I have hundreds of cookbooks. Literally.
It’s Mom’s Fault (thanks, Mom!)
I’m a cookbook collector, or maybe even a cookbook pack rat. It might be a bit of a sickness. I’ve tried to slow it down, but for a while there, I was on a two-per-month pace. That’s a LOT of cookbooks. For this, I blame my Mom. She had hundreds. Hundreds. Mom was a truly gifted and innovative home cook, and I’m so grateful to have learned about food by her side. That us together below, a long, long time ago. I’ve used this picture before, but I think you’ll forgive me for the repeat…you can feel the love emanating from that little galley-style kitchen on the Texas Gulf Coast that she captained for years and years. Can’t you?
I Inherited the Cookbook Heirlooms
Most of Mom’s vast cookbook collection came to me after she went off to cook for the angels in 2000. They are treasures, especially with her cooking notes in them.
Another few boxes of family cookbooks came to me a couple of years ago when my Dad and Aunt-Mom were downsizing. And then once again, when Dad took his grilling game up to the heavens two years ago next week. Rest in peace, Dad. I miss your cornbread, your pork tenderloin and your smile.
Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cook Book
That battered blue and yellow Betty Crocker in the right foreground above, formally known as “Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cook Book,” is an heirloom! Published in 1961, it was either a shower gift or a wedding present when my folks got married in 1962. Yellowed and fading, this classic tome has had its bindings mended with the Universal Problem Solver (duct tape) more than once, and is held shut with a big fat rubber band. While Mom graduated to much more sophisticated recipes, this vintage standard remained a favorite. The memories it holds practically leap from its food-stained pages.
I now have “Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cook Book” in a place of honor in my “studio”, nestled high on a decorative shelf behind some of my grandmother’s mid-century modern aluminum kitchen canisters.
It was a delight to get the vintage Betty Crocker down and take a fingertip tour through those memory-laden recipes. Good times.
That high-up shelf of treasures also holds my first cookbook, a stylin’ little “Better Homes and Gardens Junior Cook Book” targeted to the “Hostess & Host of tomorrow”. (And by the way, when did ‘cook book’ become the one-word ‘cookbook’?)
I Write in My Cookbooks, Too
Following Mom’s example, I also write in my cookbooks, usually the modifications I’ve settled on for each recipe. But I didn’t realize until looking through the Junior Cookbook this weekend that I had started copying that habit of Mom’s when I was just a child. My one-word commentary on each recipe below leaves a little to the imagination, but it amuses me that even back then, I was a bigger fan of the savory than the sweet. I’m sure I only made those baked apples once! (Look closely for the light blue ink in childish script.)
Grandma Gave Me the Junior Cookbook
This children’s cookbook came from the same grandmother who used those mid-century aluminum canisters that now grace my decorative shelf over 60 years ago, or maybe even 70. I love that she inscribed it for me.
Along with her canister set, I have my grandmother’s antique tea cart, silver place settings and dining table. And so much more. In fact, I still have my grandmother! She’s almost 99 and going strong, reading several books per week. Here we are together a few weeks ago.
I was planning for this post to be an introduction to a new cookbook I wanted to share with you because it has captivated me, but somehow I got into the history of family cookbooks – and it became about family, and memories, and love.
Which is another way to say that cooking and recipes and sharing meals together are are about way more than just sustenance. They form a shared history and collective memory that outlasts our fleeting time together. And this is why I am moved to write about them, and savor the memories.
I’ll tell you about that fabulous new cookbook in a day or two. In the meantime, what were your early cookbooks? Who taught you how to cook?