If you have been collecting cookbooks for any length of time, or gravitate towards any articles or references to cookbooks that you find on the Internet, in the newspaper –or anywhere else—you may have seen the oft-repeated comment from collectors, “I read cookbooks like novels” in a sort of perplexed way, like who does anything like this? The answer is WE ALL DO and our number is legion. I might have made a comment like this myself back in 1965 when I first started collecting cookbooks and really didn’t know where to go about getting started.
There was a magazine for penpals called Women’s Circle (not to be confused with Woman’s Day or Family Circle) – I wrote a letter to Women’s Circle trying to find a little Hungarian cookbook for a friend and as an afterthought, wrote that I wanted to start collecting cookbooks and would buy or trade for them.

I received over 200 responses when my letter was published; I found the Hungarian cookbook published by Culinary Press (ck) and bought one for my friend and one for myself. Then I began buying anything anyone offered me and it was the nucleus of my collection. I also began finding cookbooks in used book stores—I hadn’t been living in California long enough to be familiar with used book stores such as one in West Hollywood that was a treasure trove of cookbooks, many for only $1.00 each. It was there that I acquired a handwritten cookbook that the owner of the book store offered to me for $11.00. Now that is a cookbook I have read from cover to cover many times. I have also written about it on this blog (see Helen’s Cookbook first posted June 16, 2009, along with Helen’s Cookbook the Update and Helen’s Cookbook the Sequel) – now this was a revelation. I have been collecting recipe boxes for years and had discovered filled recipe boxes—recipes collected by someone else, like a kitchen diary) – and I began wondering if there might be more self-written cookbooks like Helen’s. Aside from the very famous hand-written cookbooks such as one created by Martha Washington or Thomas Jefferson and other notables, over the years other handwritten cookbooks have come my way, thanks to friends who know about my addiction to cookbooks such as these.

Each discovery is like traveling down an amazing road and every time you come to a crossroad—it leads to more incredible and fascinating discoveries, all due to starting a collection of cookbooks.

In 1965, I was barely starting a collection. It was a stellar year. I learned how to drive that year, and also acquired an Australian penpal, Eileen, and a Michigan penpal, Betsy, who are still both a part of my life. That was also the year I met Connie, who initially babysat for me—but became a lifelong friend who was also the godmother to my youngest son, Kelly. Her children were as much a part of my life as my own sons. Connie began collecting cookbooks too.
It was right about this time that I became interested in former Presidents and the White House, and Connie and I bought a “lot” of White House, American presidents, sight unseen, from someone for $100.00. We scraped together the money and when the books arrived, divided them between us. (My discovery that cookbooks and the White House/American presidents were connected – came much later and now those books take up several shelves in my bookcases).

So, it wasn’t very long before I was collecting not only cookbooks—but books about the White House kitchens and chefs, books about American Presidents and their families, and books about First Ladies (these take up an entire bookcase).

I’m not sure when I first became aware of an antiquarian bookseller in San Gabriel…she compiled an annual booklet, “200 Years of Cookery” and I bought some books from her—this was another revelation; the booklets were reasonably priced and became my wish books. I remember visiting her once at her home in San Gabriel; I don’t remember the year—or who drove me there. I can’t imagine Jim taking me there—and Bob was familiar with San Gabriel. I still have a 1974 copy of “200 years of Cookery” and only thought, last night, to look up Marian Gore on Google. I learned that she passed away in 2009 at the age of 95. It’s quite possible that I met her, at her home in San Gabriel, with Bob accompanying me. I met him in 1986 and around that time had begun to focus on cookbooks compiled by women’s clubs and churches.

However, I discovered that I was as interested in reading cookbook catalogues as I was in reading the cookbooks themselves. Edward R. Hamilton publishes catalogues of books –including those devoted solely to cookbooks.

I would begin collecting L.A. County Fair cookbooks in the 1980s when Bob and I began entering my jellies, jams, pickled cherries and cantaloupe in the annual fair competition. If your recipes won a first, second, or third prize ribbon, you were invited to submit your recipe for the next fair competition the following year. My curiosity was piqued and I began searching for the L.A. County fair cookbooks published before I began entering it – and I did find them….but I stopped collecting the books when I was no longer able to enter the fair or get to the fair when it was being held at the Pomona Fairgrounds.

