A HISTORY OF COOKS AND COOKING BY MICHAEL SYMONS

i reviewed the following back in 2012–but I love, love, LOVE books about the history of food, of cooks and cooking and felt it could do with an update.

In 2012 I wrote:

How does a writer compile, in one volume, a book about the history of cooks and cooking? And yet, this is exactly what author Michael Symons has set out to do.

The University of Illinois Press (demonstrating once again the incomparable value of the books provided by University Presses) has published A HISTORY OF COOKS AND COOKING.

In the preface to A HISTORY OF COOKS AND COOKING, the author notes, “Between us, we have eaten an enormous number of meals. We have nibbled, gorged and hungered our way through history. Cooks have been in charge…finding, sharing and giving food meaning. We could not have survived without them. They have been everywhere yet writers have hardly noticed. In fact, I suggest that t his is the first book devoted to the essential duties and historical place of cooks…”

Symons claims, “If this is, with few qualifications, the world’s first book on the world’s most important people, it implies a surprising intellectual oversight. Nearly two and a half millennia ago, Plato warned against an interest in cooks, and western scholars have largely complied. Almost without exception they have failed to inquire into the chief occupation of at least half the people who have ever lived. Even thinkers must eat…”

And while I might not totally agree with Symons assertion—and finding myself wondering exactly why Plato warned the world against an interest in cooks—I do concur with his statement that “Cookery books are so consumable that French Chef Raymond Oliver compares them with wooden spoons, ‘one is astonished at the number which have disappeared…”

Symons states, “We have devoured innumerable books on how and what to cook, and even some about certain cooks and aspects of cooking, but this abundance makes the central gap even more peculiar. There are so many texts for, and so few, about cooks…cooks have always been in the background both ever present and unnoticed. Their contributions have seemed too common, pervasive, trivial, unproblematic…”

He also writes, “Virtually every archaeological dig, every diary, every streetscape tells the cooks’ tale. We do not lack evidence, and can appropriate much scholarship. But no one has tried to pull this all together. Since the nineteenth century, we have become so hyper-specialized that we scarcely know any longer how to place cooks within the great scheme of things…”

Symons also observes that, “If we are what we eat, cooks have not just made our meals, but they have also made us….”

The author provides, in the preface, a capsule breakdown of the chapters and the best way to give you some idea what this book is really about, is to quote Symons himself:

“In quest of cooks,” he begins, “we initially enter the kitchen of just one Sydney chef, Phillip Searle, (Chapter One). The book then relates how certain novelists have portrayed some cooks (Chapter Two) and finds the gastronomic tradition; often appreciative (chapter Three). Having traced the development of fire (Chapter Four), existing assumptions about what cooks do are examined (Chapter Five), why their key tool is the knife (Chapter Seven and how they are behind festivals, beauty and love (Chapter Eight).

Symons embarks on a journey, exploring how food, and the cooks who prepared it, were written about in books, including Laura Ingalls Wilder’s THE LONG WINTER, AND Nora Ephron’s HEART BURN, touches on the American diner and street food, the contributions of various famous chefs, such as Henri Charpentier. (In yet another instance of synchroniscity, I acquired a book about Henri Charpentier and have written about him in an article for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange and on my blog).

The publishers explain, “Symons sets out to explore the civilizing role of cooks in history. His wanderings take us to the clay ovens of the prehistory eastern Mediterranean and the bronze cauldrons of ancient China, to fabulous banquets in the temples and courts of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Persia, to medieval English cookshops and southeast Asian street markets, to palace kitchens, diners and modern fast-food eateries.

Symons samples conceptions and perceptions of cooks and cooking from Plato and Descartes, to Marx and Virginia Woolf, asking why cooks, despite their vital and central role in sustaining life, have remained in the shadows, unheralded, unregarded and underappreciated…”

No longer. Michael Symons’ A HISTORY OF COOKS AND COOKING FROM THE University of Illinois Press has provided a tribute to cooks and will surely join the ranks of all other important food-related books.

*The Australian author uses the European spellings, whereas Americans spell many of these words with a Z instead of an S—I’ve corrected them for easier reading in this post—for one thing, my spellcheck has a nervous breakdown whenever I try to use European spellings.

Well, I don’t necessarily agree with much of what Symons has written but I wrote a review of this book for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange in 2001—and I think much has changed in our culinary landscape in the past eleven years. If nothing else, programs such as those shown on the Food Network focus on cooks and chefs all the time. There have also been many more books about individual cooks and chefs as well. Still, you may want to read A HISTORY OF COOKS AND COOKING and decide for yourself. And even though this was published by the University of Illinois Press, the Australian author’s viewpoint may reflect what he has observed and studied in Australia.
Michael Symons is a former journalist for Sydney Morning Herald and also the author of “THE PUDDING THAT TOOK A THOUSAND COOKS.”

Symons is also the author of two other food-related books, ONE CONTINUOUS PICNIC: A HISTORY OF EATING IN AUSTRALIA, and THE SHARED TABLE.

You can find a copy of A HISTORY OF COOKS AND COOKING on Amazon.com at $19.95 and up for pre-owned hardcover. I am sorry to report that no other copies are available for less.

review by Sandra Lee Smith

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BLUE RIBBON WINNERS – AMERICA’S BEST STATE FAIR RECIPES and THE COUNTY FAIR COOKBOOK

As you may know, if you happened to read my article CATCHING FAIR FEVER (September, 2012), one of my more recent discoveries among community-type cookbooks are those published by state and county fairs throughout the USA.
I suspect there are hundreds—perhaps thousands—of these cookbooks that I know nothing about (intriguing thought, isn’t it?). Well, if you stop to consider there are fifty states, therefore there are (presumably) fifty state fairs every year (does anyone know if Alaska and Hawaii have state fairs?) – and then there are all the COUNTY fairs throughout the USA every year—and who knows how many counties make up our fifty states?

Back in the 1980s I “discovered” the fun and charm of entering the San Fernando Valley and the Los Angeles County Fairs. (I had really gotten into canning around this time and loved finding and trying unusual recipes for jellies, jams, preserves). At this time, I also “discovered” that the Los Angeles County Fair Home Arts committee published the winning recipes if your entry won a first, second, or third place ribbon. The winning recipes for one year (say 1986) would then appear in a nice spiral bound cookbook the following year, in 1987. These cookbooks were sold for only $10.00 each and when I started to win some ribbons and received an invitation to submit the winning recipes—I was off and running. And the cookbooks made wonderful Christmas presents.

I wrote “discovered” in quotes because I felt like a Johnny-come-lately to this kind of cookbook – which I feel is more accurately described as regional cookbooks than community. I began searching for all of the Los Angeles Fair annual cookbooks and then began searching for other state and/or county fair cookbooks and acquired some from Iowa, some from Texas and others from Del Mar, California. What a bargain these books are! Not only do you have all of the prize winning recipes, the books are usually thick compilations of recipes, for an average price of ten dollars.

However, I have a couple of equally great bargains to share with you. First is BLUE RIBBON WINNERS/AMERICA’S BEST STATE FAIR RECIPES by Catherine Hanley. When I first saw Ms. Hanley’s book, I thought “aha! I’m not the only one who has realized what a treasure trove the winning recipes from state fairs are!”
Ms. Hanley, former manager of consumer public relations for the Pillsbury Company, made an interesting discovery in her line of work involving the Pillsbury Bake-Off contest. Upon checking the biographies of some contestants who were superb cooks and bakers, she realized that a pattern emerged—many of these contestants were also state fair winners. As an enthusiastic fan of the Minnesota State Fair, Ms. Hanley had been interested in state fair competitions for many years. The idea for her book was, to quote the publishers, “a natural result.”

BLUE RIBBON WINNERS/AMERICA’S BEST STATE FAIR RECIPES contains over 170 of the best blue ribbon recipes, carefully selected for this book. Says the author, “During years of working with food, I have been intrigued by what happens when two people make the same recipes with contrasting results. Why does one person turn out a spectacular product and another an indifferent one from the same ingredients? Experience and cooking techniques obviously play a big part. (Italics mine—this is the very same thing I have been exploring for several years, what the Chinese refer to as Wok Presence, recently written about on my blog).

As British author Eden Phillpotts suggests (in her quote, ‘No mean woman can cook well; it calls for a generous spirit, a light hand and a large heart’) – but how do you convey this information in a recipe?”

Hanley continues, “As I have had opportunities to learn about the women and men who win blue ribbons in the major state fairs, I realized that here you have a large group of people who are consistently achieving extraordinary results with recipes similar to those we all use. What is special about their recipes and what do these cooks do to make the prize-winning difference? That’s what every other cook really wants to know and BLUE RIBBON WINNERS reveals.

In possibly the only noncommercial cooking contests left, tens of thousands of women and men compete annually in state fair competitions to see who has the best baked goods, pickles and preserves.

The money prizes are modest, not much more than covering the cost of the ingredients (true!) – but this is not important. What these good cooks want are the blue ribbons that signify first place.”

Ms. Hanley goes on to explain that winning blue ribbons at the biggest state and regional fairs in the country are not easily won—judges are often agriculture extension service home economists or college-level food teachers, professionals who know how to measure quality and who have been trained to be objective. Also, she explains, that where commercial recipe contests may reflect the preferences and biases of judges and contest sponsors, state fair judging is done “by the book”—using scorecards, with a perfect product scoring 100%.

The author goes on to explain how her work with the Pillsbury Bake-Off contestants led to her discovery that contestants were often state fair entrants as well. She also explains how, before she learned otherwise, she assumed that the people who entered the fairs would be mostly rural homemakers. Now, she says, she knows that competition cuts across socio-economical boundaries, and in states where the fair is held in a metropolitan area, suburban and urban men and women contestants predominate, and vary in ages—from the youngest age allowed (14 years old in Minnesota)—to octogenarians.

