My Cookbook Fetish is Inherited

June 11, 2019

My Cookbook Fetish is Inherited


I have hundreds of cookbooks. Literally.

Just one part of my burgeoning cookbook collection

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.

Mom’s notes were true! “Easy, very good,” meant that I became responsible for making these, and they were the base for our holiday sugar cookies forever more

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.

Grandma Ruth and me; she's 98 and I'm 55
I think we look a little bit alike, don’t you?

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?

4 thoughts on “My Cookbook Fetish is Inherited”

  • Loved this. I too used to collect cookbooks and I wrote a pumpkin cookbook back in 1989 and then worked two jobs, trading my work for the printing with a little community newspaper. Sold all that first batch of books, but what a lot of work and expense, so more a labor of love. I am now in the 3rd revision, and need to get my editing done by August at the latest and back to the printer (Amazon KDP). But yes, I love to cook, and I love antique stoves and those vintage ones with the griddle in the middle, and sitting under a blanket in the wintertime reading cookbooks. A bunch of mine – a big bunch – got stolen and ruined in one of my moves and having things in storage, but I am starting to find new ones (at thrift stores and library sales) once again. Nothing quite as satisfying and I am glad to know you have such a wonderful and meaningful collection.

  • Your interesting story made me delve into my own cookbook history, though I would normally either say cookery book or recipe book. My mother had an old copy of the Be-Ro Recipe Book at home, and I bought my own when I started cookery lessons at school. I still have a version. Be-Ro is an English brand of flour – the book was first published in 1923 and is now in its 41st edition, see – interestingly, on that page they manage to use all three terms in my first sentence for a book of recipes! When I left home to go to university my aunt bought me Marguerite Patren’s Everyday Cook Book (two words!) which I still have. Thanks for the memories!

Tell me your thoughts...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: