Category Archives: LET’S TALK ABOUT COOKBOOKS!

COLLECTING HANDWRITTEN RECIPES

Here’s a thought–what do you do with handwritten recipes originally in a small ring notebook, now falling apart with age, browning and literally falling apart?

Or more precisely, what do I do with all these little treasures? I think some of them were given to me by Roger, my son Kelly’s godfather, who passed away years ago but when he was alive and able to get around in his truck, would find boxes full of recipes in small notebooks, old manufacturers recipe booklets (back then given away free, for the asking on a postcard–back when a stamp for a postcard was three cents).

I think Roger enjoyed scouting around for valuables in thrift stores. I still have about 6 or 8 restaurant size trays used in cafeterias; Roger found these at a restaurant supply store and I have been using those trays for many purposes ever since my sons were children. Roger bought them because we often made shishkabobs and it was handy to have these trays with the kabobs waiting to go on the grill.

whenever the grandkids come to decorate cookies, theses trays are absolutely perfect; each child decorates his/or her cookies on the tray and the mess is kept to a minimum. I also use the trays whenever I am baking cookies, placing racks on the trays to cool the cookies.

But I digress (sorry, that’s a bad habit of mine) – getting back to handwritten recipes–I have been asking myself for a long time how to preserve them especially when most of these are in such poor condition. The answer was right in front of me!

For the past few weeks I have been going through my cooking/womens magazines, taking them apart, and converting them into my own version of homemade cookbooks; I probably have over 50 three-ring binders with pages from magazines put into plastic page covers that I get at staples for about $18 for a box of 200 “sleeves”.

This was something that started in 1958 with Christmas recipes from my favorite magazines. That binder grew until nothing more would fit into it, so I started a second binder of cookie recipes but by now was clipping any cookie recipes that appealed to me. I am up to 12 binders of cookie recipes. I love going through these binders and choosing new recipes to try. But now there are binders for almost any kind of food – an album for poultry, an album for meat, one for veggies – well, you get the picture.

And as I was talking to myself about how to preserve these little recipe booklets that have come into my life, I thought of a solution. I took a booklet apart, carefully, and then was able to put 2 or 4 pages to a plastic protector.

My best guess is that these little recipe notebooks were compiled by a woman who collected recipes from her friends, neighbors, maybe relatives. Oftentimes, a recipe will be in a different handwriting – did my creative cook ask the person in question if she would write her recipe in her notebook?

And how did these recipes come about? Did the creative cook go to ladies’ luncheons? other gatherings in which women brought a favorite dish? a wedding? a funeral? Creative Cook doesn’t tell us where all of the recipes came from but I picture her taking this notebook and a pencil (most recipes are in pencil, not pen) with her to whatever function the ladies were attending. Eventually, she filled a notebook and started another one. I am forever grateful.

–Sandra Lee Smith

FEAST OF EDEN

Regional winner of the 1994 Tabasco Cookbook Award is a beautifully composed cookbook titled FEAST OF EDEN, from the Junior League of Monterey County, California.The Junior League of Monterey County, Inc., is an organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving the community through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable.
The Junior League of Monterey County, Inc. reaches out to women of all races, religions and national origins who demonstrate an interest in and commitment to voluntarism. Currently there are 140 active members and 302 sustaining members of the Junior League.

The Junior League has been actively working to improve Monterey County for 60 years. Our hands-on approach has enriched our community through the development of past League projects, including The Family Service Agency (started as the Family Resource Center), The Salinas Adult Day Care Center, the Monterey County Youth Museum (MY Museum), and the Silent Witness Exhibit. JLMC is also represented on the executive board of the United Way of Monterey County’s Success BY 6 project.

FEAST OF EDEN is a lovely and appropriate play on names since its famous native son, John Steinbeck, wrote EAST of EDEN and a number of other wonderful books about the Monterey Peninsula. If you are not familiar with them, DO read CANNERY ROW, TORTILLA FLATS, OF MICE AND MEN, SWEET THURSDAY and, of course, EAST OF EDEN. You will come to love, as did I, the village of Carmel by the Sea, the town of Monterey, Carmel Valley and Salinas, all places Steinbeck loved and wrote about.

I visited the Monterey Peninsula for the very first time in 1979 with a girlfriend who had spent summer vacations there as a very young child. We wandered the cobblestone streets of Carmel, with its old-fashioned street lights, meandering in and out of hundreds of cubby-hole shops and stores. We dined in tiny little restaurants, some with fireplaces, and sometimes at little street-side tables, people-watching while we dined on shrimp or pasta.
The village of Carmel is indescribable. It has been, for decades, an artists’ colony, but it is also a great tourist attraction, and once you visit, you will know why. I’d give my eyeteeth to be able to live there.