Having told you this much, let me add that the recipes to be found in BLUE RIBBON WINNERS are some of the finest in various categories—there are pies and pastries, cakes, yeast breads, quick breads, cookies, candy and snack, sweet spreads, pickles and condiments.

Another feature of BLUE RIBBON WINNERS that I find especially valuable and interesting is that in the prefaces of each chapter, the author provides us with a closer look at judging criteria—for instance, the explains that the crust, in pies at a state fair, may count for up to 45% of the total score for a two-crust pie. She provides lots of tips for fair-competition wannabees” and cookie baking advice from a many-time winner.

I like the style of the recipes, which include the name and hometown of the winners—I even found a recipe for my absolute favorite candy recipes, (Cranlets—like aplets only made with cranberries) – that I can’t wait to try.
BLUE RIBBON WINNERS/AMERICA’S BEST STATE FAIR RECIPES certainly is a winner, one you will want to add to your cookbook collection. But wait! I’m not finished yet!

Do all of you remember the fabulous BROOKLYN COOKBOOK? Well, coauthors Lyn Stallworth and Rod Kennedy, Jr., returned to cookbook publishing with another winner, this time the title of their book was THE COUNTY FAIR COOKBOOK. Says Bernard Clayton, Jr., author of COOKING ACROSS AMERICA, “I had hardly begun the delightful COUNTY FAIR COOKBOOK when a powerful urge came over me to (1) visit every fair in my part of the country, and (2) immediately go to the kitchen to prepare Minnie Briese’s Potato soup (North Dakota) and Liverity Davis’ chicken pie (Louisiana).

I know how Mr. Clayton feels. Since I started reading these two cookbooks I have made numerous forages to the kitchen to mix cookie dough, bake a ham, and search for my candy thermometer.

State the publishers of THE COUNTY FAIR COOKBOOK, the American county fair! Its tractor pulls and rodeos, racing pigs and three-hundred pound pumpkins, boisterous midways and—food. Nothing brings out the best in the nation’s regional chefs like a county fair, and this jam-packed collection of authentic American foods is a cooking connoisseur’s culinary dream come true. Ranging across all fifty states (with an excursion into Canada), THE COUNTY FAIR COOKBOOK visits the fairs in each region and serves up the personally tried-and-true recipes of devoted fair-participants.

Also, each region features its own distinctive specialties, so that—when in Maine, you may encounter Yankee Johnnycake, while when you read about southern fair favorites, you may find goodies like Georgia’s sweet potato pudding.
This is far more than just a cookbook, though. Each fair that is featured in the book is accompanied by a brief synopsis of that fair, and even directions for getting there! There are lots of photographs taken at fair grounds throughout the country, from the tallest Ferris wheel in the western hemisphere (State Fair of Texas, in Dallas), to Doctor James Kemp judging country hams (Marion county in Kentucky); there is the happy face of a junior winner leading a Hereford bull (Rockingham County fair in Virginia) and square dancers at the Yavapal county Fair in Prescott, Arizona. For those of us on the West Coast, the Orange County Fair and Riverside County’s National Date Festival are featured. I was nonplussed to find a recipe from the Orange County Fair Centennial cookbook of 1992—this is one of the cookbooks I lost in the 1994 earthquake.

Farther north, the Big Fresno Fair is featured along with the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee. Throughout, there are lots and lots of yummy sounding recipes that you will want to try, knowing they are all winners.
If you’ve been to some of your local fairs, I know you will enjoy these books and delight in having at your fingertips hundreds of the blue ribbon recipes. If you haven’t been to a fair, you will surely want to read THE COUNTY FAIR COOKBOOK to get an idea what’s in store for you…and who knows? Maybe next year, those will be some of your blue ribbon winners!
***
Reviews by Sandra Lee Smith

FROM AS AMERICAN AS APPLE PIE TO THE AMERICAN TABLE PART TWO

As promised, I am embarking on the remaining cookbooks with America or American in their title. I haven’t counted up the books that are in stacks at my feet. Over the weekend I found one that wasn’t with the other Americana cookbooks and I suspect there may be more. Additionally, I have a number of books that were in the Time Life series –one in front of me was a cookbook I found in a thrift store—no, my memory isn’t that fantastic – but this cookbook has a price that was written onto the cover with a red crayon—I know that any others with a red crayon price came from this thrift store—and I will need to search through all of the cookbooks to see what I can find. The problem I faced when we began unpacking all the cookbooks that were in storage, back in 2009, and I was trying to find shelf space for everything. (too many books, not enough shelf space). -sls

First, today, I want to tell you about a hardcover book bearing the title COOKING AMERICAN, written by Sidney w. Dean. Subtitled on the dust jacket, is the following: “This book establishes once and for all the gourmet tradition of American cuisine. It gives American food and cooking the prestige and glamour (sic) far too long attributed solely to foreign cooking.
Over 800 recipes gathered from all parts of the United States and Canada” Since Canada is included, that explains the variation in Glamor vs glamour. Where ever a Canadian spelling is used, I will type it as written in the book.
Included in COOKING AMERICAN offers chapter such as “For the Festive Occasion”, “Sauces for fish, meat, vegetables and poultry” “Outdoor Cookery” and quite a few others. “Cooking American” was published in 1957 with Illustrations from Dorothy Maas. **
From TASTE OF HOME” is a large and colorful hardbound cookbook with 735 reader recipes (I like the inclusion of a nod to the readers who contributed their recipes—this is the first time I have come across this). On the other hand, I have diligently searched for the copyright date, or the date RECIPES ACROSS AMERICA was released for distribution—but I can’t find the copyright date. This is a large cookbook and one of the reasons it’s so large, perhaps, is that each recipe is accompanied by a colorful photo of the recipes. In Part 1 you may recall, there was a cookbook titled “A TASTE OF AMERICA” also from Taste of Home magazine. **
THE BEST AMERICAN RECIPES 2004-2005 has a small subtit
le, “The year’s top picks from books, magazines, newspapers, and the Internet” and was edited by Fran McCullough and Molly Stevens, with a foreword by Bobby Flay. (I had no idea who the two women were but easily recognized the name of Bobby Flay—I am on the internet and watch a lot of cooking shows—that’s how come I recognized Bobby Flay’s name. I turned to the Introduction, written by the two women and it opens with “We never quite know what we’re going to find when we begin combing through hundreds of cookbooks, magazines, and newspapers looking for the best recipes of the year—which is a good part of why this is such an exciting enterprise…it is not unlike a massive culinary treasure hunt..” (as I continued to read, I couldn’t help but think “hey! I’d like a job like that!”
The Best American Recipes for 2004-2005 was published in 2004 by Houghton Miffln Company in New York. **

My curiosity was piqued so I did what I always do next when I become curious – I googled the two names and discovered a wealth of information. Now, I don’t know if all of the information I unearthed represents a lot of cookbooks such as the one I own by the two women There are numerous listings but no indication that all of these are books or, perhaps, articles written by the two women. If there was one hardbound boo k of the Best American recipes for 200 4-2005, are there other books like this one? **

COOKING HEALTHY ACROSS AMERICA is a healthy exchange cookbook by JoAnna M. Lund with Barbara Alpert. I know I have seen the name JoAnna Lund before, elsewhere. This cookbook is spiral bound and was published in 2000. **

Along similar lines is a hardbound cookbook published by Prevention Magazine, titled LOW-FAT COOKING, and subtitled” FEATURING ALL-AMERICAN FOOD. This cookbook was edited by Jean Rogers, the food editor for Prevention Magazine. The book is packed with information—and we know now that you don’t have to be “on a diet” to want to eat healthy foods and have a healthy lifestyle. For reasons I can’t explain, I am unable to find a publishing date or a copyright date in this cookbook. Still, it’s well done and interesting. **

And while I am expanding on a similar theme, the next cookbook is THE NEW AMERICAN FARM COOKBOOK, subtitled “More than 200 recipes featuring today’s naturally and organically grown foods”. Written by Linda and Fred Griffith, THE NEW AMERICAN FARM COOKBOOK was first published in 1993.

In the Introduction, we read, “Perhaps it was Odessa Piper who started us off on this journey. When we first met Odessa at her wonderful restaurant in Madison, Wisconsin, she said that the key to the quality o what she sent to the tables of her customers was the quality of what her suppliers to her. And her suppliers, it turned out, were farmers in her neighborhood, people she knew…”

So, THE AMERICAN FARM COOKBOOK is a combination of recipes and farmers in a particular region selling their produce to restaurants. (if I knew of a restaurant like this anywhere in my region, believe me I would share it with you! **

Next, I want to share with you a cookbook titled AMERICAN BUFFET, favorite regional recipes from members of the General Federation of Women’s Club, World’s largest and oldest women’s volunteer volunteer service organization (or WFWC Volunteer) which was published by Favorite Recipes Press (which I have written about in the past) and this collection of recipes was published in 1993. This is a nicely compiled cookbook with hidden spiral binding ( which just means, you can see the spiral binding inside the book but it is not visible from the outside—fyi, this type of binding is a lot more durable than ordinary spiral binding.

In the inside of American Buffet is a brief history of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs along with a couple black and white photographs explaining how they came about; I know we take for granted, today, of all the rights and liberties women have in 2017—but those rights didn’t always s exist. Someone – women – had to go to bat to receive those rights. (women were often thrown in jail for marching for women’s equal rights).

The General Federation of Women’s Clubs traces its roots back to Jane Cunningham Croly, an accomplished New York newspaperwoman who wrote under the pen name of Jenny June. Indignant that she and other women were denied admittance to a banquet honoring Charles Dickens in 1868 at the all-male New York Press Club simply because they were women. She determined to organize a club for women only. The name chosen for this club was Sorosis, a Greek word meaning “aggregation, aa sweet flavor of many fruits”
As Sorosis approached its 21st year, Mrs. Croly proposed a conference in New York that brought together delegates from 61 women’s clubs” There is more to the story and I am guessing that more can be found on Google.

