Category Archives: FAVORITE COOKBOOK AUTHORS

SEARCHING FOR META GIVEN…AND NOW WE KNOW THE REST OF THE STORY

I’ve posted this before–letters continue to come in from people all over the USA who remember Meta Given’s cookbooks with great fondness and, in some cases, are trying to find one of them. This is what I wrote:

Originally on February 14, 2011, I wrote the following blog post: “Abe of Abebooks.com asked 500 customers who owned a cookbook that had been given to them by a family member to tell the story about their handed down culinary companions. He wrote, “Those old, splattered, battered cookbooks found on kitchen shelves are also treasured family heirlooms in many cases. According to research by AbeBooks.com, Irma Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking is the cookbook most frequently handed down through the generations. The books often spanned several generations of cooks and had huge sentimental value. In 96 per cent of the cases, a grandmother, mother and mother-in-law had handed over the book to the next generation. The books tended to have a long history within each family – 58 per cent of the cookbooks were more than 50 years old. Thirty eight per cent of the current owners said they had owned the book for more than 30 years…”

Well, recently I had the opportunity to hold in my own two hands a copy of JOY that had belonged, for decades, to my sister-in-law, Bunny Schmidt, who passed away from cancer of the esophagus in 2012, about eleven months after my partner Bob passed away from the same disease. It’s a battered and stained Joy, exactly what Abe Books was talking about. I am delivering it to my niece Leslie in a couple weeks. She is the oldest child of my brother and sister in law, Bunny.

The cookbook I grew up on, and learned to cook from, was – as I have written before in Sandychatter—an Ida Bailey Allen Service cookbook that I believe my mother bought for a dollar at Woolworth’s. (I now have that very cookbook, which is certainly battered, tattered and stained. Years later I searched for, and found, more pristine copies).

When I was a teenager, a copy of Meta Given’s “The Modern Family Cookbook” appeared in our family bookcase (a little cherry wood bookcase with glass doors, that my younger sister now has). 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. I began a Google search:

Margi Shrum of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote the following in April, 2009 “I spoke last week to a group of parents of special-needs children, and the conversation turned to old cookbooks. Egads, I love them. My favorite is one my late mother used, “Meta Given’s Encyclopedia of Cooking,” which seems to have been first published in 1947. I have the 1955 edition. It’s chock-a-block with antiquated stuff. I never, and you shouldn’t, use the techniques for canning or preserving foods in these old books, and I am never going to make Muskrat Fricassee (calls for one dressed muskrat. If I could picture what a muskrat looked like I’d picture it dressed in top hat and tails. Carrying a cane). But there’s also a lot of useful stuff in this book, which is in two volumes and has 1,500 pages. I’ve tried loosely over the years to find information about the author but to little avail. She was of some note in the 1940s through the early ’60s, if the popularity of her cookbooks is any indication. Her first was the “The Modern Family Cookbook,” published in 1942.”

Margie adds, “The encyclopedia’s foreword says Ms. Given grew up on a ‘Missouri hill farm’ learning to cook with the limited foodstuffs available to her. She then studied home economics and became involved in developing and testing recipes, and in writing about nutrition, shopping and kitchen equipment. Her foreword to my edition — purchased on eBay and immediately chewed on by my golden retriever puppy, who smelled food — was written from Orlando in 1955….”

May I add that the foreword also states that Meta Given..” had good food (growing up) but little variety. The women were forced to be resourceful in presenting the same simple foods in a variety of interesting ways. She watched food grow on her family’s farm and worked to help it develop into a sound and abundant harvest. She learned to store and preserve a summer’s plenty to last through the winter months. And she acquired from her parents a deep appreciation for the goodness of earth’s bounty…”

Sure enough, Volume II of Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking” offers a recipe for Muskrat Fricasse—as well as recipes for antelope, deer and beaver. It also has a recipe for Hasenpfeffer which I won’t ever be trying. Hasenpfeffer was the bane of my childhood. If you came home from school and smelled it cooking, you knew we were having it for dinner and there was no escape.

Also offered in Volume II are recipes for raccoon, squirrel, woodchuck and turtle. Meta lost me at “evisceration and removal of feathers, removal of fur….” But you know what? Of all the comprehensive cookbooks in my collection, these are surely the most detailed (everything you ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask? I wasn’t afraid to ask—I just never wanted to KNOW).

Elsewhere on Google, someone wrote, “My mother was only 17 years old when she got married. Somewhere in that time, she was given a special two volume cookbook set called Meta Given’s Encyclopedia of Modern Cooking. It was a true cookbook of the 50’s, offering advice so basic, the author must have assumed many of her readers couldn’t boil water. Until Julia Child altered my mother’s views on food, Meta Given’s was the only cookbook in our home. The recipes were so simple and straightforward, I learned to cook from them at a very young age. By the time I was nine years old I could make real fudge, basic one-bowl cakes, quick breads, and peanut butter cookies all by myself. I also learned to make a pumpkin yeast bread when I was slightly older. Over the years my mother’s Meta Given’s cookbook disintegrated into a pile of loose pages. However, I was able to track down a used set several years ago. Although most of the recipes seem outdated, it was quite an experience just holding the cookbook while childhood memories rushed back…”

The following single line clue was also found on Google: “When not penning cookbooks, Ms. Given—I don’t think she’d approve the title, but an extensive Google search fails to reveal her marital status— taught Home Ec at the University of Chicago in the post-World War II years…”

Maybe Meta Given tired of teaching in Chicago and returned to her home in Missouri. We may never know- but if you are interested in finding her books, there are umpteen sites to choose from as you browse through Google.
I have the following:

• The Modern Family Cook Book published in 1942
• Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking Volumes 1 and II published in 1947
• The Modern Family Cook Book, published in 1953

As well as the following, which I do not have:

• The Art of Modern Cooking and Better Meals: recipes for every occasion
• The Modern Family Cook Book New Revised Edition
• The Modern Family Cook Book by Meta Given 1968
• The Wizard Modern Family Cookbook
• Delicious Dairy Dishes

On August 10, 2011 someone named Don posted the following comment:

Hi Sandy, Please let me know if you ever find out what happened to Meta Given. I have been going through some old family letters and it turns out that my great aunt, Helen Swadey, was her assistant in the 40′s and 50′s. She would help with the writing and arranging the final meals for the photo shoot. Thanks! Don

I sent Don the following message: “Hi, Don – how interesting that your great aunt worked for Meta Given! I HAVEN’T learned anything more than what I wrote but maybe someone will read this and write, if they know anything else about her. Oddly enough I have had emails from a number of people, in response to other cookbook authors I have written about – so there’s always a possibility that someone will see the inquiry and shed some light on this prolific and excellent cookbook author. Now, that would have been a job I’d have loved – assistant to Meta Given! Let me know if you learn anything else.

