Friday, August 9, 2013

My Mother's Cookbooks

My mother loved to cook.  She really didn’t need a cookbook, as she had many dishes that she had learned to prepare when she was young, and she was never afraid to experiment and create new dishes.  Even though she didn’t need cookbooks, she enjoyed collecting them, and she loved finding new recipes to try.

My mother, also, loved to journal.  Her journals were usually stenographers notebooks, but she
tended to use her favorite cookbooks like journals, as well.  

I was fortunate to inherit a few of her favorite cookbooks.  They had been used frequently, and were in rather a dilapidated condition when I received them, but even with pages falling out, they are my favorite mementos from my mom.

One of her most used cookbooks was the Three B Garden Club Cook Book.  My mom was a member of the Three B Garden Club, and she helped collect the recipes that fill the pages of this book.  I went with her to visit many neighbors and friends, as she asked them to share a few of their favorite family recipes.   

I’ve been trying to remember what the three Bs stood for, but I can only remember 2 of them:  Berlin and Benton, two nearby towns.  As I typed the last sentence, I happened to remember a third town, Bunker Hill, which happens to be the “town” where I grew up.  It wasn’t exactly a town, more like a sprawling neighborhood, that extended about ½ a mile in every direction from the top of the big hill.  I’m fairly certain that was the third B.  You would think that would have been the first “B” town I remembered.

The cookbook is now missing its back cover, and the cover art on the front is looking faded and scratched.  That doesn’t matter to me.  What I really love about this book are the many notes that fill its pages, written in my mom’s familiar handwriting.

Next to the Banana Nut Bread recipe, is a little note that says, “Good! made 9/26/76.”  By the Raisin Cookie recipe, are two notes.  One says, “Very good. Took to Gary’s in Vermont, 9/21/86″ and in the opposite margin, “Took to Ruth’s place in Pittsburgh, 11/1/86.”  I remember eating those cookies at my new apartment in Pittsburgh.

Not all the notes in this book are about the recipes.  Her cookbook was always handy, and she used it to jot down so many things that she wanted to remember.  Here are a few examples:

“‘When you can’t remove an obstacle, plow around it.’ – A. Lincoln”

“Soak gladiolus corms in 3 gal. water and 4 tbsp. Lysol a few hours before planting.”

“Elaine Heath has this motto on her wall, ‘Life is a song. Let’s sing it!’”

“Bonds of matrimony are a good investment, only if the interest is kept up.”

“Another blender goodie from the Mike Douglas Show today:
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 c ice cream
honey to taste
1 fresh peach

“HIckory Cane Corn – best lady ever ate.”
Note: I don’t know who the “lady” was, but probably someone on TV,  or mentioned in the newspaper.  Today, Hickory Cane Corn heirloom seeds are quite valuable.

Also, in the cookbook, are various newspaper clippings, including one titled, “Know Your Vermont Apples” and another about Alfalfa Tea and it’s ability to cure arthritis.

My mother added recipes to the book frequently.  She found them in the newspaper and in magazines, received them from friends and jotted them down during TV cooking shows.  I did notice that most of the recipes from TV are really only partial recipes.  Evidently she did not write fast enough to get the entire recipe.  Julia Child’s “Excellent Roast Chicken” recipe lists the ingredients, and half of the first line of preparation directions.    About that time, they had probably taken the recipe off of the screen, and the news or a commercial was back on.

I love sharing this cookbook with my daughters.  They remember their grandmother, but by the time they met her, she was no longer doing much cooking, so this gives them an opportunity to see her sparkling personality shining through her unique cookbook journaling.

What does this cookbook have to do with learning?  Everything!  There are lessons in history, science, agriculture, cooking, humor, gardening and medicine, but the most important lesson of all is love.

Now go make some notes in your cookbook…

Cooking up more lessons,


“You will find this to be a more oniony soup than the usual kind but, as the cross old lady said when a stranger told her that her slip was showing, "I like it that way.” ~Margaret Yardley Potter, At Home on the Range.

The biggest seller is cookbooks and the second is diet books — how not to eat what you’ve just learned how to cook. ~Andy Rooney

I did toy with the idea of doing a cookbook... I think a lot of people who hate literature, but love fried eggs. would buy it if the price was right. ~Groucho Marx

1 comment:

  1. I love seeing your mom through this post!

    One of my cherished possessions is my mother's old Joy of Cooking. I have it rubber-banded together, as it's mostly loose pages now. She your mom did on the pages and in-between she tucked little pictures and notes from her kids. That she kept these bits of memorabilia of the family she nurtured in the pages of a book about nourishment always seemed like a circle completed.