Monthly Archives: April 2015

A HEALTHIER YOU AND ME

While watching a Criminal Minds marathon a few days ago, I spent some hours working on the recipes that go into my 3-ring binders; I am often nonplussed over some of the finds in the box—and came across an article that appeared in the January, 2008, issue of Woman’s Day—I want to share a brief explanation of some of these–along with my thoughts:

The first is “8 YOU KNOW YOU SHOULD DO BUT DON’T –

EAT BREAKFAST—author Anna Routos writes that “Study after study shows that people who eat a morning meal are more energized, focused and weigh less..” she adds that an ideal choice is oatmeal with nonfat milk and fresh fruit such as blueberries or strawberries mixed in. (I’ve been eating my favorite cereals for breakfast, with a few frozen blueberries that thaw out quickly—when I have bacon on hand and fry some slices—I end up giving most of it to the dogs, a little bit crumbled over their dry kibble is a big treat.)

BONE UP – try a calcium supplement every day. That I do.

GET YOUR THREE-A-DAY of whole grains—this can cut your risk of heart disease by more than 35%. Good sources include oatmeal and brown rice.

MILK IT—it’s a great source of calcium as well as vitamin D, which recent research shows may help you live longer; it’s also linked to a lower risk of some cancers. I have been consuming milk with cereal but I really love low fat milk made into tapioca or chocolate pudding).

HYDRATE—and take it from the tap. We’re missing out on cavity-preventing fluoride since we’ve started drinking all that bottled H2O. (This isn’t something I ever stopped to consider—I keep bottled water on hand all the time since moving to the Antelope Valley—but I use tap water to make coffee or tea. Does that count?

DO A SHOT of sunscreen—you need a full shot glass to cover your entire body, and one teaspoon for your face to fully protect against skin cancer, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. (*This was such an eye opener—I generally spritz sunscreen on my arms and neck but never use it on my face; I only spread sunscreen on my legs when I am wearing shorts!

LUNCH ON SALAD – it’s an easy way to get at least two servings of vegetables in one shot, says Molly Morgan, R.D. Be sure to toss in the brightly colored ones which are highest in disease-fighting antioxidants. Try tomatoes, red and green peppers and broccoli.

FLOSS- gum disease increases your risk of various conditions, including diabetes and heart disease. (I have dentures so flossing isn’t something that I do).

The next “tips” are 6 NON-NEGOTIABLES –means vitally important—maybe put the list on your refrigerator door as a constant reminder. They are:

KNOW YOUR “BIG SEVEN” – Your weight, body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart rate and blood sugar. These are the most crucial indicators of good health and disease risk—if any of these fall outside the healthy range, work with your doctor to get them under control.

TAKE YOUR FAMILY HEALTH HISTORY – Many diseases have a hereditary component, and your doctor may want to watch you more closely for conditions that run in your family. (My younger sister had a bout with breast cancer about two years ago and our older sister died in 2004 from complications arising from breast cancer that was not diagnosed early—after a mammogram in 2013, the doctor suggested some additional tests I should undergo, such as a breast MRI, since now there is history of breast cancer in my family.

We also discovered that some of us in my family have something called Factor 5, which is a blood disorder. We learned this when a niece in my family had a stillborn baby. My family doctor thought it unlikely I could have it—but guess what? I tested positive for this condition; one of my younger brothers also has it. My hematologist said quite frankly that it runs in my father’s side of the family. It could also explain three miscarriages I had n my child-bearing years. Both of my sisters have had miscarriages as well).

MEASURE YOUR WAIST MONTHLY – In women, if it’s over 25 inches, you’re at a higher risk for conditions like heart disease and diabetes, regardless of your weight. GET AN ANNUAL MAMMOGRAM starting at age 40, along with a yearly clinical breast exam and a periodic breast self-exam, it’s the best way to catch breast cancer in its early, most treatable stages.(who knew this about measuring your waist? not I!)

ASK FOR AN HPV TEST – Along with your Pap, it screens for the human papillomavirus which is directly linked to cervical cancer.