On February 2, someone named Brenda sent the following message to my blog:
I am preparing a Birthday Party for my mother who turns 80 this July. We are having a picnic theme, and we are replacing my mother’s Meta Given Cookbooks with a better set. The sisters of the family are HUGE fans of Meta Given, and I am trying to find anything out about her to have it framed for my mother to put in her kitchen. She raised all of us girls using this cookbook and we all have copies!! I know I am a little late adding this comment, but can you or anyone help me out? Sincerely, Brenda

On February 22, 2012, Karen wrote the following message: I had to comment because one of my earliest memories of Thanksgiving is my mother and grandmother quoting Meta Given about making turkey gravy: “You can only make so much fine favored gravy.” I haven’t even looked at the recipe in years, but must admit that I do know how to make fine flavored gravy and I don’t even eat gravy! Thanks Meta. I have my grandmother’s copy. My mother still has and uses her own copy. My oldest daughter has her other grandmother’s 2 book set. Over the years, I have managed to collect one of the single book editions for my sister and two copies of the 2 book sets for my sisters-in-law. Just recently, I finally got the single book edition for my youngest daughter. We are a family devoted to Meta Given, which is why I found your blog. I was looking for some information about her and started to do some research. So, if you find out anything else about her, I’d be delighted to hear it and then I will in turn share it with the rest of the family. Thanks!

On February 25 2012, Neil sent the following message: I’m a 44-year old single guy who grew up with a mother who occasionally whipped out this tattered, index-missing BIBLE. I have no other name for it… other then the BIBLE that was in our kitchen. Meta Given’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking. The version I’m most familiar with is the single volume gem published in 1955 on its EIGHTEENTH printing (35,000 copies). My mom was inspired by the “White Sauce” in that book – creamed onions were a Thanksgiving tradition. Like most people who are reading this, when I finally understood the power of Google I FINALLY had a chance to have my own copy of this piece of history – it’s WAY more than a cookbook and we all know it. I paid almost $200 because I just had to have it. Since then I purchased a “backup” copy – you know… just in case. That one is in a safe room where the temperature and humidity is just right. A few years ago I stumbled upon a dessert recipe that blew me away – Lemon Chiffon Custard on page 746 in my book. “A puffy cake-like topping and a creamy custard bottom layer.” OMG”

On May 2, 2013, Janice King Smith sent the following message: “According to census reports she (Meta Given) returned to her hometown of Bourbios, MO, and later relocated to Florida. Being from the general area, I was happy to have The Modern Family in my collection and enjoy seeing the differences between how she prepared the meal versus what we were taught by my grandma who lived during the same time frame literally 3-4 hours away from each other.”

On May 24, 2012 Anna wrote the following message: I am doing a little research on Meta Given… My Mother’s maiden name was Given. I was told Meta Given was a Great Aunt of mine from Missouri that wrote cookbooks, and I have all copies of her cookbooks, and learned to cook from them. The books I have were been passed down through the years from my grandmother..Ruby Given, to my mother Anna Jane Given, and now to me. I will be passing them on someday to my children and grandchildren!

On June 22, 2012 Gil wrote the following: I have the 1953 version of Meta Given’s Modern Family Cookbook. I turn to this book when I need to know how I should cook a vegetable that won’t be listed in most cookbooks and I have more than 100. I am going to cook turnips today and I want to know a cooking time. I recently checked in this book for a cooking time for beets. I have two of these books but one is so battered that I am afraid to open it.
Gil Wilbur Claymont,DE.

Now, many months later, after years of searching and speculating about the unknown later life of Meta Given, my new-found friend, Bonnie Slotnick, who owns a cookbook store in New York** (see address at end of article) managed to unearth information about Meta that no one has been able to discover.

It turns out that food writer Jane Nickerson***, writing for the Lakeland Ledger in 1981, interviewed Meta and in an article that appeared in the December 10,m 1981 Lakeland Ledger food column, discovered “the rest of the story” –the details no one knew about Meta Given once she disappeared from the cookbook publishing limelight.

By Jane Nickerson, writing for the Lakeland Ledger on December 10, — wrote the following: “A few lines the other day in this paper reporting the death of Lakelander Meta Given in no way hinted the professionalism of that nonogenarian, [sic] author of the monumental, two-volume cookbook ‘Meta Given’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking.’

That brilliant work, published in 1947 by J.G. Ferguson and later distributed by Doubleday, contained in its 1969 edition 1,665 pages, 71 tables and charts, 230 photographs in black-and-white and color, 2,906 tested recipes and more than 200 drawings. Considerably in excess of a million copies are now in use.

Born and reared on a farm in the Ozarks, where, as she once put it, ‘my parents had no money,’ Miss Given remained throughout a vigorous life essentially modest and straightforward.

At 15, she had finished her own education, or so she thought, and was teaching in a rural grade school. Later she instructed high-school students in physics, chemistry and agriculture.

But she began to feel she needed more training. In 1916, she enrolled in the University of Chicago to study a subject still in its infancy at that time—home economics. She went on to work for the Evaporated milk Association, developing recipes for that trade group. Then came a stint as food editor of the Chicago Tribune”.

“But the Depression came along,” Meta told Jane in a 1975 interview, “and in 1931, the Tribune fired me. By that time I had my own test kitchen and staff and was also doing freelance work in recipe development and food photography for Kraft and other companies.

“I couldn’t fire my staff. But the jobs that came along were spasmodic, and so to keep my people busy, I started them working on a household cookbook.” In 1942, J. G. Ferguson, a Chicago printer whom Miss Given had consulted, published the “Modern Family Cookbook.” From it, the encyclopedia developed.

A heart attack in the late 1940s persuaded Miss Given she should pursue a quieter life. The tall, spare, broad-shouldered woman, with a coronet of white hair, wound up her hectic career in Chicago, and retired to Florida, where, among other things, she grew oak leaf lettuce and developed recipes for pies using loquats and other local fruits.

Her inborn modesty made her hard to interview. Among the first “career women” in this century, she wore her accomplishments lightly, and could not understand why anyone should be especially interested in recording them.

This article was unearthed for us by Bonnie Slotnick of Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks 163 West Tenth Street New York, New York 10014-3116 USA –so if you are searching for your mother or grandmother’s tried-and true-cookbook you might want to contact Bonnie.

Happy cooking and happy cookbook collecting!

