Category Archives: FAVORITE BOOKS

TOO MANY BOOKS?

TOO MANY BOOKS?

To paraphrase the Duchess of Windsor (the former Wallace Simpson for whom King Edward VIII abdicated the throne in
1936) “you can’t be too rich or too poor….or have too many cookbooks”*

*Amongst my collection of favorite books are those about monarchs of Great Britain—and their wives/husbands or children.

I never imagined that the thought (having too many books) ever crossed my mind – until recently when I started finding it more difficult to find enough shelf space for my books.

As a child, I didn’t have any books to call my own. (I’d often read the same library books over and over again).

My very first book was a copy of Little Women that my mother gave to me one Christmas. I read and re-read little women until I could recite whole pages by heart. I’d give my book to one of my two best girlfriends and then when we had a squabble, I’d ask for it back. It went back and forth a few times.

Then one Christmas, my brother Jim gave me five brand-spanking new Nancy Drew books. I was hooked – not just hooked on Nancy Drew, which I was, but also the idea of having books of my own began to take place in a fertile corner of my mind.

I was already making trips downtown (Cincinnati) by myself – whether to pay off my mother’s coat that was in layaway at Lerner’s, or to turn in the blue Wilson labels from evaporated milk for which you could get a towel or a pot holder.

My mother made batches of formula in glass bottles with evaporated milk for whoever was the baby at the time. I have to wonder, though – she breast fed the baby—was the one who wasn’t the youngest anymore weaned onto bottles? This muddles my mind a bit—Biff was three years younger than me, and Bill was three years younger than Biff.

Bill remained the baby until our brother Scott was born when Bill was about twelve years old. Scott and my sister Susie were almost like a second family. I was seventeen when Scott was born—and the neighbors thought he was my baby, because I was the one waking him up and down the street in his stroller. I was twenty and married when Susie came along.

I need to back track, though, because I was the middle child, and my two younger brothers, Biff (whose name is actually George Calvin after two of our uncles who served during World War II) and Bill were often my responsibility. I looked after them all the time (and even took them with me on dates, when my current BF was taking me to a drive in movie), and began taking them with me downtown on the bus in December, to do our Christmas shopping. I have written about those trips downtown, growing up in Cincinnati, before on my blog so I won’t repeat all of that now. My point, really, is that I began going downtown—often by myself—and during those excursions I discovered books—books for sale in dusty dark thrift shops and (be still my heart!)—a huge used book store housing four stories of books. I bought a lot of those books—one at a time, seldom having any money to call my own—for about twenty-five cents each. I discovered some old editions of Nancy Drew, and a few other series similar to Nancy Drew.

Now I needed a bookcase – I think my mother must have given a bookcase to me one Christmas—and I took it with me when Jim (Smith, not to be confused with my brother Jim Schmidt!) & I got married but I think that bookcase must have been left behind when Jim & I moved to California. Jim had no use for my books OR the collection of 45s that I had accumulated and that he sailed over the back yard of his mother’s house

(How could I have married a man who didn’t like to read AND had no interest in my collection of 45s records? From my viewpoint fifty-something years later, it is almost too difficult to fathom. Was it love? I don’t think so—the night before the wedding, I knew I was making a mistake; I just didn’t know any way to get out of it. I was unhappy with the way my mother was treating me after I finally got a job (Western-Southern Life Insurance in downtown Cincinnati) – I had been taking care of my brothers all along, and babysat my baby brother from the time he was born until I got married—neighbors on Mulberry Street thought Scott was MY baby and that my brother Jim, then in the Air Force—was my husband. Susie set them all straight when she became old enough to play with little girls her age on our street. My mother decreed that I had to start paying room and board. I was so upset about that, I told Jim Smith, who said “well, we could get married”. And so we did. For all the wrong reasons. And, in retrospect, I don’t think he really loved me, either. Months of counseling prior to divorce revealed that he had been cheating on me throughout our marriage. That was the final blow, the realization that he had never been true to me and was unlikely to change.

My little white bookcase went with me to the house on Biegler Street where we lived downstairs from my husband’s mother. We didn’t take it with us to California – neither that or a kitchen cupboard that we bought—and what I wished for years I had somehow managed to keep. As far as I know, Jim’s sister still has those things.

We drove to California in 1961 as a lark—and rented a furnished duplex next door to Jim’s best friend Marvin who had taken his wife and children to California the year before. Michael was a little over a year old and I would take him in his stroller up Hollywood Way to a bookstore on Magnolia where I began buying books as cheap as possible, mostly paperbacks. I would read anything I could lay my hands on.

In 1962 we moved to an apartment on Sarah Street and I would walk Michael in his stroller up to a used bookstore on Lankershim Blvd—paperbacks ten cents each! Then I found a job at Household Finance in Hollywood and my free time was taken up just getting to and from work on buses; I did some exploring along Hollywood Boulevard but I don’t remember finding any thrift stores (or if I did, I’ve forgotten) – much of 1962 going into 1963 has been forgotten. I had a serious miscarriage in 1962 that landed me in the hospital for a few days.

What I remember is being hurried to the hospital by my husband, to a Seventh Day Adventist hospital because I had gone there when I suspected I was pregnant and it was affirmed. This was my second miscarriage – my first was in 1959 when we were still living in Cincinnati. This time I was bleeding heavily as we reached the hospital in Glendale. The next morning the doctor on call performed a D&C—when I miscarried, I’d lose everything except the fetus.

Well, it couldn’t have been too much longer after that we
moved into a wonderful large apartment on Sarah Street in North Hollywood. The “tenants” in the other downstairs apartment were actually the owners whose house was being remodeled; the parents had three adorable little girls who all, in turn, adored Michael and lavished attention on him. We were also invited to swim in their pool.

I can’t remember having many books much less a bookcase during the period of time that we lived there. When I became pregnant again, I flew back to Cincinnati with Michael in March of 1963 (I wanted my own obstetrician). We gave away the various items we had accumulated in a few years.

