They never fail to fascinate me; sometimes written on 3×5 recipe cards, generally on scraps of paper—many dating back decades. I am reminded of a time when ladies hosted luncheons or teas, to which their friends and neighbors attended, everyone dressed to a T, enjoying coffee or tea, and some of the hostess’ favorite offerings – sandwiches, perhaps, with crusts removed, and often a cake or other sweet treats – most certainly the things her guests would remark about and ask for the recipes.
One of my favorite collections of handwritten recipes are three little ring-bound notebooks in which many of her friends and neighbors’ recipes are written.
I no longer remember exactly where these came from – I think they might have been a gift from Kelly’s godfather, Roger, who knew that I loved such things and sometimes found them in thrift stores like the Salvation Army.
I have written several times about Helen’s Cookbook (please see index) – it was the first completely handwritten cookbook to come to my attention when I was in my twenties and found a used book store in Hollywood. I was buying up cookbooks for a dollar each when the owner brought out this old handwritten cookbook—I had never seen anything like it and had to buy it (I think about Ten or eleven dollars). For DECADES I didn’t know who Helen was—clues could be found inside the book—and it was those clues that led a British penpal who had access to Genealogy to identify my Helen, who, as I expected, never had children—if she had, her cookbook would have never fallen into my hands.
I have in front of me, an old hardcover notebook addressed to GRACE, 1927, from FRANK, 1928 – with a July 1988 post-it from my sister Susanne who knew (doesn’t everyone I know?) that I cherish such things. While Grace’s collection contains man6y handwritten recipes, it also has many very old magazine recipes as well. Unfortunately, most of the handwritten cookbooks in my collection are fragile; consequently, I try not to handle them too often.
Who will want them when I am gone? It’s a selective kind of collection. It was due to Helen’s cookbook that I began my own collection of handwritten (or typewritten) recipes but what started out as one 3-ring binder in 1958 or 59 has grown to more than fifty 3-ring binders; only five of them are cookie recipe collections.
It was in the 1970s when I hosted a lot of parties and tried a lot of new recipes that I started a 3 ring binder for cake recipes. And what started out as one or two recipe boxes filled mostly with cookie and cake recipes, has grown to more than two hundred recipe boxes – Bob and I were in Ventura back in the 1980s when we had the time to spend weekends scouring thrift stores and antique shops—that I found a filled recipe box, priced at $11.00. (it seems to have been the going price for such things back then) I didn’t buy it when we first spotted it – I think we went back twice before I bought it ($11 seemed like a lot at the time).
I know there is a market for filled recipe boxes so I imagine my son and daughter in law will know how to sell those off when I am gone—and I’ve tried to let them know that a lot of my cookbooks are valuable too. I’m hoping that my grandchildren will want some of these things. Maybe some of my nieces and nephews will want some of them too.
I started collecting cookbooks in 1965. There comes a time (I never dreamed it could happen) when collections simply take over. I never thought I’d see the day. There, you heard it straight from the horse’s mouth!
–Sandra Lee Smith