – Mrs. Rorer in Philadelphia and Mrs. Lincoln and Fannie Farmer in Boston. These schools dominated American cookbook publishing for the remainder of the nineteenth century and early into the twentieth”.

So, fast forward a little bit – to the latter 1800s, when along came Fannie – Fannie Farmer. Fannie was born in Medford, Massachusetts in March, 1857, the oldest of four daughters, born into a family that highly valued education and expected Fannie to go to college. However, when she was just sixteen years old, she suffered a paralytic stroke and was unable to continue her education. For several years she couldn’t walk and remained at home with her parents.

During this period of time. Fannie took up cooking, eventually turning her mother’s home into a boarding house that developed a reputation for the quality of the meals they served. At the age of 30, Fannie – now walking with a limp – enrolled in the Boston Cooking School. Fannie trained at the school until 1889 learning what were then considered the most important elements of cooking, nutrition, diet for convalescents, cleaning and sanitation, chemical analysis of food, techniques of cooking and baking, and household management.

Fannie was one of the school’s top students. She was kept on as assistant to the director, and in 1891 took on the job of school principal. Fannie published her best-known work, “The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book”, in 1896. Her cookbook introduced the concept of using standardized measuring spoons and cups, as well as level measurement.

“The Boston Cooking School Cookbook” was actually a follow-up to an earlier version called “Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book”, published by Mary J. Lincoln in 1884 under Fannie Farmer’s direction. Fannie Farmer’s cookbook eventually contained 1,849 recipes. Fannie also included essays on housekeeping, cleaning, canning, and drying fruits and vegetables, and providing nutritional information. The book’s publisher (Little, Brown & Company) didn’t expect good sales and limited the first edition to 3,000 copies, published at the author’s expense. The book was so popular in America, so thorough, and so comprehensive that cooks would refer to later editions simply as the “Fannie Farmer cookbook”, and it is still available in print over 100 years later. (Yes, Virginia, a first edition of the 1896 cookbook would be worth some bucks especially since only 3000 copies were published).

Fannie Farmer’s book listed ingredients separately from directions, presented readers with accurate, level measurements. Earlier cookbooks would instruct the cook to “use butter the size of an egg”. (What size egg? Small? Medium? Jumbo?) or to “heat the oven until you can only hold your hand inside for 15 seconds, (or until you have a second degree burn?) or might call for “a teacup of flour” (what size teacup?).

Actually, Ms. Farmer wasn’t the FIRST to list ingredients separately from directions; Sarah Tyson Rorer had done that some years before, in her book “Mrs. Rorer’s Philadelphia Cookbook” (where Mrs. Rorer had a cooking school of HER own), but the concept of level, accurate, standardized measurements brought science into the kitchen.

Why are these old cookbooks so fascinating to read? Certainly they often lack usefulness in today’s kitchen; the recipes are generally vague about directions and quantities needed. However, they provide us with a stunning glimpse into the past, in an area (the kitchen) that most of us are familiar with. We see – perhaps better than most historians – just how time consuming and difficult a housewife’s role was a hundred or two hundred years ago. With the vast amount of work required in the kitchen, it’s a wonder that the lady of the house managed to accomplish so many other things as well. I have been reminded that families were often large and it was not uncommon for a maiden aunt or a grandmother or other extended family members to live in the house and thereby providing extra helping hands (confirming the axiom that many hands make light work).

Middle to upper class homes one hundred years ago might easily have had a maid or two, or a housekeeper or cook as well. I think we can safely assume that not ALL households had extra aunties or grandmothers, nor did all families have maids and cooks. Meals alone were a full time task that began at sunrise. If the lady of the house had a wood-burning stove, it meant laying the wood for the fire, keeping it hot, baking breads (which started with making one’s own yeast and sometimes getting the yeast starter going the night before) and then preparing meals for the entire family. Although wood stoves were commonly used, gas and oil stoves and ranges were available from the late 1800s. Miss Parloa, the author of a cookbook titled “Miss Parloa’s Every Day Cooking and Marketing Guide”, copyrighted in 1880 and published by Estes and Lauriat, judiciously expounds on the virtues of gas and oil stoves and ranges; she writes that the two products were so near perfection that it was difficult to imagine how they could be improved upon.

