HEIRLOOM COOKING WITH THE BRASS SISTERS by Marilynn Brass & Sheila Brass, with photographs by Andy Ryan, is yet another reminder of the times and recipes we loved so much.

Inside the dust jacket, we read “Every family has its own tradition or heirloom recipes – cherished dishes that make highly anticipated appearances and special occasions or favorite meals that serve as reliable weekday suppers. Passed down through generations, these recipes make up the aromas and the flavors of our childhoods, conjuring memories that sustain us through the course of our adult lives.

Authors of Heirloom Baking and James Beard Award finalists Marilynn and Sheila Brass launched a whole new cookbook category with their “heirloom” baking recipes. Now they have turned their culinary skills to the rest of the menu, presenting delicious, savory, and timeless heirloom dishes collected over decades and updated for the modern kitchen. We learn that Marilynn and Sheila Brass have spent a lifetime collecting handwritten “manuscript cookbooks” and “living recipes.” I wonder how many others there are of us “out there” who have done the very same thing for decades?

Heirloom Cooking collects and skillfully updates 135 of the very best of these, which together represent nearly 100 years of the best-loved and most delicious dishes from all over North America. The oldest recipes date back to the late 1800s, and every decade and a wide variety of ethnicities are captured here.

The book is divided into sections including Starters; Salads; Vegetables; Breads; Main Dishes including Lamb, Beef, Veal, Pork, Fish, Chicken, and Turkey; Vegetarian; and—of course—Dessert. As they did in Heirloom Baking, the Brass sisters include the wonderful stories behind the recipes, and once again, lush photography is provided by Andy Ryan.

The search for “retro” or old family favorite recipes is certainly not a new quest – I have written about it before on this blog. “Forgotten Recipes & Vinegar Pie” was just one example of our never-ending quests to make everything old new again.  “Lost Recipes” by Marion Cunningham is another. There are probably dozens of similarly-themed  cookbooks but the twist is how cookbook authors can present old favorites in a new light.

Be forewarned! Once you start reading HEIRLOOM COOKING, and view the tantalizing, mouth-watering prepared dishes—you may not surface from the kitchen for weeks to come. There are many delightful recipes from which to choose—I immediately spied Red Velvet Cake, under Sweet Finales, and was reminded of my quest—back in the 1990s, I think, to find the original recipe for Red Velvet Cake (now available in a cake mix!!) and how my ever-faithful friend and researcher, Pat Stuart, helped me find the recipe and provided her family’s history of this particular cake.

The introduction to Heirloom Cooking is festooned with copies of old recipe booklets—some you may have, some perhaps not as I don’t recognize any of the booklets featured on pages 30-31.

Where shall we begin reading and cooking today?  Auntie Dot’s Chopped Liver? (My mother’s recipe was called Black Butter), or Arline’s Farm House Rye Bread? (They had me at Rye bread – I’ve been wanting to find a good recipe for making my own and even have the rye flour bought!  My siblings and I almost always order rye bread toast when eating in a restaurant. We are all so fond of it). Or maybe you will want to try a recipe for Bagels from Chicago, a recipe from the 1940s. Or a recipe for Corned Beef Hash, from the 1920s?  Heirloom Cooking has it all. As for me, I just found an 1890s recipe for Split Pea Soup and think I have all the ingredients in my pantry. You will find yourself torn between making one recipe or another – may I suggest, read the cookbook first and mark the recipes you want to try with little post-it notes, to get you started.

Heirloom Cooking was published in 2008 by Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers and distributed by Workman Publishing Company. Best price from Amazon.com is $9.73 for a pre-owned copy of Heirloom Cooking. Amazon has new copies for about $20. Alibris.com has pre-owned copies for $6.46 and brand-new copies for $16.00. This is a big thick heavy book so if you purchase a pre-owned copy for under $7.00 and pay $3.99 shipping, you will still be coming out ahead. However, once you see this cookbook, you may want to invest in a new copy. The original publishing price is $29.95.

Happy Cooking! Happier cookbook collecting!





  1. Hi there! I’m at work surfing around your blog from my new iphone 4! Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to all your posts! Keep up the great work!

    • Thanks much. There are a lot of articles in each month’s posts, going back to my start in March 2009. I am trying to write more about cookbooks/cookbook authors.

  2. The Brass Sisters

    Thanks for your kind comments. Please note that there was a correction to the first printing of Arlene’s Rye Bread. We posted it on our website.

    Note: Please add 1/2 water, warmed to 115ºF, to list of ingredients for dough for Arline’s Farm House Rye Bread, page 139.

    Marilynn and Sheila Brass
    Follow us on Facebook and Linkin

    • Hello Brass Sisters – it isnt often that I hear from a cookbook author (although there have been a few). I am posting this on my blog and will make a correction in my book – the funny thing is, I bought rye flour recently and was planning to make it soon. synchroniscity!!! Thanks for writing. – Sandy @sandychatter

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