The collection of recipes in AMERICAN BUFFET are accompanied by the name of the contributor, along with city and state and the origin of the contributor’s membership. This is a great cookbook for your collection replete with recipes I haven’t seen elsewhere. **
AN AMERICAN PLACE, by Larry Forgione, and subtitled ‘Celebrating the Flavors of America” is the proprietor of An American Place in NY City and the1766 Tavern in Beekman Arms in Rhinebeck NY. Published by William Morrow and Company in 1996. I have to confess, An American Place was a “gotcha” to my mind as I wasn’t expecting An American Place to be the name of a restaurant—but how could I, a southern Californian heart and soul know what is popular in New York City?

The Culinary visionary (Larry Forgione) largely responsible for the rebirth of Farmers’ markets across America and the availability of such quality ingredients as free-range chicken and the field green salad, finally produced his master cookbook.
Well, we know, don’t we, that farmers markets have spread throughout the country but its gratifying to learn who have been instrumental in creating such markets.

Recently (2006 and 2027) , I was visiting a niece in Bothell, Washington, north of Seattle—and whenever I have been to visit Leslie, I have enjoyed visiting some of the farmers markets in her area. In a paragraph in the dust jacket of An American Place, I read “Forgione’s passionate return to freshness has given birth to such cottage industries as local goat cheese producers, growers of specialty berries and field lettuces, the proliferation of smoked and cured fish and shellfish of all kinds, the return of old-fashioned apple varieties, even then raising of buffalo, which he brought back to the American menu nearly a full century since it last appeared.
On both of the above my recent visits to Washington, nieces (and my sister) have gone out to get jelly jars for me and we made blackberry jam the first time and a combination of blackberry and other berries such as raspberries and strawberries the second time. I could go crazy over the abundance of large beautiful fresh blackberries! **

BEST OF THE BEST FROM AMERICA cookbook is, quite obviously, by Gwen McKee and Barbara Moseley, editors of the Best of the Best state series.

BEST OF THE BEST FROM AMERICA COOKBOOK published in 2005 by Quail Ridge Press, includes a full-color “we did it!” section that tells the story of how they accomplished the task of finding the best recipes in each state.

“More than two decades ago,” they write in the Preface, “we set out on a journey to find out what people across America liked to cook. Since the two of us have favorite recipes that are quite different—and we’re from neighboring states—Louisiana and Mississippi—we wondered, what are the favorite recipes and how are they different in Michigan and Arizona and Pennsylvania? We wanted to know what dishes are served for family meals, made for parties and tailgates, brought to church socials, etc. the pursuit of this goal proved to be the adventure of a lifetime. Not only did we discover extraordinary recipes, we met wonderful people and got a chance to visit a great portion of our beautiful country…”

BEST OF THE BEST FROM AMERICA COOKBOOK tells the story of how they accomplished the task of finding the best recipes in each state. Everywhere they traveled they asked about local fare and did their best to find it and taste it. They discovered that local cookbooks best revealed what people in that area cooked and often their stories attached to the recipes told them why. They received permission to use the recipes and in exchange listed the region’s cookbooks in a special “catalog of contributing cookbooks” section in each of the Best of the Best cookbooks so that others could purchase a copy of their book (I mentioned previously that a girlfriend and I would send for the local cookbooks referenced in those Best of the Best cookbooks—I no longer remember how many we sent away for – quite a few).

There is more to the book – and then there is the entire Best of the Best from America cookbook for you to delve into. **

I have AMERICA’S BEST RECIPES Hometown Collection, large spiral bound cookbooks, published by Oxmoor House for 1983 to Benefit he U.S. Ski Team, then 1988,1990, 1991, 1992, and 1994 as well as 1995, with just the titled America’s Best Recipes.
There are probably more books in the collection, with other dates—the above is what I have on my book shelves. **

Years ago—particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, I would send for any and all cookbooks published by various American food companies. For instance, A CELEBRATION OF COOKING IN AMERICA, subtitled Timeless Recipes from the Kitchens of Pet. Generally, these were recipes using Pet Evaporated Milk or other products created by Pet. The cookbook has hidden spiral binding and a colorful cover showing pumpkin pie, a couple of tacos and a few other baked dishes on the back cover. A Celebration of Cooking in America was published in 1984. **

Another cookbook from a food company is Land O’ Lakes AMERICAN HERITAGE COOKBOOK, subtitled Time-honored recipes from the Family Farm, published in 1999 by Land O Lakes and Creative Publishing. the American Heritage Cookbook is oddly shaped as cookbooks go, and was published in 1999. On the dust jacket is written “American Heritage Cookbook features over 50 original recipes submitted by Land O’Lakes cooperative members and employees. These recipes not only reflect the wholesome goodness of rural American life, but feature some of Land O’Lakes most delicious, high quality dairy products.

These recipes, hand-picked by Land O’Lakes test kitchen home economists, were chosen for their over-all flavor and great family appeal…”

Recipes are accompanied by beautiful color photographs of most recipes. I may have to Xerox some of the cookie recipes featured in American Heritage Cookbook.

(note—I confess, I don’t take my cookbooks into the kitchen—I copy recipes I want to try on my printer and make a note where it came from. I’m a stickler for keeping my cookbooks pristine.—sls) **

BERNARD CLAYTON was a cookbook author whose work I admired. Sadly, Mr. Clayton passed away a few years ago, in 2011.

He was the author of the Breads of France, Complete Book of Pastry, as well as Bernard Clayton’s Complete Book of Breads, Soups and Stews, and the Complete Book of Breads (a copy of this last one is sitting on my coffee table; I go through it frequently.

Well, the next cookbook I want to mention to you is Bernard Clayton’s COOKING ACROSS AMERICA, subtitled “Cooking with more than 100 of North America’s best cooks and 250 of their favorite recipes”.

There are a number of cookbook authors who have written about the recipes found in one end of the USA to the other. I want to share with you Bernard Clayton’s “Cooking Across America”

On the dust jacket of “Cooking Across America” is the following: Bernard Clayton and his wife, Marie, decided to go on the road in search of North America’s best cooks. He posted this brief note on the wall above his typewriter: “This will be more than a book of recipes. I am as interested in the cook as a person as I am in the thorough step-by-step presentation of the recipe. I believe these together have been the principal reason readers have found pleasure in reading and cooking with my books”
So, “for three years this sentiment defined their days. Driving a GMC van, they set out on the odyssey of a lifetime—what Clayton, a veteran news reporter and foreign correspondent before becoming a best-selling cookbook author, often called a ‘Dream Assignment’.”

There is a great deal more written on the dust jacket and for anyone wanting to know more, this will give you a good idea. “Cooking Across America” is a big thick cookbook explaining in Bernard Clayton’s own words what their adventure was like. **

“THE AMERICAN HERITAGE COOKBOOK” subtitled “more than 500 easy-to-make recipes complete and up-to-date together with 40 Historic Menus, was published in 1964, where new the book cost $6.95. It was compiled by the editors of American Heritage, the magazine of history. Recipes are accompanied by their historic background; in the dust jacket editors have written “More than 500 great traditional recipes, old and new, are gathered together in this new larger-size version of a perennial best seller. It is a book that views our past in terms of the foods our forefathers ate and the drinks they drank..”

This is one of those books I have to read through, first, taking in the historic background before going back to choose recipes to try. It’s also the kind of book I would have gone through in search of historic documentations when I was writing for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange in the 1990s. **

“AMERICAN GASTRONOMY”, an illustrated portfolio of recipes and culinary history, was written by none-other than Louis Szathmary; on the dust jacket cover they have listed him as “Author of The Che’s Secret Cook Book” published in 1974. I admit, I did a double-take when I came across this book—I honestly was unaware that I have it.

Followers of Sandy’s Chatter may recall that I have written about Chef Szathmary on more than one occasion. He has been my idol for years. I couldn’t appreciate him more if I discovered he was a long lost relative of mine.

An introduction to American Cookery, AMERICAN GASTRONOMY is illustrated with over 90 etchings, woodcuts, prints and photographs that together offer a fascinating look into the kitchens and dining rooms of yesteryear. Also included are reproductions of old advertisements of American food products and bills of fare from famous restaurants…”
Judging from the dust jacket, this cookbook was published at the time that Chef Szathmary was owner-chef of The Bakery, a restaurant of international fame located in Chicago; he was also the author of the best selling “Chef’s Secret Cook Book” and editor of a 15 Volume series of classic American cookbooks published by the Arno Press (I have yet to come across any of the cookbooks in the 15 volume series) **

A large cookbook about the size of a 3-ring binder is a book titled AMERICA’S HOMETOWN RECIPE BOOK, 712 Favorite RECIPES FROM MAIN STREET U.S.A., edited by Barbara Greenman.
This book has hidden spiral binding and a beautiful layout of recipes titled in red or blue backgrounds and I discovered, at the back of the book, recipe cards you can remove for anyone you want to share one of the recipes with. (That’s a first!)