Miss Parloa deplored, however, the commonly used refrigerators of her time. She claimed that the food developed a peculiar odor due to the wood used in the construction of refrigerator’s interior and shelves. As most of us know, these “refrigerators” were actually “ice boxes” which contained blocks of ice (which you purchased from an ice man). The food was stored, literally, on ice. A few years later, a “better” ice box came along. The ice was stored in a separate compartment with vents on either side to allow air n either side to flow freely through the upper compartment, where the food was kept. What would Miss Parloa think if she could see our modern refrigerator/freezers with automatic ice cube and cold water dispensers on the doors?

Another of Maria Parloa’s cookbooks was “The Original Appledore Cook Book/Practical Receipts for Plain and Rich Cooking” published in 1872 and reprinted in 1881. My copy is in a truly battered, tattered, condition with the binding falling away from the contents, but what is intriguing are the last dozen pages or so, all covered with handwritten recipes that are so faded, it’s almost impossible to decipher the script. (When I began collecting cookbooks, I’d buy anything in any condition—just to have the books.)

And then there were the Beechers. Father Lyman was a Presbyterian minister. Daughter Harriet Beecher Stowe was the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, published in 1852.

“Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book: Designed as a Supplement to her Treatise on Domestic economy” was published in 1850 by Harriet’s sister, Catharine Esther Beecher. But there is an intriguing story behind the Domestic Receipt book—as told in Cookbooks-A-La-Carte:

“Catharine Beecher invited to tea one afternoon in 1846—twenty years after their graduation from the Hartford Female Seminary—two dozen of her former students. They listened with interest and sympathy as she described how the year before, promising to write a new cookbook, she had taken an advance from Harper & Brothers to send her gravely ill younger sister Harriet to the Brattleboro Spa in Vermont and of how, now, with only the first of over twenty projected chapters written, the deadline was fast approaching—which, if not met, would result in a severe financial penalty.

There was a solution . . . if each of those present would write a chapter, with a sufficient number of receipts—recipes—for the projected book, the whole book could be completed in a week! Never doubting their wholehearted support, she had the titles for the chapters ready on little slips of paper in her hand–meat, fish, vegetables, soups, pies, bread, breakfast and tea cakes, cakes, preserves and jellies, pickles, food for the sick . . .

The completed assignments were quickly assembled into Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book, which soon became one of the nineteenth century’s most successful cook-books. Far ahead of its time, it warned about the dangers of animal fats and excessive sugar. Today there is, perhaps, no more detailed picture of what Americans were eating a hundred and fifty years ago and how it was cooked. In helping organize the kitchen and its work properly, Miss Beecher intended to enable women to lead longer, happier lives…”

In 1874 there was Marian Harland’s “Common Sense in the Household: a Manual of Practical Housewifery.” My copy is literally falling apart and is one of the oldest cookbooks in my collection. Marion Harland’s life was so interesting, it would be worth a post just about her. After writing 15 novels, starting at the age of 16, Marion wrote her first cookbook, “Common Sense in the Household” and continued writing many more books before her death at age 91.

There was also “English Bread-Book for Domestic Us, Adapted to Families of Every Grade” by Eliza Acton in 1857 and in 1877, “Buckeye Cookery, and Practical Housekeeping: Compiled from Original Recipes” – which has been reproduced in a facsimile edition.

Buckeye Cookery was the great mid-American cookbook of its day. It began life as a charity cookbook when, in 1876, the women of the First Congregational Church in Marysville, Ohio, published a cookbook to raise money to build a parsonage. They named it The Centennial Buckeye Cook Book, in honor of America’s Centennial.
The author, Estelle Woods Wilcox, who grew up in Marysville had moved with her husband to Minneapolis, where he managed the Minneapolis Daily Tribune. From Minneapolis, Mrs. Wilcox edited the contributions of the Marysville women and wrote the introductory essays to each section. The book was published in Minneapolis and the ladies of Marysville accomplished their goal by raising two thousand dollars for the parsonage.

Throughout the last years of the century, cookbooks continued to be published—more of Miss Parloa’s, some of Marion Harland’s, the White House cookbook by F. L. Gillette which led to numerous reprints over several decades (and is worthy of a post all its own), right up to 1899’s Catering For Two; Comfort and Economy for Small Households by Alice James, and Marion Harland’s “Bits of common Sense Series”.