In Cincinnati, I returned to my old job, thankfully, and worked until two weeks before Steven’s birth. In December, 1963, we drove back to California—Jim couldn’t (or wouldn’t) find a job and we were mostly penniless when, after Steve’s birth, I developed a blood clot in my right leg and was bedridden for six weeks; one week I had $5 for baby food; we went to my mother’s where she gave us some meat out of her freezer; then we went to my sister Becky’s and she gave us half of everything in her pantry.

Shades of Scarlett O’Hara! I cried all the way home and swore we would never go without groceries again. I said I wanted to go back to California – at least there Jim was always able to find a job. (*mind you, there was no such thing as welfare or food stamps in 1963).

I left my collection of books with my mother, who began sending them to me a few at a time. In 1965, when my parents came to visit us, my mother packed a suitcase with the rest of my books.

But it was also in 1965 that I began collecting cookbooks—I have written about that before on my blog so wont repeat all of it here. I had also become acquainted with Connie, who babysat for us for some months while both Jim & I got jobs at Weber Aircraft.

Connie was a kindred spirit – one time we found an ad for a collection of presidential and white House books, for $100. We split the cost and sight unseen bought all of those books which formed the nucleus of my collection of Presidents/White House books. We went through the books one at a time dividing them up.

I was keenly interested in anything about the assassination of JFK and many books were published on the subject. (After Connie died in 1999, her daughter Dawn gave me large bags full of Connie’s books that her children didn’t want). And I probably bought over a hundred cookbooks forming the nucleus of THAT collection, also in 1965.

When we were preparing to move to Florida in 1979, I donated carloads of children’s books for my sons’ school and when we were preparing to move back to California, I gave boxes full of cookbooks to a new friend whose daughter wanted to start a collection of cookbooks of her own. I packed up and mailed 50 boxes of cookbooks back to California—to Connie’s house, in fact—so I had a pretty good guess how many pounds of cookbooks and other favorite books I had in 1982 when we returned to California.

So, upon reflection—I think the bulk of my cookbook collection was acquired after I moved to a little house in Van Nuys, following my breakup with Jim living there for a few years before moving back into the Arleta house (where we had lived from 1974-79, before moving to Florida). The Arleta house was large and was accompanied by a guest house that Bob (who came into my life in 1986) converted into a guest room/office for him.

And for nineteen years we were off and running – collecting books—not just cookbooks—and when we ran out of shelf space, we’d go out and buy more bookcases.

When I bought a house in 2008, we went from roughly 3000 square feet of space—to roughly 1500 square feet. I gave away SUV-loads full of books to the Burbank library for their Friends of the Library Sales; I gave a lot of other books away—and even so, filled over 600 boxes with books that Kelly carted to the Antelope Valley one weekend at a time, and stored in a rental storage unit. My books were in storage for a few months, then my son and daughter in law moved all the boxes to my garage. I was without garage space for a year.

Then in 2010, Bob converted half of the garage into a ….Library, of course! My collection of fiction and presidents/white house/first ladies books were all still in boxes…as quickly as Bob put up some shelves, I was unpacking boxes. The beauty of being able to open exactly what I wanted opened is that I had numbered all of the boxes. I had also written on the boxes what was inside each box. Everything was also written down in a little steno notebook that was my moving bible.

Even so, I found myself donating a lot of books to the Lancaster Library for their Friends of the Lancaster Library sales…there was this dim realization that I was never going to read a lot of those books again—and after Bob passed away in 2011, I began giving away some of his favorite authors’ novels. I also gave away his collection of books by or about Mark Twain to a friend who I knew would appreciate them.

It saddens me to have come to this realization—I have too many books. Bob’s room has bookcases on either side of the bed—just enough space to get in and out—one side contains all my foreign cookbooks in one bookcase and all of my canning/preserving cookbooks in another bookcase, while the other side has all of my regional cookbooks – one half contains books east of the Mississippi and the other side is west of the Mississippi; my favorite books of Americana cookbooks are in one extra bookcase along that wall.

(One winter, when we were still living in Arleta, I spent six weeks separating east from west. These are cookbooks published by various church or club groups as fundraisers). We had also gone to a place in Van Nuys where you could buy unfinished bookcases and do the finishing yourselves—we’d buy a couple of those ceiling to floor bookcases at a time.

What was pretty great about my relationship with Bob is that he loved books as much as I – the difference between us is that he would start a book and not do another thing until he finished it—while I always had my priorities—in addition to working full time, there were always other chores to do.

My bedroom contains all of my California cookbooks, the bulk of my Americana cookbooks and my Presidential/White House cookbooks. A third bedroom contains books by favorite cookbook authors while in the living room I have all of my Christmas cookbooks, a Gooseberry Patch cookbook collection, a collection of celebrity cookbooks as well as dessert cookbooks. A collection of NON cookbooks –mostly books about the history of food—fill five smallish bookcases in the family room where my computer is located. These are most of my reference books.

So, by the end of 2010, I had a garage library – A to L along one wall and M to Z along another; I also have a smallish collection of children’s books that I keep in a bookcase near the door; included are any books I know will be required reading for my grandchildren or my sister Susie’s kids.

But now I find…I need to do more donating of books I know I will not read (any of Bob’s authors—except Teddy Roosevelt; I will keep those in my Presidential collection. I’ve run out of bookshelf space.

All of which begs the question – can you have too many books? Sadly, the answer to this is yes – if you don’t have enough bookshelves to house all of your books. Books are meant to be read and displayed on bookshelves.

How many cookbooks do I have now? I have no idea. I don’t know of anyone with enough patience to count all of them.

–Sandra Lee Smith

THE LANCASTER LIBRARY’S FRIENDS BOOK SALE

The California Lancaster Library’s Friends of the Lancaster Library had its annual book sale this week and I ended up with making two trips and filling 3 of my heavy-duty cloth tote bags both times—I think I spent about $30 altogether and it was money well spent – the Friends of the Lancaster California Library buys computers and other well needed items for the library. In a recent newsletter sent to members such as myself, I learned that several members of the library staff went on a shopping trip to Barnes and Noble recently and were able to spend $20,000 on books and media for various sections of the library. They also added support to programs at the library. Can you imagine?  This is what the re-sale of books was able to do!

