Old Cook Books

Old Cook Books

Boston Cook BookOld books are instantly attractive to me. The fact that they contain stories and CONTAIN STORIES is endlessly fascinating. I mean, distractingly so. This is true of all old books, the story or information contained inside being one thing. The story of who owned this book previously, what they thought of it, when they read it – is a whole ‘nother thing. The story of where the book itself has travelled, how many people have read this particular copy. On and on.

And old cookbooks, even more so. There are the recipes, there are the readers, there are the eaters, there are the cooks….I get lost each time I open up an old cookbook. I want to cook every recipe. I want to watch someone else cook the recipe. I want to talk to the person who scribbled in the margins. I want to live in the time period the recipe is from. It’s endless, the time capsule/ time travel contained in old cookbooks.

This cookbook is a 1930 publication of Fanny Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cook Book. I’ve inherited it from my mother, who wasn’t born until 1937. There are stains on certain pages. Clipped out recipes from magazines. Folded bits of paper with jotted down recipes. And mom is gone before I thought to ask this particular set of questions. As are most of our parents, gone before we can ask everything. Do we ever even know everything that we’d want to ask? Probably not. So I don’t know if this was her mother’s before her? Or if she was given/bought an older copy? Or if she bought it used at a garage sale and the clipping and notes were already in it? I know her handwriting, but was she given these jotted down recipes by a friend? Endless.

And so, today, I wonder at the fact that there are four pages of gingerbread recipes (bearing in mind that the recipes, as they are in all old cookbooks, are each about an inch long. No photos. So four pages of gingerbread recipes is a LOT of gingerbread recipes). Or when you’d want a veal olive? And who is this person with very clear, concise directions on how to make zucchini pickles? Or wrote out the Ham Loaf recipe twice? Or clipped out the newspaper article about handling sweetbreads which “happily, are unrationed.”? And what should I make?


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