CHASING THE LURE OF OLD COOKBOOKS

One afternoon recently, I began going through some of the bookshelves in the garage library, and realized that some of the very old books I had stored out there were getting – not just dusty – but some kind of dust mites are attacking the bindings and covers.

So, I am in the process of re-packing some of these books and as I went along, I couldn’t resist looking inside some of these cookbooks. One thing that enchants me is the lengthy titles some of these books have. The cover of THE EVERY DAY COOKBOOK/Illustrated is proclaimed on the inside EVERY-DAY COOK-BOOK and ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PRACTICAL RECIPES by Miss E. Neil and in smaller print below the author is the following “Economical, Reliable and Excellent” and below THAT Chicago, Ill REGAN PRINTING HOUSE, 1892.

The collection of recipes are mostly short and to the point. I am bemused by one for Rich Bride Cake—is the cake rich or is the bride who is rich? Another for White Lady Cake has me wondering—is this a “White Lady” or a cake that is white or … you get my point. There are recipes under Miscellaneous for “an excellent hard soap” include directions for washing woolens, lamp wicks, a cement for stoves (in case your stove is cracked) and directions “ TO MAKE OLD CRAPE LOOK NEARLY EQUAL TO NEW which I couldn’t begin to explain. Does she mean “Crepe” as in a fabric? Someone who sews and is familiar with different kinds of fabrics might know the answer to this. Or does it have to do with the economy in 1892, requiring the lady of the house to make it look nearly equal to new?

Miscellaneous covers such topics as removing ink from carpets, how to make hens lay in winter, moths in carpets, making your own furniture polish, papering whitewashed walls (I can remember my grandmother brushing whitewash onto the lower parts of her fruit trees), renewing old kid gloves, and a wide range of other how to in the medical department—including (I couldn’t resist) a Quinine Cure for Drunkenness.

Another cookbook titled “GOOD COOKING Made Easy and Economical” that is literally falling apart opens to the Inscription “From Mother to Loyal, April 25th 1944 West Best Wishes on 40th Birthday” and might have been directed towards economic restrictions imposed during WW2. Good Cooking was compiled by Marjorie Heseltine and Ula M. Dow, in which the co-authors explain the purpose of this second edition and direct the homemaker to the addition of home-canned foods, preserves and jellies and pickles. The USA was in the third year of a World War in 1944, with no end yet in sight. And virtually ecvery thing was rationed, including sugar. (I remember my mother, aunts and grandmother canning apple sauce back in those wartime years, without the addition of sugar. The apples were sour apples, and so the applesauce was very tart. When the war was over—and we still had many quarts of unsweetened apple sauce in the cellar, my mother allowed us to put a small amount of sugar on our serving of applesauce. It is my most distinct memory of rationing in WW2.

My section on home canning is well-worn from use. Covering equipment and choosing a method for canning.. Maybe Mother gave GOOD COOKING to Loyal to become acquainted with home cooking – then again, the handwritten recipe for strawberry shortcake is in Mother’s handwriting and is dated May 30th, 1944. There is also a worn out page for Potato Fritters, also in Mother’s handwriting. I like to think that GOOD COOKING is so worn out from Loyal frequently using her mother’s birthday present.
Another cookbook with a lengthy title is A COLLECTION OF COPPER COUNTRY RE CIPES COMPILED BY THE FACULTY WOMEN’S CLUB of the MICHIGAN COLLEGE OF MINING AND TECHNOLOGY Houghton, Michigan, December, 1929. Printing on the cover is illegible—at some time in this cookbook’s past, it appears to have been covered with something that was pasted on.

However, that being said, Copper Country Recipes offers a surprising chapter on Foreign Menus and Recipes, in which I found recipes for Enchiladas and Tamales, Frijoles and Tortillas—recipes I would easily found in a Southern California cookbook—but in one from the Women’s Club of Michigan College of Mining and Technology? That was a surprise. Mind you, this was published in 1929!

Also in Foreign Recipes are Chinese recipes that together make up a Chinese Dinner (Chinese Noodle Soup, Chop Suey, Hundred Year Old Eggs in Spinach (which I have seen featured on the TV show “Chopped” but will pass on that one), Rice—Chinese Style— and Eight Precious Pudding. For a Chinese Luncheon you will find Egg Foo-Young, Chicken Chow-Mein, Fried Bean Sprouts and Chinese Almond Cakes. This is just a sampling of the recipes and menus to be found in the section Foreign Recipes.
Is this a cookbook you would be likely to find on Amazon.com or Alibris.com? I’ll have to check!

Meantime, I want to share an 1897 cookbook, simply titled COOK BOOK on the cover but on an inside page is another lengthy title called THE PRACTICAL RECEIPT BOOK by Experienced House-Keepers published by THE YOUNG LADIES’ AID SOCIETY at the Methodist Episcopal Church, Sewickley, PA. and beneath that “Good cooking means economy and enjoyment, Bad cooking means waste of money, time and temper.” And under THAT is the date, 1897. On a blank page is the name, signed by Mrs. H.S. Jackson, 1897. The cookbook is in remarkably good condition, given that it is over one hundred years old.

Friends, I did a cursory check on Amazon.com for a couple of these titles—I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for – that being said—there are dozens of other titles to lure you in. I’ll try to provide you with some other titles for old cookbooks as I go through the ones I am packing into boxes.

I want to add that, if you are interested in collecting old cookbooks–I started out in 1965 with absolutely no knowledge of how many cookbooks might be “out there”. I started out with a letter to Women’s Circle magazine (no longer in print) – stating I wanted to start collecting old cookbooks and did anyone have any to sell or swap for. I received over 200 letters (no internet back then!) and I bought or traded for every cookbook offered to me. It took months for me to answer every single letter (and I was working full time, with two pre-schoolers going to a babysitter every day. I was beyond thrilled–and some of the women or men who wrote to me became lifelong friends, such as my penpal Betsy who remains a girlfriend to this day. And that is how my lure of cookbooks began.

–Sandy @ sandychatter

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4 responses to “CHASING THE LURE OF OLD COOKBOOKS

  1. Well, Sandy, you have hit on one of the books that has intrigued me for awhile now. “The Everyday Cookbook” was published at least at early as 1884 (it’s in Bitting) with New York, Chicago, and San Francisco as locations of the various publishing houses. I have seen both Miss E. Neil and Miss E. Neill spellings for the author’s last name. The only thing I have found online is a reference to her being out of Jackson, Michigan. Someday I hope I will find more information about her since I, too, have one of her books with lovely color plates.

    • Hi Susan – I apologize for the delay….I ONLY know I have new messages on my blog when something gets posted and then shows up on my Verizon email account. I’m sorry I don’t know more about Miss E Neil –but I do know someone, a kind of penpal, who might know something more & I will send a message to her (actually, if she still reads my blog posts, she will see this! so here’s hoping. – Sandy

  2. How do I get in contact with you? My father lived in Meta Given’s home in the 1940’s.

    • Hi Cyndy – sorry it has taken me so long to respond to your email – I have been wading through hundreds of messages in my Verizon account and deleting everything other than actual messages I need or want to write to – am fascinated that your father lived in Meta Given’s home — in the 1940s – wouldn’t that be close in time to when she lived there herself? Are you collecting her books?- I can also be reached at ssmith00281@verizon.net.
      As you may have noticed, writing about Meta Given generated a lot of interest. most fascinating are those from people who were related to her. – thanks for writing. Sandy

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