DO A FULL-BODY MOLE CHECK on yourself monthly, and get one yearly at the dermatologist. If you notice any that are new, changed or bleeding, see a dermatologist ASAP.

And finally—8 YOU CAN NOW COUNT AS HEALTHY

Nibble before dinner – having about 70 calories of healthy fat 20 minutes before you eat—that’ six walnuts, 12 almonds or 20 peanuts—can trick you into thinking you’re full faster. This works because good fats stimulate the production of a hormone that sends the signal to your brain that you’ve eaten enough.

HAVE PIZZA NIGHT – pizza is often dismissed as unhealthy but if you use whole wheat crust and lowfat cheese, and pile on the veggies (skipping the pepperoni and ground beef) its one the most nutritionally sound meals around. (the trick here, I think—is making your own pizza from scratch!)

JUICE IT UP – so long to its reputation as a sugar and calorie bomb. Research has found that drinking fruit and vegetable drinks can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 76% and help lower cholesterol. Just make sure you go for 100% juice (and read labels carefully)

PUT PASTA ON THE MENU – just make sure you choose multigrain varieties!

DRINK A FRUITY COCKTAIL – Research shows that alcohol can increase the level of antioxidants in certain fruits, including strawberries and blackberries (who knew?)

EXPRESS YOURSELF – When people write affectionately about their close friends and family in three 20 minute sessions, their cholesterol dropped an average of eleven points! (Another who knew?!–I wonder if posting on your blog counts?)

GO SHOPPING! –Buying something as small as a lipstick can give your mood a lift plus you can burn off up to 160 calories walking around the mall(as always, be sure to choose a parking spot in the last row. (I don’t like to shop and only go to the mall when I have someone along with me. My shopping is pretty much confined to Quartz Hill and Lancaster—so I’m guilty of not doing this.)

DO THE DISHES—increasing light physical activity such as washing dishes and ironing—can lower blood glucose levels and may reduce the risk of diabetes according to research in the Journal DIABETES CARE. (Well, I wash dishes all the time, not having a dish washer( AM the dish washer) – and I iron only when I absolutely have to—I remember only all too well the hours spent doing ironing before permanent press came along—hours of ironing every week when I was still living at home with my parents. I did the ironing for the entire family with the exception of my father’s bowling shirts–But some of these tips may help all of us—and don’t do any ironing unless you absolutely have to!

–Sandra Lee Smith

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KITCHEN LEGACIES -SOMEWHERE OUT THERE

“Women have conserved a whole world, past and present, in the idiom of food. In their personal manuscripts, in locally distributed community recipe compilations, and in commercially printed cookbooks, women have given history and memory a permanent lodging. The knowledge contained in cookbooks transcends generations…” – Janet Theophano, author of “Eat My Words”, Published in 2002 by PALGRAVE, a global publishing imprint of St Martin’s Press.

How it came to be written is just as interesting as the subject matter itself, for Ms Theophano discovered what so many of us cookbook and recipe collectors ourselves have learned, that there is a lot more to be learned from a manuscript cookbook or a collection of recipes, in a small wooden box, than just recipes.

“Over the past ten years,” Ms. Theophano writes in the Introduction, “I have been researching manuscripts and printed cookery books from the United States and England from the seventeenth to the mid-twentieth centuries and finding myself constantly amazed by the richness of these sources…”
“Few of these materials,” she acknowledges, “are readily available to readers today; some have been kept in families as purely private documents, while others have languished in archives in manuscript form. Even those that were published are no longer widely known and now are generally available only in historical collections…” (and sometimes a recipe box or a manuscript cookbook is added to my collection because someone in a family knew that I collected these items).

Janet Theophano’s purpose in writing this book was first to make these materials known both to scholars and general readers, but also to open a window into the lives of women of distinct classes, cultures, and historical periods, who would otherwise be unknown to us.

What intrigues me most about the writing and publishing of EAT MY WORDS is the author’s description of a spectacular find. So many of us, cookbook collectors, writers, and researchers alike, have experienced similar events that have charted a course for us. I know I have.