From the viewpoint of a book lover—the annual Friends’ sale is like finding candy in the candy store for a fraction of the regular prices—the Lancaster Friend’s book sale is very organized; the books are divided into categories such as children’s/young adult/cooking/biographies and fiction. The fiction category alone is huge but everything, such as mysteries and thrillers, are then divided into alphabetical order. The Friends volunteers spend an entire week getting all the books in order. Hard cover books are priced at a dollar each (but the sale on Fridays is half price day so those hardcover books I like so much will be 50c each. On Saturday, books are a “buck a bag”.

I’ve been to a lot of library’s Friends of the Library book sales in the San Fernando valley for over twenty years—and we donated two SUV’s-full of books to the Burbank Friends when I was moving to the Antelope Valley. After we moved and got settled, I donated six boxes full of more books. When you find yourself with too many books (if such a condition is possible) donating them to a library’s Friends of the Library organization is a worth-while way to go. The only reason I have thinned out some of my shelves was because my companion Bob’s taste in fiction wasn’t the same as mine. I’ve given dozens—maybe hundreds—of the books he enjoyed reading to the Lancaster Library’s Friends.

(I did give some of Bob’s special interests, such as his Mark Twain collection to a close friend who is also a book lover)

The reason I am sharing all of this with you is because maybe – just maybe – you love books and aren’t aware of the various Friends of the Library book sales in your area.

I know that our Lancaster Friends organization always needs volunteers; I think of this all the time, wishing I were in better physical condition to help set up the books. They always need help unpacking and sorting the books too.

This year I happened to find a Myra Waldo cookbook I didn’t have—the Art of Spaghetti Cookery (you might want to read my blog post about Myra Waldo—still one of the most fascinating cookbook authors I have ever encountered). I also found a book—in fine condition—titled HOW THE WORLD COOKS CHICKEN – that I think may be my next cookbook review.

I bought about a dozen children’s books for the children’s section of my garage library—about a dozen spiral-bound local cookbooks that feels like some one’s   cookbook collection. I bought perhaps thirty or forty paperback books with various titles and perhaps twenty or so hard bound books of fiction. Sometimes a title is one of “my” authors that I buy even though I have a copy – I am always trying to make converts out of my friends. (I have converted several friends to Robert Morgan’s books—he is one of my favorite authors—as is Adriana Trigiani; I found an extra copy of one of her early titles, “Big Stone Gap” that I am confident I can give to someone who will read it and like her writing style. I even got my soon-to-be twenty years old granddaughter reading some of Adriana’s books. It’s nice to have extra copies of some of your favorite books to give away when the opportunity presents itself. Sometimes I send some of my favorites to my penpals.

Well, I started this train of thought this morning primarily to share some of my convictions about a library’s Friends of the Library organizations and to let other book lovers know that while you can read a book on a digital device, such as a Book Nook—it isn’t the same as having a real book in your hands to read, to tell friends about, sometimes to share with. I remember when Janet Evanovich’s books first began to be published. I bought the books immediately and then would share them with co-workers. It was so popular that we had to have a list on the blackboard at work, so everyone would know whose turn was next to read the books. I think I may have converted some coworkers into reading.

–Sandra Lee Smith

CHRISTMAS WON’T BE CHRISTMAS

Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

“We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.

The four young faces on which the firelight shone brightened at the cheerful words, but darkened again as Jo said sadly, “We haven’t got Father, and shall not have him for a long time.” She didn’t say “perhaps never,” but each silently added it, thinking of Father far away, where the fighting was. – From Little Women.

It was the first book I ever owned, a copy of “Little Women” given to me by my mother when I was about ten or eleven. I read it over and over again, often enough to be able to recite entire paragraphs from memory. Owning a copy of “Little Women” caused something to explode within my heart. It was never enough, after that, just to read a book although I read library books voraciously. I wanted to OWN those favorite books as well. Perhaps a year or two later, my brother Jim gave me FIVE Nancy Drew books for Christmas. FIVE! What riches! What wealth!

Not surprisingly, you will have to agree, my house today is wall to wall bookcases filled with books throughout most of the house (ok, none in the kitchen or bathrooms) although you can often find a little stack of magazines or catalogues on the back of the toilet. And last year, Bob built a library that takes up half of the garage. I was unpacking books to go onto the shelves as fast as he finished a section. Finally, after two years, the rest of our books were unpacked and placed on shelves.(We moved into this house in November of 2008).  The garage library is primarily for fiction although I have a respectable collection of books – biographies and auto biographies about our first ladies and one entire section is devoted to American presidents. (I think I have more about John Fitzgerald and Jackie Kennedy than any other president. I think this is because he was the first American president – and she the first “First Lady” who really captured my attention. Next high on my list are books about President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan.  We have made many trips to the Reagan Library and Museum in Simi Valley. But I also collect biographies and auto biographies about movie stars and this probably started when I began working at the SAG Health Plan in 1977.

I’ve also collected books – stories, biographies and—yes, even cookbooks—about African Americans (or Black Americans if you want to be more politically correct. I have found so many really wonderful stories written by African Americans. I believe this is an untapped resource of Americana fiction.

And yes, it started with an inexpensive copy of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. (I love Little Women so much that I have every film edition of this wonderful civil war era story. But, I have never figured out what pickled limes were; you may recall that Amy got in trouble at school for having a bag of pickled limes in her desk. The teacher confiscated the bag of pickled limes and threw them all out the school house window. I do a lot of canning  (and yes, I collect  cookbooks about canning, preserving, making jams, jellies and chutneys – but have never come across a recipe for making pickled limes!)