But I was still curious – what about cookbooks published by other county fairs? And what about STATE FAIR ANNUAL COOKBOOKS? (To the best of my knowledge, Texas publishes the best State Fair cookbooks…at least they did when I was broadening my search for anything fair related). The glory of fair cookbooks is that they are always reasonably priced. And this, my friends, was one of those crossroads I mentioned earlier.

As for Helen’s cookbook, also mentioned previously—it was through a penpal living in England that I learned who Helen was and something about her life; she and her husband never had any children of their own, which probably explains how her exquisite handwritten cookbook ended up in a bookstore. What charmed me most were the detailed descriptions of her dinner parties, who was invited, how everyone was given a task to perform, and what she served to them—including the recipes.

And it was because of Helen’s cookbook that I began compiling 3-ring binders of recipes…some clipped from magazines, others from other sources—until there are now over 50 of these 3-ring binders stuffed full of recipes. There are twelve binders full of cookie recipes alone. But back in the 1970s I began keeping descriptions of MY own dinner parties, who was invited, what I served and how I prepared the various dishes. I think I kept these dinner party descriptions up until the 1980s when I came to another crossroad.

For years I collected gingerbread house recipes from magazines (all of which ended up in one of my 3-ring binders) until one year Bob and I decided to build our own gingerbread house; the first house we created wasn’t too great but the next one we built was a beauty. When a visiting four-year old great-niece broke off pieces of the chicklet fence, we decided not to re-build and fed it to the birds. Bob was a genius at working on graph paper to copy designs in the magazines to a bigger size. He would make and cut out all the pieces to the gingerbread house. Together we would create gingerbread dough and roll it out to lay the pieces down on the gingerbread dough, cut the pieces out and bake them. It was an enormous undertaking! I’m sorry now that we didn’t attempt to enter THAT into the L.A. County Fair. Well, that’s how I started collecting cookbooks devoted to the topic of gingerbread houses. There were a multitude of other gingerbread creations you could make, not just gingerbread houses. One year we attempted a gingerbread dollhouse that was featured in one of the houses. That was an unusually wet winter and the house sort of collapsed from the dampness. Since then, I buy kits for my grandchildren and me to put together and decorate. And I still like to read the gingerbread house cookbooks!

Do I read cookbooks like a novel? Absolutely. Doesn’t everybody?

–Sandra Lee Smith


We’re more than halfway into January and a couple more lists have come to my attention.  Well, one of them must have come in the mail encouraging me to renew my subscription to Rachel Ray’s Everyday magazine. Or maybe it fell out of one of her magazines—I don’t always remember how I acquire bits and pieces of stuff – like someone else’s list. This one was titled 12 Bites of Every Day Food Wisdom from Rachel.