UPDATE! May 10, 2015

If you have ever read the above, which was posted on my blog February 11, 2011, under the title “Searching for Meta Given”, you will no doubt notice the many readers who have written about Meta Given – – mostly people who had her cookbooks or were looking for them.

*why the red italics? Because, I thought—it was because Meta couldn’t bring herself to fire her staff during a particular stringent period, she put them to work on a cookbook – a cookbook which turned out to be the nucleus of the two volume cookbooks published in 1947, that people are searching for still, today. Some of whom are paying big bucks for! But I get it. As all of you know, you who have some of Meta Given’s cookbooks—they are timeless, recipes you can follow from start to stop without wondering if it will turn out right. And there is hardly a topic that Meta doesn’t write about!

**Looking for a particular old cookbook? Contact Bonnie Slotnick at bonnieslotnickbooks@earthlink.net or at 163 W. 10th Street, NY NY 10014-3116

***Jane Nickerson, food writer for the Lakeland Ledger also wrote a cookbook about Florida food and recipes. Jane passed away March 2, 2000. She was employed as a food writer from 1973 to 1988 for the Lakeland Ledger.

–Review by Sandra Lee Smith with a special thank you to everyone who ever wrote to request or provide information. A special thanks to Bonnie Slotnick whose culinary sleuthing provided “the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey would say.

=–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

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

MORE COOKBOOKS YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT

It never fails to amaze me how many cookbooks are “out there” that I didn’t know anything about. Not only that, but some of my cooking magazines publish articles such as “Top 100 COOKBOOKS OF THE LAST 25 YEARS” and “TOP 100 COOKBOOKS OF THE LAST 25 YEARS”—or another one “OLDIES BUT GOODIES” and when I go to put these lists in some kind of date order, I constantly come up short.

I think the article OLDIES BUT GOODIES came from ALLRECIPES—their list, thankfully, is short and the authors suggest these would make good bridal shower or graduation gifts but point out that, if you buy a current JOY OF COOKING cookbook for a bridal shower, it won’t be the same as the original JOY (which I have written about on my blog—that being said, a few years ago, Joy was published in a facsimile edition. You can have a new copy of an old favorite.

The selection of OLDIES BUT GOODIES published by Cooking Light are:

THE SILVER PALATE by Julie Rosso and Sheila Lukins, Workman publishers, $23.

THE ART OF SIMPLE FOOD NOTES, LESSONS AND RECIPES FROM A DELICIOUS REVOLUTION, by Alice Waters, Clarkson Potter, $35

ALL ABOUT BRAISING: THE ART OF UNCOMPLICATED COOKING, by Molly Stevens, W.W. Norton publisher, $35

THE SPLENDID TABLE’S HOW TO EAT SUPPER: RECIPES STORIES, AND OPINIONS FROM PUBLIC RADIO’S AWARD WINNING FOOD SHOW, by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift, Clarkson Potter Publishers, $35, and

BAKING FROM MY HOME TO YOURS by Dorie Greenspan, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, publishers, $40.

Well, this list makes me feel like a poor country cousin. Of the five, I am only familiar with THE SILVER PALATE—and I was under the impression that the authors had a falling out—but when I Googled the title, I discovered that Sheila Lukins passed away in 2009, so that may explain my misconception. While on Google, I discovered that THE SILVER PALATE Cookbook celebrated its 25th anniversary, so it’s been around a while. I am fairly certain that I have a copy of THE SILVER PALATE but I have no idea which edition I have—or where to find it.

MY BAD! The bulk of my cookbooks are in categories; if I don’t know which category to put it with, I am pretty much at a loss.

I do have a separate collection of favorite cookbook authors—but if its not one of my favorite cookbook authors it could be anywhere.

I know about The Splendid Table, having listened to the Public Radio’s program but I confess, I’m not an avid listener. That’s all I can say about the list in Allrecipe’s OLDIES BUT GOODIES—but the article tells us that these have stood the test of time and that “while the recipes may not always take the fastest route from raw to cooked, they certainly take the reader from novice to confident home cook in a matter of weeks”

and FYI – many roads lead to Rome; if you don’t want to spend $35 or $40 for one of these cookbooks, unless it’s a wedding or bridal shower present – you know I am an avid Amazon.com follower. They list over 300 copies, from one cent for pre-owned paperback to 44 cents for hardcover They are certain to have a copy that appeals to you and meets your spending requirements.
***
If you start to investigate the magazine COOKING LIGHT’s list of the TOP 100 COOKBOOKS—it’s easy to get lost in lists. They write:
“As we contemplate turning 25, we decided to pick our favorite 100 cookbooks, which we’ll unveil over the next year across 15 categories. We looked at best-seller and awards lists, and talked to editors, authors, and experts. For consideration, books had to be published in the United States since 1987 and either be in print or easily available online. Winners emerged after passionate debate about voice, originality, beauty, importance, and a clear mission or vision. Yes, we tested the recipes. Finally, we asked: To whom would you give this book? (Probably another Cooking Light reader: Our research shows you are omnivorous cookbook consumers.)

There is Cooking Light’s TOP 100 COOKBOOKS OF THE LAST 25 YEARS –
PART unknown
PART 2 unknown
PART 3 HEALTHY COOKBOOKS
PART 4 ASIAN COOKBOKS
PART 5 FRENCH COOKBOOKS

The COOKING LIGHT lists overwhelmed me, I confess. The publishers came up with 15 categories which had to meet the Cooking Light stringent requirements. MY BAD again—I don’t think I was a Cooking Light subscriber throughout all of their categories.

It has taken me almost 800 words to make a point. And not only am I unfamiliar with virtually all of the cookbooks featured in COOKING LIGHT, I don’t plan to get on Amazon.com and start buying them. For, as many of you know, the bulk of my cookbooks are club-and-church titles for that was my specialty in 1965 when I began collecting cookbooks. Back in the day, those were harder to find than they are now—and once the Junior League cookbooks became popular, they became more readily available.

Here, then, are my next five titles for you to think about—and #1 is a Junior League cookbook. Its title is MOUNTAIN MEASURES by the Junior League of Charleston, West Virginia. MOUNTAIN MEASURES was first printed in 1974. By its tenth printing in 1994, over 150,000 copies of MOUNTAIN MEASURES had been printed. Its theme was pioneer women, her recipes, arts and crafts.