“Little Women” is one of those ageless stories that I enjoy watching during the holiday season – along with “Miracle on 34th Street” and “Elf”, “The Santa Clause” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

I have loved Christmas my entire life; when I was about ten years old I began taking my two younger brothers downtown – in Cincinnati – to do our Christmas shopping at the 5 & 10 cent stores. We did all our shopping in one day, along with visiting the department store Santas to get a peppermint stick – and then happily returned home on the trolley (or buses if they had replaced street cars by then) to surreptitiously slip upstairs to my bedroom and wrap our gifts – with wrapping paper my mother had saved from the year before. We ironed out gift wrap paper and ribbons to look “like new” again.  My two brothers and I have the most precious memories of those trips downtown. If we were able, we’d make another trip downtown to see the life-size nativity on display in Garfield Park.

And I think opening the presents, as wonderful as it was, might have been anti climatic to the trip downtown with my little brothers to buy Christmas presents for everyone in the family, with pennies and nickels we had saved or earned. We didn’t have an allowance and earning a bit of cash was always a challenge. My girlfriend Carol went downtown with us one year and in later years confessed that she was always jealous of us Schmidts, buying all our Christmas presents for about a dollar—total!  Well, there was also the five cent bus fare each way to take into consideration. And sometimes we even shared a grill cheese sandwich at the soda fountain counter in Woolworths.

How did we do it? I have no idea. Our little change purses were something like the loaves and fishes in the bible – there was always JUST enough to get something for everyone in the family – five of us children, our parents and our grandparents.

My love for Christmas rubbed off on Bob, my partner for the past 25 years. He became as enthusiastic as I, putting up trees (yes, plural – one year we had 8 trees up in the house in Arleta) and decorating everything in sight inside and outside of the house, while I baked cookies. One year we made a fantastic gingerbread house.  He was always as excited and pleased as I, when guests would arrive at our house and begin to ooh and ahh over the two trees standing on either side of our fireplace, the lighthouse tree in the dining room and the little kitchen-theme trees in the kitchen.   This will be my first Christmas without Bob to share it with.  Christmas won’t be Christmas without him.

I originally wrote this in November of 2011, two months after Bob passed away from cancer of the esophagus. This year will mark the third Christmas without him.

Sandra Lee Smith

September 7, 2014

 

 

 

OLD FRIENDS AND OLD BOOKS

Let me share with you a few thoughts on old friends and old books.

Years ago—when I was young and cute and the mother of only two little boys instead of four (1965, actually), I was working at Weber Aircraft when I found myself in need of a new babysitter. A friend suggested her neighbor, a woman named Connie, who herself was the mother of three young children, the youngest a boy the same age as my son, Michael.

Those two five year olds could get into more mischief than half a dozen other children their age. Once I came home to find Connie attempting to put together half a dozen bicycles and tricycles. Michael and his buddy Sean had taken apart all the bikes and trikes—to see how they worked, I think—but they were careful to keep all the parts in one pile. What one five year old didn’t think of doing, the other one came up with. Another time I came home to hear they had painted circles on the fences and whatever else they came in contact with.

Connie became my babysitter and more importantly, a close friend. She was godmother to my youngest son, Kelly, when he was born. Connie and I shared so many interests that it’s impossible to say which one was the most important—and we shared a love of books. One of our interests focused on the White House and anything Presidential; one time we bought a “lot” of used White House/Presidential books, sight unseen, from a woman somewhere in the Midwest. I think the books cost us about $50.00 each and when they arrived, we sat on the floor divvying them up.

We shared a love of cookbooks and began collecting them at the same time, in 1965, although Connie was a vegetarian and leaned more towards cookbooks of that genre. She was also “Southern” and shared with me a love of “anything” Southern. We shared a love of diary/journal type books and books about the Mormons, books about the White House, Southern cookbooks and religious groups that formed in the United States in the 1800s. These were just a few of our mutual interests.

It was because of Connie that I started working for the Health Plan where I was employed for 27 years, until I retired in December of 2002.—I only went to work “part time for six weeks IN 1977 to help out”, and there I was all those years later, casting an eye towards retirement and pleased that I had a pension. My job literally saved my sanity when I went through a divorce in 1985.

Our sons started kindergarten together, and Connie’s oldest daughter lived with me for about six months, as a mother’s helper, when she was in high school.

More than a decade ago, on June 29, 1998, Connie died of lung cancer. It seemed incongruous that someone so devoted to eating healthy should die of such a terrible disease. In 1971, Connie and I quit smoking together, at the same time. I never went back to smoking but a year later, Connie began smoking again. It was hard to understand—why would you take up something again that had been so hard to give up in the first place? (I don’t have the answer to this).

One night, Connie’s oldest daughter brought three boxes of books to the house, explaining that it has taken a long time to go through her mother’s collections—many of her books were divided up amongst her children and other friends, but there were some that Dawn thought I would especially like.

After she left, I opened the boxes and began laying books all over the coffee table and chairs. Books about the White House – some I had never heard of before! I wish I could have had them when I was writing “WHAT’S COOKING IN THE WHITE HOUSE KITCHEN”. Intriguing titles such as “DINNER AT THE WHITE HOUSE” by Louis Adamic, memoirs of the Roosevelt years, published in 1946, and “DEAR MR. PRESIDENT; THE STORY OF FIFTY YEARS IN THE WHITE HOUSE MAIL ROOM” by Ira Smith with Joe Alex Morris, published in 1949.

There was a Congressional Cook Book – #2 – and a very nice copy of “MANY HAPPY RETURNS or How to Cook a G.O.P. Goose”, the Democrats’ Cook Book. There were several books about soups that I had never seen before another subject I have written about previously, first for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, and again on my blog. One was “THE New York Times Bread and Soup Cookbook”, another “The ALL NATURAL SOUP COOKBOOK”.