Meanwhile, share with me, for a few minutes, a love of Monterey and the presentation by the Junior League of Monterey County.

I confess to being partial; the Monterey Peninsula is one of my favorite spots on earth. Whenever possible, Bob and I would head north to camp in Carmel Valley and shop in the quaint village of Carmel. I have several black and white framed photographs of Point Pinos, the lighthouse on the Monterey Peninsula, that I printed and framed myself. They are on my bedroom walls, always beckoning. When I am there, I feel like I am at home.

I can easily visualize, when – in the Introduction – the compilers of FEAST
OF EDEN tell us “Where the Santa Lucia Mountains separate the fields of Salinas from the Pacific Ocean, lies the garden paradise of Monterey County, California….life in Monterey County is highly textured. From the rocky cliffs of the agriculture fields of Salinas, to the thatched roofs of story book Carmel, to the diamond sparkle of the aquamarine waters of Pebble Beach..”
Accompanying a rich array of recipes which range from the elegant–Custard Baked French Toast…Spicy Grilled London Broil…Crab Cakes with Charon* sauce, to the sublime—Baked Salmon with Tomato, Cucumber and Basil, Scallop Lasagna, or Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake…are colorful vignettes of life in Monterey county, which will enable you to understand a bit my love of this particular region in California. (*Charon Sauce is made with egg yolks, lemon juice and fresh Tarragon. I’m guessing it is closely related to Hollandaise sauce but with the addition of Tarragon.

Other recipes you might want to try – Zesty Crab and Artichoke Dip, Eggplant Bruschetta, or perhaps the Tomato and Bacon Bruschetta – Monterey Phyllo Triangles, Thai Meatballs, Pastures of Heaven Salad or Steinbeck Country Salad. Feast on Praline Breakfast Rolls or Apple Spice Muffins—or try the Chocolate Zucchini Cake that I think I am going to make with the zucchini my sister brought over.

FEAST OF EDEN provides many vignettes about life in Monterey County. Read, for instance, that “Early Carmel-by-the Sea had few telephones, no electricity, no paved roads and the rudimentary wooden sidewalks lined only Ocean Avenue…but to many it was a refuge from an increasingly technological world…” or that “Life in Carmel in the 1920s and 1930s was both carefree and communal. Villagers might meet each other at all times of the day or night in all kinds of dress.

Author Mary Austin would roam the woods dressed as an Indian Princess in Greek robes. Each day, city residents would greet each other in their bathrobes at the milk stations – sets of shelves set up where residents would leave money at night and pick up their milk in the morning”.

FEAST OF EDEN with over 225 triple-tested recipes featuring healthy, fresh ingredients, is beautifully done, with wonderful color photographs of various dishes, and many of the historical sites for which Monterey County is so famous.

SANDY’S COOKNOTE: The above was written for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, probably in 1994 or 1995. When the cookbook was first published in 1994, it sold for $19.95. It is available on Amazon.com new starting at 1 CENT & UP for a pre-owned copy and new for $3.92 and u. Remember that purchases from private vendors always carry a $3.99 shipping & handling charge.)

Since 1994, I don’t remember how many more trips Bob & I would make to Monterey. Once, we made the trip in a Chinook I had bought, and we camped in Carmel Valley. It was our favorite place to visit until Bob could no longer drive and a three hour trip was about the most I could handle—then we discovered San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay and Pismo Beach. Now those are my favorite towns for short vacation trips.

–Review by 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

MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN KINGDOM

Some years ago, I read a new author’s book titled “White Oleander” – and so I was immediately captivated to find this author, Janet Fitch, the author of a Los Angeles Times Food section in their December 22, 2011 issue. The title of Janet’s article was My Mother’s Kitchen Kingdom and I was immediately hooked. So much so that I kept the article with my folder of clipping from magazines and newspapers, for future reference.

Janet’s description of her parents rambling old home in Wilshire Park filled me with longing. Her parents bought the house—already an old house—in 1961. She says it was an old fashioned house** with a dining room and a library, and closets you could walk into, “a million hiding places,” she writes, with even a tiny door for Janet’s imaginary friends. That summer, in 2011, her mother moved into a senior residence near the Beverly Center and it was Janet’s job to help her mother fold up her tent, packing and clearing and giving away the remains of her long residence.