Theophano writes, “My interest in cookbooks began with a chance discovery over a decade ago when I was browsing in an antique shop and stumbled across a book of writings. When I opened it, I realized I had discovered a manuscript. At first glance, the handwritten book reminded me of a journal of poetry. When I looked more closely, I discovered that it was a collection of household advice: recipes for Lady Cake and Parker House Rolls, for instance, and folk remedies for flushing the colon and dyeing hair. Inserted between the pages were newspaper clippings of other recipes as well as a poem and a letter dated August 3, 1894, and addressed ‘My Dear’ and signed ‘kiss the babies for me. John.’ The volume also contained a section of clipped recipes pasted onto the pages of an early telephone directory…”

Janet Theophano bought the book for a dollar (be still my heart!) from the shop owner, she says, reluctant to ask for even that much money, which reinforces my belief that many such treasures are thought to be worthless and are often thrown away. Ms. Theophano returned home and began to search her new treasure for clues to the identity of the owner.

“I was struck,” she recalls, “not only by this book’s recipes with their titles and ingredients but other information contained within its covers. There were letters, poems, loose recipes on scraps of paper, devotional texts, and a list of books and rhymes…”

Even so, she was unable to learn the name of the author of her treasure, and she wondered how many books like this were anonymous and how many had been discarded, lost, or destroyed because they were considered unimportant. How many were intended for publication? Or were they meant to be kept in families and given as legacies to children? Did women compile the keep these books as symbols of wifely and maternal devotion? Or as a way to give themselves identities apart from those roles? Were these books read? If so, by whom?

Which brings me up to date and what started out as a newspaper article. Some time ago, my Michigan penpal, Betsy, sent me this newspaper article from the Chicago Tribune, dated June 6, 2007, the title of which was “KITCHEN LEGACIES”.

What is a kitchen legacy for one person may not be the same thing for someone else. I know several women—not including myself—for whom old kitchen utensils are kitchen legacies. I have three old sifters (and yes, I still use whichever sifter is closest at hand when I am making cookies or a cake and need to sift the dry ingredients). About a decade ago I began collecting old glass measuring cups after finding one in green Depression glass.

My favorite was a 2-cup green glass measuring cup that I thoughtlessly poured some hot coffee into, while making brownies. The measuring cup cracked. I couldn’t bear to throw it out so now it’s part of a kitchen box collage that also contains a couple old potato mashers and one egg beater (I cracked up—no pun intended—seeing a revamped egg beater for sale recently in one of my cooking supplies catalogs–everything old is new again!)

The red or green painted handles help narrow down the age of these items. Long before I started looking for small kitchen tools, I had already collected cookie cutters (which have been a collection since the 1970s) – but with red or green wooden handles you can get a better idea of the age of the cutter. (And if rolling pins are your kind of kitchen legacy, those, too, have been manufactured with red or green handles).

Then around the late 1980s, after I met Bob and we began making weekend treks to Ventura, California, a filled recipe box came into my radar. The first box like this that I found was in an antique store in Ventura and was priced at $11.00. I didn’t buy it the first time I saw that box –I may have looked at it three or four weekends in a row before finally buying it. And once I bought (and carefully searched through) that first filled recipe box, I began wondering if there were more of these “out there, somewhere”.

And of course, there were. I now have over two hundred recipe boxes, different sizes, some filled with another person’s collection of recipes, some empty. What is the lure? Possibly, they make me think “kitchen diaries”—but backing up several decades earlier when my cookbook collection was in its infancy, I discovered a used book store in Hollywood that sold nothing BUT cookbooks. And many of the books were only a dollar each—so if I had ten dollars to spend, I could come home with ten cookbooks.

Then, one day when I was at this bookstore by myself, the owner said “I have something upstairs in my office that you might be interested in” – and he went upstairs and came back with a really worn small leather bound notebook…I opened the book and discovered it was filled with handwritten recipes. If memory serves me, I think I paid $7.00 for this handwritten notebook. I have written about it several times and for several decades had no idea who the owner, someone named Helen, was.

From a blog post, I wrote the following:

“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, the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, 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.

This is what I wrote in my blog in 2011: “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 table 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 believe 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.