I was initially drawn to MOUNTAIN MEASURES because my mother-in-law had been born and raised in Bluefield, West Virginia. I assume her husband, who died of lung cancer in 1957, had also been born there. Her husband, whose name was Paul Sanford or Sanford Paul Smith, went to Cincinnati to make a better living. My mother in law, whose name was Bertha, liked to tell the story of her traveling to Cincinnati by train, and she was so weak when they got there, that she had to be carried, in a quilt, off the train. Aside from poor health, she gave birth to three children – two sons and one daughter. Her youngest son, James, was my husband for 26 years. In his mother’s eyes, he could do no wrong. And despite her poor health, she lived to be ninety-something years old.

I was often tried, beyond tolerance, to put up with the family’s (particularly his mother’s) belief that Jim was too frail to be a proper husband much less hold down a full time job—as I write this, he is going on 78 years old and still going strong. He remarried about ten years ago.

Despite our being at cross purposes most of the time, I learned how to make biscuits and gravy from my mother in law, the proper way to make cornbread and beans (always pinto beans) and other “down home” favorites.

From MOUNTAIN MEASURES I found a lot of later day recipes, such as Crystallized Ginger Cream Cheese Dip, Parmesan-on-Rye Canapes, one of my favorite recipes – Pickled Shrimp which is so easy to make up in advance, and several recipes for corn bread – Double Corn Corn Bread and Grandmother Kiser’s Corn Bread. There are also recipes for Corn Pone, Hush Puppies and Johnny Cake, Dr. Maggie’s Old Fashioned Spoon Bread and Cornbread Dressing. There is an 1890 recipe for smoked turkey and a recipe for Leather Britches (string beans that had been dried) and many more recipes sure to become your family favorites.

So MOUNTAIN MEASURES is one of my favorites and ranks #1 on this list. Pre-owned copies are available for just under $3.00 each on Amazon.com. Not sure if this is one you need to own, you might check Amazon.com for a copy published by Quail Ridge Press. One of the features of Quail Ridge Press is that they provide an index of the cookbooks featured in each of their cookbooks, along with a photograph of each of the featured cookbooks, most with ordering information. **
The next one I like and is #2 has the unusual title of A TWISTER IN THE KITCHEN, by Chris Snyder. The author says “the name of this cookbook is a little odd so I figured it deserved an explanation. I love to cook. Even more than that, I love to cook for other people. Elizabeth used to tell her boyfriends, “My mom has a need to feed”” Strangely enough, having the need to feed others is actually a symptom of an eating disorder. Go figure…” (and everyone who knows me well knows I have a need to feed, too.

I think it’s related to a need to keep a pantry (and refrigerator and freezer) packed. My daughter in law, Keara, and I had a discussion about this—which she shares with me. It has to do with growing up in a home where there was never enough to eat. We had meals—but there was seldom enough for seconds or leftovers. In my mother’s kitchen, when I was growing up, you also had to ask the others if they wanted a bit of leftover peas or corn or whatever. If someone else wanted some, it had to be shared. My best example of what fed seven people (five children and two adults – this was before Susie & Scott were born) – my mother would feed everyone with one can of salmon that was 14 or 15 ounces, out of which she made salmon patties that may have been mostly crushed crackers than fish. Meatloaf was the same – a pound of meat had about a loaf of bread incorporated into the mix. We didn’t know what real meat tasted like until we became adults and moved out of the house.
But getting back to A TWISTER IN THE KITCHEN, Chris uses one of my favorite phrases—she continues, “Anyway, I digress. When I begin to cook, “ she writes, “I make sure the kitchen is very clean, neat and tidy before I begin and my goal is to finish one task, clean up and then begin another. However, its kind of like binge drinking. Once I get started, it’s like a whirlwind, or…a twister has been released in the kitchen. It begins with a slow building storm and soon I’m in such a flurry that I can barely have anyone in the same room with me as I dash from one location to the next, spoons dripping ingredients flying and pots boiling over. It’s almost like a trance I slip into. I am completely unaware of my surroundings. I’m just creating a path of destruction wherever I turn…” (this is where Chris lost me—because when I cook, I am cleaning up after myself as I go along.)
She goes on to say the food does turn out great, but when she puts the food into the refrigerator and turns to examine the kitchen, it’s an enormous mess.

This is not how I cook and when I put a meal for the family on the table, all there is to clean up are the plates and serving bowls, pots and pans. I prefer to clean up the kitchen by myself because I am very picky about the process – silverware and glasses first, then plates, then pots and pans. I don’t have a dishwasher and it’s unlikely I will ever own one; my kitchen counter is the same counter put in with the house when it was built in 1955. I need a couple more inches to put in a dishwasher(per my son who works on appliances and knows these things).

For that matter, I don’t think my 1955 kitchen plumbing would tolerate a dishwasher. (When I had a repairman here to fix the sink, he observed that it was all “the original” from 1955. Not a good sign.

But getting back to A TWISTER IN THE KITCHEN, granted that Chris and I have nothing in common when it comes to keeping our kitchens clean; that being said, I think we are kindred spirits when it comes to recipes. I was pleased to find a recipe for pomegranate martini—a very simple recipe, at that, and Hot Dip For an Army can be made in your largest crockpot. The author notes that leftovers—if you have any—can be frozen and reheated later. I like the sound of BLT Dip too. Corny Bean Salsa sounds like a winner too. Her recipe for Honey Roasted Pretzels sounds like something I will make up—it calls for 9 cups of mini pretzels and I have 3 bags of them on hand from a previous addiction to Hidden Valley Ranch pretzels, a recipe from my friend Sylvia. These and many other mostly easy to fix recipes will keep you busy—either reading or cooking. I was unable to find A TWISTER IN THE KITCHEN on either Amazon.com or Alibris.com—so if you happen to find a copy at a book sale or where ever, snap it up. ***

I have referred to the BEST OF THE BEST cookbook series from time to time –The concept was an unusual one and highly successful. Gwen McKee and Barbara Moseley set out to write a cookbook about all fifty states—for instance, I am looking at BEST OF THE BEST FROM OHIO and it is #3 on my favorite five list.

The two women traveled to all fifty of the states (one at a time, presumably) and once they were in a State – such as Ohio – they set out to collect as many church and club cookbooks from that state as they could find—and then would choose what they considered the finest from a collection of those cookbooks. The recipes would be collated into a cookbook, along with an index and a catalog of contributing cookbooks—and, when possible, ordering information for those cookbooks. When the Best of the Best first began publishing their cookbooks, my friend Mandy and I were not satisfied just to buy the Best of the Best cookbook—we began ordering many of the church and club cookbooks that became a part of the BOTB cookbook. The problem with collecting cookbooks is that the collector is never satisfied with just the cookbooks – we are addicted to cookbook lists or cookbook catalogs (I can spend hours reading cookbook catalogs such as the ones Edward R. Hamilton publishes.