  • Recipes: First Things First – Rachel instructs us to always read each menu or recipe through before you begin. It’s the best way to check out your ingredient list and get familiar with the steps. Good tip. I find myself checking the list of ingredients first, then reading through the recipe and then, often as not, I go back and re-read some vital piece of information, like yesterday when I was making pistachio dried cranberry ice box cookies for my daughter in law. I was well into the recipe when I asked myself “wait!  Where does the egg fit into this?”  Turns out the egg is just an ingredient that gets brushed onto the dough before it goes into the oven.
  • Shortcuts: sometimes Okay. Rachel tells us there are times when store bought items simply make sense. For example, she often suggests pre-shredded cheese and pre-cut veggies as options in her recipes. One of my favorite short cut ingredients is pre-made salsa, green or red, that comes in many sizes and varieties. I poured some into my chicken tortilla soup a few days ago to give it the kick that it needed.
  • Substitutions: Why Not? Rachel says personally she rarely uses them but it’s up to you. Substitute freely, she says, as you like or need. If you prefer reduced fat cheese and dairy products, she warns, be aware that the consistency of spreads, dips or sauces may be slightly thinner. I just want to add—my youngest son had to give up dairy for health reasons; I began buying soy-based shredded cheddar cheese for him; we tried different varieties until he found one the most palatable. Personally, I despise salt substitutes and would rather use less and stick to the real thing—well, we did graduate to sea salt.
  • Smell and Taste as You Go—Rachel says learning about food and flavor is part of developing as a cook. Bu tasting and sniffing your way through different types of recipes, your palate will play matchmaker and you’ll learn how to associate flavors and textures that complement one another. I thought this tip was just about as basic as anything you could learn at your mother’s elbow or in a high school cooking class—and I taste everything as I go. I keep a pan of hot soapy water in the sink to drop the spoons into so there’s no double dipping, but you know what? It amazes me how often a chef on the Food Network program CHOPPED (which I love) hasn’t TASTED his or her recipe as they went along. The judges often ask “Did you taste this?” knowing full well which contestants have or haven’t seasoned a dish. Those judges don’t miss much!
  • One-Fell-Swoop Washing.   After a trip to the market, says Rachel, unpack, rinse and re-pack greens—like parsley—in plastic bags with damp paper towels before storing in the fridge. It cuts prep time all week. And I want to add, I repack and freeze almost all meats that I buy in quantity. My daughter in law’s tip is to buy large quantities of boneless chicken breasts when on sale and then she repacks and freezes them in one quart size freezer bags. She always has the amount she needs on hand, and the one quart bags take less time to defrost.
  • SWEETENING SAUCE: To sweeten tomato sauce, says Rachel, don’t add sugar; add half a mince onion to the garlic beforehand. Let it soften and sweeten over medium low heat for 10 minutes, then add to your tomato products. I confess, this is a new one for me.  I can’t wait to try it.
  • PACKAGES BROTHS: Broths and stocks have come a long way in the last few years, says Rachel; not only with taste and consistency, but in terms of packaging. They now come in re-sealable containers found in the soup aisle. The proper containers make storage of remaining product super easy. Stock up. I have to agree with this but want to add that I search for any of these products to be  on sale and then stock up.
  • GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT. Rachel keeps a big convenient earthenware garbage bowl on the counter for everything from peelings to pits to plastic wrap as she is cooking. It saves steps and time by eliminating unsanitary and repetitive trips to the trash can across the kitchen and keeps junk out of the sink drain and out of your way. I want to add to that—before we moved to the high desert where it’s not exactly safe to have a compost in a coyote might visit your back yard—Bob had a large compost area in Arleta that was walled in. All the grass clippings and leaves went into the compost along with most compostable-items such as carrot and potato peelings. He had a steady supply of rich compost soil for planting.
  • E-Z SLICING-For easy slicing of raw meat, pop it  into the freezer for 10 to 15   minutes before starting to prepare the meat. This firms it up and you’ll find that it will be easier to control the thickness of slices. (all very true—sls)
  • CRUNCHY CAPERS. Roasting gives capers a new flavor. they become a little nutty and earthy and they pop when you bite down! I’d like to add to this that my favorite fish recipe is a white fish sautéed in lemon juice and sprinkled with lemon pepper—then sprinkled with capers.
  • Oil & Vinegar.  When dressing an oil and vinegar always put the acid (vinegar) on first before the EVOO. If you add the oil first, the oil keeps the acid from getting to the greens, and your salad isn’t really “dressed”.  My comment about this one? I never add any kind of salad dressing to salads; I put them on the table for everyone to add their own favorite salad dressing. The leftover greens stay fresh this way.

Happy cooking! Sandy


“Women have conserved a whole world, past and present, in the idiom of food. In their personal manuscripts, in locally distributed community recipe compilations, and in commercially printed cookbooks, women have given history and memory a permanent lodging. The knowledge contained in cookbooks transcends generations…”  – Janet Theophano

Janet Theophano is the author of a fascinating book titled “EAT MY WORDS”/Reading Women’s Lives through the Cookbooks they Wrote”.

Published in 2002 by PALGRAVE, a fairly new global publishing imprint of St Martin’s Press, EAT MY WORDS presents a new and entirely different slant on cookbooks.

How it came to be written is just as interesting as the subject matter itself, for Ms Theophano discovered what so many of us cookbook and recipe collectors ourselves have learned, that there is a lot more to be learned from a manuscript cookbook or a collection of recipes, in a small wooden box, than just recipes.