Then, earlier that year (2011), 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.

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…” (my blog, 2011)

Well, after discovering Helen’s cookbook—I began wondering if there were more hand-written cookbooks “somewhere out there” – and, of course, there were –why else would I be sharing this story?

The article in the Chicago Tribune provides stories about yet another kind of Kitchen Legacy. These are hand-bound collections of family recipes—not famous families–there are certainly many published collections of celebrity recipes -–but families just like yours or mine. (in my family, we began collecting recipes in 1984, after my father passed away—but it took us twenty years to get the Schmidt family cookbook published by Morris Publishing, a company that specializes in family and church cookbooks) but rather focused on an endeavor which sidestepped the considerable cost of spiral bound publishing.

Of these homemade cookbooks, some of which, photographed for the Chicago Tribune article, the primary focus was to preserve various family favorite recipes which are often lost to posterity when a family member passes away. Within the ranks of the Schmidt family, we made a hard push to get the Schmidt family cookbook published while my sister Becky was still alive.

She passed away in 2004. When I flew to Nashville in June of 2004, it was with a duffle bag full of the Schmidt family cookbook “Grandma’s Favorite” so that Becky could give copies to her children and grandchildren.

And since publishing our family cookbook we have lost two of our aunts and one of our uncles—a sad reflection on what were once large families on both my mother’s and father’s sides of the family. (And as an aside—five of my uncles served during WW2 – in Army, Navy, and Air Force—and all made it back home to tell their stories).

So—to summarize– keep your eyes open at estate sales or even when a family member passes away and no one else wants that rolling pin or Smiley Pig cookie jar. (Ok, that’s another collection of mine).

–Sandra Lee Smith

FEAST OF EDEN

Regional winner of the 1994 Tabasco Cookbook Award is a beautifully composed cookbook titled FEAST OF EDEN, from the Junior League of Monterey County, California.The Junior League of Monterey County, Inc., is an organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving the community through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable.
The Junior League of Monterey County, Inc. reaches out to women of all races, religions and national origins who demonstrate an interest in and commitment to voluntarism. Currently there are 140 active members and 302 sustaining members of the Junior League.

The Junior League has been actively working to improve Monterey County for 60 years. Our hands-on approach has enriched our community through the development of past League projects, including The Family Service Agency (started as the Family Resource Center), The Salinas Adult Day Care Center, the Monterey County Youth Museum (MY Museum), and the Silent Witness Exhibit. JLMC is also represented on the executive board of the United Way of Monterey County’s Success BY 6 project.

FEAST OF EDEN is a lovely and appropriate play on names since its famous native son, John Steinbeck, wrote EAST of EDEN and a number of other wonderful books about the Monterey Peninsula. If you are not familiar with them, DO read CANNERY ROW, TORTILLA FLATS, OF MICE AND MEN, SWEET THURSDAY and, of course, EAST OF EDEN. You will come to love, as did I, the village of Carmel by the Sea, the town of Monterey, Carmel Valley and Salinas, all places Steinbeck loved and wrote about.

I visited the Monterey Peninsula for the very first time in 1979 with a girlfriend who had spent summer vacations there as a very young child. We wandered the cobblestone streets of Carmel, with its old-fashioned street lights, meandering in and out of hundreds of cubby-hole shops and stores. We dined in tiny little restaurants, some with fireplaces, and sometimes at little street-side tables, people-watching while we dined on shrimp or pasta.
The village of Carmel is indescribable. It has been, for decades, an artists’ colony, but it is also a great tourist attraction, and once you visit, you will know why. I’d give my eyeteeth to be able to live there.

Meanwhile, share with me, for a few minutes, a love of Monterey and the presentation by the Junior League of Monterey County.

I confess to being partial; the Monterey Peninsula is one of my favorite spots on earth. Whenever possible, Bob and I would head north to camp in Carmel Valley and shop in the quaint village of Carmel. I have several black and white framed photographs of Point Pinos, the lighthouse on the Monterey Peninsula, that I printed and framed myself. They are on my bedroom walls, always beckoning. When I am there, I feel like I am at home.

