Monday, April 4, 2016

C is for Cookbooks

My mom's cookbooks were Joy of Cooking, Fannie Farmer's Cookbook, and the red plaid Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.  These were supplemented by Betty Crocker's Cookie Cookbook, Farm Journal's Complete Pie Cookbook, and an Italian bread book.  Later--like, in the 1980s--she added a Bon Appetit cookbook and the Moosewood cookbook.

(Here's a puzzler: was Joy of Cooking named in a parody of Joy of Sex, or visa versa?)

My first cookbook was actually a blank spiral I was given as a going away present from colleagues when I left for the Peace Corps.  I copied a few of my favorite dessert recipes into it before leaving, all of which had regular use.  Peach cobbler, Lightning cake, chocolate chip cookies...My Latvian friends were impressed with all of them.  My Peace Corps friends laughed at me for getting a hand mixer when we were only going to be there for two years.  I didn't tell them that it was the first time in my life I'd baked without a stand mixer, but I did tell them that it made just as much sense as gtting pots and pans, which we all did.  I added some Latvian recipes to my handwritten book during my time there, developing an alarming habit of not writing down oven temperatures, since I was using a gas oven that was basically either ON or OFF.

When I got back, I continued to copy over recipes from Mom's collection into the notebook.  I got a modern copy of Betty Crocker's Cookie Cookbook from my sister, and bought my own Moosewood as well.  That sufficed me until my marriage.  My husband came into the deal with his own copy of the red plaid cookbook and a spiral bound Betty Crocker's Cookbook, both gifts or hand-me-downs from his mom.  We received the gigantic and nearly accurately titled How To Cook Everything as a wedding gift from my college boss, now retired and running a B&B in Vermont.  From there I learned to make risotto, tiramisu, chocolate truffles, and lentil soup.  My pizza dough recipe and crepes recipe come from the pages of that book, and it seems that every time I make meatloaf, fried eggs, or baked potatoes I find myself double checking cook times and oven temperatures in there too.

Once at work there was a historic reprint of the cookie cookbooks my mom used sitting in the lunch room as part of a book sale.  I walked it into the next room and made copies of two pages, reclaiming the recipe for brownies I'd memorized as a child and the one for Jan Hagel, which only Betty Crocker fans of a certain age have ever heard of.  I have a photocopy of my mom's breadstick recipe also, the one from her Italian cookbook, although I've forgotten how that came about.  Other recipes that come up at random--a friend's strawberry salad, a hamburger bun recipe I found on Pinterest, the two good recipes from a cookbook borrowed at the library--still get copied into that twenty year old spiral notebook.

If I had to choose, that hand copied book and How To Cook Everything would probably suffice me for the rest of my cooking and baking life.  I wonder which recipes and cookbooks my kids will associate with me, and with their own development as cooks.  My nephew, a fine amateur baker, inherited my mom's pie cookbook.  I thought about taking one of the others, but I'd already collected the recipes I really needed (Glossy Chocolate Frosting, Monterey Chicken, Spanikopita), and I had already loaded up on mementos, including Mom's tupperware flour container (holds ten pounds of flour) and her bread pans.  (Why I didn't take at least one of her two Kitchenaid bowls, giving myself that same two-bowl convenience, remains a mystery.)

Cookbooks are an oddity in my lifelong book obsession.  Practical and factual, they are used frequently, yet never read in their entirety.  Their nostalgia level is matched only by the favorite books of childhood.  Clearly, they play a much more emotional role in my life than other types of reference material.

Well, most other types.  Tomorrow I'll talk about another reference book category that means something to me.


  1. I have many of the same cookbooks but turn most often to the Weight Watchers Cookbook these days and to online recipes. Yes, our children associate us w/ good! My youngest son texted me yesterday asking I I make baked beans. That led to a lovely conversation. I'm glad I found you and this post. Looking forward to more.

  2. That Better Homes and Garden book has been in my mom's kitchen for as long as I can remember. One of my favorite meals, Beef Stroganoff is in there.


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