Old cookbooks stir wonderful memories




In some families, cookbooks are treasured culinary bibles handed down from generation to generation.

An “Olde Time Cooking” program by Peg Simone for the Women’s Fellowship at Faith Community Covenant Church, 1919 E. Midlothian Blvd., highlighted the importance of cookbooks in family memories.

About 16 women attended the meeting and shared cookbooks from their families.

Simone came up with the cookbook program after spending time in Utah with her sister, who was recuperating from surgery. Her sister’s cookbook collection provided a wealth of information.

One book, “Practical Housekeeping,” published in 1881 by Buckeye Publishing in Ohio, addressed the “plucky housewives who mastered their housework and didn’t let it master them.”

Among housekeeping chores was cooking; and bread baking was among the topics. Instructions including getting up early “at the peak of the day,” making sure hair was combed and hands were clean. The book also advised “tucking and fastening” sleeves so they wouldn’t be in the way.

Old cookbooks were often vague on amounts ... “add enough flour to make a dough.” Housewives “just had to know” how much, Simone said.

She noted a Fannie Farmer cookbook, the first edition printed in 1902, featured standardized measurements. “It’s still in print, and it’s a cookbook many people grew up with,” she said.

“Practical Housekeeping” offered 365 days of recipes for breakfast, dinner (noon meal) and supper, and often used leftovers for supper. Instructions noted “bake well” but no time, and one couldn’t dial the temperature because the cooking was done on a wood stove or fireplace.

Lard was touted as better than butter to grease a pan. “The good old recipes use lard, and lots of it,” Simone said.

Some really old cookbooks instructed the women of the house on “how to kill a chicken” and deal with game birds ... “take out the buckshot.”

Simone joked that cooks have come “full circle” in that cookbooks instructed them to be presentable to visitors and now one can cook and be on Facebook or Skype.

Fellowship members also offered comments about cookbooks they brought. June Pilgrim reflected on a well-worn black book in which her mother had collected handwritten recipes. “My mother was known for her pies,” she said. Her notes included such comments as “bake til it’s done” and “knead til it feels right.” But Pilgrim said she remembered her mother’s cooking “always turned out wonderfully.”

Gert Prest shared a cookbook in the German language with her Mom’s handwriting in the margins with notes on recipes. Sandy Deak showed a 1920 cookbook published in Milwaukee and a relatively unused Betty Crocker cookbook that her mother didn’t like.

Elaine Cain said she received a “Women’s Home Companion” as a wedding shower gift in anticipation of her 1946 marriage. “It had a lot of tips for brides," she said.

Ethel Cantwell shared a 1925 cookbook in Czech. The book offered menu suggestions, with soup as a mainstay. “It’s a treasure for me,” she said of the family heirloom.

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