MARY ANNA DU SABLON’S “CINCINNATI RECIPE TREASURY”

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!
Sandy

8 responses to “MARY ANNA DU SABLON’S “CINCINNATI RECIPE TREASURY”

  1. Wonderful write-up. Thank you for sharing this. I was not aware of your weblog, but definitely will come again more frequently now. Including you to my own favorites.

  2. I really savoured this article. I can see you put in a great deal of thought and time into todays article. I will come back to study more as you post more!

  3. This was novel. I wish I could read every post, but i have to go back to work now… But I’ll return.

  4. Thanks for the wonderful write-up about my mom, Mary Anne DuSablon. She just missed the explosion of blogs, social media, and such on the internet, and she would have just loved when people reached out to talk about her writing and other projects. She always wanted to be famous! In addition to the Cincinnati cookbook and the book about cookbooks, she wrote a book about the many steps in, on, and around the hills of Cincinnati, called Walking the Steps of Cincinnati. A second edition recently was published by OU Press, but oddly neither the Press nor the revisors contacted anyone from our family about the second edition. I’m not sure what that’s all about, especially since I was the copyeditor of the first edition and am easily found here in Columbus (but will find out!). She had a few other projects going; one about a famous crime (the Audrey Pugh murder; my grandpa, Mom’s dad, was a detective on the case); one about her experience as an unwed mother in the 50s at a home for “fallen women”; and one about the Rookwood Pottery, focusing on the women artists at the famous artworks. The Pugh story was made into a radio drama at some point but as I didn’t live in Cincinnati I don’t know where it was broadcast. The other two manuscripts stare at me and say “finish me, finish me.” We’ll see. I really enjoyed reading your post. I’d be happy to answer any questions or talk more about my mama, who we all miss very much.

    • Julie, I don’t know if I responded to this before or not. I lose track of the email messages from time to time and your mother, to this day, remains one of my absolutely favorite people. When I FIRST discovered Cincinnati Recipe Treasury, I was traveling with my brother and was inbetween flights when I found her book at an airport book store–both my brother and I read the book from cover to cover. Then I bought extra copies, possibly from Amazon, for my other siblings–your mother left this earth far too soon. I was stricken with sadness when I firs read about it. I wish could have met her in person. Thanks for writing. – Sandy

    • Julie, I don’t think I have seen Walking Steps of Cincinnati–the topic struck a chord–I remember all the walking I did when I was growing up in Cincinnati and much of that was up and down steps (throughout North and South Fairmount) – the last time one of my brothers drove me around Cincinnati, we discovered that some of those steps in South Fairmount have been closed off. I will write to Ohio University Press and inquire about any other titles. (It has been my experience–and I have written about it–that university presses publish the kind of books I am interested in.) It’s strange that no one contacted you about a second edition. And I had an older sister (passed away in 2004) who would have been fascinated in anything about Rookwood pottery. Whenever I was in town, we’d go off searching for people/places/things.
      I left Cincinnati when I was 21 – returned for part of a year in 1963, until a second son was born–then returned to California…and didn’t start collecting cookbooks until 1965. I didn’t know what I was doing in the beginning–but whenever I was in town in Cincinnati, I’d go off to look for cookbooks. Do you remember Acre of Books? I bought a lot of books from them back in the day. Did your mother collect cookbooks? and yes, she would have loved the Internet It has changed how a writer can go about researching a topic. And I think you should pursue finishing your mother’s manuscripts. Your mother passed away a year after my sister, Barbara, but you never stop missing them–working on your mother’s unfinished manuscripts will bring her back to you. Regards, Sandy

  5. Charles DuSablon

    Sandy… my sister, Julie DuSablon, recently found this post on your amazing blog and shared it with Facebook and family. I’ve been flipping through, I love your topics! Will be diving deeper! Just wanted to stop and thank you for your passion, interest, and awesome, kind words regarding Mom and her book, Cincinnati Recipe Treasury. Yes, we did lose her in 2005, but it’s stuff like this that helps us remember how much she touched people’s lives. Thank you, thank you!! If there’s anything you’d like to ask us or talk about, let me know, and I’ll send you contact info privately. She does have other books out there, and had several projects “in the works.” Hope all is well, and thanks again for your great blog and post!
    Charles DuSablon

    • Charles, thanks for writing. Received emails this morning from you AND your sister. I think the only other book I have of your mother’s is “AMERICA’S COLLECTIBLE COOKBOOKS/THE HISTORY/THE POLITICS/THE RECIPES; as you both undoubtedly know, was published in 1994; it’s one of my favorite reference books as I have been collecting cookbooks since 1965. Finding accurate reference books about cookbook authors is always a task–much of what was written about cookbook authors in the 1800s wasn’t always accurate; your mother’s book has been one of my favorite go-to reference books. When I am in Cincinnati I usually make a trip downtown to Ohio book store..after a box of cookbooks got lost in the mail–when I told the owner about my loss, he said THEY can ship anything and get it to me. So, the last time I was in town, I bought enough books to fill a box–they didn’t charge me very much for shipping. Well, that being said, I was in town in April (2016) for a great-niece’s wedding somewhere near Dayton (flew in and out of Columbus) but the wedding was on Friday, Saturday I had get-togethers with family members and on Sundays, the Ohio book store is closed…so, no trip downtown to buy books. Maybe next time! Thanks for writing. Most of my blog posts are cookbook related…not always; I go off on tangents from time to time, writing about whatever inspires me. – Sandy

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