“Over the past ten years,” Ms. Theophano writes in the Introduction, “I have been researching manuscripts and printed cookery books from the United States and England from the seventeenth to the mid-twentieth centuries and finding myself constantly amazed by the richness of these sources…”

“Few of these materials,” she acknowledges, “are readily available to readers today; some have been kept in families as purely private documents, while others have languished in archives in manuscript form. Even those that were published are no longer widely known and now are generally available only in historical collections…”

Janet Theophano’s purpose in writing this book was first to make these materials known both to scholars and general readers, but also to open a window into the lives of women of distinct classes, cultures, and historical periods, who would otherwise be unknown to us.

What intrigues me most about the writing and publishing of EAT MY WORDS         is the author’s description of a spectacular find. So many of us, cookbook collectors, writers, and researchers alike, have experienced similar events that have charted a course for us. I know I have.

Theophano writes, “My interest in cookbooks began with a chance discovery over a decade ago when I was browsing in an antique shop and stumbled across a book of writings. When I opened it, I realized I had discovered a manuscript. At first glance, the handwritten book reminded me of a journal of poetry. When I looked more closely, I discovered that it was a collection of household advice: recipes for Lady Cake and Parker House Rolls, for instance, and folk remedies for flushing the colon and dyeing hair. Inserted between the pages were newspaper clippings of other recipes as well as a poem and a letter dated August 3, 1894, and addressed ‘My Dear’ and signed ‘kiss the babies for me. John.’ The volume also contained a section of clipped recipes pasted onto the pages of an early telephone directory…”

Janet Theophano bought the book for a dollar (be still my heart!) from the shop owner, she says, reluctant to ask for even that much money, which reinforces my belief that many such treasures are thought to be worthless and are thrown away. Ms. Theophano returned home and began to search her  new treasure for clues to the identity of the owner.

“I was struck,” she recalls, “not only by this book’s recipes with their titles and ingredients but other information contained within its covers. There were letters, poems, loose recipes on scraps of paper, devotional texts, and a list of books and rhymes…”

Even so, she was unable to learn the name of the author of her treasure, and she wondered how many books like this were anonymous and how many had been discarded, lost, or destroyed because they were considered unimportant.  How many were intended for publication? Or were they meant to be kept in families and given as legacies to children? Did women compile the keep these books as symbols of wifely and maternal devotion? Or as a way to give themselves identities apart from those roles? Were these books read? If so, by whom?

And so an idea was born, and since that time, Theophano has searched and bought a few nineteenth and early twentieth century published cookery and household books which in turn led to the writing of EAT MY WORDS.

You may recall one of my earliest articles for you was about “Helen’s Cookbook” which was the first manuscript cookbook I acquired more than 40 years ago in a dusty, crowded used bookstore on Western Avenue in Los Angeles, for $11.00.  I will always remember the price; it was the first time I spent that much money on something that wasn’t actually a published cookbook. Helen’s cookbook was a small-ring bound notebook with leather binding (now nearly worn away) with most of the recipes written in beautiful penmanship with a fountain pen, but also with recipes pasted on pages. The difference between Janet Theophano’s $1.00 find and mine is that I  DID discover the name  of the author of my manuscript cookbook and a great deal more as well. I wrote about Helen’s cookbook for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange and then on my blog. Writing on Sandy’s Chatter about Helen’s cookbook led to an exchange of emails and letters with a woman in England – who knew something about genealogy and with the bits and pieces of information I had found within the pages of the manuscript cookbook, my new friend Anna identified the woman (see Helen’s Cookbook, the sequel, posted in March, 2011) – now my favorite handwritten cookbook had an identity.  But the acquisition of Helen’s cookbook so many years ago led to a new quest for other handwritten cookbooks. And although I have acquired a number of manuscript cookbooks over the years, mostly with the assistance of friends and penpals, I have discovered that they are really hard to find and as a result, I began searching for old recipe boxes—the ones that contain recipes from someone else’s collection.  It can also be difficult finding recipe boxes with the contents intact- I think most dealers considered the contents of the boxes worthless and that no one would be interested in them so the recipe cards and clippings were often thrown away. [as a note of interest – I discovered, a few years ago, that filled recipe boxes have become a hot item on Ebay.]