Barbara Greenman, I discovered, developed and edited many cookbooks including The American Century Cookbook by Jean Anderson, Family Circle All-time Favorite Recipes, Family Circle best-ever Cakes & Cookies, and the America Loves—series by Linda West Eckhardt. She is also the editor of Back of the Box Cooking and back of the Box Cooking: 30 minute meals. **

The Four-Star American Community Cook Book with more than 350 Best-Ever Regional recipes chosen from America’s Community Cookbooks with An Patterson Dee, Editor. There is a lengthy introduction but the most outstanding feature of FOUR STAR AMERICAN COMMUNITY COOK BOOK are the recipes, with signatures of the recipe’s contributor and what community cookbook is the source of the recipe. **

AMERICA THE EDIBLE, subtitled “A hungry history from sea to dining sea, by Adam Richman, published in 2010, is yet another collection of recipes from far and wide. Writes the author in the Introduction, “American Edible is a collection of love letters to some of my favorite food places, their histories and the time I spent there. It is an admittedly idiosynernatic (sic) survey. These cities are a pastiche of the places I’ve lived, places work has taken me, places wanderlust and fate have plopped me in the middle of. There was no particular rhyme or reason to their selection, merely the fact that I have had wonderful and varied food experiences in each…” Per the dust jacket, we learn that Richman the exuberant host of Travel Channel’s Man vs Food, has criss-crossed the continent in search of the best eating experiences. **

Pierre franey’s COOKING IN AMERICA is the companion book to the public television series was written by Pierre Franey and Richard Flaste, and was published in 1992 by Alfred A. Knopf. Franey has written twelve cookbooks, counting this one, and his “60 minute Gourmet” column is syndicated nationally. Flaste is a longtime associate of Franey and has collaborated with him on two earlier books on food.

In the dust jacket to COOKING IN AMERICA, we learn that Pierre Franey celebrates American food—the rich lode of fresh produce and the cooking skill, ingenuity and lore that are among our national treasures—and provides us with 200 delectable recipes that are in themselves a celebration.

“Born in Burgundy and trained as a chef in the great French tradition, Franey has become a true champion of American cooking…he visits restaurants and their kitchens, from the elegant River Café in New York and the vibrant Tra Vigne in the Napa Valley of California…we follow him across the country as eh searches out local specialties and secrets, talking to all sorts of Americans, from crabbers in Maryland to citrus growers in Florida, from cattle ranchers in Nevada to strawberry an artichoke growers in California”.

Pierre Franey’s Cooking in America is richly illustrated by Lauren Jarrett and was published in 1992 by Alfred A Knopf, Inc. It is a beautiful hardbound cook with a glossy cover and a dust jacket with a photograph of Pierre Franey—and a comment at the end of the dust jacket, stating “This is a fitting tribute to America’s extraordinary culinary heritage” – I would say Amen to that. **

“EATING IN AMERICA” by Waverly Root and Richard De Rochemont is not a cookbook! From Google, we learn that rather, it is a history. It chronicles the history of American food and eating customs from the time of its earliest explorers to the present. Waverly Root (1903-1982) was an American journalist and writer who became widely known for his writings on food. EATING IN AMERICA was published in 1976. As I wrote above, no recipes. This is a comprehensive history. Well done! – sls **

ALL AMERICAN COOKBOOK II, edibles from notables is a spiral bound cookbook collection of recipes collected by Walsworth Publishing Company to assist yearbook staffs across the country to improve the quality and educational value of their publication. This is a spiral bound cookbook published in 1985 (and I have never seen a volume I) – more of a fun cookbook filled with recipes from who’s who in America back in 1985. Many of the contributors were in politics—governors and U.S. Representatives (such as Bill Clinton when he was Governor of Arkansas!) You will have a good time checking out who contributed to ALLAMERICAN COOKBOOK II. **

THE I HEART AMERICA COOKBOOK from the American Legion Auxiliary from Tucson, Arizona is more of a booklet than a book and I am unable to find a publishing date in it—even so, it meets my criteria for something with “America” in the title—like so many of my cookbooks or cookbooklets, I no longer remember where I found it.

I have a Time Life American Regional Cookbook by the editors of Time-Life Books. This cookbook was published in 1978 by Little Brown and Company.

“Take 350 years of refining savory dishes brought by immigrants from all over the world, add the best of hundreds of new recipes inspired by the New World’s cornucopia of tempting foodstuffs and the result is a truly fine native product: the Time Life American Regional cookbook.

This compendium is a bountiful collection of more than 500 national and regional favorites as well as specialties from some of the nation’s best restaurants…this handsome book includes 45 pages of color pictures and step by step sequence photographs showing exactly how to prepare various dishes…” **
The following are a few of my absolute favorite cookbooks, kept in a bookcase near my computer for easy referencing:

THE AMERICAN CENTURY COOKBOOK, The most popular Recipes of the 20th Century is from notable cookbook author Jean Anderson, published in 1997 **

AMERICAN HOME COOKING by Cheryl Alters Jaison and Bill Jamison, contains over 300 recipes celebrating our rich traditions of home cooking, published in 1999 **

AMERICAN APPETITE, subtitled “The coming of age of a cuisine” is by Leslie Brenner, published in 1999. **

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN FOOD & DRINK, subtitled with more than 500 recipes for American classics is by John F. Mariani, was also published in 1999. **

I should mention something about my cookbooks—when used book stores began to sell their books at reduced prices before closing their doors—I haunted the used book stores in the San Fernando Valley and bought all I could afford. I don’t think there are any more used book stores in southern California. Amazon.com picked up where the used book stores left off.

It was a sad day for me when a girlfriend and I, back in 2008, drove up the California Coast and stopped in San Luis Obispo – I wanted to share my favorite used book store with girlfriend Sharon—and it was gone. Just an empty store front where one of my favorite used book stores used to be.

For that matter, I think—at one time, back when, there were four or five bookstores in SLO, within walking distance to one another—and Bob and I would make a point to visit all of them when we were spending a holiday in the area.

Quite possibly I bought many of the cookbooks I have listed in FROM AS AMERICAN AS APPLE PIE TO THE AMERICAN TABLE, PARTS ONE AND TWO in various used bookstores in the San Fernando Valley, in Burbank, California, Reseda, and San Luis Obispo. Nowadays, I buy most of my pre-owned books through Amazon.com—and its gratifying to me when I buy a pre-owned cookbook and it comes to me from a book dealer in a different part of the U.S.A. They are out there—you just have to know how to find them.

Sandra Lee Smith

FROM AS AMERICAN AS APPLE PIE TO THE AMERICAN TABLE

PART ONE

The following titles are all from my own personal collection of regional cookbooks—for what can be more regional, more American than the many cookbooks written by various authors?

I will provide as much information as possible, in the event someone wants to find some of these books. Some of the titles are not listed on Amazon.com while others are. For openers:

One of my earliest books by the Browns (Cora, Rose and Bob Brown) is Culinary Americana and the reason why I know it was one of the earliest books in my collection is because it contains an address label from when I lived on Terra Bella Street in Arleta, and I was numbering my books as I went along. Culinary Americana was #40A. Culinary Americana was compiled by Eleanor and Bob Brown (I believe this was after Cora and Rose had passed away and Bob re-married). In the Introduction, we learn that “Bob Brown first got together a cookbook collection for reference when he began to write about cooking. He had 1500 volumes which were purchased promptly by a grocery chain store as nucleus for their research library. It was then necessary for Bob to start a new collection. This was the origin of an interest in cookery books which lasted, and grew to the end of his life. Bob saw cookbooks as social and cultural history in America, particularly those regional books which were so close to the heart of the country”. After Bob’s sudden death, Eleanor continued work on this bibliography, CULINARY AMERICANA. **

Another huge favorite of mine since my earliest days of cookbook collecting is AMERICA COOKS, by the Browns, copyrighted 1940—and I never tire from reading it. If I remember correctly, my penpal Betsy Dearth found a copy of AMERICA COOKS for me.
America cooks is a fun cookbook, saluting all the states and including some rhymed recipes along the way.

FYI there are about a dozen cookbooks by The Browns, all a welcome addition to any cookbook collection ***

A SALUTE TO AMERICAN COOKING, by Stephen and Ethel Longstreet, (and illustrations by Stephen Longstreet), published in 1968, is a hardcover cookbook. A SALUTE TO AMERICAN COOKING is a hardbound cookbook published by Hawthorn Books in 1968 with a wide assortment of recipes. While leafing through the cookbook last night I came across recipes for Old Style Pickled Mushrooms, and Red Pepper Jelly, Farmer’s Pickled Red Cabbage, something different in making stuffed bell peppers and many other tantalizing recipes. Somehow I managed to acquire two copies of A SALUTE TO AMERICAN COOKING. **

One of the most famous cookbook writers decades ago was a woman named Clementine Paddleford (possibly a pen name) who wrote THE BEST IN AMERICAN COOKING, published in 1970. On the dust jacket, the publishers wrote, “Here is a veritable gold mine of regional and traditional food which includes hundreds of treasured recipes gathered from American housewives in 12 states and a few specialties from famous restaurants, governors’ mansions, and even the dining room of the U.S. Senate…Every type of food is included from hearty soups to tempting desserts have been particularly proud of their baking skills, there are recipes galore for breads, biscuits and rolls, pies, cakes and cookies.

Originally published as HOW AMERICA EATS this new edition contains all of the more than 800 superb recipes collected by Clementine Paddleford on her energetic travels from Maine to California, Florida to Alaska. As food editor of This Week Magazine and the New York Herald Tribune, she had a large and devoted following and readers who may have been clipped and saved from her columns will rejoice to find the best of them preserved in book form…” THE BEST IN AMERICAN COOKING was published by Charles Scribner’s Sons copywrite 1970. I am fortunate that even though the dust jacket to my copy of THE BEST IN AMERICAN COOKING shows wear, the book itself is in pristine condition. If you google her name, you will find a wealth of information. I may have to put together a separate blog post about her **

Another favorite of mine that I have referred to from time to time is Betty Fussell’s I HEAR AMERICA COOKING, (subtitled “a Journey of Discovery from Alaska to Florida, the Cooks, the Recipes and the Unique Flavors of our National Cuisine)” published in 1986 by Penguin Viking. More than just a cookbook, I HEAR AMERICA COOKING is more of a history book. **

AS AMERICAN AS APPLE PIE, was published by Simon & Shuster in 1990 and written by Phillip Stephen Schulz. This is a beautifully compiled cookbook with a striking dust jacket and starts—where else? With a chapter on Apple Pies. Schulz starts with a bit of biography on John Chapman, alias “Johnny Appleseed” who, on his own, planted thousands of apple trees in this country in his lifetime.