More books about Southern cooking – a few duplicates but others I was unfamiliar with, “RECIPES FROM THE OLD SOUTH” by Martha Meade, a copy of the “GONE WITH THE WIND COOKBOOK” – actually, a booklet – which was given away free with the purchase of Pebeco Toothpaste which is long gone from the drug store scene while “Gone with the Wind” is as famous as ever. (The first time I saw “Gone with the Wind” was with Connie.

My best friend and I drifted apart some years ago, after a difference of opinion –we remained friends but were not as inseparable as we once had been. She made new friends and so did I. But it was she who urged me to return to work in 1977, for which I remain forever grateful.

But I am deeply touched that some of her treasured books have come into my possession. Running my hands across the covers, I imagine that Connie had done the same thing, many times, dusting them, touching them. For in one aspect, if no other, we were kindred souls. We loved books. I still do.

Old books and old friends have a lot in common. As I have grown older, some of my dearest friends have passed away—but their books, now mine, remain treasures in my collection of books.

–Sandra Lee Smith

A FRESH LOOK AT FIGS, BY PAMELA ALLARDICE

Some years ago, I wrote an article on figs for the University of California Extension Service which, at that time, published a newsletter…the article was “everything I ever wanted to know—and share with the world” on the subject of figs. Oddly, I had titled it, “Who Gives a Fig?”

So, you ask, “What’s the point?” the point is, I had just finished reading (and salivating over) a book newly published in 1994 titled “A FRESH LOOK AT FIGS…TRADITIONS, MYTHS, AND MOUTH-WATERING RECIPES” published by Hill of Content, in 1993. The very first chapter is titled “Who Gives a Fig?” and contains pages and pages (about twenty—I counted)  on the history of figs throughout the world, including biblical quotes and superstitions (i.e., the Italians say fig leaves are unlucky and believe that evil spirits lurk in them during the summer months).

There is a wealth of reference material here – for instances, there are over 700 fig varieties in the world, and we learn that the fig is a member of the mulberry family. It is one of the oldest known plants in the world, and some writers have even suggested that the unspecified fruit that Eve offered Adam was actually a fig, not an apple. We do know that the earliest biblical reference to figs is the account of the fall of Adam and Eve, whereby they sewed fig leaves together to form aprons to cover their nakedness.

She discusses how the fig has featured in the mythologies of the ancient Egyptians and the ancient Greeks, as well as in Buddhist beliefs and in Christian tales.

Author Pamela Allaardice certainly did her homework—included in this book are two pages of bibliography.

As the owner of two prolific fig trees [until we moved to the Antelope Valley in 2008] I was constantly searching for good new fig recipes—and if you have a fig tree or if you just enjoy the taste of figs–Pamela Allardice’s book is for you.

Recipes? Try one o the many desserts—from chocolate fig mousse to fig and ginger pudding…or perhaps figgy pears or figs flambé. There are recipes for figs at Christmas, such as Christmas pudding, or Dutch Christmas bread…a fig and nectarine ice cream, or perhaps figs and mangoes in syrup. The author provides recipes for a Hungarian Fig Wine (that I wish I had tried) and baked figs with cherries and cinnamon…three are recipes for jams, sauces and preserves—from jellied fig and walnut relish to fig and watermelon preserves…fig butter and fig/apple spread.

For the adventurous, who want to try something different, there are recipes for a roast pork with figs and apples, or perhaps you might want to try a Medieval Meatball recipe.

I checked with both Amazon.com and Alibris.com—because I was startled to discover that A FRESH LOOK AT FIGS has maintained a distinct value—possibly because so little has been written about figs.  Amazon.com has pre-owned copies starting at $8.00.  A new copy starts at $35.00.  Alibris.com has copies, all starting at $35.00 and up. It originally sold new for $18.95.

A FRESH LOOK AT FIGS was originally published in Australia where author Pamela Allardice was editor of NATURE AND  HEALTH MAGAZINE and was a regular contributor  to AUSTRALIAN COUNTRY STYLE and HOUSE & GARDEN. At the time A FRESH LOOK AT FIGS was published, Allardice had written ten other books with fascinating titles – LOVE POTIONS and MOTHER KNOWS BEST.

Southern Californians may find themselves with a fig tree—last year I discovered that a fellow bowler on the league I had joined –had fig trees. Hers are a different variety from the black mission figs we had in Arleta—these are a small green fig—but they ground up the same way in a blender and I was able to make strawberry fig jam, often called Mock Strawberry Jam.  If you enjoy figs—or even have a fig tree, you might want to find a copy of A FRESH LOOK AT FIGS—worth the price if only for the well-written history.

–Updated Review by Sandra Lee Smith

My blog 10-21-13

BOUNTIFUL OHIO

BOUNTIFUL OHIO, subtitled “Good Food and Stories from where the Heartland Begins”  by James Hope and Susan Failor, and published by Gabriel’s Horn in Bowling Green Ohio, (1993) is the kind of book you will read again and again, with heartland recipes to refer to time and time again.

I hardly know where to begin—this book is so jam-packed with information and recipes.

Mr. Hope is rightfully Professor Hope; he taught at a university in rural Ohio. A native New Englander, James Hope set out, one summer, along with professional home economist Susan Failor, to “discover” Ohio.

Cincinnati, Ohio, is my birthplace; I was a native buckeye up to the age of twenty-one when my husband, baby, and I set out to drive across country to California.  But Ohioans never forget their roots and I have spent many summers, with my children, visiting relatives and friends in Cincinnati suburbs.

During those summer vacations, we made numerous trips to the famous chili parlors for platters piled high with Cincinnati chili, a concoction like none you have ever eaten. (A Four Way consists of spaghetti, topped with Cincinnati chili, chopped onions and grated cheese, topped off with oyster crackers. The best place to go to is Camp Washington Chili Parlor).

We ate wonderful German sausages with sauerkraut, farm-fresh sliced tomatoes and sipped Ohio’s famous Meier’s wine….so imagine my delight, discovering BOUNTIFUL OHIO—An entire cookbook devoted not only to recipes                              and foods cherished by Buckeyes, but filled, also, with the foodlore of Ohio.

