Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Treasures from My Mother's Kitchen

It is unfortunate that I don't listen to books on CD. Over the past five days I spent about 20 hours in the car driving to and from and around North Carolina for my dear Aunt Polly's funeral and to visit with family. 

That is a lot of hours spent alone on the road, but someone reading to me puts me to sleep which is not a good condition to be in while barreling down the road at 70 miles an hour. It may be January before I can unclench my jaw!

While staying with my brother in Charlotte, I did get a chance to take a look at his bookshelves. I deemed them pitiful. This just means that there wasn't a book on them that I felt compelled to pull down and look at. And the books were shelved helter-skelter. I longed to tidy them up a bit but kept my hands and my opinions to myself. 

I did come away from this visit with a couple of treasures, though. Somehow, dear Brother ended up with two of our mother's cookbooks and one of our grandmother's. He decided it was time for them to be in my possession, so I brought home The American Woman's Cookbook (1940), The Joy of Cooking (1946) and the deluxe, eighteenth printing of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook (1948).

The two that were Mom's are stuffed with handwritten recipes as well as now yellowed ones from newspapers and magazines. In my very brief look at some of these I also spotted assorted recipe pamphlets - one from Sealtest Dairy which is no longer in business and another tract claiming "250 Ways to Cook Meat."

It amused my brother and me that we didn't recognize any of the dishes as having ever made it to our dinner table. Mom was a better collector of recipes than cooker of recipes. 

It wasn't that she was a bad cook, more like a disinterested cook. She had other activities in her life that held her passion. This was a woman with a college degree in Home Economics although that field of study encompassed more than just whipping up cakes and casseroles. Even if she wasn't a gourmet cook, the family dinners were always quite nutritionally balanced.

I fear I may have inherited the disinterested gene, although I do seem to be on a roll with recipes from another era, most recently The Historic Kentucky Kitchen (which I wrote about here).

My grandmother's cookbook seems to be a repository not only for random recipes but also personal correspondence. There was even a blank check drawn on a local bank tucked in between its pages. 

It will be fun to sort through these cookbooks and see what is to be found. I am sure there are surprises in store. Perhaps the bounty of one or two of the recipes will eventually wind up on my dinner table. 


  1. How lovely to have such a treasure trove of family memories, even if you are a "disinterested cook." (So am I, though I like collecting cookbooks anyway!)

    Glad you made it home safely.

    1. I am really looking forward to diving in among the pages of these books, Kathy. Not only for recipes but for other family items that might be lurking there. At one time I gave away all my cookbooks and now I am back up to owning six, four of which are family heirlooms. My grandmother was the real cook of the family. Maybe some of her passion will eventually rub off on me!

  2. Belle, I love old cookbooks! I didn't realize The Joy of Cooking dated back to 1946: I've had two editions, one finally had to be thrown out, and my 1980s one from a used bookstore is in pretty poor condition now, too. Still, I need The Joy of Cooking. When in doubt...

    1. I just checked, Kat, and actually the original copyright in the Joy of Cooking is 1931. The one I have is just a later edition. It must have been on every woman's shelf! Mine has been well used...if only for storing extraneous recipes...

  3. I have a vision of you rearranging the book shelves of all the homes you visit! I love old recipe books for the ephemera that falls out of them when you open them up - it really makes them seem such personal memorials to their owners.

    1. Ah, Vicki, this book-tidying gene I have is a blessing and a curse. A lot of it comes from the years I spent working in a bookstore. I was always shelving and reshelving stray books and was constantly straightening unruly volumes. Book browsers can be a bit messy!

      I too love it when I find a forgotten bookmark, letter, or clipping in a book - one of my own or a new find from a used book store or sale. I can't wait to see what I will find hiding in these family cookbooks!