And then there were all the cookbooks published in the 1900s….but, as you know, except for those published between 1900 and 1911, the rest don’t qualify as antiquarian cookbooks. However, that being said – there were cookbooks like the Settlement Cook book, Sarah Rorer’s New Cookbook, a Manual of Housekeeping published in 1902, Fannie Farmer’s “Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent” published in 1904, Maria’s Parloa’s “Canned Fruit, Preserves, and Jellies: Household Methods of Preparation” also published in 1904, The Blue Grass Cookbook, by Minerva Fox, was also published in 1904, as was German National Cookery for American Kitchens, by Henriette Davids. The Times Cookbook by California Women was the result of a series of recipe contests in the Los Angeles Times and published by the Los Angeles Times in 1905, while the Good Housekeeping Family Cookbook was published in 1906- and the list goes on and on.

Collecting cookbooks is such a fascinating hobby—and it can be a valuable one, too. I bought a #1 Pillsbury Bake Off book at a flea market in Palm Springs one year, for $1.00. I almost didn’t buy it—the box of booklets on a table had a sign “books, 50c each” but when I held it up to the vendor, she said “Oh, I need a dollar for that one”. Grumbling, I paid her a dollar. It wasn’t until we were back in the car that I realized what I had—I had never before seen a picture of the first bake off book. They’re scarce and worth about $50.00 give or take a little depending on condition.

It’s an addictive kind of hobby as other collectors will testify. A few months ago, I began writing the current price of some of my old cookbooks on post-its to stick on the flyleaf, when I came across some of the going prices. The idea was for my family to have some kind of idea what some of the books are worth.

Did you know that Laura Bush collects vintage cookbooks? So do many top chefs including the Food Network’s Cat Cora. Booksellers throughout the country say that vintage cookbooks are in constant demand. A first edition of American Cookery by Amelia Simmons may be worth as much as ten thousand dollars—but I don’t think it’s the value of a book that attracts a true collector, as much as just HAVING a particular book. My having the #1 bake off booklet makes my collection of the Bake Off books complete even though they’re nowhere near being vintage cookbooks. Neither is the Vincent Price cookbook (which I do have)–one in good condition can be worth up to $200.00.

(Cookbooks written by the rich and famous is another whole ball of wax. I have several shelves-full of these books, dating back about 50 years. One of these days I will write about those).

Collecting cookbooks can pretty much take over your life, if you let it. (We have wall to wall bookshelves filled with cookbooks, inside the house. Bob had to convert half of our garage into a library to house all of our other books).

And when you aren’t reading antiquarian cookbooks, you can do as I do—WRITE about them!

Happy cooking and happy cookbook collecting!


I love a bookstore any day
Or any time.
It can be a lush and fancy upscale store
In Beverly Hills
Where you can order coffee
Tea or muffins,
And sit and sip
While you look
Through your books.
Or an out of the way
Dusty cubbyhole bookstore
In West L.A. -new or used,
I don’t mind.
Let me visit a town
In Oregon
Or San Diego
Or Cincinnati.
I’ll find a bookstore
(Usually in the yellow pages)
And once inside,
Aim first for the cookbook section.
Once my arms are laden with books
I ask someone at the desk
To hold them for me.
They always say yes.
Then I check biographies
And fiction.
Then the bargain books
And reduced prices;
You never know what
Might turn up in remainders.
I have been to bookstores
Every where I’ve traveled;
It’s the first place I want to visit.
No used bookstores?
I look up the Barnes & Noble,
Border’s, Dutton’s, anything.
I’m not particular.
The biggest problem
I have encountered
Over the years
Has been
Getting them home.
Packing the books into
Duffle bags
Or shipping them
Back to California.
I lost a box of books
This way last year.
Enroute from Ohio
To California
My books were lost
In Bell, California.
I know,
Someone has my
Box of cookbooks.
Next time
I’ll carry them
On the airplane
With me.