I always knew that Cincinnati was famous as a meat-packing town, most notably Kahn’s, just as I always knew that Proctor and Gamble’s first company was located in Cincinnati. What I didn’t know is that P&G owed its origins to the meat-packing industry, too, that candle maker William Proctor and soap maker James Gamble married sisters and combined forces to form one of the most successful American business enterprises ever. This business owed its foundation to the fats and scraps collected from meat-packing plants.

Comment the publishers, “The recipes in this book range from cheesy cornbread to Sara’s Amish dressing and from Firelands Braised Beef Noir to Di’s Ohio sour Cherry Pie (winner of the best pie in America). They are the wholesome flavors of good food from home in Ohio”.

I also discovered an apple maple chutney recipe that I can’t wait to try, and along with an authentic recipe for Johnny Marzetti, the story behind its origins.  If you have very many regional cookbooks in your collection, you most likely have an assortment of Johnny Marzetti recipes, with Marzetti spelled many different ways. Here, then, is the true story behind Johnny Marzetti.

While not a community cookbook, BOUNTIFUL OHIO is definitely a regional cookbook, a book you will thoroughly enjoy and treasure for many years to come, whether or not you are from Ohio–or neighboring Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia or Pennsylvania.  While numerous books have been published, extolling the virtues of Midwestern cooking, few have delved so deeply to explain why it is so good.

In the Preface, James Hope and Susan Failor write “You don’t have to travel far to go a long way in Ohio: the state is so diverse—geographically, economically, ethnically—but the scene outside your window changes constantly. Sometimes that makes it hard for Ohioans to figure out just who they are—but it intrigues and delights the authors of this book, and is one of the reasons we decided to write it…”

The authors say they’re glad they did. Being interested in food, they ate their way from border to border and found a lot of it, in a variety ranging from five star virtuosity (The Maisonette in Cincinnati that held that rare ranking for decades, closed its doors in 2005).

The authors say that Ohio is one where farm and cookie factory literally exist side by side.  Ohio is smaller in land area than 33 other states, so it packs a surprising amount of agriculture and industry into a small space.

“Midwesterners that they are,” write Hope and Failor, “Ohioans don’t toot their own horns much. But Ohio ranks among the nation’s top ten or twelve states in corn, soybeans, wheat, fresh vegetables, dairy products, chickens, egg, hogs and vegetables for processing. It does more than grow food, too; it also processes vast amounts of ketchup, pickles, soup, ice cream, Swiss cheese, cereal and many other things. Most people don’t realize what an efficient little cornucopia this state is…”

The authors owe the success of BOUNTIFUL OHIO to all the people listed at the end of the book—farmers, grocers, chefs, food processors, homemakers, extension agents, professional government officials and dozens of other Ohioans who helped them write this book.

Chapter One is titled “IN SEARCH OF BOUNTIFUL” and Professor Hope explains that he took to the road in mid-August, a few days after teaching his last class of summer session at a university in rural Ohio and was now free for a year, on leave to do research of the kind that is supposed to add to the world’s body of knowledge. He would do that, but had something else in mind, too.

He says that like William Least Heat-Moon in BLUE HIGHWAYS and Ishmael in MOBY DICK, Hope was in search of something. While those writers were trying to fill gaps  in their souls, he was hoping to fill a different kind of vacancy—he was looking for good things to eat.

(Many books have been written in the past three or four decades about finding good food to eat throughout the USA—I know because I have collected a lot of those books–but this was the early 1990s and a lot of those books hadn’t been written yet).

Professor Hope confessed that after years of gulping quick lunches between classes, he was hungry and intended to eat leisurely and well—but there was a deeper purpose to this as well. He had a theory (as professors often do) that food, and the search for it, would help him come to know Ohio, perhaps become even more of an Ohioan.

Culture, he writes, is all the things a people value—it is how they establish their identity, their sense of who they are, their uniqueness. Culture, he says, is art, music and literature but it is also film, furniture, car ornaments, roller coasters and merry go rounds. And, says Professor Hope, it is food. Especially food: our foods are among the common statements of who we are; we create and consume them all day long. (I would have said it’s also our cookbooks. In the mid 1960s when I first began collecting cookbooks, I started with a church cookbook my father bought from a co-worker at Formica. Dad bought several copies of this Cincinnati Methodist church cookbook, for my sisters and my mother and me.  I cherished that cookbook and began to wonder if there were of it “out there.”  I have learned a great deal over the years about places from the cookbooks published by churches and clubs).

Professor Hope says that getting to know this place and its culture—to become part of it—was important to him.  He had lived in Ohio for more than a decade and a half, but still felt like a New Englander, someone from away. “I couldn’t blame the Ohioans,” he writes, “they seemed friendlier than the taciturn Yankees with whom I was raised.  The problem was this: I had never really taken the time to get to know the place, and Ohio seemed more like an address than a home.”  (This is something I can relate to—when we first came to California in 1961, I didn’t feel like a Californian. We returned to Ohio in 1963 for the birth of our second son, Steve, – but before the year was over, I knew we had to return to California. Ohio was no longer my home. I had somehow become a Californian).

But, back to James Hope and BOUNTIFUL OHIO – in which he says that New Englanders know exactly who they are and they have the sights, the sounds, the ancestors and the flavors to prove it to you, whether you ask them or not. They claim a sense of place as birth right and have all the materials for it. Professor Hope says he grew up surrounded by mountains and Indian trails, Revolutionary War battlefields, home ports for clipper ships and brooding houses with small-paned windows that concealed secrets.

Further on he writes how, in the sixth decade of his life, he knew where he had been; he did not know where he was now and meant to do something about it.