But I digress, for this is Janet Theophano’s story, not mine – but I wanted to share with you what excited and thrilled me with the publishing of EAT MY WORDS. Somone scholarly has finally recognized what so many of us have appreciated for a long time.

At the time my original article was written for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, Janet Theophano was Associated Director of the College of General studies and adjunct faculty member in the Graduate Program In Folklore and Folklife and in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She was, I think, just the person to write EAT MY WORDS.

“First,” she writes, “I want to recapture some of these women’s previously undiscovered stories and the sensibilities of women whose lives would otherwise remain obscure—for some of the women who kept these books were only partially literate—and to demonstrate the richness and complexity of their experiences…”  She says she also wanted to expand the significance we usually ascribe   to cookbooks by considering them as worthy objects of serious and textual analysis.  And, as a folklorist training in an appreciation of aesthetic forms, she looks for the continuities in cookbooks as well as the transformations.

“Consequently,” she explains, “Women’s cookbooks can be maps of the social and cultural worlds they inhabit…”

The chapters within the pages of EAT MY WORDS cover a lot of ground, with titles such as “Cookbooks as Communities” and “Cookbooks as Autobiography”. There are numerous fascinating illustrations, including a copy of a letter found in a nineteenth century manuscript receipt book, which I think you will also find interesting. Readers who are also interested in bibliographies will be delighted with the one found  in EAT MY WORDS.

The author writes, “There is much to be learned from reading a cookbook besides how to prepare food…for me, leafing through a cookbook is like peering through a kitchen window. The cookbook, like the diary and the journal, evokes a universe inhabited by women…the stories cookbooks tell are about life and its sustenance in different eras and in different places, they                                                                                     are about enjoyment and change the contentment and longings of lives lived in worlds remote from our own.” (From the Introduction to EAT MY WORDS).

EAT MY WORDS by Janet Theophano is from PALGRAVED publishers. The original review for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange was in 2002. It originally sold for $29.95.  You can find a copy of for $4.30 for a pre-owned hardbound copy or $5.05 for a fine copy. copies start at 4.99. I think I will be re-reading this book since my interest in food-related history has grown so much in the past decade.

Happy Cookbook collecting –while this isn’t a cookbook per se, it has much to offer to cookbook collectors.



Sandy’s cooknote: this is a story I have been planning to write ever since I made a trip to Niagara Falls, Ontario, in 2009. It was during that visit that my friend, Sharon Prue, gave me a handwritten cookbook that had belonged to her mother and grandmother.

I tried to talk her out of giving the worn little cookbook to me but she could not be dissuaded. “You really like something like this,” she said. “I don’t know of anyone who would appreciate it as much as you.”

“I’ll treasure it,” I promised, and I took a photograph of Sharon reading her family cookbook. Now, several events conspired against me since acquiring the cookbook in August of 2009. One, I kept misplacing the photograph. When I found the photograph, I would have misplaced the cookbook.

I can imagine you are wondering how anyone could repeatedly misplace either a photograph or a cookbook – my only defense is this: I have over 10,000 cookbooks and that doesn’t take into consideration thousands of other books Bob & I acquired over the years—biographies, autobiographies, history, fiction, travel – and my photo collection is mostly contained in over 50 photo albums with hundreds of loose photographs stored in boxes and tins.

Then, in 2010, Sharon wrote a short story about her grandmother, Alice Maude Fishleigh, and sent it to me and our mutual friend, Doreen – and I knew that Sharon’s story belonged with the photograph and the cookbook. THEN I misplaced my printed copy about Sharon’s grandmother. I thought I would never find the missing story. (My only defense regarding losing the story is that I have reams of articles and stories and other printed material that I have accumulated over the years—and in 2008, we moved; lock, stock and barrel with over 600 boxes of books and other household belongings. It took over a year to get everything unpacked.)

Recently, I began going carefully through a big box of my writing files trying to decide what to keep, what to throw away. Wait! That’s part of the problem – I never throw anything away. And sure enough, I found the missing pages, clearly titled in my own handwriting, “Sharon’s Grandmother”.