I can easily visualize, when – in the Introduction – the compilers of FEAST
OF EDEN tell us “Where the Santa Lucia Mountains separate the fields of Salinas from the Pacific Ocean, lies the garden paradise of Monterey County, California….life in Monterey County is highly textured. From the rocky cliffs of the agriculture fields of Salinas, to the thatched roofs of story book Carmel, to the diamond sparkle of the aquamarine waters of Pebble Beach..”
Accompanying a rich array of recipes which range from the elegant–Custard Baked French Toast…Spicy Grilled London Broil…Crab Cakes with Charon* sauce, to the sublime—Baked Salmon with Tomato, Cucumber and Basil, Scallop Lasagna, or Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake…are colorful vignettes of life in Monterey county, which will enable you to understand a bit my love of this particular region in California. (*Charon Sauce is made with egg yolks, lemon juice and fresh Tarragon. I’m guessing it is closely related to Hollandaise sauce but with the addition of Tarragon.

Other recipes you might want to try – Zesty Crab and Artichoke Dip, Eggplant Bruschetta, or perhaps the Tomato and Bacon Bruschetta – Monterey Phyllo Triangles, Thai Meatballs, Pastures of Heaven Salad or Steinbeck Country Salad. Feast on Praline Breakfast Rolls or Apple Spice Muffins—or try the Chocolate Zucchini Cake that I think I am going to make with the zucchini my sister brought over.

FEAST OF EDEN provides many vignettes about life in Monterey County. Read, for instance, that “Early Carmel-by-the Sea had few telephones, no electricity, no paved roads and the rudimentary wooden sidewalks lined only Ocean Avenue…but to many it was a refuge from an increasingly technological world…” or that “Life in Carmel in the 1920s and 1930s was both carefree and communal. Villagers might meet each other at all times of the day or night in all kinds of dress.

Author Mary Austin would roam the woods dressed as an Indian Princess in Greek robes. Each day, city residents would greet each other in their bathrobes at the milk stations – sets of shelves set up where residents would leave money at night and pick up their milk in the morning”.

FEAST OF EDEN with over 225 triple-tested recipes featuring healthy, fresh ingredients, is beautifully done, with wonderful color photographs of various dishes, and many of the historical sites for which Monterey County is so famous.

SANDY’S COOKNOTE: The above was written for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, probably in 1994 or 1995. When the cookbook was first published in 1994, it sold for $19.95. It is available on Amazon.com new starting at 1 CENT & UP for a pre-owned copy and new for $3.92 and u. Remember that purchases from private vendors always carry a $3.99 shipping & handling charge.)

Since 1994, I don’t remember how many more trips Bob & I would make to Monterey. Once, we made the trip in a Chinook I had bought, and we camped in Carmel Valley. It was our favorite place to visit until Bob could no longer drive and a three hour trip was about the most I could handle—then we discovered San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay and Pismo Beach. Now those are my favorite towns for short vacation trips.

–Review by Sandra Lee Smith

COOKING

Cooking, and I mean this as all aspects of cooking including baking, has been such an integral part of my life that I feel it should be addressed entirely on its own.

I have told the story of my first experience in cooking. My mother was allowing me to make some muffins. I assume I was following a recipe in my mother’s Ida Bailey Allen Service cookbook. The ingredients and the muffin pan were on the kitchen table. My mother instructed me to leave the yellow Pyrex bowl on the table as I stirred the ingredients—but I wanted to hold the bowl in the crook of my arm like I had seen it done on TV. Needless to say, I dropped the bowl and it crashed to the floor. I ran upstairs crying.

My memory stops right there. Did I go clean up the mess? When did I try again? I surely did because I have been making many kinds of muffins almost all my life. And it took me at least a year to save up enough money to buy my mother another yellow bowl –you couldn’t buy JUST the bowl—you had to buy the entire Pyrex set, which cost about $3.95.

Somehow, I saved up the money and gave the bowl—the entire set of bowls—to my mother. I may have been about ten years old – where did I get the money? I have no idea. I don’t think I started babysitting for my older sister and some of the young mothers in our neighborhood until I was about twelve years old. I was always looking after my younger brothers.