There is a great deal more to the Preface to BOUNTIFUL OHIO but I would be remiss to write too much of it and take away from you the experience of seeing my home state of Ohio from another’s eyes. (I have been seeing Ohio through my birthright eyes and then, later on, I began seeing Ohio in a different light—becoming more appreciative as I got older and would visit places with one of my brothers or one of my nephews. With my brother Bill over the span of several years – we visited Hale Farm and Cuyahoga National Park, as well as Stan Hywet mansion in Akron, Ohio. This is a 65 room Tudor style mansion built in 1912 by Goodyear Rubber company founder F.A. Seiberling and his wife.  It was touring the house and gardens that made me realize how much I love old houses. Curiously, the house is not named after a person, as commonly believed, and it took 4 years to build at a cost of $150,000.

You can spend a lot of time reading BOUNTIFUL OHIO—it’s the kind of book to read a little at a time, relishing all the history—and the recipes!

BOUNTIFUL OHIO can be purchased on Amazon.com at one cent and up for a pre owned copy.  Mine is a softcover (oversized) cookbook.   A great addition to collectors of regional material.

Alibris.com has pre-owned copies of BOUNTIFUL OHIO starting at 99c.

A great regional cookbook to add to your collection!

Review by Sandra Lee Smith

 

 

 

JANE & MICHAEL STERN, COOKBOOK AUTHORS

The concept may have originated with Duncan Hines, but Jane and Michael Stern have forged a career out of traveling throughout the country and then compiling cookbooks about the foods they have tasted while traveling hither and yon.  And I suspect, being a writer myself, that some of the non-cookbooks written by the Sterns were offshoots of their travels and research into the cookbooks they have been writing for more than a few years now. I know that when I am researching one thing, others pop up and you fish around for some paper and pen or pencil to jot down other ideas that surface. Some of the books appear to be a nod towards favorite people or topics.

In 2003, I reviewed a beautiful Cookbook titled THE LOUIE’S BACKYARD COOKBOOK” by Jane and Michael Stern, with recipes by Doug Shook. This compilation at the time of publication in January, 2003, was the latest in a series from Rutledge Hill Press of Nashville, Tennessee, celebrating America’s best regional restaurants.  Louie’s Backyard is a restaurant, located in Key West, Florida. While I lived in North Miami Beach, Florida, for three years, I’m sorry to say I never made it to Key West. Louie’s Backyard Cookbook makes me yearn to go.

That said, a number of other cookbooks, well-compiled with beautiful dust jackets have been created by the Sterns. These include:

*THE BLUE WILLOW INN COOKBOOK/Voted Best Small-Restaurant in the South by Southern Living Readers, published in 2002;

*THE DURGIN-PARK COOKBOOK/Classic Yankee Cooking in the shadow of Faneuil Hall, also published in 2002;

*FAMOUS DUTCH KITCHEN RESTAURANT COOKBOOK/Family Style Diner Delights from the Heart of Pennsylvania, published in 2004;

*COOKING IN THE LOWCOUNTRY FROM THE OLD POST OFFICE RESTAURANT/Spanish Moss, Warm Carolina Nights and Fabulous Southern     Food, also published in 2004;

*SOUTHERN COUNTRY COOKING FROM THE LOVELESS CAFÉ/Fried Chicken, Hams, and Jams from Nashville’s Favorite Café, published in 2005;

(Asterisk denotes the cookbooks in this series that I have.   But to get a better picture of what Jane and Michael Stern were writing before they latched onto the concept of the series named “A Roadfood Cookbook, Celebrating America’s Best Regional Restaurants” we have to go back in time.  In my collection, I have the books preceded with an asterisk. To date, this is the list of literary accomplishments achieved by the Sterns, possibly incomplete. Mostly, I searched on Google for titles I didn’t have, checked for titles in the ones I do have, and then ended up in Amazon.com ordering half a dozen more.  The books I ordered should be coming in the mail anyday now.

Here is a list of books written by Jane and Michael Stern:

TRUCKER: A PORTRAIT OF THE LAST AMERICAN COWBOY, 1975 Jane Stern only. One critic wrote: “like many early 70’s books on culture of the USA, it was written with heavy realism with nothing hidden-no gloss. The tone is reverent but lays out all the harsh realities of truckin’, great photos, great poetry, almost punk. 70’s graphics set the tone to this gritty ode to the “last American cowboy”. a REAL slice of American pie”.

ROADFOOD, 1977, 8th edition in 2011,Roadfood: The Coast-to-Coast Guide to 700 of the Best Barbecue Joints, Lobster

AMAZING AMERICA, 1978 – out of print (and hard to find), described as: Unusual, interesting, and extraordinary sights, events, and attractions throughout the United States, ranging from the Campbell Museum in Camden, New Jersey, to the Calaveras Jumping Frog Jubilee in Angels Camp, California.

AUTO ADS, 1978

DOUGLAS SIRK, 1978, Michael Stern only (Sirk was a film director who was born in Germany to Danish parents, raised in Denmark but moved to Germany when he was a teenager. He started his film career in 1922 but left Germany in 1937 because of his political leanings and his Jewish wife. He made numerous films, including Magnificent Obsession in 1954 and All That Heaven Allows, in 1955)

HORROR HOLIDAY/Secrets of Vacation Survival, 1981

*SQUARE MEALS/AMERICA’S FAVORITE COMFORT FOOD COOKBOOK,  published in 1985 reprinted 2001

JANE AND MICHAEL STERN’S COAST TO COAST COOKBOOK: REAL AMERICAN FOOD, 1986

ELVIS WORLD, 1987 – Has been described as a vast universe defined by all that Elvis stands for: the music, of course, and the movies, the life and the legend, but also the cascade of material things he collected and consumed (from pink cadillacs and the cheeseburgers to diamond rings and Graceland), the glitter and the mammoth success (one billion records sold, more than anyone else in history starting with its four page-gate fold title page, this book is bursting with rare photographs, with wonderful Elvis memorabilia (1950s fans magazines: “Elvis – Hero or Heel?”  Elvis wallets, Elvis handkerchiefs, Elvis bedroom slippers with the Elvis with the Elvis phenomenon as it exists today. Elvis Presley has become an American symbol as recognizable as the American flag. He is a landmark in almost everyone’s life, and his image continues to mesmerize. Elvis has transcended his previous status as merely the most popular entertainer in history, and “Elvis world” explains and revels in this phenomenon. With affection and wit – and a touch of irreverence – the Sterns guide us through Elvis world, showing us an Elvis we’ve never seen before. –This text refers to an alternate hardcover edition.