“Nowhere in the house was my mother more in evidence than in the kitchen. Part of that bittersweet summer was clearing its Mondrian-inspired linoleum counters and cabinets, finding good homes for an astonishing collection of pots and pans, knives and woks, and gizmos for pitting cherries and serving escargot, zesting lemons and injecting strawberries with Cointreau…”

“My mother” writes Janet “never met a gadget she didn’t like. There were tube pans for baking the angel food cakes my father could have after his first heart attack and Bundt pans and loaf pans and baking pans and grilling pans. There were individual casseroles for baking macaroni and cheese and bread warmers and a real 60s Chemex coffee maker….”

She says she gave away most of the cookbooks from her mother’s vast library.

Janet goes on to write in greater detail about her mother’s kitchen—but what struck me, first and foremost—and everyone out there who knows me personally will testify to it—is that Janet’s mother’s kitchen could have been MY kitchen until Bob & I moved to the Antelope Valley and I was forced to do some major downsizing in my kitchen.

I gave away sets of bowls (out of the thirty something sets of bowls I had before I downsized); I gave my sister one of my sets of china leaving myself with only two sets of china plus my Fiesta Ware dishes for every day—I still have far more kitchen gadgets in the kitchen than anyone can imagine—and Bob and I bought these Rubbermaid cupboards that take up the entire right wall of the garage – a cupboard for Tupperware, a cupboard for Bundt pans and angel food cake pans and cupcake tins, two cupboards for the overflow of small kitchen accessories (steamer, crock pots in different sizes, a lot of baking sheets, several big baking pans for a large batch of Brownies, cooling racks—and half a dozen restaurant size trays that our friend Roger found for me—back in the 1960s, I think, when we were making shishkabobs for the grill at least once a week.

I have a collection of Wilton shaped cake pans that anyone can make as long as you have the color directions and some Wilton decorating tips in different sized flower shapes. I have a large collection of Wilton decorating tips—enough duplicates to be able to give some away to my sister. I gave away several Kitchen Aid mixers and still have two. My collection of cookie cutters, divided by holidays or events and kept in plastic baskets—fills an entire Rubbermaid cupboard.

Janet writes about brandied fruit that we were making in the 1970s – you used a cup and then replaced it with more fruit and sugar every time you used it; when we drove to Ohio one summer in the 1970s, I took a container of the brandied fruit to my mother who kept it going for a long time.

As for cookbooks—I began actively collecting cookbooks in 1965. Over the years I gave away hundreds of booklets and cookbooks, especially when we moved and I was downsizing – now the collection of cookbooks overflows the house and extends into the garage where Bob built me a library in 2010 before he became sick with esophageal cancer. (I no longer have any idea how many cookbooks there are but I have the Julia Childs Mastering the Art of French Cooking although I gave most of my French cookbooks to my niece who lives in Seattle and loves French cooking; My collection of foreign cookbooks overflows two bookcases.

I sighed heavily reading about Janet’s mother’s collection of leather-and-gilt bound issues of Gourmet—I had a large collection of early Gourmet magazines that I gave to a used book store before we moved to Florida—and had to start all over again. The “Love and Knishes” cookbook that Janet kept—is one I have with my Jewish cookbooks.

I could go on and on—I fear that my vast collections of kitchen culinary gadgets and other odds and ends – may end up in a yard sale when I am no longer around. MY kitchen kingdom was never the size of Janet’s mother—and my own mother’s collection of kitchen utensils was never extensive; she made bread twice a week when I was a child—and baked the loaves in large black speckled roasting pans. My sister has the small bowls my mother served vegetables in to a family of seven, back in the days before my youngest brother and sister were born. It’s unimaginable that there was ever enough in one of those bowls to serve seven people.

Along similar lines would be Chef Louis Szathmary’s gargantuan collection of over 200,000 items now in the culinary archives at Johnson & Wales University—and despite all the collectibles that Chef Szathmary donated to the university –he started NEW collections as soon as he finished donating many of his treasures.

How do I know this? Because a young woman who bid on boxes of Szathmary culinary treasures had no idea who he was—until she found my articles about the Chef on my blog. She sold several items to me, just to have them in MY collection—but I put her in touch with the University of Iowa which had its own collection of Chef Szathmary culinary treasures – and they bought the rest of it from her.

I think the bushy bearded Szathmary was smiling over me when I began writing about him. I never MET Chef Szathmary—but people who did know him, or met him at one of his restaurants – continue to find my blog articles and have written to share their experiences meeting him.

So if you are ever in Providence Rhode Island you may want to visit the Johnson & Wales University’s Culinary Archives and Museum – or if you are in Iowa, visit the University of Iowa to see their collection of Szathmary…

Or, if you collect cookbooks, or cookie cutters, or other kitchen culinary treasures – feel free to write and tell me about your collection.

*Janet Fitch’s article MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN KINGDOM was published in the L.A. Times December 22, 2011.