Sandra Lee Smith
April, 2008


“Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?” Beecher, Henry Ward

“Those who don’t read good books have no advantage over those who can’t”. –Mark Twain

Books have always been my passion. After that, bookstores. Not just bookstores that sell new books, but especially used bookstores. When I was about ten years old and finding my way around downtown Cincinnati, I’d search for thrift stores that were on side streets and farther away from the hub of activity around Fountain Square. I was only interested in the used books these stores sold. Usually there was a table outside the shop, with a lot of old books priced at 25 cents each. It didn’t matter to me how dusty or worn the book was, as long as all of its pages were intact. Charles Lamb, in the Last Essays of Elia (1833) wrote, “A book reads the better which is our own, and has been so long known to us, that we know the topography of its blots, and dog’s ears, and can trace the dirt in it to having read it at tea with buttered muffins.”

Eventually I discovered Acres of Books in the downtown area, one of the biggest used bookstores I have ever seen and I remember taking my kid brother, Scott, to that bookstore one year when I was spending the summer in Cincinnati. There were at least three floors of books, most inexpensively priced around a dollar each. I began buying the books that made up the nucleus of my original collection. This was long before I started collecting cookbooks. I discovered some authors I liked – Shirley Jackson, for one. Ardyth Kennelly for another. There were many others but there were also many authors that I simply outgrew, while discovering others that would become lifelong companions. If I LOVE a book, I want my own copy of it. I want to be able to go back, when I feel like it, and read it again. My reading interests were then, as they are now, eclectic—it never mattered to me what was on a better seller list or the talk of the town; I read what I found interesting.

Christopher Morley wrote, “Lord! When you sell a man a book you don’t sell just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue—you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night – there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book.”

I have these two Canadian penpals and we often have email discussions and frequently make recommendations to one another about the books we are reading. We have agreed that when you finish a really good book, one you didn’t want to end, you need to take a little time, a day or two, to come back to earth and come up for air, before, perhaps, picking up the next book in a stack by your nightstand of books-to-be-read. Because of the books they are reading, it has broadened the horizons of the books I am now reading. And sometimes, when you are reading a book that you absolutely love and don’t want to end, you stretch it out by a week or so, by reading only a few pages at a time. Thomas Helm wrote “My test of a good novel is dreading to begin the last chapter.” I get that.

I don’t remember any used bookstores being around either North or South Fairmount, where I grew up, but after the family moved to a new home in 1956, I discovered a kind of thrift store on one of the side streets that I walked to get to a bus stop—and they had books. An old woman ran the store and always seemed pleased to see me. The books were 25 cents each – so when I had twenty five cents, I often stopped there to buy a book.

We didn’t have the internet. There weren’t very many used book stores that I remember; that isn’t to say they didn’t exist—I just didn’t have access to them. There were always the public libraries –but much as I enjoyed going to the library, I was more drawn, like a moth to the flame, to pre-owned books.

Eventually, I married, we moved to California and settled down and I began finding the used bookstores in the San Fernando Valley. There was one I especially loved, on Lankershim Blvd. I think a bank now stands where that book store used to be. When we lived on Sarah Street, I’d put Michael in a stroller and walk to that bookstore. I began reading Agatha Christie—often returning the books I’d just read, so I could buy others. We had so very little money at the time and the Agatha Christie paperbacks were something like ten cents each.
Another bookstore that was a great favorite of mine was on Magnolia Blvd in Burbank. (At one time there were six used bookstores in and around Magnolia Blvd). I became acquainted with the owner of Magnolia Books, a man named Pete, when my children were very young. I always took them to bookstores with me. Pete would admonish me, good-naturedly, to make sure I left with the same number of children I came in with. As for me, whenever one of my sons used a public toilet of questionable cleanliness, I admonish them not to touch anything except their pants zipper and their penis. My son Chris was the one who ALWAYS had to go. I think he was more curious about the germs lurking in public toilets than actually having to GO.

I had shopped at that book store for decades—especially after I began collecting cookbooks; There was a great cookbook selection. I don’t remember exactly when Pete passed away; relatives ran the store for some years after. The ambiance, and Pete’s old camera collection, was gone. The last time I wanted to go spend an hour at the store, I discovered it had disappeared. A furniture store had expanded and took up the space where Magnolia Books used to be.

Well, that was a complete shock. But it was the tip of the iceberg, only the beginning of changes that were coming and affecting the used book stores. The Internet was coming.

