STILL COLLECTING…HANDWRITTEN RECIPES

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

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4 responses to “STILL COLLECTING…HANDWRITTEN RECIPES

  1. Perhaps you can donate them to a library. Check out The Recipes Project at the Huntington Library (https://recipes.hypotheses.org/tag/huntington-library) or the cookbook and recipes collection at Michigan State University library (https://www.lib.msu.edu/spc/collections/cookery/).

    • You know, I don’t live all that far from the Huntington –but its been decades since I visited it with some girlfriends from work – and I had NO idea there was a recipes project. Thanks much, Laurie, for the heads up. sometimes you don’t know what is almost in your own back yard. I will see what I can learn (your message was written last September) – & see what the Huntington is working on now. Regards, sandy

  2. It is great to see some posts from you, Sandy!

    I had NO idea that you had so many recipe boxes. And notebooks. I am hanging my head in shame. Most of the recipe boxes I have seen are just being sold as empty boxes, which, as you can imagine, displeases me immensely. What happened to the recipes? I think they just get tossed, because people don’t think anyone would ever want THOSE things. I guess I need to get back to carefully inspecting photos of kitchens when I look at estate sales.

    As for your last paragraph… yes, this happens. I realized the other day that even though I am trying to be good in this regard, the heap that I was working on had not diminished. Instead, it has grown considerably higher. I started thinking that I may just have a problem.

    Another REALLY bad thing: my sense of taste has both changed and become much less acute. I find myself wanting to make and eat SWEET things, which is not what I should be eating. I have suggested to my daughter that she will have to be my taste tester… and my sous chef. How on earth can I perfect recipes by taste when other people might not like the results at all?

  3. Thanks for writing, Jean – I apologize, too–I am just now getting back on track with writing for my blog. I have often thought the same thing about recipe boxes that turn up (especially) in thrift shops – someone just tosses the contents–who would want them? (except for the two of us). Maybe other blog readers will comment on this.

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