*A TASTE OF AMERICA, published in 1988

STERNS GUILD TO DISNEY COLLECTIBLES VOLUME 1 by Michael Stern,  published in 1988

SIXTIES PEOPLE, 1990

JANE & MICHAEL STERN’S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF POP CULTURE, VOL 2 1990

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF BAD TASTE, 1990

*AMERICAN GOURMET, published in 1991

WAY OUT WEST, 1993

*HAPPY TRAILS: OUR LIFE STORY BY ROGER ROGERS, DALE EVANS, JANE AND MICHAEL STERN, 1994

STERNS GUILD TO DISNEY COLLECTIBLES VOLUME 3 by Michael Stern,  published in 1995

*EAT YOUR WAY ACROSS THE U.S.A. published in 1997 (My favorite Cincinnati eatery, Camp Washington Chili, is featured in this book)

THE BEATLES, A REFERENCE & VALUE GUIDE, Barbara Crawford & Michael Stern, 1998

DOG EAT DOG: A VERY HUMAN BOOK ABOUT DOGS AND DOG SHOWS, 1998

TWO PUPPIES, 1998

CHILI NATION, 1999

*UP A COUNTRY LANE, BY EVELYN BIRKBY, JANE AND MICHAEL STERN 2000 (This title came to my attention when I was writing about old time radio programs, WHEN RADIO WAS KING – Don’t touch that Dial” (June, 2009)

*BLUE PLATE SPECIALS AND BLUE RIBBON CHEFS: THE HEART AND SOUL OF AMERICA’S GREAT ROADSIDE RESTAURANTS, 2001 (does not have the logo of “a Roadfood Cookbook Celebrating America’s Best Regional Restaurants”- it appears that the logo was adopted and appears for the first time on the Blue Willow Inn Cookbook-sls)

*THE BLUE WILLOW INN COOKBOOK/Voted Best Small-Restaurant in the South by Southern Living Readers, published in 2002;

*THE DURGIN-PARK COOKBOOK/Classic Yankee Cooking in the shadow of Faneuil Hall, also published in 2002;

THE HARRY CARAY’S RESTAURANT COOKBOOK: THE OFFICIAL HOME PLATE OF THE CHICAGO CUBS, 2003

AMBULANCE GIRL:  HOW I SAVED MYSELF BY BECOMING AN EMT, 2003, Jane Stern only

*FAMOUS DUTCH KITCHEN RESTAURANT COOKBOOK/Family Style Diner Delights from the Heart of Pennsylvania, published in 2004;

*COOKING IN THE LOWCOUNTRY FROM THE OLD POST OFFICE RESTAURANT/Spanish Moss, Warm Carolina Nights and Fabulous Southern     Food, also published in 2004;

ELEGANT COMFORT FOOD FROM DORSET INN: TRADITIONAL COOKING FROM VERMONT’S OLDEST CONTINUOUSLY OPERATING INN, 2005 (with Sissy Hicks)

*SOUTHERN COUNTRY COOKING FROM THE LOVELESS CAFÉ/Fried Chicken, Hams, and Jams from Nashville’s Favorite Café,  also published in 2005;

FRIENDLY RELATIONS, a novel, published in 2005

*TWO FOR THE ROAD/Our Love Affair with American Food, published in 2006

ROADFOOD SANDWICHES: RECIPES AND LORE FROM OUR FAVORITE SHOPS COAST TO COAST, 2007

500 THINGS TO EAT BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE: AND THE VERY BEST PLACES TO EAT THEM, 2009

THE LEXICON OF REAL AMERICAN FOOD, 2011

CONFESSIONS OF A TAROT READER: PRACTICAL ADVICE FROM THE REALM AND BEYOND, 2011, Jane Stern only

Obviously, not every book compiled by the Sterns is a cookbook! For those who like to compile a complete bibliography of favorite authors, this should give you something to work with. I counted 39 titles. One of the articles I read in Google lists more than 40 books.

Jane and Michael Stern, who are both baby boomers born in 1946, got their foot in the door by writing books about travel and food (after college graduation, neither one could find employment in the fields they had majored in).

They may be best known for their “Roadfood” books, website and magazine columns, such as the now defunct GOURMET MAGAZINE, for which they were staff writers for 18 years. The Sterns have won many awards, including three James Beard awards and the James Beard Perrier-Jouet Award for lifetime achievement. They were inducted into the Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America, in 1992. (When I first began delving into their titles, my first impression was that my younger brother Bill, also born in 1946, would appreciate the Sterns’ early books more than I, being a baby boomer himself. But the deeper I delved, the more fascinated I became.

The Sterns met as graduate students in art at Yale University, married in 1970 – and much to my surprise, divorced in 2008. While they now live in different cities, they continue to write and travel as a team, despite the divorce.  The Lexicon of Real American Food was published in 2011, the same year that Jane published CONFESSIONS OF A TAROT READER, based on her long-standing (but little known) career as a tarot card reader. And, although my blog articles focus primarily on cooking, cookbooks, recipes and favorite cookbook authors—I find myself intrigued by the titles of the Sterns collective or individual non-cookbook accomplishments.  It’s almost like thinking you have known somebody for a long time and suddenly discover there are layers of other interests, like the layers to an onion.

Normally, I would give you ordering information on various cookbooks—but there are too many titles to do this. I suggest, if you are interested in one of these titles, that you visit Amazon.com or Alibris.com (many of their cookbooks can be purchased very reasonably); I obtained a lot of my information on the Sterns’ books from these websites and Google. or, read my post Louie’s Backyard Cookbook, posted in June, 2012 on this blog for a sample of their  “Roadfood”  series.

Review by Sandra Lee Smith