Schulz writes “….he was eccentric without a doubt, but not the bumbling character depicted by legend…while it is true he had an obsession with apples, he was educated enough to know that apples grown from seed revert back to their wild state. Instead of seeds, Chapman planted seedlings in carefully planned orchard sites, beginning on the Atlantic coast and attempting to work his way across the U.A….” Schulz reports “sad to say, Chapman only got as far was Fort Wayne, Indiana by the time he died in 1845…”
There is more to the story and a tantalizing array of apple pie recipes from which to choose. Many more recipes to whet your appetite as well. **

COLLECTOR’S EDITION AMERICA’S BEST RECIPES/HEALTHY EATING is another hard-cover cookbook which is accompanied by numerous color photographs of various recipes. I don’t have an author of this compilation but it appears to have been published by Landoll’s Inc., in Ashland Ohio. **

AMERICA’S BEST RECIPES, State Fair Blue Ribbon Winners was compiled by Rosemary & Peter Hanley, published in 1983 and could have been included in my collection of State/County fair cookbooks but it had “America” in the title. It contains over 250 mouth-watering recipes that have been blue ribbon prize winners at leading state fairs across the country. Published by Little, Brown and Company, this is another well compiled cookbook, although without photographs except for one on the cover. **
My copy of THE AMERICAN TABLE by Ronald Johnson is a soft-cover cookbook published in 1984 but my copy appears to be the First Fireside edition published in 1991. Subtitled “A celebration of the glories of American Regional Cooking” It reinforces my belief in Americana being another word for “Regional” cooking. I have referred to this cookbook many times.

One of my prize cookbooks is A TASTE OF AMERICA, subtitled “more than 400 delicious regional recipes shown step by step in over 1750 stunning photographs” published by Southwater 1998, 2009, an imprint of Anness Publishing in London. It’s not a hardbound book but not exactly a soft cover book either. It was previously published as The Ultimate American Cookbook. Authors are Carole Clements, Laura Washburn and Patricia Lousada. **

THE AMERICAN SAMPLER COOKBOOK, subtitled “America’s leading statesmen and their families share their favorite recipes, Regional Specialties, Downhome Classics and Gourmet Treats”. This cookbook was published in 1986 is contains more than 200 recipes and is a hardbound cookbook. **

AN AMERICAN FOLKLIFE COOKBOOK by Joan Nathan, was first published by Schocken Books in 1984. In an American Folklife Cookbook, food folklorist Joan Nathan tells the story of American food through its people, giving slices of life as she sees it in kitchens throughout the country. Nathans interviews are valuable social history and good reading…she presents 200 of the best of the many recipes she sampled. **
EARLY AMERICAN COOKING, Recipes from America’s Historic Sites, was compiled and edited by Evelyn L. Beilenson, published by Peter Pauper Press n White Plains, NY, published in 1985 and is a hardbound book, beautifully put together. **

CLASSIC AMERICAN, subtitled “Food Without Fuss” was compiled by Frances Mccullough and Barbara Witt, published in 1996 and is a hardbound book with a beautiful dust jacket. Frances is described as “a well-known book editor who specialized in cookbooks and Barbara Witt is a cookbook author and restaurant consultant. **
THE CHAMBERLAIN SAMPLER OF AMERICAN COOKING subtitled “In Recipes and Pictures, was published in 1961 by Hastings House, publishers in NY, and was written by Narcisse Chamberlain an Narcissa G. Chamberlain, and comes with each recipe accompanied by a photograph. Very readable cookbook. **

An AMERICAN GUMBO, subtitled “Affordable Cuisine for the Everyday Gourmet” published in 1983 by Linda West Eckhardt and is the first spiral bound cookbook I have come across (so far) but makes reading and following recipes a great deal easier than hardbound books. (just saying!) Be sure to read the chapter “Stocking the Everyday Gourmet Kitchen” – a lot of the recipes in this cookbook aren’t ones you will find everywhere else. **

KENNY COOKS AMERICA is a colorful soft cover cookbook written by Kenny Miller and on the back cover we read “The irrepressible Kenny Miller returns with a coast to coast culinary journey across the United States. He introduces us to the best in regional (italics mine—sls) cooking from Mexican border food to New York Jewish and from the soulfood of the deep south to the fusions of the Pacific rim…” copyright by Kenny Miller in 1998, another very readable cookbook. (*Kenny Miller might be called a latter day Clementine Paddleford).

First published in 1974, Evan Jones is the author of AMERICAN FOOD, THE GASTRONOMIC STORY, with a subtitle “Completely Revised and with more than 700 distinctive regional, traditional and contemporary recipes. This is one of my “go to” books whenever I am writing anything about the history of the USA and I want to know something. AMERICAN FOOD was published by Random House in New York. Of Evan Jones, James Beard wrote “I am delighted that Evan Jones has delved into the endless store of lore that is American Cookery. The quantity of previously untouched facts is tremendous. Filled with fascinating stories of how and where American cuisine developed …” **

CLASSIC AMERICAN COOKING by Pearl Byrd Foster subtitled “With over 250 recipes and special menus” is a fireside book published by Simon & Schuster and an Introduction written by James Villas, and drawings by Susan Gaber. My copy of Classic American Cooking has a soft cover and there is quite a story behind Pearl Byrd Foster as told by Villas and a fascinating story in the Foreword written by Pearl herself. CLASSIC AMERICAN COOKING was published in 1983. **

The Saturday Evening Post got into the act with their ALL*AMERICAN COOKBOOK which features a grandma making a pie on the cover while a little boy watches intently (a Norman Rockwell reproduction). This cookbook was compiled by Charlotte Turgeon and Frederic A. Birmingham and contains 500 great recipes. Published in 1979,

ALL*AMERICAN COOKBOOK is chock full of Rockwell paintings as well as early American ads. As interesting to read as well as check out the recipes. **

Over the years, I often supplemented my cookbook collection by ordering cookbooks published by various American food companies and sold to American housewives for a small charge and sometimes, perhaps, a label from one of their products.

Such was the case for AMERICA’S COUNTRY INN COOKBOOK, a spiral bound cookbook offered by R.T. French Company in 1984. The cookbook is made up of country inns and recipes for most of the states being represented. This cookbook is unique in presenting the various inns throughout the country. “some inns are large with many rooms,” write the editors, “Others are small, with only a few choice accommodations” Considering that this cookbook was published over thirty years ago, it’s possible that not all of the inns are still in business—even so, it’s a delight to read and check out the recipes.
HERITAGE OF AMERICA COOKBOOK is a spiral bound Better Homes and Gardens book,

published in 1993 and is called the Kitchen Companion—and is proof positive, I think, that BH&G is keeping up with the times. Recipes are divided into categories of the various sections of America –imagine my surprise finding a recipe for Cincinnati Chili in this cookbook! I will have to try the recipe to see how it holds up against my family’s Cincinnati Chili (we all have our own favorite) –and the BH&G recipe contains a few ingredients not found in my family’s chili recipe. **

GREAT AMERICAN FOOD, subtitled “from the pioneers to present day” is a large hardbound cookbook by Lesley Allin, published in 1994. This cookbook contains a lot of color pages of prepared recipes sure to whet your appetite. Really great format. **

Next is an oversized yet soft cover cookbook titled WHAT’S COOKING AMERICA by Linda Stradley and Andra Cook published by Three Forks Books an imprint of Falcon Publishing. WHAT’S COOKING AMERICA contains more than 800 family-tested recipes from American cooks of today and yesterday. In addition to all the recipes, the book is packed with tips and suggestions for various dishes you may make. (and my tip for oversized cookbooks? When I find a recipe I want to try, I make a copy of it on my printer; just about everyone has a printer nowadays—make a copy and use THAT one to make up the dish you want to try).

365 ALL-AMERICAN FAVORITES by Sarah Reynolds has inside spiral binding and was published in 1997 by John Boswell Management. I love the format to this cookbook; I love that it opens flat to follow a particular recipe. All I did was open the cookbook and I immediately found a recipe I want to try for Chicken Liver Spread with Pistachios and Dried Cranberries. What’s not to like? **

GREAT HOME COOKING IN AMERICA is by the Food Editors of Farm Journal, subtitled “Heirloom Recipes Treasured for Generations”. This is a hardcover cookbook published in 1976. Inside the cookbook is a list of all the cookbooks published by Farm Journal – 15 in all.

I have most if not all of the Farm Journal cookbooks. Years ago, my long-time Oklahoma penpal, Penny, introduced me to the Farm Journal cookbooks. That probably was in the mid-70s. we followed all of Farm Journal recipes religiously, especially the Farm Journal Homemade Cookies cookbook. I collect a lot of cookbooks. Back in the 70s, I cooked with Farm Journal recipes. That says a lot, doesn’t it? At that time in our lives, the Farm Journal recipes were the most reliable. **

AMERICAN REGIONAL COOKERY BY Sheila Hibben is a hardbound cookbook that, while she attributes various recipes to different places in the USA, the author has made a dedicated effort to provide recipes that are easy to follow with standard ingredients found in most kitchen cupboards around the country. In the Introduction, Sheila explains the logic and beliefs in how she produces recipes.