And so now, for the first time, I have all the components of a very good story—and a photograph to go with it. I think I should start with Sharon’s essay, which she titled “PEOPLE COME AND GO” – written by Sharon Prue:

Sharon wrote “There’s an email out there that I keep receiving from time to time. I can’t remember all the words in it but it talks about the people who come into and out of our lives. Some of these people remain in our lives throughout the years while others are there for just a short time.

I believe they come into our lives for a reason and only stay because we need them as much as they need us. Those others who have left may touch our lives in a very small way but that contact experience provides us with useful information which we will use at some point on our journey through life.

I am going o start to think about all those people who have meant so much to me over the years, those ones that have been long gone. My grandmother, my parents, my dog Boo-Boo and possibly my brother Bob were the most important things in my life as a child.

I grew up in a household where my grandmother lived with us, my dad worked long hours in the warmer months because he worked at a canning factory and my mother was back teaching full time after both Bob and I were in school. We always had a housekeeper in those days who cooked lunch for Dad, Grandma and the children and she even started dinner sometimes. Teresa cleaned the house and did laundry and made the beds every Monday through Friday. I was supposed to make my bed and clean my room but most of the time. I didn’t.

Grandma would help mom get dinner on the table and sometimes dad would make it home for a quick supper before heading back to the plant or sometimes, in the summertime, if he had some free time, he would head to Niagara-On-The-Lake for an evening sail. Mom was off teaching in the summer but she didn’t like to sail. Bob and I were supposed to help with the dishes but because we fought like crazy, I had to do [the dishes] one day and he had to do them the next. I can remember my grandmother ironing in the laundry room and using that mangle* to press the bed sheets. [*a mangle was a large machine that pressed fabric, such as sheets, by passing them through (heated) rollers. My own mother had one that took up a lot of space in the kitchen. I think my mother used it a few times and then it became a catch-all for odds and ends in the kitchen—sls]

Grandma would be downstairs early in the winter and get the hot porridge ready in the double boiler. One day a week she made Red River cereal because Bob liked it, but the other days we had oatmeal or cream of wheat.

Both my parents were very strict with us kids and the belt ruled when we were bad, something I never used with my son. Dad had a terrible temper and poor Bob got it worse than I did so sometimes he ran away. Once he ran away and I heard mom and dad crying and the police were called. Bob was found out behind out back fence later in the night. I never ran away but sure felt like it at times. Mom would sometimes fight with Dad over Bob and how Dad handled him, and I remember her once leaving the dining room table in tears. Grandma never interfered and never said a word when this was going on.

Grandma was very loving and caring with those years she lived with us…she darned socks, she knitted and quilted and did needlepoint. She sewed and sewed and mended, and she made the best graham muffins! I don’t ever remember her reading books but her bible was always beside her. I don’t remember her going to church She was always supportive of mom, and Bob and I, but when I look back, I don’t remember any relationship that she had with Dad, but she must have, living in the same house. Grandma comforted us when we were not well (I remember the mustard plasters) and she comforted us when we were upset about things. She was definitely a hands-on grandma who would hold us on her lap and hug us.

I don’t think Grandma ever had a job before she came to live with mom and dad. I know because of health reasons she moved from her home in Oshawa down here to Niagara to live after mom and dad adopted Bob. Mom and Dad had a built-in babysitter, but rather than use grandma for that, they usually hired a babysitter to watch us when they went out for an evening. I know she liked to listen to her radio to the various talk shows that were on and she rarely watched TV. Radio was big back in the early 50s.

I never saw grandma in a pair of slacks or shorts. She always wore a dress; she had day dresses, afternoon dresses and evening special wear dresses, and she wore stockings and a girdle. And those heavy black laced shoes.