One thing my mother did make from scratch for many years was homemade bread. She baked two large loaves of bread (in black speckled roasting pans) twice a week. I think the homemade bread must have gone by the wayside when my mother began working full time.

I began baking the cookie recipes in Ida Bailey Allen’s Service cookbook; I particularly remember making large peanut butter cookies to send to my mother who was in the hospital at the time.

I learned how to make brownies. From my mother I learned how to make salmon patties from a can of salmon. I learned how to make macaroni and cheese and macaroni with tomato sauce. When I was ten or eleven, my mother instructed me to make dinner for my three brothers (this was long before my brother Scott was born) – mom and my father were going to a dinner.

“Do we really have to eat this?” they asked Dad.
“Every bite” he told them.

Our dinner was salmon patties, canned spinach and macaroni and cheese, with cottage cheese as a salad. When we had finished eating, my brothers all stood up together, grasped their stomachs, and fell down on the floor, pretending to be unconscious. I may have cried, kicking them. They thought it was a good joke.

Salmon patties played a part throughout my life. Years later, when Bob and I had driven in our little Chinook camper to Point Arena in northern California, it was late and we were hungry. We parked in the Point Arena camping area but couldn’t sign in until the next morning. Meanwhile I began making macaroni and cheese (from the blue box) and salmon patties. The mac and cheese was only halfway done and the salmon patties a little on the undone side when we ran out of propane–but we ate them anyway.

For many years after that, whenever I made salmon patties and mac and cheese, Bob would say “This is good but you know what was really GREAT? Those salmon patties and mac and cheese you made that cold foggy night in Point Arena—“ and that was how his memory always remembered that meal.

The next day I took beautiful pictures of the Point Arena light house – many I would have enlarged and framed – and we continued north until we reached the redwoods; we camped near a river and Bob would strike up conversations with people in thirty footer motor homes—us with our little Chinook.

The day after that, we traveled south in very hot weather and so traveled west to get back at camp grounds near Morro Bay where it was always much cooler; we traveled south to reach Pismo Beach again. Throughout our stays I cooked on a two-burner little gas stove. I think we also visited the lighthouse at Morro Bay. I would say that was our best vacation. **

But getting back to my learning how to cook—I learned some things from my
mother, other things from the Ida Bailey Allen Service cookbook. At some point in time, my mother acquired a Meta Given cookbook. She always maintained that Readers Digest sent the book to her, unsolicited, and she refused to pay for it. I began reading the recipes in the Meta Given cookbook and eventually acquired it for myself. I was curious about Meta Given for many years—until I began researching her and writing about her life and cookbooks.

In a blog article I posted in 2013, I wrote:

“I think it was a book club offering but that baffles me as neither of my parents ever joined a book club. I have a vague memory of my mother refusing to pay for it and so it languished on the family bookshelves until I began to read it and eventually claimed for my own. And, to add to the mystery, there is no indication on the inside pages of the cookbook that it was ever a book club selection. The original copyright was 1942. This edition was copyrighted by Meta Given in 1953, which sounds about right to me.

Not surprisingly, the pages most stained are those with cookie recipes on them- rocks and hermits, gum drop cookies, something called cocoa Indians, lemon drop cookies and molasses drop. My mother turned me loose in the kitchen when I was 9 or 10 years old and most of the time, I baked cookies. I really wasn’t interested in cooking anything else at the time.

I now own a copy of the original 1942 “Modern Family Cookbook” which is somewhat thicker and heavier than the 1953 edition. In 1947, Meta compiled “Meta Given’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking which is in two volumes. I had to laugh at myself; I thought I only had a copy of Volume I but when I began going through some of my old cookbooks in our new built garage library, I found a copy of Volume II.

None of my copies of Meta Given books have dust jackets and therein is the crux of the matter – so often, biographical information can be found on the dust jackets of cookbooks…”

Over time, as readers found my blog articles (http://sandy chatter.wordpress.com) about Meta Given on Google, they began to write to me and I learned more about her. (there are over six hundred comments in response to this post).