In the dust jacket of American Regional Cookery, the publishers explain “This is a cook book of indigenous dishes, that is, dishes which belong to the very soil of America, which have grown out of its fields and plains, its rivers and forests and sea lanes. It is also a book of the recipes preferred in each section of America: the way in which native dishes are cooked in Maine or Michigan or California, Boston, New York or New Orleans. In addition, there are recipes from Europe and the Orient which have become, in time a part of American culture, just as foreigners themselves became a part of our great nation”. This edition of American Regional Cookery was published by Gramercy Publishing Company. **

Cracker Barrel, Old Country Store, is a chain of restaurants which, regretfully, are not in Southern California—but there is one in Sioux Falls, where my son Steve & his wife Lori live—and there is a Cracker Barrel Restaurant in Nashville that I visited many times with my sister, Becky—so I am familiar with Cracker Barrel cuisine which is, to my way of thinking, down home food. Some where along the way I acquired a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Celebrates AMERICAN HOLIDAYS COOKBOOK VOLUME II, BY Phila Hach. Information about the author fills an entire page—so let me just say that she is the author of six previous cookbooks—one of which (be still my heart!) is titled FROM PHILA WITH LOVE, an intimate handwritten collection of her favorite recipes, but she also wrote Phila Hach’s United Nations Cookbook, a great collection of recipes received from the Ambassadors of the United Nations as well as OFFICIAL 1982 WORLD’S FAIR COOKBOOK, containing 600 of Phila’s favorite international, southern and Appalachian recipes.

The reason I am mentioning all of the above—is because I don’t have any of those cookbooks. I also learned that Phila is one of the South’s most sought after caterers.

The Cracker Barrel’s AMERICAN HOLIDAYS COOKBOOK was published in 1985; it is a spiral bound cookbook which makes it easy to lay open flat when you are following one of the recipes. I’ll have to try and find Volume I. **

AMERICAN SANDWICH, subtitled “Great Eats from all 50 States” is one of my favorite cookbooks—for one thing, I have been acquainted by mail and by computer with Becky Mercuri, the author. Becky was a columnist for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange during the same years I was writing for the CCE as well.

“America is a nation of sandwich eaters, “ Becky wrote in the Introduction to AMERICAN SANDWICH in 2004 when her cookbook was published. “We commonly live life in the fast lane and we necessarily dote on food that is portable. The sandwich has thus become a mainstay of our existence. Sandwiches are to Americans what pasta is to Italians or what tortillas are to Mexicans. Sandwich shops are everywhere. Take out and delivery are not just window dressing for many such businesses; they are integral to attracting and keeping a loyal clientele who commonly lunch at their desks or even behind the wheels of their cars. Even when eating in restaurants, Americans love sandwiches and not just for lunch. Sandwiches are now common offerings for breakfast and up-scale sandwich creations are even appearing on dinner menus.

Becky Mercuri has divided up the chapters by state (Alabama, Alaska) and provides sandwich recipes indigenous to that region. An enormous amount of work obviously has gone into AMERICAN SANDWICH and in the Introduction you will find background information and history for the sandwich.

AMERICAN SANDWICH is a softcover recipe collection but the covers- which I have seen on a few other cookbooks – is sturdier than ordinary soft-bound cookbooks. **

Sandra’s cooknote: I didn’t anticipate that I would find so many books in my own personal collection with “America” or “American” in the titles – and this doesn’t even include cookbooks with “USA” or similar titles – so I have divided the blog post into two parts. This concludes Part One.

TO BE CONTINUED

Sandra Lee Smith

REGIONAL COOKBOOKS VERSUS AMERICANA

FOR BETSY

Back in 1965, when I came up with the idea of collecting cookbooks, I was a babe in the woods, with virtually NO idea how to even START collecting cookbooks. (It was all a matter of knowing where to look.)

This little acorn of an idea actually started with my father, who worked at Formica for many years; a coworker brought in some church cookbooks compiled by the Women’s Guild Matthew’s United Church of Christ (Cincinnati, Ohio)
For their 50th Anniversary in 1961.

Dad bought several of the cookbooks for a dollar each. It had everything -ads from local businesses, lots of recipes – and – a fair amount of dishes indigenous to Cincinnati, Ohio—including mock turtle soup (that’s not one you see in a lot of cookbooks). One of the copies was given to me. (Thanks, Dad! You created a monster!)

That was my very first church cookbook, and I think I made most of the recipes at one time or another and every time I looked through it, I wondered “are there more cookbooks like this one, somewhere out there?

A few years passed by; by 1965 we (husband, two sons) were living in a cute little house in North Hollywood.You know how one thing can lead to another? That’s just what happened. A girlfriend (whose husband was Hungarian) mentioned seeing a collection of Hungarian recipes in booklet form (possibly Culinary Arts Press) and said she would like to find a copy of that cookbooklet.

“I know how to find it,” I told her. “There is a magazine called Women’s Circle, by Tower Press–—women write in to the magazine when they want to find something and they offer to buy or trade for it—I’ll write a letter to them” – and so I did.

My letter appeared in an issue of the magazine a few months later. In addition to expressing a desire to find the Hungarian cookbooklet, I also wrote that I was interested in finding cookbooks to buy or trade for—particular church or club cookbooks.

What followed was an onslaught of mail from women all over the USA—over 200 letters, in fact. I bought a couple copies of the Hungarian booklet—one for my friend, Peggy, and one for myself. I also bought or traded for every cookbook any one had to offer. And that’s how I started collecting cookbooks.

One of the first letters I received was from a young woman like myself, with children, and we immediately became penpals. Betsy lives in Michigan and we are still penpals –more than fifty years later. I also discovered that used book stores had a wealth of church and club cookbooks. I thought of these cookbooks as “regional” cookbooks, although I would learn that “regional” can cover a lot of territory.

So many years later, I have thousands of cookbooks; one that I consider outstanding as a regional cookbook is titled CINCINNATI RECIPE TREASURY, THE QUEEN CITY’S CULINARY HERITAGE, by Mary Anna DuSablon.

This one didn’t turn up in a used book store—I was with my brother, Jim, in between flights taking us to Seattle—(whenever he had business on the west coast. I’d take a few vacation days from my job and travel along with him) when I found Mary Anna DuSablon’s cookbook (if I am not mistaken) in a bookstore inside the airport where we were waiting for a flight from Oakland to Seattle. I bought all the copies they had, to put aside for Christmas presents for my siblings. I gave one of the copies to my brother—he read the entire book by the time we reached Seattle. CINCINNATI RECIPE TREASURY remains one of my all-time favorite “regional” cookbooks. The recipes and their history reached out to us, born and raised in Cincinnati.

Whether considered “regional” cookbooks or referred to as “church and club” cookbooks this genre of cookery has a long and lasting history. According to Clifton Fadiman in the Foreword to the Browns’ CULINARY AMERICANA, it is believed that the earliest of the regional cookbooks were brought out to provide funds for he Sanitary Commissions during the Civil War.

I had to smile at Fadiman’s description of CULINARY AMERICANA “…though it seems basically a mere bibiliography, *Italics mine—sls) if carefully read and thoughtfully interpreted, can throw a significant and diverting light on us as a people. It makes clear, for example, in the most unpretentious way, how stubborn, how resistant to change, are those outgrowths of pioneer institutions, the Ladies Aid Society, the church group, the womens’ clubs, the charming little cookbooks they issued (and continue to issue) are an index of the sturdiness of village culture. It has not all gone neon-light”.

(I should mention, however, that Fadiman’s Foreword to Culinary Americana was written in 1961 (also the publishing date of Culinary Americana) and the regional cookbook, in particular the cookbooks published by the Junior
Leagues of the USA, have blossomed into a great deal more than “charming little cookbooks” as described by Fadiman).

Additionally, Culinary Americana is focused on cookbooks published in the cities and towns of the United States of America from 1860 through 1960; to the best of my knowledge, no one has compiled a collection of church and club cookbooks from 1960 to the present time 2017—but I think there are an enormous number of church and club cookbooks published every year and it may have reach the point where it is impossible to keep tabs on how many are published every year.

In my personal collection of regional cookbooks, divided into two large bookcases (East of the Mississippi and West of the Mississippi (for lack of a better solution and lack of space) and separated from those cookbooks is a third bookcase – anything with “American or Americana in the titles.

Possibly a better solution would be to get everything catalogued on my computer. The prospect overwhelms me. And, in the past few years, I began giving away some of the church-and-club cookbooks to nieces just to create bookshelf space for other cookbooks.

In 2010, my housemate, Bob, created a library out of half of the garage; he built some of the book shelves and used existing bookcases to create other “walls” for my books. After Bob passed away, I also began donating fiction – Bob’s authors and some of my own – to the Lancaster (California) Friends of the Library…

In the center of the garage library are categories such as American Presidents, First Ladies, biographies and auto- biographies.

Other categories of cookbooks are in bookcases that makes up “the wall” dividing the garage library from the garage itself, where I park my car.

Bob passed away from cancer of the esophagus in September, 2011. He managed to create a garage library, rebuild the secret garden and even got my clothesline put up again. (I am frequently reminded of the words to a song “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone….they paved paradise and put in a parking lot….”)

Since his passing in 2011, I have donated most of his favorite authors to the Lancaster Library – but also gave some of his authors to people like my friend Mary Jaynne’s husband Steve, who appreciates some of the same authors as Bob did.

As quickly as the shelves went up in the garage library, I unpacked boxes of books that had been stacked in an extra steel shed, bemoaning the discovery that some of my First Ladies’ biographies had gotten wet and were ruined from mildew. Inside the house, I cleared enough shelf space for collections such as my White House books (most written by former employees of the White House) while four smaller bookcases have been filled with my prized collection of food reference and recipes throughout history. The latter are as close to my computer as I can get them.

ALL of my regional cookbooks as well as all of my favorite food authors and all the books with “AMERICAN OR AMERICANA” in the titles are in bookcases that fill all three bedrooms as well as half of the living room. Most of the food authors are books that I collected in the 1990s while writing about those food historians for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange.

I have lost touch with Sue Erwin, the woman who created the CCE and knocked herself out finding books that I would be searching for – generally for an entire year – before sitting down and starting to write about – people like Myra Waldo, Jean Anderson, Meta Given, Nika Hazelton, the Browns (Cora, Rose and Bob Brown) as well as others.