I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and consequently, have searched for Ohio/Cincinnati cookbooks whenever I am visiting family and friends—one year when I took the children to Cincinnati to spend the summer at my parents’ home, I bought so many cookbooks that we packed them into boxes. We took the Greyhound Bus back to California because there was no restriction on the weight of your baggage. A redcap assisting my husband at the train station in downtown Los Angeles inquired “what you got in here, lady? Fort Knox?” to which I replied “No, just cookbooks….lots of cookbooks.” Fortunately, at the time we had a station wagon and all the boxes fit into the back of the car. Those summer trips to Cincinnati with my sons—and trips downtown to find used book stores with my kid brother who was a teenager at the time—are some of my favorite memories. For, when it comes to collecting books – whether they are cookbooks or biographies, fiction novels or history—part of the joy is in the search and finding something special.

You can find BEST OF THE BEST FROM OHIO on Amazon.com new for $7.33 or pre-owned starting at 09 cents (bearing in mind, shipping will cost you $3.99 for a pre-owned book). Still, a little over $4.00 for a cookbook like this one is a good deal. I think I have all of the BEST OF THE BEST COOKBOOKS. I know that Gwen McKee and Barbara Moseley have gone on to compile second editions of some of their cookbooks—for instance, there are two of Texas and two of Oklahoma. There may be others by now that I am not aware of. The BEST OF THE BEST series are amongst my favorite cookbooks. **

That being said, BEST OF THE BEST FROM OREGON is also a favorite and is #4 on this favorite five list.

I acquired an Oregon penpal back in 1974; we are still going strong forty years later. They have visited me (Bev and her husband LeRoy) more often than I have visited them. In 1978 we had a camper and my husband and children—and I—visited their farm in Oregon for the first time.

I didn’t make it back to Oregon until 2007, when we spent one day visiting lighthouses, and again in 2012. I had planned to visit them this year, 2014, and even had my plane tickets purchased—when an unexpected illness knocked me for a loop. I was in the hospital for 2 weeks and recuperating for the next three months.

Blackberries grow in wild abundance in Oregon. My friends have blackberries growing wild across the back of their property. Bev would bring me bags of frozen puree of blackberries or whole frozen blackberries. Blackberries have become my favorite fruit, whether for making jam or putting into recipes.

BEST OF THE BEST FROM OREGON offers recipes for blackberry apple pie, blackberry butter, blackberry dumplings, blackberry roll and blackberry apple crunch—but if you aren’t as crazy about blackberries as I am, you may want to try a recipe for rosemary-blue cheese potatoes, zucchini patties or zucchini fritters, asparagus chicken or cranberry chicken.

If you travel to Oregon (and not just drive through it on I-5, you will find, as noted in the Preface, “Home in the mountains, home in the plains..…stretching majestically across the state’s north/south expanse, the Cascade Mountains, create two separate regions, offering a dramatic topographical diversity to the state’s landscape…”

When I was there in 2007, we drove over the Cascades –and found it snowing; we drove out of the snow to nice sunny weather on the other side. The authors of BEST OF THE BEST FROM OREGON also note that east of the Cascades are highly productive farmlands overflowing with potatoes, carrots, etc. My friend Bev makes good use of all the fruit and vegetables they produce; she cans everything that isn’t nailed down.

During my 2012 visit she was making homemade V8 juice upon my arrival —so we went out and bought me a case of quart jars so we could make a batch of V8 juice for ME—and they brought it with them when they visited me in January. But tomatoes aren’t the only thing she cans—and that weekend, her family came to celebrate our joint birthdays and make apple cider. (I made a batch of Cincinnati Chili to feed her family on that occasion).

There’s something for everyone in BEST OF THE BEST FROM OREGON. It’s an excellent go-to cookbook for something new and tasty for you to try.

My fifth (and #5 on this list of favorite cookbooks) is a Gooseberry Patch cookbook. If you aren’t familiar with the series of Gooseberry Patch cookbooks, you are really missing out. I think I counted over 60 titles yesterday; a lot of them are Christmas topics but there are many other titles as well.

I am referring today to their cookbook DINNERS ON A DIME—it’s one of my favorites because of all the thrifty inspired recipes. I submitted a recipe to Dinners on a Dime and it was accepted for publication. If you submit a recipe and they accept it – you receive a free copy when the books are published.

The recipe I submitted was my Aunt Annie’s Chicken Paprika. I even found one for Roosevelt Dinner that was the contributor’s mother in law’s famous recipe. She had found Roosevelt Dinner in a newspaper many years ago. What caught my attention is that this contributor lives in Ravenna, Ohio, where my brother Bill also lives.

But DINNERS ON A DIME offers a great deal more than just my aunt’s chicken paprika and/or someone named Amy’s Roosevelt Dinner. The first chapter is devoted to Shoestring Suppers but there are Hearty & Thrifty Soups, Cent-sational Sides. Slow-Cooker Savings, Penny-Pinch Pantry Staples and a lot more. I think DINNERS ON A DIME is about the 6th Gooseberry Patch cookbook that I received free—you can submit some of your favorite recipes to http://www.gooseberrypatch.com – then wait and see if you get a letter congratulating you for your entry being chosen.

Gooseberry Patch is also on Facebook, if you are interested. I love the Gooseberry Patch cookbooks so much that I often give them for Christmas or birthday presents. I misspoke on my count of the spiral bound Gooseberry Patch cookbooks – I also have about a dozen oversized books, mostly dedicated to the holidays. You can order their books directly from their website – for example, DINNERS ON A DIME is listed on Amazon.com for $11.53, new, or $4.26 also new, or starting at 73 cents from a private vendor—but prepare yourself, when you see all the other titles published by Gooseberry Patch.

That concludes five of MY favorite cookbook titles you may not know about!

–Sandy

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

CHRISTMAS ON THE FARM

Christmas on the Farm, edited by Lela Nargi, is a collection of favorite recipes, stories, gift ideas and decorating tips from The Farmer’s Wife. First published in 2011 by Voyageur Press, it is a beautiful hardbound book to add to your favorite Christmas collection.

In the Introduction, Lela Nargi writes “The Farmer’s Wife (which is enjoying a resurgence of popularity for the past few years—Nargi has been publishing a number of “Farmer’s Wife” cookbooks, all available to check over on Amazon.com)– was originally a monthly magazine published in Minnesota between the years 1893 and 1939. In an era long before the Internet and high-speed travel connected us all, the magazine aimed to offer community among hard-working rural women, to provide a forum for their questions and concerns, and to assist them in the day-to-day goings-on about the farm—everything from raising chickens and slaughtering hogs, to managing scant funds and dressing the children, to keeping house and running the kitchen.”

