I’ve always been the first to admit – I am hopelessly addicted, not only to cookbooks but recipe boxes as well. But never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that one day I would have so many cookbooks, recipe boxes and cookie jars, that they are pretty much taking over the house. This wasn’t so much of an issue when we lived in the Arleta house, which was a big rambling house and it had a guest house that we filled with books and book shelves as well. They weren’t all cookbooks, you understand (only about ten thousand of the books were cookbooks); we also had a vast collection of fiction and non fiction, books about travel, books about religion, biographies and auto biographies. There were books about gardening and books about landscaping, books about UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects) and books about movie stars and the movie industry. There were books about queens and kings and princes and princesses. I have a lot of books about Princess Diana.
When we began packing up books to move – we filled my daughter in law’s SUV with boxes of books for the Burbank Friends of the Library sale and AFTER we moved we filled her SUV with books for the Lancaster Friends of the Library sale—and I assure you, we scarcely made a dent. When we moved, my son moved over 600 boxes – most of them filled with books—many of which are still in boxes in a shed we had to buy just to house the boxes of books until we can figure out where to put them or what to do with the overflow. I’m not bragging about this –an addiction is nothing to boast about. The bottom line is that books have taken over our lives. Anytime anyone was getting rid of their books or someone died and no one knew what to do with a collection of books, I said bring them over! We’ll take them! And we did. (We also took any kitchen utensils, pots and pans and other household items that no one—except us—wanted.)
But this is about cookbooks so let me skim over all the books that are not cookbooks and maybe explain how this happened.
In 1965, I had maybe one or two cookbooks. One was a Methodist church cookbook that my father bought from a coworker at Formica, for a dollar, in 1961. My mother and sister also got a copy. That little church cookbook intrigued me; I wondered if there were more cookbooks out there, somewhere, like this one—and at this time, a girlfriend who was married to a Hungarian refugee commented to me that she knew about a little Hungarian recipe book published by Culinary Arts Institute and wondered how she could find a copy.
“I know how!” I offered. At the time I was subscribing to a magazine called Women’s Circle; it was made up completely of letters written by women looking for penpals, or something for their collection—whatever it was. I wrote a letter to Women’s Circle asking for a copy of the Hungarian cookbooklet – and added that I was interested in starting a collection of cookbooks and would buy or trade for cookbooks.
My letter was published and I began receiving letters from all over the USA – over 200, I think. I began buying cookbooks left and right, sight unseen. (and yes, bought several copies of the Hungarian cookbooklet—one for my friend, one for myself – and an extra for who ever might want it. We didn’t have the internet – you had resources such as women’s circle or Women’s Household magazines or used book stores. One time a friend told me about a used bookstore on Western Avenue in Hollywood – all the books
were a dollar each! How could anyone resist that? Twenty dollars would bring me twenty books! Whoohoo!
And one day the bookstore owner said “I have something you might be interested in” and brought out a small leather bound notebook filled – in beautiful handwriting – with recipes. Of course, I had to have it and I think I paid $11.00 for it. It was my introduction into what might loosely be referred to as “manuscript” cookbooks- and I was sold. I have written on my blog about Helen’s Cookbook and how it came into my possession. Having it begged the question – were there more handwritten cookbooks out there? Who had them and what did they want for them? I wanted them! Finding manuscript cookbooks proved to be a daunting task – but I discovered the next best thing: someone’s recipe box, filled with their favorite recipes or newspaper clippings. I called them the Kitchen Diaries and began searching for them.
Also, in 1965, I became acquainted with a cookbook collector in Michigan, my friend Betsy who still sends me boxes of cookbooks. I can’t turn down a cookbook – not even when it’s one I already have. (Now that, you have to admit, is sick). My logic to this is, some day someone will come along wanting that very same book and I’ll have a copy to give to them. Betsy also got me turned onto community cookbooks—and there are a lot of community cookbooks in Michigan – back then and still, to this day.
Every so often someone comes to the house and they look around and then say “Do you actually read all of these books?” – the answer is yes. I am constantly reading, except when I am writing about reading. Or maybe when I am in the kitchen cooking something because I found a recipe that intrigued me.
People who collect cookbooks (and trust me, there are a lot of us out there) think that they are unique because they ‘read cookbooks the way other people read novels’. Trust me, all cookbook collectors read cookbooks the way other people read novels. In the last decade or two some mystery writers have figured out how to incorporate recipes with their novels. I get it. I’m sure all the other cookbook collectors who also like a good mystery get it too.
And that, girlfriends, is how you start a collection and it eventually takes over your life. But I have often thought – what could be better in life than collecting books that you love – and the being able to write about them? Ya gotta love it!