In addition, I collected the series of the Best of the Best cookbooks, dedicated to collecting recipes from regional cookbooks in each of the states in the USA—there are more than fifty cookbooks in the series because the creators of The Best of the Best sometimes discovered a lot more cookbooks in certain states, such as Texas, Louisiana, and Virginia—which warranted a sequel book 2,

(I should also mention that two books represented the Best of the Best from the Mid-Atlantic (representing Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Washington, D.C—while the Great Plains are features in the Best of the Best from favorite cookbooks in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.

I should also mention that the Best of the Best series was the inspiration of Gwen McKee and Barbara Moseley—who VISITED each of the States in search of club and church cookbooks from each. They are the creators of Quail Ridge Press. Each of the Best of the Best series contains a list of all the contributing cookbooks…and back when this famous duo was first publishing the Best of the Best series, my girlfriend, Mandy, and I wrote to some of the contributing cookbooks and were able to order a few that especially appealed to us. I can’t say enough about them—if you are really interested in regional cookbooks, this is a great place to start.

Another series of cookbooks that I am particularly fond of are The Gooseberry Patch cookbooks. I have more than fifty of these cookbooks—titles range from Christmas favorites, to best-loved Church Casseroles. These are also spiral-bound books—and the catch to the Gooseberry Patch is that recipes are culled from the many submitted to them—and, if they choose one of your recipes, you receive a free copy of the cookbook when it is published (a value of $16.95). I think I have about half a dozen, possibly more, that were selected from recipes I sent to Gooseberry Patch. I keep the letter they sent to me, announcing the publication of a particular recipe, with the book. They like it when you are able to provide a little history with your recipe—I submitted a chicken dish that had been my Aunt Annie’s—and it was chosen for Gooseberry Patch’s DINNER$ ON A DIME published in 2009.

Years ago, when I was new to cookbook collecting, a few penpals and I embarked on a quest to find a cookbook from each of the States (this was long before the Best of the Best came along) – I remember being unable to find anything for Utah so I wrote to a newspaper in Utah asking why it was so hard to find any church or club cookbooks published in Utah. Someone—maybe the food editor—wrote back to me, saying that it was possible that local people bought up all the copies of fund-raising cookbooks, leaving no reason to search for buyers beyond their borders. Somehow I did find something from Utah. My curiosity was piqued and I began searching for books about Utah pioneers as well. This is just how one thing leads to another.

Over the last few days, I unearthed a copy of the Santa Barbara Junior League Cookbook, published in 1939. (I need to search through my Junior League books to see which has the earliest publishing date).

This one could have fallen into the category of battered, tattered cookbooks and I might have overlooked it if not for the 1939 publishing date—and the many charming recipes featuring local (Southern California) recipes. It belongs with my collection of California cookbooks. My curiosity is piqued again with a recipe for Nabisco Cream Cake—that requires “rolled Nabisco wafers”. Does anyone know what these were? Obviously a cookie from Nabisco—but when did the cookie disappear from grocery shelves? This is a dessert recipe that is refrigerated for at least 12 hours after it has been put together. (I wonder—if I write to Nabisco, do you think they will answer me?)

Back in the 1970s, both my sister Becky and I found ourselves contributing recipes to PTA cookbooks being published by our sons’ schools—the Beachy School PTA Cookbook remains one of my favorites—while Becky’s participation in the Cheviot School PTA (Cincinnati, Ohio) cookbook makes that one a favorite in our household—that’s another way to get yourself involved with the publication of a regional cookbook.

TO CONTACT GOOSEBERRY PATCH, write to Gooseberry Patch, 600 London Road, PO Box 190, Delaware, Oh 43015, or call them at 1-800-854-6673.

To contact the editors of Best of the Best, Quail Ridge Press, PO Box 123, Brandon, Ms OR email them at info@quailridge.com.

To be continued…..coming next, cookbooks with America or Americana in their titles.

Sandra Lee Smith

CHRISTMAS LOVE FROM YOUR KITCHEN

Originally posted in 2011

Back in the days when I was raising four sons literally on a shoestring, there was generally not enough money for ANY thing, much less the toys and games the boys would ask Santa to bring. My husband (now ex) was self employed most of those years and his income was unstable and sporadic.

I had to make do with what we had in the pantry for meals when sales became non-existent. We had spaghetti so often that my youngest son no longer will eat it at all. I kept large tins filled with dried spaghetti, rice or pinto beans. No one ever went hungry but they all undoubtedly got tired of meatballs and spaghetti and corn bread and beans, made with pinto beans in my mother in law’s West Virginia style.

That was during the years I was a stay at home mom – from 1965, when I quit my job at Weber Aircraft to stay at home, until 1977, when I was offered a dream job by a dear friend. I love that job so much! I was employed by them until I retired the end of 2002. And the best part was, there was always money for groceries after that. The downside, of course, was not being at home all of the time—such as the time my youngest son ran his bicycle into a telephone pole and ended up in the emergency room. But could I have prevented that accident? Probably not. But it wouldn’t have taken as long to get to the hospital.

Well, aside from that – way back when I had only two young sons—and we had a lot of friends and families back in Ohio, I began baking cookies and making candies to give as gifts for Christmas. Gradually, I worked my way up into jellies and jams (at first putting them in baby food jars), then chutneys and preserves and all sorts of other good things to eat—baking pumpkin bread or making fruitcakes.

This led to discovering all the great cookbooks devoted to the topic of gifts from your kitchen. One of my favorites—it still is—was a book titled WITH LOVE FROM YOUR KITCHEN BY Diana and Paul von Welanetz, published in 1976.

Back when I didn’t have ten thousand cookbooks taking over the house, WITH LOVE FROM YOUR KITCHEN was a frequently thumbed through cookbook and I think this is where I learned that you can make your own sauces, mustards and marinades, pickles, herb blends and some unusual jellies, such as one made
from champagne.

Others that I sometimes rely on are “WHAT SHOULD I BRING?” by Alison Boteler, published in 1992—this is a nice spiral bound cookbook with ideas for just about any occasion, not just Christmas—there are ideas for bridal and baby showers, greetings, goodbye and get well gifts, annual events and holiday housewarmers…and a lot more—plus plenty of tips for wrapping things – the latter is my downfall…but my daughter in law, Keara, has me spoiled; she does most of my gift wrapping. Another favorite of mine is GIFTS OF FOOD by Susan Costner, published in 1984. You will go crazy over the recipes—160 delectable recipes and how to wrap them.

I’ll let you in on a little secret – I never noticed, before, how many of the titles in this category start out with “Gifts from –“ so let me give you a quick rundown on a few of them.

BH&Gs GIFTS FROM YOUR KITCHEN, 1976

GIFTS FROM YOUR KITCHEN, BY Carli Laklan and Frederick-Thomas, published 1955 by M Barrows & Co (a collection of 300 recipes)

GIFTS FROM THE KITCHEN by Norma Myers and Joan Scobey, published in 1973 by Doubleday & Co. (over 200 coveted family recipes)

GIFTS FROM THE PANTRY BY Annette Grimsdale, copyright 1986, published by HP Books (this is one of those oversize as in long but narrow soft covered books. I have been making my pickled watermelon from this cookbook for many years—because it uses the GREEN part as well as white and pink) Lots of other good recipes as well.

GLORIOUS GIFTS FROM YOUR KITCHEN by Lisa Yockelson, copyright 1984 – offers over 200 recipes.

GIFTS FROM THE KITCHEN by Famous Brand Names, copyright 2003—lots of great illustrations—so you will know what it’s supposed to look like when you’re finished,

WOMAN’S DAY GIFTS FROM YOUR KITCHEN, copyright 1976—no photographs but a lot of favorite recipes.

GOURMET GIFTS FROM THE KITCHEN, BY Darcy Williamson, published in 1982

SEASONAL GIFTS FROM THE KITCHEN, BY Emily Crumpacker, William Morrow & Company, 1983 (and oh, my! I bought this at the Book Loft in Columbus Ohio at the German Village…and the reason I know this? The sticker is still inside).

Also – THE GIFT-GIVERS COOKBOOK by Jane Green and Judith Choate, copyright 1971 and published by Simon & Schuster

And one more –

THE JOY OF GIVING HOMEMADE FOOD by Ann Seranne, copyright 1978 and published by David McKay Company. (If the name Ann Seranne sounds familiar – it should; she’s written many cookbooks. I’ll write something about Ann Seranne another time).

Well, this is just a sample of the gift-giving genre of cookbooks I have collected. Now that I have all of these out, I will have to thumb through them again and see what treasures I have forgotten.

Happy Cooking & Happy Cookbook Collecting!

Sandra Lee Smith

CHRISTMAS MANIA

Originally posted November, 2012.

For Biff and Bill, two of my younger brothers

Christmas has always been, throughout my life, the most special holiday of all. I was one of seven children and we were encouraged at a very young age to give presents to one another, our parents and our grandparents. Consequently, as Christmas approached, there would be much giggling and whispering, along with outraged threats when one became annoyed with a sibling. “Just for THAT, you aren’t going to get a Christmas present from ME!”

Of course, those threats were never carried out and as Christmas approached, we all fell pell-mell into a frenzy of shopping, making and wrapping up presents. I remember Santa ornaments made out of walnut shells, a lot of Woolworth’s hair nets and cards of bobby pins, and a bottle of nail polish that had a cap resembling a fingernail. There were dozens of bottles of Midnight in Paris cologne on my mother’s vanity and odd little gifts like miniature German-American dictionaries.

For we didn’t, of course, have much money–this was in the early 1940s after the end of World War II. The gifts we children made or bought were devised out of our own ingenuity or resources. We didn’t have any such thing as an allowance, and it was difficult to earn money. We did, though. We mowed lawns and shoveled snow; I sold greeting cards from Cardinal Craftsman for my mother, to the neighbors; we picked apples from my grandmother’s back yard trees and cherries from our own back yard. We ran errands for all the neighbor ladies (usually good for a nickel—but sometimes all you got was a cookie…it was considered bad etiquette to ask in advance how much you might get for running an errand. You ran the errand, and then crossed your fingers.
We collected soda pop bottles which were worth two cents each, and cashed them in. When we got a little older, there were babysitting jobs and paper routes and for my older brother, Jim, setting bowling pins at St Bonnie’s bowling alley (before automatic pinsetters were invented). He also had a parttime job working for Durkee Foods, where our Uncle George worked and occasionally brought home items that had expired dates on them. sometimes the expired cans of biscuits would explode when you began to open them.