“Christmas was the be-all, end-all celebration on the farm—more than Easter, New Year’s or even Thanksgiving,” she writes. “This quintessential holiday of giving and togetherness gave rise to pages and pages on the topic in every December issue of the magazine. And these pages weren’t just about food—although recipes for all the various components of dinners and parties and holiday gift baskets certainly abounded. The magazine’s experts expounded on the best and latest ways to decorate home, tree, and parcels. Its monthly columnists devoted themselves to the matters of home-made gifts for family and friends, and games to be played to festively capture the spirit of the season. Its readers wrote in with tales of Christmases in other lands, in times gone by. Its editors rhapsodized in and out of two wars, on the value of peace and compassion.”

“In short,” Lela explains, “The Farmer’s Wife” presented its own opinion—both grand and humble, broad and minute, and always, always bearing in mind the idea of community among its readers—about the ways in which Christmas should be celebrated…”

CHRISTMAS ON THE FARM presents, with nostalgia, a way of life that has to a certain degree disappeared from the American landscape and lifestyle. The book starts off with the Christmas, 1920 issue of the magazine (you’d have to be a mentally alert ninety-three year old citizen to remember that decade);

Lela writes, “To those who live in the land of snow and Christmas trees, the twenty-fifth of December blends all its associations with the gleam of snow on hills and fields and woods, the fragrance of fir and pine, the leaping light of Christmas hearthfires. But Christmas is a world-wide day and the environment determined by climate is but an external.

They tell us, too, that ‘Christmas on the Farm’ is the only ideal Christmas. The Farmer’s Wife carries its Christmas message into all zones, from Florida, to the frozen North and from its own home in the corn belt to the edges of the continent where the oceans roar out their accompaniment to the carols of the good, glad day. It is a message of love, and faith and cheer as befits a Christmas message of love, because love is always the winner of faith, because without that staunch quality, nothing would ever be accomplished, of cheer, because when we have love and faith, the flame of cheer follows as a  matter of course—as light follows the burning torch….”

I may have been born in the wrong period of time—as I read and typed the above, it crosses my mind that this message would be “politically incorrect” in the world we live in today. You can’t even say “Merry Christmas” – you have to say “Happy Holidays”—and let me say that I say MERRY CHRISTMAS at every opportunity in December. But I digress.

Curiously, in 2010, I wrote a series of poems for a poetry group I belonged to, under the umbrella heading of “An American Childhood” and I will share one of these poems with you. Mine were written before CHRISTMAS ON THE FARM was published, so I’m not stepping on anybody’s toes.

Christmas Dinner in 1929 presented its readers with an illustration of the proper way to set your table and follows with an assortment of beverages to serve your guests—from Fruit Punch taken from the January 1913 issue of The Farmer’s Wife to a Cranberry Cocktail from the 1934 issue and including a November 1937 recipe for Cranberry Gingerale Cocktail. To go along with the drinks are an assortment of hors d’oeuvres starting with Candied Nuts from the January, 1913 issue of The Farmer’s Wife but includes recipes for a relish plate (November, 1934) to a Cheese and Cracker Tray (also from the November, 1934 issue (in recognition, perhaps, for readers who might not know where to begin with cheese and crackers or preparing a relish plate) but offers as well a recipe for Cheese Puffs ((July, 1922) or pinwheel cheese biscuits (October 1926)—or, to my amusement, a 1919 Pigs in Blankets recipe…a recipe that is updated and still around 94 years later (think: Pillsbury crescent rolls and hot dogs cut into smaller sizes to fit the dough)—it makes me wonder if the Pillsbury Crescent rolls with hot dogs was a Bake-Off recipe way back when! There are also several recipes for oyster hors d’oeuvres which at one time were enormously popular—not so much today.

What follows next is a selection titled Table Talk, which presents inexpensive recipes for Yuletide Dishes; Main Courses featuring roast goose roast duck and turkey recipes, an impressive chart of all the correct dishes to serve with your selection of a holiday bird makes it easy for the cook to plan the entire meal easily. There are recipes for baked spiced ham, crown roast of lamb—even a curried rabbit (not my favorite meat but certainly had to be a familiar sight on the farmland table, especially during hard times. Under a chapter titled Smorgasbord, taken from the December, 1937 issue of the Farmer’s Wife, is a recipe for meat balls for your smorgasbord, followed by many still great side dishes, from a French Dressing for salad (October, 1911 issue of the Farmer’s Wife)—over a hundred years ago—as well as a Sweet Cream dressing for salad published in 1934, and red dressing for head (Iceberg) lettuce from November, 1924—but all of the salad recipes would be doable today, most for a fraction of the cost, considering that most of the recipes in Christmas on the Farm cover decades of the Great Depression plus two world wars. –the exception might be a recipe for Lobster salad—but it might interest you to know that lobster and other shell fish were affordable throughout World War II. And these were items that were not rationed during the war. And, most of the vegetable and salad recipes were made up of items grown on the farm—Glazed Carrots from the January 1931 issue of the Farmer’s Wife, Creamed Spinach from the May, 1911 issue. These are just a sampling of the recipes found in Christmas on the Farm.

The Desserts found in Christmas on the Farm are mostly simple, inexpensive such as January, 1910’s Lemon Floating Island or November, 1926’s Chocolate Blanc Mange I, a Prune Souffle fro October, 1923 or a Prune and Raisin Pudding from November, 1926, Apricot Whip from February, 1919 or a January 1911 Cranberry Pudding. Still under Desserts is an interesting story  from 1937 titled “She Sells Fruitcake”, a story that began fifteen years earlier with a  young housewife who built a career empire making and selling fruitcakes. There are recipes for fruitcakes and its cousin the Steamed Pudding plus an Eggless Fruit Cake that was made up mostly of spices, raisins and coconut—certainly a welcomed recipe in January of 1913. You’ll also enjoy reading “A Farm Woman’s Christmas Cakes” which appeared in the December, 1925 issue of the Farmer’s Wife.  There are also recipes for candy and cookies, too—candy recipes that are still popular today—toffee and fudge, creamed walnuts and maple pralines from December, 1916—plus many more.

For the farmer’s wife with little cash resources, there are oodles of directions for gifts she could make—even directions for building “Dolly a House” that was published in December, 1921. There are also directions for making many other gifts, however.

By the way, you will love the 20s,-30s,40s illustrations throughout the book. It’s really like stepping back in time with CHRISTMAS ON THE FARM.  Who among all of us would have kept the monthly magazines published throughout those decades? (Apparently, someone did!)