My story continues with a few finishing touches on Grandma, Alice Maude Fishleigh (nee Hamley). I do know she married at the age of 18 which she said was too young. She always told me that I should do everything I wanted to do while I was young, before I got married and started a family. I followed her advice. I know she was happily married to my grandpa who I never met because mom always told me that she never heard them argue or fight about anything. Grandma came from a big family and if I remember correctly, she and Grandpa Theodore (Ted) raised her younger sister—I can’t remember her name—when her parents died. Mom used to say she idolized that aunt like a grown-up sister. The aunt died when she was in her 20s, just after she got married. Grandma had my mom late in life; she was a surprise baby. My grandparents had lost a son when he was a child (long before mom came along) and I think it was from scarlet fever or something like that.

Mom grew up almost like an only child, doted on by two older parents who offered her every opportunity they could afford. My grandpa worked for a famous piano company in Oshawa, but in his spare time he was very active on the local sports scene. He took his daughter, my mother, everywhere and involved her in sports, hence why mom was tennis champion of Ontario when she was in her teens. Grandma never worked outside the home or got involved in sports.

When Grandpa died suddenly of a massive heart attack at the age of 58, mom was in her first year at Queen’s University in Kingston (she was only 16 years old!) Mom thought she would have to quit school and go to work but one of Grandma’s brothers (I never knew him either) owned a bookstore and was financially secure so he sent my mother through her years of university.

As I have mentioned before, Grandma as never the disciplinarian but I do remember this one incident when she was watching my brother and I, and Bob did a big no-no. I can’t remember what it was but I believe he said a swear word. She pulled him by the ears over to the kitchen sink where she proceeded to wash his mouth out with soap.

Grandma was a tall, big-boned woman but not overweight. I remember she had thinning gay hair which she pulled back into a bun at the back with bobby pins. I never saw her with her hair down and she always wore glasses. She wore clip earrings which she would let me try on sometimes. I don’t remember her wearing anything else except maybe a brooch when she when out, and she always wore a wrist watch.

Grandma lived with us until I was about thirteen, when she fell in her bedroom and broke her hip, from which she never recovered enough to walk again. We tried to look after her at home but it was too difficult and she went into a nursing home a couple of doors away. I popped in to see her often before she passed away from a stroke when I was 15. She was 84 years old. My last memory of her was that of her lying in bed, frantic that I get away from there before the other woman in the room came in and hurt me. I came home crying and upset and my mom told me that Grandma was having many little mini-strokes which caused her to behave that way. That same week, we received a call in the night that she had passed away.

Grandma had two sisters who I did meet and knew a little about through letters over the years. They came for a few visits from out west in Red Deer Alberta every so often. Aunt Lottie and Aunt Edna remained single all of their lives and died at 98 and 103 in a nursing home out west. Mom had gone out to visit them on the one aunt’s 100th birthday. What’s interesting about them is that the two sisters headed out west to Hollywood when they were young and both got jobs in the movie industry. I believe they worked in the clerical end of things but not sure where or what and sure wish I knew that today.

I think I have written everything that I can remember about my precious grandmother. She embodied all those qualities of what I think a grandma should be; I can only hope that I carry on some of those today, thanks to her.” – Sharon Prue

“The Cookbook” Sharon entrusted to me is an old lined notebook with a black cover that is mostly worn away. On the inside cover is written, in blue ink, Theo’s Ration Card No PH 180198. Followed by the following recipe for constipation:

½ lb dates
½ lb figs
2 oz senna leaves
Put through meat grinder 3 or 4 times, then roll in small balls. Eat 2 at night.

Beneath that are two names and addresses, one that of a Mrs Dibb who lived in Bogota NJ, USA and the other for a Mr. J.R. Dick of Pomona California. Next are some loose pieces of paper; one offers a recipe for Grape-nuts pie and Scones. Next is a neatly folded sheet of paper from the Oshawa Tennis Club, dated September 13, 1945, inviting Dear Sir or Madam to attend a meeting. There is also a lovely handwritten recipe for chocolate cake that appears to be lengthy and perhaps a little complicated by today’s standards.

