Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Quirky Vintage Cookbooks

Nana's Specialty Cookbooks
My maternal grandmother Lillian Mills had a collection of little specialty cookbooks on a wide array of topics, from chocolate to Scandinavian cooking to easy Sunday night suppers. Some were published by the Culinary Institute, some by Betty Crocker and others by Oceanspray and the Boston Globe. Today most of the recipes seem quite dated, but to me, that's part of their charm. 
Fund-raising Cookbooks

In addition to Nana's cookbooks, I have other old-fashioned ones, mostly from New England.

Two Vintage Fund-Raising Cookbooks

Historical Society of Hollis, NH

My two favorites are the ones on the right that were created as fund-raisers. In the foreground is "A Cookbook, A Guide To Hollis Hospitality 1975", from the Historical Society of Hollis, NH, home of my paternal grandmother, Beth Brainard LeRoy. Grandmother was a great lady in many ways, but was considered to be a so-so cook, despite the extensive practice she had raising eight children. She contributed her recipe for Cherokee Indian Pie with the comment, "Delightful surprise-first tried as an experiment." Looking at the ingredients, the Cherokee association is difficult to understand, but here's the recipe:

Grandmother LeRoy's Cherokee Indian Pie

1 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup white sugar
2/3 cup quick cooking oatmeat
2/3 cup shredded coconut
pinch of salt
2 tbsp melted butter
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs, well beaten

Combine all ingredients except the eggs and mix thoroughly. Add the eggs and mix again. Pour into an unbaked pie shell and bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.

Natural Spiritualist Teachers Club

The green cookbook behind it is from the National Spiritualist Teachers Club, and it was a gift from my second cousin, Genevieve LeRoy King Woelfl. I met her only twice when she was in her late 70's, and found her charming and delightful, if a little bewildering. Genevieve was a minister in the National Spiritualist Church, an organization I knew nothing about, except that it was everything to her. I remember that she conducted a seance for me so that I could communicate with my late parents, and claimed that they indeed were in the room, although I had to take her word for it. What I like about the NST cookbook isn't the recipes, it's the quotations in between, sayings from Ghandi to Emerson to Cousin Genevieve herself (the majority), a mind-numbing juxtaposition!

Here are some samples:

  • In between the recipe for "Tuna Cones" and "Goulash" is a quote from Emerson, "The good soul nourishes me, and unlocks new magazines of power and enjoyment to me every day."
  • After "Hot Baked Dish" is a saying from Cousin Genevieve, "Let everyone to whom I speak be blessed by that word." - Reverend Genevieve Woelfl, N.S.T. 
  • After the recipe for "Mock Raviola", is another quote from her, "Through silence we attain Meditation, through Meditation we reach God." 
The little NST cookbook offers food for the body, mind and soul, which I bet is what Cousin Genevieve had in mind, in addition to raising money, of course.

Fannie Farmer Cookbook

My Trusty, Battered Cookbooks

I don't have many cookbooks of my own because most of what I make is intuitive, which explains why I'm a lousy baker. However, when I was a young bride, I bought this Fannie Farmer Cookbook, which I have to this day, and love all the more because it's been everywhere with me and is so well-thumbed the spine is gone and is generally the worse for wear.

Woman's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery
The largest amount of shelf space in our kitchen library is reserved for "The Woman's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery", which I bought a long time ago at a rate of one per week at the local grocery store. Today I still have all twelve volumes and mainly use the books as a place to file by topic all the recipes I download or cut out of newspapers and magazines.

I love these quirky vintage cookbooks because they connect me with both sides of my family, and with my early years when I was first learning to cook and needed all the help and inspiration I could get. Today all these recipes would be kept on a computer. Finding the one you want is much quicker and more efficient than looking through a cookbook, but the human element and these charming links to the past are missing.

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