Christmas on the Farm is a beautiful holiday book with a most attractive red cover and is sure to please anyone who buys a copy.  I was lucky enough to receive a copy from my penpal, Betsy, in Michigan—but I checked with Amazon.com; they have several paperback copies starting at $11.98 but listing a new PB copy for $15.27.   Alibris.com has copies starting at $11.98.  If you can get one of the hardbound copies, go for it – it will hold up to years of thumbing through to find your favorite recipes or new ones for you to try.  I’m looking forward to trying some of these recipes this Christmas season.

Merry Christmas, 2013!

–Review by Sandra Lee Smith

As promised, the following is one of my 2010 poems from a collection I called “An American Childhood”.

WHEN IT’S CHRISTMAS ON THE PRAIRIE

By Sandra Lee Smith, 2010

Come winter on the prairie and as far as you can see,

Snow makes a great white blanket across the endless prairie sea,

Pa gets the big sleigh from the barn and greases up the blades,

To make the pulling easier for the horses, on the grades.

 

Mama takes out the oldest blankets, that help to keep us warm,

Pa checks the sleigh most carefully, to keep us all from harm.

Then snug in mittens, scarves and coats that mama made from wool,

Pa takes us every morning to our little country school.

He stays a while to help our teacher fill the old wood bin,

She thanks him with a curtsy, brings out the gentleman in him.

We students hang our coats and things in the cloak room at the back,

And teacher claps her hands and says, “Since Christmas’s coming that—

 

Today we’re going to decorate a tree that kind Mr. Mc Clune

Went up north to get for us and will bring it to us soon,

For now we’ll all make popcorn garlands and chains of colored paper,”

And from a box she lifts up a silver star—nothing had escaped her.

 

No reading, writin’, rithmetic, no studying today!

We’re going to decorate a tree and enjoy a day of play;

On Christmas Eve our families will come to see the tree,

And Santa will come and give us each a bag of candy, free!

 

“Tain’t no Santa,” One of the big boys in the back row shouted out,

The little girls in front began to shriek and cry and pout;

My younger sis is with the little girls that were in tears.

I knew I had to do something to take away their fears.

 

You take that back!” I said with fists clenched, ready for a fight,

When teacher intervened and said “Now, boys, this isn’t right. 

On Christmas we all celebrate the birth of Christ the King,

George, you say you’re sorry and we’ll all forget this thing.”

 

Then teacher told a story, while we cut and pasted rings,

As we made a garland for our tree, she told of many things,

Of the birth of one small baby, in a manger far away,

And how folks far away and near remember Him on this day.

 

She told about Saint Nicholas who filled the wooden shoes,

Of all the good Dutch boys and girls to remember this Good News,

She said how now, we all remember Jesus in this way,

And all of us remember Him on every Christmas Day.

 

The big boy, George, he was abashed, and said he didn’t mean it,

But he had no ma or pa and no Santa Claus would visit;

He lived with one old aunt who had no time for foolishness,

No time for trees or holly, for Santa Claus or Christmas.

 

On Christmas Eve our families came and crowded in the room,

We’d cleaned our desks, the blackboard, and candles chased off gloom,

Then Santa came and brought a sack, and we all lined up to get

A little bag of peppermints, a night we’d not forget.

 

When all the candy had been passed out, Santa stood upright

And asked, “I wonder if a boy named George is here tonight?”

George came forward and I noticed that his face had turned beet red;

As he said “I’m sorry, Santa, I really didn’t mean to be so bad.”

 

“Oh, I know that!” Santa laughed, “Why, I know what’s good and true,

There’s just one gift I have to give, and George this one’s for you!”

And from his burlap bag, he reached and handed George a box;

George opened it and all of us heard him gasp with shock;

 

Inside the box there was a very fine Swiss army knife;

George’s eyes lit up with wonder, “I’ve wanted one all my life,

But,” he said, “I never told this to a single living soul!

Santa patted him on his shoulder and said “Oh, George, I know!”

 

We all shed tears and teacher said “Let us sing a song of praise,

That we all remember this night all our living days.”

And so we sang, then hurried home in the cold night with elation,

Before we left, I heard my ma extend a special invitation.

 

George said he didn’t think his aunt ever would agree,

Ma said “I won’t take no for an answer; dinner is at three.”

And so next day, George and his aunt and our teacher came for dinner,

That all of us told mama was so fine and sure a winner.

 

In the parlor there were presents for sis and George and me,

Scarves and mittens ma had stitched and it was plain to see

That no one had done this much for George in all his sorry life,

“Scarves and mittens!” George exclaimed, “And a fine Swiss Army knife!”

 

We all sipped hot tea with cookies ma had baked, just for this day,

And our guests all carried home tins of cookies wrapped so gay,

Before we went to bed that night, I heard my mother whisper,

“You dear old Claus, I do believe, I’d like to kiss your whiskers!”

 

Years later, when my pa was old frail and could not see,

I ventured then to ask him what had long been bothering me,

How could you know,” I asked him, “About George and that army knife?”

Because,” he said, “I wanted one, most of my own life.”
George married my kid sister and they have a bunch of boys;

Their farm is off in Kansas and sis tells me it’s a joy,

For George just loves his rowdy bunch, for them he’d give his life,

And every one of those young boys owns a fine Swiss Army knife.

–Sandra Lee Smith, 2010

 

A FEW OF MY FAVORITE CHRISTMAS COOKIE COOKBOOKS

The first cookbook I want to bring to your attention is THE GOURMET COOKIE BOOK, which features the best single recipes from each year in Gourmet magazine, from 1941 to 2009. The book was published by Conde Nast Publications in 2010 and is offered by Amazon.com with a wide range of price variations – if I remember correctly, I might have bought my copy about a year ago and I didn’t pay very much for the book – and probably got free shipping as I go for free shipping whenever possible.

Gourmet magazine’s demise also was a factor—since we won’t be reading the magazine anymore, it seemed logical to me to read whatever books are published under Gourmet’s umbrella.

In acknowledgements, we learn something about the birth of the Gourmet Cookie Cookbook—that it took a few people who were relatively new to Gourmet to realize what an extraordinary resource* (italics mine) the editors had. Several editors came up with the idea of featuring the best cookie recipe from each year of the magazine’s existence.

They tell us “It was not until executive food editor Kemp Minifie began trolling through the archives that we really understood that this was more than a fabulous collection of cookies; it also told a very American story.  It was no accident that every one of us found excuses to spend time in the kitchen while test kitchen director Ruth Cousineau—who threw herself boy and soul, into baking the cookies—was immersed in the project. These cookies were not only delicious; they are also a fascinating window into history that none of us wanted to miss..”