We saved old gift wrap and ribbons from one year to the next and ironed out the paper and ribbons. We made tags out of old Christmas cards, construction paper and those little stickers that didn’t stick to anything else.

Throughout all of this, as Christmas approached, we memorized Christmas songs—hymns and tunes like “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”. I happen to belong to the generation that remembers when Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman were first released. We had the sheet music for piano and learned all the words. I sang “Rudolph” with two clowns at a Christmas party sponsored by my grandmother’s club that year.

We took piano lessons and flute and clarinet and we practiced these melodies ad nauseam, until everyone around us was thoroughly tired of hearing them. When we got tired of hearing each other, my mother would sit down at the piano and play “Silver Bells” which was, I think, the only Christmas song she knew how to play. She never had lessons and played entirely by ear. Incredible, when I think of it. She was actually pretty good. And because she never could read music, it was probably also why she pushed so hard for us to have music lessons. **

My younger brothers and I went downtown, in Cincinnati, once a year – sometime just before Christmas and a few times right on Christmas Eve day. We’d have our hard-earned pennies and nickels and dimes tightly guarded against potential pickpockets—sometimes as much as a dollar—to shop for Christmas presents. We took the bus from Fairmount to the downtown area, do our shopping, visit all the department store Santas (we knew they weren’t the real Santa but each one was good for a peppermint stick) and have lunch at the Woolworth’s lunch counter as well. You could get a grilled cheese sandwich with dill pickle, and a coke, for fifteen cents. We three shared one sandwich, one coke. Bus fare each way was a nickel, leaving us at least seventy five cents to shop with.

Not too many years ago, my childhood girlfriend Carol confessed that she was always jealous of me on those shopping trips.

“ME!” I exclaimed, “Whatever FOR?”
“Because,” she replied, “You could buy so much more with a dollar than
anybody else.”

My brothers and I have fond memories of those shopping excursions.

Late in the afternoon, we’d board the bus, elated with our purchases and go home to wrap them up in ironed-out previously used gift wrap. I think we ironed out the ribbons too (this was long before pre-made bows became available).

“The funny thing is,” I told my friend, Carol – “I was no more than ten years old when I began taking my brothers downtown. Can you imagine letting one of your own children do that at the age of ten?”
Times have changed, we agreed. **

We listened, from Thanksgiving on, to Santa Claus reading children’s letters on the radio –all the way from the North Pole! That, we knew, was the real honest to goodness Santa. The Santas in Department stores were just helpers.

And throughout all of this planning and preparing, none of us lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas. It was there for us to see in the crèche made up of almost-life-size statues in our church. There was a living nativity downtown at Garfield Park that we visited every year too. Real animals. Real Mary and Joseph. Not a real Baby Jesus though. We had advent calendars and we sang Christmas hymns in church and school. We went shopping with our mother and got new shoes at Schiff’s, and a new hat and outfit to wear to church on Christmas morning. I think some of the new clothing was ordered by mail.

Christmas was celebrated, officially, at our house on Christmas Eve. We children were usually sent to my grandmother’s house on Baltimore Avenue, for the afternoon. If my brothers and I had gone shopping that day, we went to grandma’s house afterwards. There wasn’t a hint of Christmas in our own home prior to Christmas Eve. Then my father would come with the car to pick us up. His cousin, Barb, who was my godmother, was often with him. Everyone piled into the car to go home. As we pulled up in front of the house, we would see the lights on the Christmas tree through the living room window. Sometimes snowflakes would begin to fall.

“He’s been here! He’s been here!” all of us children would shriek, tumbling out of the car and up the steps to the house. My mother would meet us at the door. “He’s just leaving!” she’d cry. “If you hurry you might catch a glimpse of him from the back door—“

The pageant never changed. We all shouted the same words every year. My mother’s responses were always the same. We’d fall all over one another trying to catch a glimpse – too late! He was gone – but oh, boy, see what he’s left behind!

The tree would be in a corner of the living room—surrounded, it seemed to our childish eyes, with a tremendous wealth of toys and presents. My mother would call out the names on the packages, one by one. One year she was in the hospital right up until Christmas. She came home to be with the family and had to return to the hospital shortly thereafter. (In retrospect, I think this was a year when she had a miscarriage, followed by a blood transfusion, which led to a bout with Hepatitis—she was in the hospital for most of one winter).

I realize now that there weren’t so many presents under our tree—and much of it consisted of what we gave to one another and the bulk of gifts from our parents were practical –generally socks and underwear –but the delight was always there. My two younger brothers always asked for (and seems like they always received) gun-and-holster sets, like Roy Rogers wore, and wind-up trains that never seemed to last from one year to the next, although my older brother Jim had a Lionel train set that survived a lot of childish abuse.

At a very young age, I developed a great love for books—one of my favorite Christmas memories is the one when my brother Jim gave me five – FIVE! brand new Nancy Drew books. It was heaven.

Is it any wonder that the joy of Christmas spilled over into my adult life? At our house, we began “thinking Christmas” as early as May, when the first raspberries ripened to make raspberry jam. Later, we made pomegranate jelly and pomegranate cordial, and I would begin stocking up on nuts, chocolate chips, sugar and flour, to make fruitcake and cookies. I collected a huge assortment of Christmas books and magazines and the pages often became dog-eared from so much handling as Christmas approached. Every member of the family had their particular favorite cookie and no matter how often I resolved “not to let everything get out of hand this year” by the time I’ve baked everyone’s favorite, every container in the house is filled to the brim with cookies.

When my sons were really little, I’d buy gifts all year long and wrap them as soon as possible, to hide in a closet far out of the reach of inquiring eyes and poking fingers—but no matter how secretive I thought I was, my son Chris’ packages always had a finger hole punched through each one of the packages that had his name on it. (One year, I overlooked an entire box of wrapped gifts and didn’t find it until after Christmas – but we were celebrating Hanukkah with my girlfriend Rosalia and her family, so I took the gifts to her house to give to my sons as Hanukkah presents. They thought celebrating Hanukkah was just fine).

Christmas catalogs started arriving in the mail around in September—happily, I was not alone in my mania and a number of friends shared my enthusiasm; we’d swap catalogs and go through them until they were almost in shreds from handling. The children would go through the catalogs too.

“I want this,” they’d say. “and this…and this…and this…”

We saved fruitcake tins and collected baskets of all sizes. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas if each of our friends didn’t receive a goody basket when they came to visit. One year, the boys decorated “gingerbread houses” made out of graham crackers. Another time we made gingerbread boys and girls for all of the children. We have, on different Christmases, baked dozens of different kinds of cookies and confections…not so difficult to do, really. I would make up batches of cookie dough to freeze or refrigerate—this could be done months in advance—then spent a week (evenings only since I worked full time) baking up one batch after another.

When I was a newlywed, our first Christmas tree ornaments were some old glass blown ornaments from Germany that had belonged to my husband’s mother. The original hooks had been lost and my husband, when he was a teenager, had twisted bits of flexible black wire on them instead. We still have those glass ornaments with the black bits of twisted wire. Way back when, I started collecting ornaments – originally with the thought in mind that as each of my sons got married, they would have a collection of their own ornaments. My collection grew so much that it became impossible to get them all on one tree. So we added a second tree. Then a third. Our last Christmas in Arleta in 2007, we had eight Christmas trees throughout the house.
Whenever I went on vacation somewhere, I’d look for a Christmas store—amazing how many cities have one! (Favorite Christmas stores? One near Carmel, California that my sister Becky and I discovered one year, and one in Atlanta, Georgia where we had flown for a niece’s wedding).

Ornaments make great gifts too and over the years my many nieces and nephews have received an assortment of homemade ornaments from Aunt Sandy. One year they received clothespin soldiers, another year a friend’s mother made up crocheted snowflakes for me. Still another Christmas the children received ceramic gingerbread boys and girls that a penpal of mine in Maryland made up for me. And another Christmas, a penpal in New Jersey made up tiny clothespin gnomes for me. Christmas ornaments, I always felt, were the ideal gift – they’re put up on a tree for a short time during the holidays, no one ever tires of seeing hem and remembering where they came from—and every Christmas, and those ornaments bring back memories to the recipients.
The plaster of Paris crèche in our home was purchased piece by piece in dime stores back in the late 1950s; many of the pieces are chipped from being handled repeatedly by my sons when they were little. They liked to re-arrange the figures. One year we somehow misplaced St Joseph and had to have one of the Wisemen stand in for him.

One year, I fulfilled a lifelong desire to make an entire gingerbread house (it was a lot of WORK and I don’t think I will ever attempt it again–Bob did a great deal of the work putting all the parts of the house together) – and another year when we were in northern California for Thanksgiving weekend, we found a Lionel train, fulfilling another lifelong dream. (Then I didn’t want the younger children handling the Lionel train, so we began buying battery-operated oversized train sets).

When I was living in Florida, I acquired two penpals who loved Christmas as much as I, and we forged a special friendship, sharing memories and exchanging (what else?) homemade ornaments.

Christmas is too commercialized, you say? I don’t think so. There are still many of us around who love Christmas, who have never lost sight of the fact that Christmas is our celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus.

Christmases, from the time you begin to create a family until your children are grown and bringing their children to Grammy and Grandpa for Christmas—are a collection of memories and maybe that’s what much of Christmas is all about – all those memories, spanning decades, going back to your own earliest childhood.
**
May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white.

Sandra Lee Smith