**The house that Janet describes sounds eerily familiar to me—in Northside, a suburb of Cincinnati, in the 1950s there were many large old three-story houses with gingerbread trim and both front and back stairs—one of the boys in my roller skating group—lived in such a house and a lot of us often spent weekends there, girls on the second floor and boys on the third floor. It was such a wonderful experience.

–Sandra Lee Smith

READING COOKBOOKS LIKE NOVELS

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

A TASTE FOR ALL SEASONS/Unique Dessert Recipes

“A TASTE FOR ALL SEASONS”, subtitled “Unique Dessert Recipes” really is unique. It is a thick spiral bound cookbook, entirely devoted to desserts – because, the authors explain, “Eat Dessert First Because Life is so Uncertain”

Isn’t that the truth? I remember one time that my sister Becky and I were in Florida visiting our mother who by then was pretty mind-muddled from Alzheimer’s; we were in a restaurant that had a buffet style menu—you could pretty much eat whatever you wanted. Our mother had in front of her a piece of pie and began eating it first. Becky asked, “Mom, why are you eating dessert first?” and mom, looking cagily at us, replied, “That’s so no one can take it away from me.” (that was an early indication that she wasn’t getting enough to eat—but that is another story for another time).

“A Taste for all Seasons” was published to honor all the thousands of children who bravely face illness every year. It was especially dedicated to Jenny Jacobs, “whose courage in the face of such adversity has given me the inspiration to put this cookbook together” writes the author, adding, “The money collected from the sale of each book will be donated to a worthy children’s charity”

I have no idea how many recipes are in this cookbook (I think there are over 350) – but there’s quite a lot—a lot of cookie recipes, dozens of cakes and pies, lots of traditional desserts such as the trifle illustrating the front of the cookbook, but muffins and breads and a lot of other sweet treats as well. This could easily become your #1 “go to” cookbooks when you need a dessert recipe—more than three dozen listed in the index on each page—lots of bar cookies, such as Carrot & Zucchini Bars, Chocolate Caramel Nut bars, Chewy Chocolate Bars and Peanut Butter & Fudge Brownies. Other peanut butter cookie recipes include Chunky Peanut Butter Cookies, and the traditional Peanut Blossom cookies. (I keep a lot of peanut butter on hand—I stock up on it when it’s on sale—because it’s always a great snack with saltine crackers, or the primary ingredient in a sweet treat).

There are also a lot of recipes with chocolate in them—and who doesn’t love chocolate? From Chocolate Chip Cookies to Chocolate Revel Bars, there are Chocolate Maroon Squares and Fudge Cream Cheese Brownies, Chocolate filled Snowballs and Chocolate Cherry Bars.

Amongst the many recipes for cakes there are many of the traditional tried and true recipes such as Carrot Cake, pound cake, Orange Date Cake and Chocolate Cake Roll – but a lot of other ones I don’t remember seeing anywhere else before—Velvet Almond Fudge Cake, Waldorf Astoria Cake, Aunt Eva’s Texas Sheet Cake and Hawaiian Pineapple Cake, one called Heavenly Hash Cake (that sounds decadent!) and Real Hungarian Strudel—this is a wonderful surprise; most recipes for strudel today call for a package of Filo dough that is available in supermarket freezer cases.

The recipe in “A Taste for All Seasons” is strudel dough made from scratch, something I haven’t seen since my grandmother stopped making strudel in her kitchen, probably a year or two before she died. This recipe provides the ingredients for making cherry strudel—which we grew up on, along with apple strudel and a wonderful pumpkin strudel that I have never been able to duplicate or find a recipe that sounds like what we ate.

Then there are a plethora of recipes we really think of as “dessert” dishes – a Nectarine and Orange trifle, Tropical Trifle, Fruit Trifle, Black Forest Trifle—need I say more?

I wanted to share a recipe from A Taste for All Seasons with you – and have selected “Trifle” – to make a Trifle you will need:

2 or 3 lb pound cakes sliced, frozen, ¼” thick
32 oz apricot preserves
1 large and 1 small Cool Whip
1 package (4 containers) Swiss Miss vanilla pudding
1 ½ to 2 quarts fresh strawberries, sliced
4 to 6 bananas, slices

Arrange in layers in glass trifle dish or a large brandy snifter:

Layer following:
Cake, apricot preserves, strawberries, bananas, ½ cool whip
Repeat twice topping with remaining cool whip. Decorate with whole strawberries Chill.