Mean while—back in the 1950s—I was a teenager learning how to cook. In my sophomore year at Mother of Mercy High School, I took cooking classes with Mrs. Cunningham—a dedicated and delightful teacher if ever there was one, who treated cooking as a science. It was there I began to understand that if you could read and follow directions—you could cook–or bake.

Mrs. Cunningham realized that one other classmate and I had more knowledge about cooking than most of her students and so would single us out to take messages to the principal or run other errands. Once a week or so, we were assigned one of the stoves in the cooking class and would make something. I remember once making cream of pea soup out of canned peas—which gives me something to think about these many years later as I make split pea soup with dried peas. Mrs. Cunningham’s approach may have been to get the soup made in a class of 45 minutes. For the life of me, I can’t remember what else we cooked in that class.

At the age of eighteen, I married a boy whose mother was from West Virginia. I didn’t have the best of relationships with his mother but I did learn how to make white (southern) gravy from her, as well as perfect fried chicken and fresh string beans cooked until they almost fell apart. (The fresh green beans was a departure from my mother’s CANNED green beans—speaking of which, my mother always cooked canned corn, peas, green beans, asparagus, beets; if there was a canned version of vegetables, that’s what we grew up on. I nevertasted fresh asparagus until we had been living in California for a few years. Ditto fresh spinach.

Come to think of it, I never tasted a steak until we moved to California. Or avocadoes! Or Clam Chowder! Or Yogurt! Or Artichokes!

In 1961, my father bought several copies of a cookbook being sold by one of his coworkers. That book was the 50 ANNIVERSARY COOKBOOK by WOMEN’S GUILD MATTHEW’S UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST (in Cincinnati) – for something like one dollar each. He gave one of the cookbooks to me but several years would pass by before I began to wonder if there were other church and/or club cookbooks such as the one Dad bought and asking myself how I could go about finding those cookbooks. I wrote a letter to a magazine called Women’s Circle (not to be confused with Family Circle or Woman’s Day that are still being published). Women’s Circle was published by Tower Press and was entirely made up of letters sent in by women like myself—looking for a book or penpals or any number of other things. I was looking for a Culinary Press cookbooklet of Hungarian recipes for my friend Peggy whose husband was Hungarian) – I think I received well over two hundred letters—some for the Hungarian cookbooklet – I bought two copies for $1.00 each, one for Peggy and one for myself—and began answering the other letters and buying many different cookbooks that formed the nucleus of my cookbook collection.

And it was a revelation to discover the thousands of church and club cookbooks being published over the decades. It was how I knew what to do when my sons’ grammar school PTA announced the desire to compile a cookbook. I immediately contacted the woman whose name was on a flyer my sons brought home from school in 1971—two of those women became life time girlfriends – and our cookbook, RECIPE ROUNDUP was published in 1971.

Moving to California was the proving ground for many foods and many more recipes. I began collecting cookbooks in 1965—some years later, I began collecting filled recipe boxes; I didn’t want just an empty recipe box—I wanted the collection of recipes that can sometimes be found in recipe boxes that turn up in antique stores or even thrift shops. I wanted to find out what recipes other women collected. I began to think of them as the Kitchen Diaries.

And so here I am, in my 70s and not doing very much cooking. I continue to bake but generally give the cookies or cakes away—often to people I am bowling with. Bob passed away in 2011. Jim and I divorced in April of 1986. I met Bob around in August of that year. We did a lot of canning and he was a willing helper. We entered the L.A. County Fair for about a decade, proudly displaying our blue ribbons (and even the red and yellow ribbons).

If I have learned anything along the way—it’s that if you can’t BE cooking, you can at least WRITE about cooking.

–Sandra Lee Smith

Reference (see also)
SEARCHING FOR META GIVEN, originally posted 2/14/11. UPDATED JUNE 22, 2013
BATTERED. TATTERED, STAINED PAGES IN A CHURCH COOKBOOK, June, 2011
WHEN IT’S NOT A BATTERED, TATTERED, STAINED CHURCH COOKBOOK, WHAT IS IT? August, 2011