Other used book stores in the San Fernando Valley began to disappear –Book City, in Burbank, Sam’s Book City in North Hollywood, the Bookie Joint in Reseda (which closed its doors in 2006),—but surely the greatest loss, the biggest shock was the closing of Dutton’s Books in North Hollywood. Dutton’s sold both new and used books and was so crammed packed with books…you could go in and lose yourself for hours. Dutton’s was the best known and possibly the most disheveled bookstore for miles around. The Duttons were well known and respected. Dutton’s had opened on New Year’s Day in 1961 by Bill and Thelma Dutton. Eventually, the business was taken over by their sons, Doug and Davis.

I had a slight connection to Dutton’s…at one time Davis and Judy lived next door to our friends Neva and Les on Chandler Blvd. Their daughter was about the same age as Neva & Les’ daughter Jennifer—so we met them at one of the birthday parties. Whenever I visited Dutton’s, if either Davis or his wife were on the premises, I would usually be given something like a 10% discount on my order.

For some months, Dutton’s had going-out-of-business sales and my girlfriends and I took advantage of the sales, all the while bemoaning the loss. Davis explained: used bookstores couldn’t keep up with the internet. I think Davis and Judy moved to the Seattle area.

Back in the 90s (or thereabouts) Janet Jarvits opened a cookbook bookstore in Burbank. The nucleus of the store started with her purchase of Helen Evans Brown’s cookbook collection. I bought many cookbooks in this store—but Janet eventually moved her store, lock, stock, and barrel – to a location in Pasadena that is not easily accessible to me. Meantime, another favorite used bookstore that I frequented in Northridge because of their wide range of cookbooks closed THEIR doors.

At one time, the San Fernando Valley boasted of about a dozen used bookstores.

In 2008, one of my Canadian girlfriends came to visit me, and we embarked on a Great California Adventure in my car. Our first day we made it as far as my favorite seaside location, Pismo Beach. I tantalized my friend with a promise of a “really wonderful huge used bookstore” we would visit the next morning, in San Luis Obispo. But when we got there the next morning, the book store was gone. No indication where or how it disappeared. I was crushed. Every time Bob and I had been in SLO, we spent hours in Leon’s, searching for books. They had such a great wall of cookbooks. Sigh.

Long before the internet came along, any time I traveled (often with my brother Jim, in the 80s and 90s) – I would tear the used book store listings out of the yellow pages in our hotel or motel rooms, and pasted the information in a steno notebook I kept. I also collected business cards from used book stores – any where we traveled. Once while Jim was at a seminar in Portland, Oregon, I was spending the morning at Powell’s book store. I didn’t make it beyond the section devoted to cookbooks and haven’t had an opportunity to go back again. In an article for Sunset Magazine, author Peter Fish, writing about Powell’s commented that calling Powell’s a bookstore is rather like calling Mount Hood a nice hill. “Powell’s,” he wrote, “is not quaint, not cute, not anything you might expect a beloved literary landmark to be. It is a 43,000 square foot-block-long dull yellow building that looks as though it should be filled with drill presses or Linotype machines but that is instead filled with books; new books, old books, aisles of books, rooms of books….” Ah, be still my heart!

I don’t know when Acres of Books in downtown Cincinnati disappeared (and at one time there was a “sister” Acres of Books in Long Beach, California) but when you live a long ways from your hometown and don’t get back every year, sometimes it’s a shock to find a beloved bookstore no longer exists. However, that being said – for the past decade I have been shopping at a place called Ohio Books, also in the downtown area of Cincinnati. They have a huge collection of cookbooks and like Acres of Books, take up three floors of the building. One year after I bought about a $100.00 worth of community cookbooks published by clubs and churches in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana – my nephew shipped the box of books home to me. They never made it. Eventually, one of the books inside the box, that had my address label inside, made it to me with the notation it was damaged at the Post Office in Bell, California. Nothing else ever surfaced.

The following year, when I visited Ohio books and lamented my loss, the owner said “You know, WE can ship your books home to you” and that is what I began doing. (*I think my nephew had the box too thickly wrapped with duct tape and caused mayhem in the post office’s conveyer belt). I was especially forlorn over the loss of a cookbook written by Fern Storer, “Recipes Remembered”. She had been a food writer for a Cincinnati newspaper for decades, and I collected her columns whenever possible. Well, I managed to find a replacement copy on Amazon but still grieve the loss of an entire box of cookbooks when I stop to think about it.