And as wonderful as the cookies were all by themselves, the editors say, “it took the passion and inspiration of creative director Richard Ferretti, associate art director   Kevin DeMaria, and photographer  Romulo Yanes to make them dance. Their vision has made this book a delight to look at…”

They also confess that in the end, the book would not have been possible without Gourmet’s devoted readers, who sent their cookies, their recipes, and their comments, for so many years.  “This book belongs to you,” they conclude, “and we thank you for it.”

For those of us who cannot cook or bake without a visual idea of what the cookie (or cake, dessert, appetizer or prime rib dinner) should look like—the table of contents will make you swoon. There is a delightful photograph of each year’s chosen winner, starting with 1941.

*I often muse longingly on that extraordinary resource buried – wherever the Gourmet magazines and accompanying research material are now stored, while wondering what editor Ruth Reichl is doing now. I was a subscriber for many years – then let my subscription lapse – because I didn’t feel that the magazine spoke to me any more. When Ruth Reichl joined Gourmet’s editorial staff – I re-subscribed – in part because I cherish and love her books, in part –because whenever she writes something, I feel like she is speaking to me. That is, I think, a gift—and one I try to impart on the readers and subscribers to my blog, Sandychatter. When someone writes to me and tells me I am speaking to them – I feel that I have learned something precious from Ruth Reichl – as well as the other cookbook authors  whose work I admire – Marion Cunningham, M.F.K. Fisher, and Jean Anderson, to name a few.

In the Introduction to The Gourmet Cookie Book, the editors tell us “Buy a cookie, and it’s just a bite of sugar, something sweet to get you through the day. Bake a cookie, on the other hand, and you send an instant message from the moment you measure out the flour. Long before they’re done, the cookies become a promise, their endlessly soothing scent offering both reassurance and solace. And even the tiniest bite is powerful, bringing with it the flavor of home. for anyone who is comfortable in a kitchen, a warm cookie is the easiest way to say I love you.

Somewhere in the back of our minds, we all know this. It is the reason we bake cookies at Christmas, why we exchange them as gifts. Not for nothing do we pack up our cookies and send them off to our far flung families. Like little ambassadors of good will, these morsels stand in for us. There are few people who don’t understand, at least subconsciously, how much a cookie can mean…”

But until the Gourmet editors began to work on THE GOURMET COOKIE BOOK, it had never occurred to them to look at history through a cookie prism. When they decided to select the best cookie from each of Gourmet’s sixty-eight years and became captivated, not surprisingly, by the language of cookies, so they printed the recipes as they originally appeared. In the early years, they write, the recipes were remarkably casual—as anyone who has collected cookbooks for decades would know.  (Church and club recipes from decades ago were especially casual). Write the editors “[it was a kind of] mysterious shorthand that assumes every reader was an accomplished cook who needed little in the way of guidance…”  “Bake in a moderate oven until crisp” is a classic instruction, they tell us.  They thought it interesting to watch as numbers crept into the recipes in the form of degrees, minutes and cups…”

[if I am not mistaken, it was Fannie Farmer who standardized recipes with measurements back in the day when she had a cooking school].

Following the Introduction, one of the most interesting I have ever read, there are two pages of Recipe Tips, with good suggestions—some that even I didn’t know.

The first chapter is the 1940s,  in which the editors write, “1941 was an unlikely time to laundry an epicurean magazine. War was looming along with the possibility of food rationing, but Gourmet’s founder. Earle MacAusland, convinced that soldiers who had spent time in Europe and Asia would be loath to come back to meat loaf, saw an opportunity.  Little wonder that Gourmet, published from a penthouse at the Plaza Hotel, concentrated on sophisticated fare. Cookies did not figure into the equation and the few recipes that the magazine published leaned towards old-fashioned American classics like wafers and sugar crisps, with a couple of European treats…”

Check out “Cajun Macaroons”, a crisp, chewy little cookie introduced in an early 1941 issue in which we also discover that Louis P. DeGouy became Gourmet’s Chef.  (I wrote about Chef DeGouy in Sandychatter – he was chef at the Waldorf Astoria for 30 years and was one of the founders of GOURMET magazine; see TRACING THE LIFE OF LOUIS P. DE GOUY posted in april, 2011 Sandychatter blog post. I am frequently nonplussed by the number of famous cooks/chefs/cookbook authors who—although prominent in their day—have all but disappeared from our culinary landscape – sls)

The next featured cookie is an icebox treat—the war was on and sugar was rationed. Actually, it was the first item to be rationed.  Wanting to do its patriotic bit, Gourmet magazine printed an article showing readers how to use honey in place of sugar. [Although one reason sugar was rationed was due to it being made in Hawaii—which, as we know, was bombed in Pearl Harbor at the onset of World War II, but it was also an ingredient used in making gun powder!  I discovered this when doing research of an article of mine, called HARD TIMES).

Gourmet provides us with a cookie called Honey Refrigerator Cookies which does contain a small amount of brown sugar but also contains half a cup of Honey.  This is followed by a recipe called Scotch Oat Crunchies; Gourmet Magazine and everybody else were trying various recipes using oatmeal and this recipe, which produces a small round cookie that you pair up with your choice of filling – dates, raisins, figs or whatever.  I think I will have to make a batch of these. They sound wonderful and I’m speculating that they would travel well if you send cookies to relatives or a favorite serviceman or woman. Another good traveler, advises Gourmet, is a cookie called Cinnamon Sugar Crisps, from Gourmet’s entire column called “Cookie Jar”.

The first postwar cookie to appear in Gourmet is one called Date Bars. Write the editors, “The recipe appeared in one of the many articles about Katish, a remarkable Russian cook who had many fans including M.F.K. Fisher who comments “I think I have copied every one of her recipes as they’ve appeared…”—and OMG, now I have discovered yet another great cook who appears in one of the Modern Library Food books published by Ruth Reichl in 2001 and containing an introduction from Marion Cunningham. The book was originally published in 1947, written by Wanda Frolov, under the title, “KATISH, OUR RUSSIAN COOK”—just another author I have never heard of before.

The next recipe that I am charmed with, this from December 1946 is Moravian White Christmas cookies, which I can’t wait to try.

If you only buy one more Christmas cookie cookbook in your life, check out THE GOURMET COOKIE BOOK which is available on Amazon.com but be forewarned – when you type in this book title, Amazon will present it with many other cookie cookbooks that you may find irresistible.  It is also available on Alibris.com for as little as $2.43 for a new copy.

Ok, I’m ready to start mixing Christmas cookie dough!

–Review by Sandra Lee Smith