The main reason I chose this trifle recipe is because I discovered some years ago that you can use leftover cake or cookies, almost any kind of preserves—I would use up small amounts of different preserves to finish them off including strawberry preserves. When you have reached the top of the dessert dish, cover it with plastic wrap and chill in the frig at least a few hours or even overnight.
(if only adults will be eating your trifle, you can also splash the pound cake or whatever cake you are using with a little Triple Sec or any other liqueur you may have on hand.

I made the best trifle of my life using up leftover cookies and cake after one of our Christmas parties, and then served it on New Year’s day. If you prefer, you can make vanilla pudding from scratch or make it with a box of instant pudding. There are a lot of ways to put a trifle together using up what you have on hand. It will look very pretty and everyone will love it. – sls

It took a lot of searching on Amazon.com to find at least one copy listed and that was on the 3rd page of titles – many different books with the same, or almost the same, title. You need to look for “A Taste for all Seasons, Unique Dessert Recipes” by Phyllis Diamond. The one I found on Amazon is listed at $15.00. This is a great book to have in a cookbook collection.

–Review by Sandra Lee Smith

2013 UPDATE FOR “YOU MAY BE A COOKBOOK COLLECTOR IF”…

2013 UPDATE FOR YOU MAY BE A COOKBOOK COLLECTOR IF…

*Your nightstand is piled high with cookbooks that you read in bed at night the way other people read novels.  It’s not unusual for you to find a couple of cookbooks in the bed with you when you awaken in the morning.

*You immediately head for the cookbook section of your favorite bookstore, just to see what’s new;

*You seldom leave a bookstore without buying a few new cookbooks;

*You go to the Friends of the Library book sales just to search for cookbooks. You might even buy some you already have but will buy them anyway because they are only fifty cents each;

*You don’t see anything unusual about having more than one edition of a favorite cookbook, such as the Joy of Cooking; your logic is that there might be some different recipes in the newer edition;

*You don’t want any of the pages of your cookbooks to become stained or spattered so you will copy a recipe on your printer instead of referring directly to the cookbook. Your refrigerator door is covered with recipes copied from cookbooks;

*When someone says they have a huge collection of cookbooks – at least three hundred books – you snicker because you have more than three thousand cookbooks;

*You think the next best thing to reading cookbooks is – browsing through book catalogs and websites that feature a lot of cookbooks;

*Your idea of a perfect day is spending it in used bookstores that have a lot of old cookbooks for sale—and the storekeeper has to help you lug them all to the trunk of your car when you are finished shopping (one of my favorites is in downtown Cincinnati);

*When someone asks you “What’s your favorite cookbook, the one you can’t live without?” you have to admit you probably have over a hundred favorites you can’t live without.

*You think the next best thing to reading cookbooks and recipes – is writing about them!    You have discovered that it is as rewarding—even more so—when you have the opportunity to participate in the creation of a community (church or club) cookbook. The first one I participated in was RECIPES ROUNDUP for Beachy School in Arleta  (California) in 1971. I volunteered to help and ended up taking over the entire project, typing all of the recipes before submitting them to a publisher. Several of the PTA ladies that participated in the project became life-long friends.  A few years later my sister Becky & I both participated in the compilation of a Christmas cookbook from a group in Cincinnati. And she was a major driving force in a cookbook project by the Cheviot PTA in Cincinnati—she did all of the graphics and submitted dozens of our family’s favorite recipes. Oddly enough—this spiral bound cookbook published by a PTA in Cincinnati somehow ended up in the hands of a girlfriend of mine when she was living in Maryland but some years later, returned to California—where she and her husband retired in the mountains in Southern California—I spotted it on her cookbook shelves one day when I was visiting—and couldn’t believe she had a copy of that particular cookbook.

The greatest project was the family cookbook, Grandma’s Favorite which ended up taking us years to get published in 2004. It’s my favorite turn-to cookbook though—it contains most of the family favorites. Another project that took years to be published was The Office Cookbook that a group of us where I worked began working on in the 1980s. The original manuscript contains over 400 recipes and when a co-worker learned that I had all of them, typed up, in a notebook – he asked if he could copy it and I said yes, of course. He printed both sides of the pages and put the book into nice clear plastic binders—and presented me with a copy.  Some twenty-something years later, when the company’s fund-raising committee wanted a sure fire fund-raiser – I suggested the Office Cookbook. It was reduced to 200 recipes—many of the original contributors had either retired or passed away—but finally it was published in 2002, still under the name of The Office Cookbook. It was never anything else.  But when I want a particular recipe, I almost always turn to the UN-condensed typewritten collection in a 3-ring binder.

*A few years ago, I became acquainted, long-distance, with a woman who is an editor for a cookbook publishing house.  I often think – that has to be the BEST job of all! Kudos to you, Sheila.

Happy Cooking!

Sandy