A few years ago, my sister and I, along with her youngest son and my youngest grandson, drove to San Diego to meet up with a niece and her oldest son. My brother in law got us a nice room near the bay and we spent some time at Sea World and a museum…but the day that thrilled the three adults were the used bookstores we found. One, whose name I can’t recall, sold nothing but cookbooks and was overflowing with cookbooks—piled precariously on the floors, overflowing bookshelves. My niece bought mostly French cookbooks; Susie & I stocked up on everything that looked interesting. I would go back to San Diego just to go to that bookstore. The children were not overly impressed; we three adults came away with glazed eyes—I’m telling you, it’s better than alcohol or drugs. (not that I have any experience with drugs aside from taking Vicodin after back surgery –but you get the picture).

Many of my nieces and nephews and two of my granddaughters are what we would call “avid readers”. I have always maintained that if you are an avid reader, most of the rest of what you need to learn will come more easily. In my own family, most of my siblings are avid readers. (That is to say, we never go anywhere without a book. When I travel, I have a book bag with several books in it, just in case I finish one, I’ll have another to fall back on).

Now that I am living in the high desert – where the only bookstore is a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Palmdale, plus a dismal used paperback bookstore that does not impress me much; I am limited to two Friends of the Lancaster Library book sales twice a year.

Last year, my sig other, Bob, built a library for us out of half of the garage space. When we bought our new home, we knew going in that it wouldn’t have a fraction of the space needed for bookshelves. We’d gone from 3000 square feet to 1500—so he built a library for me. As quickly as he finished putting up a bookcase, I’d unpack the box of books I want to put on that bookcase.

All our fiction and the overflow of cookbooks is in the garage library. My granddaughter was so impressed she set up a card file for me, knowing I often lend out books and don’t always get them back. Yes, I can just go “shop” in the garage library—which also has a refrigerator for soft drinks so we can make ourselves and guests feel right at home. But it’s not quite the same.

I never thought I’d see the day when used bookstores began to disappear from our literary landscape. Yes, I know there are numerous websites from which you can buy used books; I’m a frequent buyer from Amazon and Alibris—and yes, I know that many of the used book vendors at places like Amazon are the used bookstore dealers of my youth—and I value and appreciate the services they are performing: it used to be, you had to search high and low from store to store to find a particular book – now the internet does it for me, instantly.

But I mourn the loss of an actual dusty, dimly-lit overstocked bookstore—the kind with stacks of books piled precariously when no more shelf space was available, the kind of bookstore where only the owner or an employee who has been there a long time have any idea what is in their inventory—the kind of bookstore where you never knew, as you entered, what treasures you would find today.

And now there’s Kindle! Yikes!

“People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading” – Logan Pearsall Smith, Trivia, 1917

“May you always have something good to read and plenty of bookshelves to hold your favorite books” – Sandra Lee Smith

what we keep, what we throw away (a poem)

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

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

–Sandra Lee Smith



Did I really understand
When we marched in the long
Memorial Day parade
That started at
St Bonaventure church
In South Fairmount
And ended at
The Baltimore Avenue Cemetery
In North Fairmount
Next door to my grandmother’s house,
What we were marching for?
I think not.
We wore white clothing
And carried little flags
And walked the very long trek
From one place to another
(Mind you, you had to walk to St Bonnie’s
before the parade, too, to be there when it started)
And I know our little legs
Were aching and tired by the time
We reached the memorial plaque
In front of the cemetery
Where the names of the fallen
From our neighborhoods
Were engraved on the wall.
While we marched
My mother, grandmother, and aunts
Sold bouquets of flowers
Both real and artificial
For fifty cents a bunch
To those who drove past
My grandmother’s house
On their way to the gravesites.
What stands out most in my mind,
Remembering the fallen
On Memorial Day
Is all of us children
“Flowers! Fifty cents a bunch!”
To all the potential customers
Who were visiting the cemetery.

–Sandra Lee Smith
May 25, 2009