The book has lined pages and starts with cake recipes – New Chocolate Cake, Coronation Cake, Eagle cake, Chocolate Cake with Marshallow (sic) icing, Crumb Cake and King Tut Cake. The paper at the bottom of the pages is mostly worn away for Eagle Cake and King Tut Cake. There are recipes for Black George Cake, Peel Cake (made with ¾ lb of mixed candied fruit) as well as oat cakes, scones, date bars, sponge loaf cake, King Edward Cake, Sponge cake with the notation 1st prize at Oshawa Fair, Johnny Cake (which I think is a corruption of Journey Cake, a cornmeal cake that dates back to early pioneer times), Gold Cake and Mrs. Begin’s Fudge Cake—written in a different handwriting. Pasted inside the following page are two newspaper clippings for “Christmas Cake No. 2” and “A Cake of Unusual Flavor. Loose on this page is a full page recipe for Christmas Gift Cakes provided by a Mrs. Florence Stallwood who has won prizes at the Canadian National Exhibition and, when she lived at Jarvis Ontario, her cooking won prizes at the fall fair. At the bottom of the page is printed “Weekend Picture Magazine, Vol 3, No 47 – 195- (presumably from the 1950s—the last number in the date is missing) Mrs. Stallwood’s cake calls for sherry or brandy but she said that grape juice will do just as well. Also kept loose on this page were recipes for orange pudding, butterscotch squares and Chinese Chews. The recipe for Butterscotch Squares is written in a very fine handwriting and signed “Ethel Lysett”.

On the following page, under a recipe for boiling icing, is a recipe for what appears to be a cookie, called Trilbies. Never having heard of Trilbies, I Googled it only to learn that a Trilby was a kind of hat or fedora popular in men’s fashions in the 1930s! THIS particular Trilby appears to be a cookie with a date filling.

Next are some recipes for seven minute frostings, and recipes for date loaf and date cakes- and the page after that is a large newspaper clipping featuring (much to my delight) a lot of sauce recipes. After some dessert recipes for ice box pudding and apple snow, Apple fritters and carrot pudding, I found a variety of clippings from newspapers and pasted onto the pages. One page is filled with chicken recipes—chicken patties and chicken salad as well as a Jellied Chicken Salad. The following page continues with summer salads and some omelet recipes.

After this – there are many empty pages in Grandma’s cookbook. Then, closer to the end of the book, I found a recipe for Ginger Beer, more loose clippings, a few more cookie recipes – Fruit Jumbles, Shortbread, and Cocoanut Macaroons – then, to my surprise, a collection of canning recipes – cranberry jelly, Tomato butter, spiced beets, uncooked tomato sauce, chopped mustard pickle, something called Indian Sauce, crabapple catsup, tomato fruit relish, Mrs Henry’s Gooseberries. Nine Day Sweet Pickle—and then another surprise, some homemade candy recipes also clipped from a newspaper, some handwritten candy recipes – and final surprise, a recipe for making Witch hazel.

Almost in shreds is this recipe for fruit and nut filling. This could be used in any recipe that calls for a fruit and/or nut filling or you could use it as a spread between layers of cake, as a change from frosting:
Empty the contents of a smallest size tin of evaporated milk* into the top of a double boiler. Add 1 TBSP boiling water, 2 TBSP sugar, 1 TBSP yellow portion or orange rind (finely grated) and 1 cup chopped dates. Stir until the sugar is dissolved then cook over hot water until the mixture thickens. Remove from the fire and add 1 tsp lemon juice and 1/3 cup finely chopped walnut meats. Cool thoroughly before spreading.

*sandy’s cooknote: I have to guess what the size of “the smallest tin of evaporated milk” may have been over 50 years ago. I turned to Google and the general consensus at most sites was 5 ounces. I would have guessed about 4 ounces or half a cup but given the other ingredients, 5 ounces sounds good to me.

Grandma’s handwritten cookbook contains a lot of recipes using dates. Here is a recipe for Fruit Jumbles:

1½ cups white sugar
½ cup butter
3 eggs
1 lb dates
¼ lb walnuts, chopped
3 cups flour
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda dissolved in 1 TBSP warm water
Beat butter and sugar together; add beaten eggs, then flour, fruit, vanilla and last the baking soda. Drop teaspoonfuls onto buttered or parchment-lined baking sheets and bake in moderate (350 degrees) oven.
Sandy’s cooknote: Grandma doesn’t tell us what temperature to bake the jumbles at; try baking for 10 minutes and adjust baking time as needed.